Back in 2005, The Pokemon Company International was starting to become more than a little accustomed to the DS architecture; before the system got the titular Pokemon Diamond and Pearl, the company had cycled through a variety of well-received Pokemon spin-offs. Although the likes of Pokemon Ranger, Pokemon Dash, and Pokemon Trozei (all released before Diamond and Pearl), were different enough from the main series of Pokemon by quite a few degrees of separation, 2005's release of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team took the series' formula and spun it on its head. Although these releases didn't get any sort of critical acclaim, fans ended up enjoying the titles, and they went on to be a resounding success. So much so, that ten years later we are receiving the fifth unique game in the series, as well as the tenth release for the sub-franchise overall in Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.[caption id="attachment_63776" align="alignleft" width="300"] Returning from previous PMD games; you can now accept more than one mission at a time![/caption]
While the mainline Pokemon series is strictly a turn-based RPG, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon (henceforth abbreviated as PMD for short) is instead a top-down dungeon crawler, bearing many similarities to rougelikes such as Nethack, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, or DOOMRL. Instead of capturing and training a Pokemon team to confront the Elite Four and eventually the champion of a Pokemon region, PMD has players embodying their starter Pokemon as they explore the in-game world and recruiting other Pokemon for their Rescue/Exploration/Etc. team. As far as the basic idea goes, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is the same as the rest of the PMD series in that regard.
Much like in the previous PMD games, each Pokemon you bring with you into a dungeon knows up to 4 moves, and the basic type-advantage system is still in play. Unlike the main series Pokemon games, there is much more of an emphasis on story, culminating in a 20+ hour adventure that doesn't hesitate to get dark. Additionally, players have access to a wide variety of items - orbs that can stun every enemy in a room, seeds that can revive members of your party if they faint, various berries that heal or cure your Pokemon - and more.
This time around, a few of the nuances to the series' dungeon crawling have been altered. Returning from the GBA and DS titles in the series, Hunger means that players will always have to keep a stock of food on hand to make sure that your party doesn't starve on some longer treks through the games' various dungeons. Additionally, besides Orbs and Seeds, a new mechanic appears in the form of the wand system. An Orb's effect will generally affect an entire room or the entirety of your party, and Seeds can only be used once and will affect a single tile, teammate, or enemy. Wands are a new feature that revolves around players finding these sticks on the ground of dungeons and picking them up to gather more and more charges for their specific uses. Their effects can range from a simple "stun" spell to warping an enemy or teammate away to even directing your team to the stairs leading to the next floor of the dungeon.
All of this is of course topped off by the all new "Emeras" and "Looplet" system. Looplets replace held items from previous PMD titles, each coming with their own special characteristics as well as a number of slots to place stat and characteristic changing "Emeras" in. Emeras are random crystals that can be found in almost any dungeon, and will provide the party member that they're equipped to with special powers or stat boosts. Emeras encompass a wide variety of different possible buffs; one Emeras might allow you to have a slight chance to attack twice, or one might allow your Pokemon to "Awaken", or even Mega Evolve if the Pokemon that has the Emeras equipped has an existing Mega Evolution. Some even work together with other Emeras to give even greater boosts to your Pokemon's abilities! Although they're only random crystals that only stay with your Pokemon for however long that they stay in the dungeon, they manage to make dungeons that much more exciting in the long run.[caption id="attachment_63777" align="alignright" width="300"] Although the new Connection Orb system has its flaws - the benefits of the more cohesive sense of progression might outweigh any issues it has.[/caption]
Besides that, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon reworks the entire recruitment system from previous titles into something entirely new. In older titles, players had to grind out each type of Pokemon individually, fulfill certain requirements, and then defeat the creatures for them to randomly join your party. Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon attempts the new Connection Orb system, wherein recruitment is tied to more traditional RPG sidequests. Although the change means that players are inherently limited to how many Pokemon they can eventually recruit, in the end the system probably works out for the best. Whereas most side-quest content in the previous PMDs was procedurally generated, tasks in this one are specific to each Pokemon that you connect to in the game. In practice most of these quests range from rescuing the Pokemon from a Mystery Dungeon that they're trapped in, to being ambushed by a Monster House, to anything in between.
Another especially large change comes in the form of who you can actually bring with you on quests. Unlike in previous games, you are explicitly (and seemingly randomly) limited towards which Pokemon can go on quests with you each in-game day. While players can now save their preferred party configurations for exploring the game's many dungeons, every day at least some Pokemon are going to decline from action. Marked by a grayed out name in the party menu and a special icon on the saved party configuration screen, these Pokemon can't be brought into a dungeon until their name is no longer grayed out. This means that you are never truly free to have a party as you choose. If the "rest" lottery decides to take one of your crew members out of commission, there is literally nothing you can do but hope that the same Pokemon is available the next day, along with the other members of your preferred dungeoneering party. To make matters even worse - the default party configuration supports one member less than in the previous titles, down to three from four.
As far as the game's content is concerned, there's enough here to last anyone a good long time. Just recruiting the more than seven hundred Pokemon will be a task of its own, as some of the later dungeons in the game can become especially brutal in regards to their difficulty. Fans of more traditional Dungeon Crawlers will probably find the difficulty welcoming, though admittedly compared to earlier games in the franchise, the new-found difficulty might turn some players off. Regardless, players that end up enjoying the full breadth of the game's experience are looking at least a hundred hours of content here, if not more.[caption id="attachment_63778" align="alignleft" width="300"] Compared to other titles in the franchise, PSMD has the largest world map. Players can travel to a variety of different continents as the game progresses, unlocking more and more dungeons as they go![/caption]
The game's presentation is probably its strongest asset. Not only does PSMD include arguably the greatest soundtrack out of all of the PMD titles to date, but the addition of some especially great cutscenes helps push the narrative forward. Graphically, the game is about the same as other Mystery Dungeon titles on the 3DS. It looks good, but there isn't too much outside of cutscenes that will knock your socks off regarding either artstyle or graphical prowess. The game's biggest drawback when it comes to presentation might be the fact that the story takes a while to really get going. Although the game's difficulty starts out fairly difficult compared to previous titles, the story still manages to feel like it's in the tutorial until the player is a chapter or two from moving onto Lively Town - or, in other words, about 1/3rd of the way through the game! However, once it does get going, the story manages to be an exciting a surprisingly dark adventure.
Overall, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon manages to meet most of the series expectations while still attempting something fairly new. Although there are a few questionable decisions regarding story pacing and team-building; Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon still succeeds at crafting arguably the best Pokemon Mystery Dungeon to date!
This review was based on a Japanese retail copy of the game that the reviewer purchased.
Overall, Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon manages to meet most of the series expectations while still attempting something fairly new. Although there are a few questionable decisions regarding story pacing and team-building; Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon still succeeds at crafting arguably the best Pokemon Mystery Dungeon to date!(Review Policy)