Gotta be them all
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity (GTI from now on) is the latest in the mystery dungeon series, where rather than enslaving Pokemon and forcing them to fight for you in barbaric blood sports, you are instead turned into a pokemon (you get a choice of five, but when one of them is what appears to be an upper-class snake is there realy any choice at all?) and appear to find out that they rather enjoy this kind of fighting. It’s a delicate line that Nintendo have tread for many years, but by making it something that the creatures themselves seem to take in their stride, it somehow makes it more palatable, even if the world of Pokemon is a horrific and brutal place. The game itself is somewhat akin to a roguelike dungeon crawler, with some light town management elements mixed in.
Graphically and musically GTI is a really solid 3DS game. It might not have any kind of ‘wow’ factor but by keeping the visuals to a fairly basic almost cel-shaded look they can keep the visual fidelity high, even in 3D. Similarly the music isn’t the most memorable, even for the series, but as you’ll be hearing it for fairly extended periods it’s really pleasant and often fits the tone well. The 3D effect in the game is put to good use, making the pokemon almost look like toys, but it doesn’t serve any real gameplay purpose at all.
Gameplay consists of walking around dungeons (mystery dungeons!) in a turn based manner (when you move so do all the enemies) and fighting other pocket monsters using the kind of abilities you expect from any pokemon game. You still level up and evolve, and can use a variety of items in your travels. Thankfully they don’t ask you to use poke balls at all, narrowly sidestepping the slaver identity I’m they’re keen to avoid. Combat is just as tactical as in any of the pokemon games, with a variety of different types and status buffs/drains that can be used to weaken your foes. Sometimes you’ll have four pokemon in your party and while you have no direct control over the other three, they do engage in the fights in just the same way as you do, although occasionally making fairly stupid decisions. Abilities still use up PP and once you’re out of them, that ability can no longer be used. Companions have a tendency to use all of their moves up on weak pokemon before you get to the eventual bosses, leaving them with pathetic moves for the most important fights.
Dungeon progression will be familiar to anyone who has played a roguelike or the original Diablo. You wander around randomised areas (laid out in a kind of grid) until you find the stairs to the next area, and then you progress until you get to the end. Generally at the end there’s a boss and/or some kind of item or reward. All of this is in aid of improving your dwelling and then eventually leads to a story with a kind of adversary and a climax, after which there’s still more dungeons to be found. Some of the dungeons rely on your finding round objects with your 3DS camera, which led to me discovering I don’t actually own many round things. After fetching some plates and at one point drawing a circle, I was ready to enter the dungeons created. It’s a nice idea but still feels distinctly like a gimmick and is underselling the potential of the 3DS that seems elusive to so many developers despite being used so well with the AR cards that come with the console.
In between your bouts of reasonably enjoyable and tactical (if repetitive) dungeon crawling are numerous unskippable cut-scenes. Since you’re a pokemon now, you can talk to others and hear what they have to say, and my god are they boring and twee. I understand this is at heart a kid’s game and I’m definitely not the right audience for it, but so much of the dialogue is incredibly sickly-sweet with moral messages aimed unceremoniously at your every twenty minutes or so. There’s a few interesting characters and definitely more depth to some of the earlier characters than you might expect, but when each mini-arc comes to the same idea about the power of friendship and believing in yourself it makes you want to invent some kind of tiny sphere that you could lock these pokemon away in and never hear from them again.
The cut-scenes take an incredibly long time, and as none are voice acted, they just involve you pressing ‘A’ over and over again to get through them. There’s few animated sections in them, and none in the style of the cartoon (perhaps I’ve been spoilt by Professor Layton) so there’s little to hold your interest. This game is at it’s best when it’s a pick-up and play dungeon crawler, but they keep trying to shoehorn personality into it.
If you’re crazy about Pokemon, or want something light-hearted and fairly easy to pass the time with on short commutes then Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is definitely a lot of fun. I still get a thrill from adding new pokemon to my team or seeing my character evolve. Similarly when you work out a good combination of moves and bring down an intimidating foe without taking any damage you begin to appreciate the hidden depth that has supported Pokemon games for so long. But be prepared to wade through the tedious cut-scenes and twee morality.