Fifteen years ago, Chunsoft (now Spike Chunsoft) brought a new face to the classic roguelike Mystery Dungeon franchise by adding Pokémon to it. This venture proved to be a success, and thus a new Pokémon spin-off line was born. Now, to celebrate the franchise’s anniversary, Spike Chunsoft has remade the first entries for Switch. Featuring a brand new art style, elements from later in the franchise, and the most important part, over 300 Pokémon, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX attempts to breathe new life into the franchise. For the most part, it succeeds, but not without a few major drawbacks.
Welcome to the world of Pokémon (Mystery Dungeon)!
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX isn’t your traditional Pokémon game. Instead of trainers pitting their partners in fierce combat with each other, the world of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon focuses on the peaceful cohabitation of Pokémon and their willingness to help each other out in times of trouble. As such, you play as a human-turned Pokémon who, alongside your trusty new partner, forms a Rescue Team to assist those in peril. Your mysterious transformation comes at a great cost though — you have no memories of your human self. Who are you?
Identity crisis aside, your appearance comes at a frantic time for the Pokémon community. Natural disasters plague the land and are becoming increasingly common and dangerous. Could the two events be related? It’s your job to find answers to those questions.
One thing is for certain though. The world of Pokémon never looked this good. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is presented in a storybook-like art style, and it works exceptionally well given the more lighthearted, cutesy nature of the game. If you can’t get enough of the art, there’s even an “admire illustration” button on the main menu, which is something more games should have.
A unique twist on the Pokémon formula
As a Pokémon spin-off, Mystery Dungeon‘s mechanics are drastically different from what we’re used to. The core gameplay has you exploring a series of increasingly lengthy and challenging dungeons. These mystery dungeons are so-called because each floor and its contents are randomly generated. Much like other roguelikes, this also means that if your team faints, you lose all currently held money and items. Luckily, you can either rescue yourself or put out a week-long request online to save yourself from this fate.
Your main objective is to find the stairs to get to the next floor, but if you have side quests active, you may find yourself trying to complete those along the way. This is easier said than done though. Play progresses in a turn-based manner, with each step, attack, or item use counting as a single turn. After each turn, the enemies will act, and this pattern holds throughout. While this process seems rather simple on the surface, there’s a lot of depth hidden within if you look for it. For instance, while you only ever directly control one Pokémon at a time, you can set your main allies’ AI to behave a certain way. If you don’t want them to attack, you can tell them not to. If you want your team to split up and explore separately, you can do that too. Options such as these add strategic value to what otherwise could be a rather menial mechanic.
Also impeding your progress is resource management. After every seven basic actions, you’ll lose one point of hunger. If your belly meter drops to zero, you’ll take damage every step until you switch leaders or eat something. You also have limited inventory space, so strategically planning what to take into the dungeon with you, what you pick up, and when to use items plays an essential part in your success, particularly in the longer late-game dungeons.
Much like other games in the franchise, you can recruit new members to your Rescue Team as well, though as a Pokémon yourself, you can’t throw Poké Balls. Instead, recruitment occurs in the natural course of combat. You’ll also need to invest in Pokémon habitats referred to as camps. Each camp has a very specific set of Pokémon it can house. After defeating an enemy with your active Pokémon, you have a chance of being able to recruit it to your party. If you exit the dungeon and have the correct camp for that Pokémon, you’ll have the option to have it join your team permanently. Otherwise, the partnership will only last until it faints or for the duration of the dungeon.
As far as the main story goes, I clocked in about 20 hours, but I spent a fair bit of time just grinding out side missions. Even so, like any Pokémon game, there’s a wealth of post-story content. Most dungeons aren’t unlocked until after the main story, which also means that many Pokémon won’t be found until afterward as well. If you’re hoping to fully complete the game, you’ll be sinking a lot of time into this one.
Fun, but flawed
As much fun as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is, it can’t help but get really repetitive after a time. While the varied environments, Pokémon, and art style help to reduce this static feeling, at the end of the day, your main objective remains the same in each dungeon. Yes, there are side quests you can do to spice things up, but there’s only a small handful of mission types, and these start to get old as well. This repetitiveness didn’t grate on me as much as I expected it to, but if you’re the type that is always looking for something new to keep your interest, you won’t find it here.
My other big complaint is that the difficulty curve is more like a difficulty peak. The first half or so of the story is rather straightforward, as Mystery Dungeon keeps throwing new mechanics at you. At around the halfway mark, the difficulty spikes up unexpectedly due to a number of story-based restrictions and the ever-increasing length of dungeons. If you’re not prepared for it, this can really catch you off guard, though the game does give you options to train a bit before heading into the gauntlet. After the story restrictions are lifted, the difficulty eases down a bit, though the length of the late-game dungeons prevents it from dropping too far. Even they have nothing on some of the extraordinarily massive post-game dungeons though, so you’ll really need to demonstrate mastery of the game if you want to beat everything.
On a lighter note, I really like the online capabilities of Mystery Dungeon, though I have concerns about the long-term usefulness of the system. If your team faints in a dungeon, you can send out a rescue request, which lasts for a week. If another team comes along to revive you, your team can resume play right where you left off with no penalty. The one time I fainted, I was rescued within 20 minutes. But as the game ages and people move on, I imagine it will be harder to get help. Luckily, you can also send one of your own teams out to save you, or you can simply lose your dungeon progress and restart it, so it’s not a huge issue.
Overall, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a solid remake of a unique Pokémon spin-off. Looks can be deceiving, and there’s a surprising amount of depth to the mechanics if you’re looking for it. The art style is phenomenal and really helps bring the game to life. I’m not sure there’s enough variety to keep the majority of people interested after completing the story though. The trove of content waiting to be unlocked after the main game is nice, but at the end of the day, it’s just more repetitive dungeon grinding. While I personally love this remake, there’s not enough variety here to keep the average player interested for the long haul.
A review code was provided by the publisher.