A Massive Improvement on an Established Series
As the fourth installment of Spike Chunsoft’s Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, Super has a lot to make up for. While the first couple of games were fun but not great, the series took a nosedive into terrible territory with Gates to Infinity. Now with another generation of Pokemon to have in your party, along with the promise of having all 720 Pokemon available, does this installment have any reason to be played?
The story begins after you answer a set of questions to help choose which Pokemon you will be, though if you do not like what the game decides, you have the ability to disregard it and pick whomever you want. Every Starter Pokemon from the main games are available, so you get a wide range of choices. Additionally, each Pokemon available has a unique move that they normally cannot learn to help out in the dungeon, such as Treeko knowing Dragonbreath, which assists greatly at the beginning of the game. Next up, you choose your partner Pokemon.
After your choices are completed, the story begins with you waking up in a forest without any memories except for the fact that you were once a human. Startled the player character runs into a trio of Beheeyem who then chase the player wishing to capture them for nefarious purposes. Eventually the player runs into a lone Nuzleaf who takes them in to hide away from the Beheeyem until their memory comes back. While in hiding out at Nuzleaf’s home in Serene Village, the player starts to attend school, where they then meet their partner Pokemon, an obnoxious Pokemon who is the token “Joke” of the school, with all the other students shunning them for wanting to leave the village and join the Pokemon Expedition Society and travel the world looking for adventure.
Elsewhere, a mysterious creature is turning everything into stone, threatening to take over the world. After a certain point in the story, the player and their partner join up with the Expedition Society to combat this threat and save the world.
While the story of Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is nothing unique and the plot goes exactly where the other games in the series went, the game more than makes up with it by having all of the main characters, player character excluded, Whomever you choose as your partner starts off as a klutz, an annoyance, and an expert on peer pressure, but gradually evolves into a much more advanced character with a surprising amount of development. When you join the expedition Society later in the game, you get a wide variety of characters, from a glutton, someone who always wants to fight, to the leader, an Ampharos who can never quite seem to know where he is going. Even after most of the game was completed, the characters still had charm. It is especially surprising, considering the game before it did not have anything in character development or personality of any kind. The only major gripe in the story is after you hit the halfway point, the story basically comes to a complete halt until you complete enough side missions and unlock enough Pokemon for the game to decide to continue. It’s a massive wall that feels unnecessary as it happens right after the main plot opens up.
In terms of gameplay, Super Mystery Dungeon, like the games before it, it a randomly generated dungeon crawler. You control a team of one to four Pokemon through a series of floors towards a goal, whether that is saving a Pokemon from fainting, beating the snot of of another, or simply clearing the dungeon. As you advance in the main game, you obtain a Connection Orb, which is the main way you obtain new Pokemon. The Connection Orb is a nexus of every Pokemon released as of yet, connected to one another through a series of webs. Sometimes a Pokemon will have a mission for you, like giving an item to it in a dungeon or finding their secret base. Once you complete the goal, you unlock that Pokemon and the web expands, giving you access to more. It’s a fun new addition in this game, and it makes it much easier to get Pokemon, unlike previous entries where it was random after you knock them out in a dungeon.
Just as you’d expect in pretty much every Pokemon game, you have four moves to hit opposing enemies. The Pokemon type matchup of old is ever-prevalent, and even more necessary than ever, as the game hits harder than the typical turn based games of the main line games. As well, some moves only hit directly in front of you, while others hit in a straight line or damage everyone in the room that you are located in. If you don’t have a wide range of moves, as well as type advantages, be prepared for the hardest game in any Pokemon game, main series or not. Super Mystery Dungeon is not at all easy. After you beat the first couple dungeons, the game makes a steady climb upwards in difficulty, with some of the bosses able to knock you out in one hit if you are not leveled up high enough or have not brought the proper items. There are more than 100 Dungeons on 5 continents, all with a wide variety of Pokemon and moves to hit. After you beat the main portion of the story, a couple unique dungeons open up where it is 99 floors, lower your Pokemon’s level to 5 and forbid you to bring any items with you. This is where the true difficulty of the game presides. Unless you are spot on with moves, as well as gotten lucky with staircases letting you advance further in, there is a massive chance that you will fail time and time again.
Item management is key in Super Mystery Dungeon. The fact that the game can either drop you in a floor where the stairs are in the same floor as you, or it can drop you in a room where a swarm of enemy Pokemon can destroy your health in a couple of moves, you need to be well stocked at all times. Reviver Seeds for restoring your HP after hitting zero, Oran Berries to heal you in a pinch, and Apples to heal your ever-falling belly meter are necessary in every dungeon that you go through. Forget to bring enough apples and you start to lose health every step? Better be prepared to faint, which is the absolute worst, as you lose every item in your inventory and all the money that you pick up during your romp through the area. Blast Seeds are a necessary item early in the game, as the damage that they cause enemy Pokemon are the best way to get past bosses if you have type disadvantages, or are fighting a particularly tough Legendary Pokemon. Shops are available, though like almost everything else in the game, the stock is all random, so sometimes you may get the exact item you need, while other times you are out of luck and have to hope that you can find something useful in the dungeons before its necessary to use.
Quite possibly the worst part of the game is the music. While a couple of the tracks amp you up and make you want to play and defeat everything, they are few and far between, and almost all exclusive to areas outside the dungeons. It’s a shame, as previous games in the Mystery Dungeon series all had decent soundtracks. You can unlock a Jukebox a little into the game that has a collection of songs from the past, which is a nice touch, though you cannot play them outside of the Jukebox area. Aesthetically speaking, the visuals in Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon are largely unremarkable. If you ever looked at Gates to Infinity, it has few improvements over its predecessor. While the Pokemon themselves are rendered in 3D, the game’s dungeons are bland looking, with just the same variety that one would expect, from forests to caves, and rivers. Turning on the 3D function seems pointless, because after the Quiz portion at the beginning of the game, it never shows a use for the feature. Another feature, evolving, is basically pointless, as you can only do so after you beat the main game, and at that point almost every Pokemon you have that can evolve, you most likely have already unlocked it with the Connection Orb.
If you enjoy randomly generated dungeons, or are a massive fan of the Pokemon franchise, this game may have what you need. However, remember that almost everything is randomly generated and that massive amounts of rage will happen if the game decides to screw over the dungeon design. Still, with over 100 dungeons and 720 Pokemon to collect, it has a whole lot of content if you are into this sort of game.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.