Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pokémon Mystery Dungeon

I've always been quite fond of the Pokémon franchise and have played all the non-spinoff games (except the latest) and collected many cards. Admittedly I am and was probably always a little older than the supposed target group. When I started playing I was probably 14 or so while everyone else was 6-10. I remember when visiting the Pokémon trading club I was by far the oldest in the room. My first encounter with Pokémon was by managing to get my hands on Pokémon Blue through some scrubby trading (a guy who liked me traded it with some kid for a burned cd with some music and gave it to me as a token of appreciation). I think I had just bought a Game Boy Advance to play it on. And I, just as millions of other children around the world, loved it instantly. The concept of catching and using little monsters to care fora nd fight with was a genious one. Just like with Final Fantasy, Pokémon was never thought to be more than one game but grew into the monster franchise it became and still is to some extent today.

I started collecting cards too. My english wasn't very good then, and those I played with knew even less, so initially we made the rules up. You simply hit the opponent for the given sum and if you killed him you won the card. Since I was the oldest I could make up my own rules as it fitted and most kiddos would believe me. Swell times. Anyhow we started playing by the real rules after a while and I've spent countless time and money on this lovely game. But enough reminiscing.

I haven't played any Pokémon for some time now, and although I still have my old decks I don't really have anyone interested in playing it with me. I think the last Pokémon game I played was the Pokémon Diamond or something. Until yesterday when I tried out Pokémon Mystery Dungeon - Explorers of Time (PMD).

Mystery Dungeon is the game concept of dungeon crawling with ever changing dungeons. Actually my first impression of PMD was that i resembled the old Playstation game Azure Dreams alot. In a Mystery Dungeon game you re-enter a dungeon over and over to collect valuables of different kind. When exiting the dungeon you lose some of what you've collected so that re-entering will always be a challenge. In Azure Dreams this was quite well balanced - the main character (you) always lost all levels but kept any gear or items they had found. If you died you lost everything you had on you (if I remember correctly). The goal was to get to the uppermost level (which was above level 50 I think). Since oneself returned as level 1 everytime you needed the aid from different monsters that you could catch and train inside the tower to do your bidding. These monsters were quite similar to Pokémon in that way that they had their weaknesses and strengths against other monsters in the tower. To get all the way up you needed a full arsenal of diverse monsters to be able to take on whatever evil you could happen to find inside the tower. If you have any kind of interest in Mystery Dungeon games, playing Azure Dreams is a must.

But back to PMD. The Mystery Dungeon part is actually quite fun, dungeon crawling has its own charm. It doesn't really ever grow boring as long as there are items to collect and the enemies don't grow too easy. In PMD there is a cute (?) side story which seems to be meant to give the dungeon crawling some framework and meaning (like you need more motivation than finding items and kill stuff!). Most of the story is harmlessly pokémonishly cute and doesn't disturb gameplay much. The game is overall entertaining and a decent mystery dungeon game. The fighting system and AI all work good enough to make it an entertaining experience. Unfortunately it feels like the game makes didn't believe in the dungeon crawling being able to pull its own weight in providing fun and so forces a horrible little mini game upon the player from time to time. It's called "guess the Pokémon". Here you are supposed to guess the Pokémon based on its footprint. But there is no logical connection between the look of a footprint and the pokémon that owns it, which makes this most of an annoying guessing game. Most footprints are more or less round shaped, sometimes with some toes.

The music is great. I actually feel some tunes deserve to be in a bigger game than this. They are thought through and captivating in a Pokémon way. The fighting system is well designed too. Your companions won't always do what you want them to do, but there is the possibility to set tactics and AI-rules for them which work ok. Some solutions are great like the fact that your companions can pick up stuff too, or that you can give and use items to/on them even if they're far away from you on the map. This means you won't have to watch your less than brainy Pokémon friend die against some foe without being able to do anything about it.

The characters and story are typically pokémonish, with the frightened but brave, evil but kind and yourself who is a human in a Pokémon body, able to see the future and the past. I myself endure the story line because I enjoy the dungeon crawling so much, and like mentioned it isn't bothersome. Like in any Pokémon game it's an excuse to get to the gameplay which usually is highly entertaining. PMD will give some hours of fun and I recommend it if you're, like me, a little of a collecting freak. Gotta catch 'em all!

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