Some matches are most certainly made in heaven, such as chocolate and hazelnut, bacon with pretty much anything (food or non-food, it doesn’t matter), and lensless hipster glasses’ fantastic pairing with being removed, stepped on, placed gently in a bin and said bin being set alight. One forced union that I could never quite get my head around, however, was that between the roguelike genre and Pokémon that takes place in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. These games seem to belong to a series of phenomena where the coupling together of two separate fantastic games seems to produce a result that is somehow less than the sum of the parts that made it. While the games are somewhat enjoyable to play, and will no doubt be blindly snapped up by those who simply have to own anything with the Pokémon label on it, they somehow fall remarkably shy of the line that denotes a ‘good’ game. After playing Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky, I instantly had to set aside the heartbreak at seeing what had become of the Pokémon name in order to focus on some suggestions and ideas that would serve to improve the game.
Dimensions? A Third Would be Nice
Since the last mystery dungeon game for the DS was released in 2009, and we are now in 2013, it feels like there should be some aesthetic improvements to the Mystery Dungeon series, since their look has remained consistently basic and has improved only slightly on each release. I can’t help but feel that there has been some kind of technological advancement in handheld gaming technology between the aforementioned years as well. That’s right, the Nintendo 3DS. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Explorers of the Sky 2 (which will likely have a better name than this) is going to have to ignore the behaviour of Game Freak/Nintendo in their release of Pokémon Black and White Version 2 on the limited DS hardware and provide us with a fully-fledged, three-dimensional title.
One can only speculate, but the battles of Mystery Dungeon would be remarkably improved with the 3DS’s hardware, as would the dungeons themselves, which in spite of their randomly generated nature became incredibly repetitive. The rigid grid placement system of the game could also be discarded and replaced with a positioning system that allows us to freely move our Pokémon around the opponent in a 360-degree fashion. The Mystery Dungeon series could finally benefit from some 3D models of Pokémon, as well as more comprehensive move animations that do the moves some justice (particularly the fighting moves; I’d love to see ‘Counter’ or ‘Force Palm’ in real-time).
New Starters, More Pokémon
One of the things that really grinds my gears about the Mystery Dungeon games is the relatively limited choice of Pokémon available, and this is in reference to both the starter Pokémon and the number of Pokémon you actually encounter during your adventure. The scope of both is simply too limited, so it would be interesting to see the next game take full advantage of the massive pool of Pokémon that is available. Each Mystery Dungeon game offers a few more Pokémon for your adventure, but the provision is nowhere near generous enough. New starter Pokémon are required, as is the expansion of variety of Pokémon that you encounter as opponents in the game.
If this aspect of the game isn’t on everyone’s ‘shambolic failure’ list, then it damn well should be. ‘Explorers of the Sky’ has perhaps one of the weakest storylines I’ve encountered in pretty much any game, and insult to injury comes with the fact that the story is pretty much identical to its predecessors. Not only does the sequel need to take a leap into unknown territory and employ a little creativity in its plot, it needs to come up with something more than the theft of your partner’s precious relic fragment and their resultant pairing up on a wonderfully sickly adventure of discovery and dungeon-sprinkled adventure of almost no meaning. How about some links in with the main series of games? Any chance we can get a glimpse of Unova, Johto, Kanto, or any other of these regions? It’s also about time the dungeons became more than simple facets of gameplay, and while the idea is for them to be random, a little creative license needs to taken in order to weave these dungeons into the plot a little more.
Another fundamentally frustrating flaw of the Mystery Dungeon Series of Games is the lack of control that you have over your partner Pokémon. My initial excitement at being able to choose Riolu faded spectacularly when I remember that as a partner Pokémon, his participation in the gameplay would be passive at best. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of the Sky 2 would do well to offer the same amount of control that you have over your main Pokémon as is enjoyed over your partner Pokémon. A simple system of temporarily switching between the two active Pokémon in each dungeon would greatly improve the gameplay and bring some substance and meaning to the choosing of your partner Pokémon in the first place
Though you partner Pokémon is of course a big help to your cause, the fact remains that the one and only Pokémon you have full control over is the one that you don’t even get to choose definitively, and is instead picked according to your responses to a set of arbitrary questions that you must answer at the beginning. I can’t emphasise enough just how ridiculous of a notion it is that you are unable to choose your main Pokémon directly, and are instead forced to rely on the game’s analysis of your answers to a meaningless set of questions to decide which Pokémon will form the backbone of your team throughout the adventure. The time for these questions has passed: we need full, unrestricted choice of our main Pokémon in future.