Throughout it’s 20+ year history, the Pokémon franchise has enjoyed several spinoff games with each new generation. Ranging from photography in Pokémon Snap, to Tactical RPG gameplay in Pokémon Conquest, even letting you battle Pokémon in 3D – long before the main series games made the jump – in Pokémon Stadium and Battle Revolution.
One section of their spinoff games made their mark on me: Pokémon Mystery Dungeon.
Named and inspired by the Mystery Dungeon series, the games follow a turn-based structure where player characters and enemies move on a grid, a style seen in several roguelike games throughout history. Each “Mystery Dungeon” has a set number of floors, but each of these floors will be procedurally generated for both layout and hazards, meaning multiple runs of the same dungeon won’t get stale.
The game in focus today will be the Explorers of Sky title for the Nintendo DS, being my favourite entry in the series for several reasons.
A brief plot synopsis follows normal series conventions, you are a human who has been mysteriously turned into a Pokémon (chosen by the nature determined by a pre-opening personality test). You’re washed up on a beach where you’re found by your soon-to-be partner Pokémon, in search of a relic which is important to them.
After finding this relic, your partner suggests joining the local explorer’s guild. This begins your journey in the Pokémon world, as you try to uncover how you came to be in this situation and soon discover a plot that could bring about the end of the world.
Gameplay basics have already been covered, and the game follows standard Pokémon conventions. You have a level, you have Hit Points (HP), you have moves with a limited number of Power Points (PP), you gain experience by defeating other Pokémon.
What differs is being able to gather and use items yourself in these dungeons, ranging from Berries to heal you and your partner Pokémon; various throwing objects to deal with enemies; “orbs” which can have potent effects for the dungeon floor you’re currently on; and food.
In one of the game’s more dividing mechanics, the player has a belly meter, and the lower the belly meter is, the less efficient your self-healing is. If it depletes completely, you start to take damage until you eat a food item. Whilst this can cause annoyance in the larger dungeons, it’s not a massive undertaking to manage, especially if you come in prepared and plan item usage.
The amount of content on offer in the game is monumental. Throughout the game you can take on side missions from a bounty board within the guildhall, these are all within dungeons you have already cleared the story section for and can include delivering an item to someone in the dungeon, rescuing a lost Pokémon, or escorting someone through the dungeon to a specific floor.
This also extends to an extremely well designed postgame. Not only do you have a substantial bit of plot to finish up; more dungeons are unlocked as you go, some of these carrying a pre-entry condition to make the experience harder.
All of these combine to form an extremely well-rounded dungeon crawling RPG, one that you can sink countless hours into on the go due to the portable nature of the DS.
However, this article is twofold, because I’ve covered what makes me so excited about the gameplay, and in my time with it, I sunk about 300 hours into the game, it really did keep me playing.
For the next section I’m going add a huge Spoilers Ahead to whatever I say, as I’m going to be covering a good section of the end of the main story…
Still here? Awesome.
As the plot progresses, you go through several twists and a villain change, until you discover that the way to avert an apocalyptic scenario is to replace the Time Gears (plot important items) at Temporal Tower, where the legendary Pokemon Dialga has reverted to his Primal state due to the destabilisation of time.
One companion sacrifices themselves to ensure you can complete your quest, leaving just you and your partner. As it goes with the series near the end, you, as both player and Pokemon discover that once the world is saved, you are to disappear from this world having fulfilled your purpose. The player character decides to keep this from the partner, focusing instead on the impending dungeon.
An imposing structure and a storm of unknown energy swirling above are what greets the pair. This is the point of no-return, and the dungeon music reflects this. A foreboding piece with a mix of light and heavy percussion, but with slight undertones of solemnity as the track progresses.
After several floors, you reach Temporal Pinnacle. A small shrine with carved indentations for the Time Gears await you, but lightning knocks you back as you are confronted by Primal Dialga. Enraged and beyond reasoning; he’ll only back down once you defeat him.
Following a beautifully scored fight, you rush back to the shrine and place the time gears in. It seems as if you were both too late as the storm continues to rage, knocking you unconscious.
You come to and see that your partner is safe as you are approached by Dialga, showing you images of the now-saved world with the assurance that the world will slowly return to how it was.
Leaving the now saved tower, your player character acknowledges that their body feels heavy, and realises that this is the lead up to their disappearance. As the yellow lights begin to circle, you finally open up to your partner about your fate. Knowing your time is limited, you focus on thanking them for going on adventures with you, telling them they must live their life, tell the story of what happened and that even as you disappear; you will never forget the memories forged together.
Your partner goes off, and tells the story of what happened, whenever they can. Eventually they return to the beach where they first met you, reminiscing on past adventures, to the point where the emotions become too much and they break down crying.
Such an intense sorrow is felt even by Dialga, who, as thanks for preventing the world’s demise, grants the partner one gift.
Partner and player get to continue their adventures once more.
This ending hits me particularly hard, even on subsequent playthroughs. Which you’d think is strange, I know it’s coming, so why do I always shed a few tears when it arrives?
Well, there’s a lot of myself I see in the interactions between player and partner. The partner frequently says that the player makes them stronger, gives them the ability to feel brave, let’s them achieve things that they didn’t think possible.
And its bonds as strong as those that hurt the most to lose. Sometimes you don’t get a final goodbye like in the game, a lot of the time, they’ll just fade.
But the memories will remain. The good, the bad, the painful.
And you carry them with you, to nurture the bonds you have today.