As I write this article in the middle of March 2020, I find myself stuck at home in Britain due to a nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.
Everywhere I look, it’s doom and gloom as the coronavirus deluges the news cycle. I could use an escape from all this anxiety, or perhaps… a rescue.
Yes, a rescue team.
So let’s talk about Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX, the 2020 Nintendo Switch remake of the similarly-titled Pokémon-themed roguelite JRPG-esque turn-based dungeon crawler originally released in 2005.
While I’m sure there are plenty of more important things to talk about right now, it’s still genuinely comforting to know I can sit at home and enjoy a simple video game that’s filled with pure happiness, colour, joy, and the occasional psychic duck.
Meowth and me
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, you wake up one day in a strange new world and find that you’ve been transformed into a Pokémon. Gasp!
Fortunately, the first person you meet is an energetic, lovable, and very talkative Pokémon who becomes your best friend and welcomes you to this magical, human-free world of talking Pokémon.
Together, you form a Rescue Team that constantly delves into various dangerous dungeons to rescue hapless Pokémon and, perhaps, solve the mystery of what’s happening in this world and why you were transformed into a pocket monster.
And turning back into a human is also a goal… I guess? The story tries to paint the fact that you’ve been transformed into a Pokémon as a “bad” thing, but let’s be honest here – if I suddenly woke up as a beloved yellow mouse with the power of lightning, returning to being a boring human who has to wear pants will be the last thing on my mind.
The game’s narrative should just embrace the fact that becoming and befriending Pokémon in a world full of talking Pokémon is a fantasy that any sensible person would enjoy, because the concept is as magical and delightful as the watercolour aesthetics that permeate the game’s visual design.
As with most Pokémon games, the variety of creatures you get to meet and recruit is the main draw of the game.
To start off, you get to choose the species of your character and your buddy from a list of 16 Pokémon. (I’m a Squirtle with an Eevee partner, because I have to represent my Gen 1 OGs.)
Whatever you choose, be aware that each Pokémon has its own array of Abilities, Moves, and (newly introduced in this game) Rare Qualities that lets it interact with the exploration and combat mechanics in ways that are substantially different from the mainline Pokemon games.
For example, in Pokémon Sword/Shield, a Squirtle’s Water Type only matters when calculating damage from Fire or Grass moves; Water Gun is just its basic attack.
In Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, my Squirtle can cross water tiles because of his Type; and his Water Gun attack has a range of two tiles in a straight line, making physical positioning on a 2D map a new important factor to consider in Pokemon battles.
Later on, you’ll get to recruit additional members to your Rescue Team either by completing quests (usually in the basic “Find Pokémon X which is trapped in Dungeon Y” variety) or through combat while exploring dungeons, because if anime like Dragonball Z has taught us anything, it’s that defeating your enemies is a great way to make friends.
Resource management – from managing your food items so your team doesn’t go hungry, to being judicious with your limited Moves – plays an important strategic element in your long dungeon crawls.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon’s gameplay has more thoughtful tactical and strategic depth compared to the mainline Pokemon games, which is great. However, there is still one problem: if you were planning to Catch ‘Em All, then you need to prepare for the grind.
If you want to recruit a Bagon, for example, you must first build a camp worth 3,000 coins, because a cheap Poke ball accommodation isn’t a thing in this world.
This means you’ll need to perform repeated dungeon runs, earning a few hundred coins each time. Repeat that for about the 40+ other camps that cater for different species groups, which cost 500 to 9,000 coins each.
Then, if you want a team of strong Pokémon (and trust me, you want to power up your main character and partner to extreme levels before you meet Xatu in the storyline), you’ll want to amass “dojo tickets”, which are also earned through a lot of repeated play.
This feeling of repetition is made worse by how generic the randomly generated dungeons eventually feel, which is a typical problem for many roguelites and roguelikes. This means that while Pokémon encounters are generally exciting, the long stretches of dungeon exploration can make the minute-to-minute gameplay feel boring.
Heck, even the game knows this, because it literally has a button that lets you automatically and speedily explore whole dungeons, stopping only when you encounter a wild enemy Pokémon!
Strangely, I’m completely OK with this. Partly, it’s because repetition and grinding is simply intrinsic to the experience of building a perfect Pokémon team. Partly, it’s because I have a personal soft spot for roguelites/roguelikes.
But mostly, it’s because I play Pokémon Mystery Dungeon not as a cerebral challenge, but as a carefree relaxation game – I play the game in auto-mode with my Nintendo Switch in hand, while I’m watching the TV for hours, as my mind zones out after a long day of working in self-isolation.
Happy in a dungeon
The game isn’t a hyper-engaging challenge that tests my brains and skills, and it isn’t a game that keeps me awake at night thinking of its deep and nuanced mysteries. It doesn’t need to be.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is just a simple, charming, and ultimately relaxing game I can switch on any time I want to destress and unwind.
And honestly, given how I’m writing this while locked inside my home and isolated from the rest of the world, I’m simply happy that I can still go exploring and make friends – even if those friends are loveable electric mice that don’t wear pants.
PROS: You get to become and befriend a wide variety of Pokémon; it’s colourful, bright and joyful.
CONS: Repetitive gameplay, quite possibly by design.
POKEMON MYSTERY DUNGEON: RESCUE TEAM DX
(The Pokemon Company/Spike Chunsoft)
Dungeon crawler for Switch
PRICE: US$59.99 (RM265)
RATING: 5 stars