Since Pikachu’s Vacation, we have known that—despite nominative, and therefore linguistic, differences—Pokémon have their own interactions beyond human influence. They laugh, they fight, they party down, and they have adventures all their own. But, what happens when an adventure goes awry? What happens when a Pokémon is lost to the depths of a dungeon? Well, they’re rescued of course. This isn’t some tragic, twisted tale: this is Pokémon. And the power of courage and friendship trumps all—even the perils of walking ninety-nine floors beneath the actual ocean.
Originally gracing our handhelds fifteen years ago, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is an interesting spin-off of the standard Pokémon formula. Gone are gyms, trainers, professors, Pokedexes, and mothers who wait until after you’ve walked one town over to give you shoes capable of supporting a run. Instead, you awaken as a Pokémon—a Pokémon who was once human. Mysterious, to say the least. Thrown into an uncertain world—not helped by the amnesia you are afflicted with—you immediately befriend a cheerful Pokémon and decide to join their rescue team: vowing to save Pokémon who have found themselves in harm’s way. Luckily(?) for you, a lot of Pokémon seem to be losing themselves in dungeons; requiring a series of increasingly difficult ventures into the unknown.
As a member of the Mystery Dungeon franchise, Rescue Team DX follows the same roguelike formula. You venture into a randomly generated floor, gather as many items as you wish, beat any enemies who cross your path, and do your damndest to find the stairs to the next level. Rinse and repeat this process and you’ve got yourself the game. It doesn’t exactly sound like a riveting gameplay loop when laid out so plainly, but it is a surprisingly addictive one. Never have I ever been so thrilled by the sight of stairs, not to mention if I find them in the first room of a floor: exhilarating. This feeling is bolstered the more you play, as the increasing number of floors makes progress all the more satisfying. It’s actually sort of funny, as the Pokémon aspect of the game seemingly exists just to stop you from finding the stairs. I mean, we’ve all used a Repel or two in main series Pokémon, but battling is still the point of the game. In Mystery Dungeon, you could quite happily skip every battle in favour of rushing to the exit. That is, if you didn’t have to fight bosses on occasion. These tough fights make levelling through battle necessary, you know, like Pokémon. Still, it is immensely satisfying to skip a floor full of enemies without ever having to fight them.
Oh, Apples are also important. Like, super important. See, wandering through the depths of mystery make for a very hungry Pokémon—the cure for which is Apples. Fail to pack enough in your Toolbox and you’ll find yourself starving mid-adventure. Just like in the real world: that’s bad. Starving prevents your health from recovering naturally and provides a charmingly unsettling, flashing icon to keep you aware of your status…also it kills you. Not right away, but it turns out that continuing to move whilst devoid of all nutrition is a bad idea. Also, it’s slightly demoralising to fail on account of Apples, rather than being bested by an opponent who commands the forces of nature. Oh, there are a lot of opponents who command the forces of nature…like, a lot. They’re also not shy about telling you how they command the forces of nature. They’re very proud of that.
Speaking of commanding forces, the post-game is definitely one of the challenging variety. Beaten the thirty-four-level dungeons that caps off the story? Why not venture through ninety-nine floors? Also, you’re temporarily bumped back to level five—you know, because. Though there are story threads woven throughout the post-game, dungeons such as the aforementioned exist solely to test your skill. I say “your” skill because I haven’t managed to best the particularly challenging dungeons, but I am compelled to try. Also, I plan to use as many stat-boosting items as I can muster—to compensate for my lack of skill. Still, the best way to acquire said items is by venturing online to rescue other players who have fallen in battle; so, I can at least help others as I help myself. I think that counts as being nice…
Cards on the table, I’ve been looking forward to Rescue Team DX since I heard it was being made. I’ve played each Pokémon version of Mystery Dungeon, and was as excited as I was surprised that the franchise wasn’t dead. Though the random nature of its gameplay can give rise to frustration—looking at you Pokémon who one-shot me from across the room—it never dissuades me from playing for too long. Also, the fifteen years of gaming between the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and this remake have given me some time to polish my skills…I didn’t exactly use it, but I certainly had it. Oh, also the new art style is really pretty, and the quality of life improvements are a breath of fresh air. Double also, the personality test labelled me a Cubone…and I’m not quite sure how to feel about that. Lonely, I presume.