Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX Review: All Too Familiar
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is almost a 1-to-1 remake of the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red and Blue Rescue Teams from the Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS era. It's classic Pokemon Mystery Dungeon gameplay and mechanics, with a few bells and whistles thrown in to shake things up.
For the most part, it works pretty well, especially if you've got a soft spot for the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series already. But the same flaws that dogged the originals still persist, with dungeon crawling that remains too simple and only a smattering of enhancements that don't really justify the DX part of the title.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX Review: All Too Familiar
If you tried the demo a few months back, you've already got the gist of the introductory story. The Pokemon world is plagued with a series of natural disasters. They're inexplicable, and they're causing powerful Pokemon to freak out. It's admittedly a bit of a bland setup, but it creates problems for the player to solve and works well enough.
The real story is much more interesting.
You're a human who's been turned into a Pokemon, and you don't know why. So you do what you'd naturally do in that situation and band up with fellow Pokemon to help others in need by forming a Rescue Team.
It's one of the game's biggest strengths: being a Pokemon. It's like watching one of those Pikachu shorts before the main Pokemon film.
Mystery Dungeon DX gives you a different perspective on the Pokemon world, one that's (usually) cheerful, optimistic, and utterly adorable, and there's really nothing quite like building a team of Poke-friends to go out and do good for others in need. On the whole, it's a level of interaction and charm that's noticeably missing from mainline Pokemon games.
Sadly, as in real life, you ruffle some feathers just by existing. You get on the wrong side of an evil rescue team that naturally wants to dominate the world, because about 50% of the Poke-World's population apparently suffers from megalomania.
From there, the story turns into one of rumors, true friendship, and what it's like to be ostracized from a group. It's surprisingly poignant and relevant, much more so than Pokemon usually is. Combined with that all-important sense of immersion, you've got a fairly compelling story on whole.
If it sounds like a "but" is coming, that's because it is.
The plot delivery is uneven and infrequent. The main scenario ends about halfway through the total playtime. Even though the back half is loaded with content and challenge, there's practically no narrative at all, certainly nothing like the cozy charm from earlier.
It was odd enough the first time around, but it's especially strange the DX remake did pretty much nothing to fix this issue.
So that means gameplay has to carry Mystery Dungeon DX, and it sort of does, but it sort of doesn't. In most cases, Mystery Dungeon DX's gameplay is copied and pasted from Red and Blue Rescue Team.
After getting through the opening segments and choosing your partner Pokemon (one that, ideally, covers your Pokemon's type weaknesses), you settle into the gameplay loop. Receive job requests, explore dungeon, finish jobs, spend loot, repeat.
Only after a while, it's more like "repeat ad nauseum."
Mystery Dungeon DX is at its best when you're exploring new dungeons, dealing with new challenges, and trying to piece together strong teams built around new Pokemon recruits. In between those points, though, you're repeating the same motions — a lot.
You'd expect repetition to an extent. It's a Mystery Dungeon game and RPG after all; there's going to be grinding. But Mystery Dungeon DX's repetition comes really close to being mindless.
Requests take the form of find Pokemon, rescue Pokemon, find item, deliver item. They differ in rank, but the higher ranks are still the same jobs. You just have to make it to a different floor in a harder dungeon most of the time. Re-visiting these dungeons is a good opportunity to recruit new Pokemon to your team, but that's about it.
The only thing you ever need to keep an eye on in the dungeons is your hunger meter. Traps are few and far between, and even though you might get hit with status effects or need to ration your powerful moves, restoration items abound to help overcome these minor barriers.
DX does add a new feature called Mystery Houses, places that randomly pop up in dungeons and give you a chance at rare 'mon and high-level items.
However, "random" is definitely the key here. I encountered one throughout my time in Mystery Dungeon DX, which is probably okay since the Inviting Orb you need to enter is only available randomly.
The designs don't make the bland dungeon issue any better either. There's very little in the way of visual interest in Mystery Dungeon DX's dungeons. The storybook aesthetic that works so well in making Pokemon Square feel special is wasted here. You get rocks, more rocks, darker rocks, blue rocks — oh, sorry "water" — some more rocks, and you get the idea.
Dungeons in these types of games tend to be sparse anyway, but entries like Etrian Mystery Dungeon and even Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon make up for it with engaging character progression and equipment systems. These give you something to work towards and reward you for learning how they work and even for breaking them.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon... doesn't.
Movesets are improved, though as usual, new moves are learned through TMs or leveling up. You do get Rare Qualities that offer exploration benefits, but these are only obtained randomly through using Rare Gummies at Pokemon Camps.
While making Pokemon as challenging as something like Shiren the Wanderer would probably turn too many people away, there's a distinct need for more systems and more involvement in Mystery Dungeon DX. There's just nothing to do and nothing to keep your interest outside that first time in a dungeon when you probably aren't leveled up enough and wild Pokemon encounters pose a threat.
All this is especially noticeable after the credits roll. When there's no narrative backdrop behind your quest to collect as many Legendary Pokemon as possible, Mystery Dungeon DX's appeal fades quickly. It's a small wonder the game offers and encourages auto exploration, since your brain basically slips into autopilot after a while anyway.
All this probably makes it seem like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX isn't worth it. It's not quite as simple as that, though.
For short periods, Mystery Dungeon DX isn't bad. Jumping in and adventuring with Pokemon friends, knocking out some quests, and recruiting new 'mon isn't a horrible way to pass an hour or so. But after that hour is when the gameplay's shortcomings are harder to ignore, and it becomes annoying more than enjoyable.
The worst part is none of this is new. These are the exact same shortcomings Red and Blue Rescue Team suffered from, and Mystery Dungeon DX takes no steps to try and improve any of them. It feels like a missed opportunity in a big way. Unless you're a diehard series fan or know a dedicated Poke-fan, you'll probably want to wait until this one goes on sale.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX — The Bottom Line
- Emotional and engaging story while it lasts
- You get to be a Pokemon!
- Lovely storybook aesthetic
- Gameplay is simple and easy to pick up
- Lack of engaging gameplay mechanics — once you learn the gameplay, that's it
- Dungeon design is lacking
- No real system of progression
- Repetitive quest structure with no real rewards
- Too simple for its own good
- Stuffs tons of content in the postgame with no reason to play any of it
When Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX was first announced, I wondered why it was being remade to begin with, but I hoped there'd be enough changes to justify revisiting the formula after all these years.
Unfortunately, my initial concerns were justified. Mystery Dungeon DX looks charming and offers some fun in short bursts, but it's ultimately a missed opportunity to tap into the spinoff's strengths and make it something special.
[Note: A copy of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon DX was provided by Nintendo for the purpose of this review.]