Posted by: peanutmaster | July 22, 2008

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers Of Darkness – Nintendo – DS

When we played the first Mystery Dungeon game, we thought that we had seen everything Pokemon could give. Now we know that that simply isn’t true.

It’s apparently a stark kind of reality, living the life of a Pokémon. If Chunsoft’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness is to be believed, Nintendo’s pocket monsters inhabit a cute civil war-torn world, filled with randomised, yet repetitious surroundings, explored through stilted movements and combat. Indeed, who would’ve thought that washing up on the shores of a mysterious Pokémon-ridden land, teaming up with a mysterious Pokémon partner, and heading out on not so mysterious Pokémon dungeon expeditions would be so… so… boring?

Then again, plopping the pocket critters into maze-like environments and seeing what padded playtime sticks isn’t a new trick for the aging franchise. After all, the ‘main’ series of Pokémon games has its fair share of mind-numbing dungeon-esque sections. Of course, the main difference here, as anyone who has played 2006’s Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team and/or Red Rescue Team would be quick to point out, is that the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games: a) cast you in the role of a human turned Pokémon overnight, thereby b) do not include your human trainings, gym badges, and “to be the very best like no one ever was”, meaning c) Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games are instead heavily based on the roguelike genre of videogames, albeit under a different franchise flavour. Think along the lines of NetHack, or, to a more popularised extent, the Diablo series.

Unlike the heck-filled dankness of Blizzard’s looting LSD, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness has an undeniable charm on its side. As saccharinely cheerful as they’ve ever been, the personable aesthetic design of a typical Pokémon title is overflowing here. The art and animation, sometimes overly bright, colourful and definitely far from indicative of what DS hardware is capable of, is nevertheless endearing. The sound effects and music, while gratingly jaunty at times, would make even the surliest PALGN forum member crack a smile. Likewise, the game’s plot is as bizarre as it is negligible, with an underground syndicate of Pokémon plundering dungeons worldwide, all in the name of a non-descript Wigglytuff. Tooth-decaying sweetness all round then.

That said, potential players are well-advised not to be (completely) fooled by Explorers of Darkness’ superficial designs. When it comes down to the game’s proverbial main course of dungeon exploration and real-time battling gameplay, Explorers of Darkness is as hardened as they come — well, as ‘hardened’ as something aimed at the average ten-year-old, anyway. While it’s a far cry from Chunsoft’s prior unapologetically difficult Mystery Dungeon games of over the past decade or so, Explorers of Darkness offers a viable learning experience for the non-roguelike youth of today.

Battles, arguably the largest staple of the Pokémon franchise are all too familiar, yet all too different in Explorers of Darkness. There’s still the curious politeness of waiting your turn to strike. The bonus emphasises on the elemental/physical types of the Pokémon scuffing it out once again also comes into the equation. But rather than the skirmishes be completely commanded through a menu screen, Explorers of Darkness, allows real-time tile-based decision-making and planning. In turn, this means the field of exploration and movement becomes a much larger concern than in a traditional Pokémon game. Granted, you’d like to corner an enemy Pokémon in a secluded area, just as much as you wouldn’t want your Squirtle avatar surrounded by a circle of Ivysaurs. But it’s here where one of the largest problems with the largest chunk of gameplay to be eked out of Explorers of Darkness rears its frightful Jynx-like features. Sure, the controls can be a bit unresponsive at times, while at other points rapidly bashing the attack button gets the job done, albeit mindlessly so. The extraneous battle menu designs, an ugly trial in navigation, don’t instill much confidence in the ambitions of the developers either. However, these are minor niggles in light of the environment-related frustration awaiting the young and old.
Again, as a Pokémon-flavoured roguelike, Explorers of Darkness embraces randomly-generated dungeons. Meaning no two visits to a level, along with the placement of items and enemies contained within, are ever the same. Ergo players shouldn’t be expecting intricately designed dungeons — or for that matter, balanced play areas. Players will therefore certainly laugh the first time they enter a dungeon and see the exit to the next level right there in front of them. The next ten times it occurs, those same players will begin wondering what the so-called ‘Mystery’ of these ‘Pokémon Dungeons’ is all about — especially in relation to their implied ‘Exploration’ (or lack thereof). Likewise, battles can and do suffer at the hands of these impulsively-created environments. Like a proverbial roll of the dice, players will find themselves entering a new area, only to be surrounded by more higher levelled enemies than their measly Piplup can ever hope to whip a penguin-like tail at.

Don’t be looking to your team-mates’ dumbfounded AI to be lending an effective hand in such cases, either, as they’ll be having a hard enough time as it is navigating the levels as well. Considering the emphasis on success more or less relies on grinding that experience up, it also doesn’t help that the unevenly generated dungeons is where the majority of gameplay will be taking place. The in-between mission exposition and side-quests do little to hide the overall repetitive nature of the overall game’s objectives.
Much has been promoted of Explorers of Darkness’  Wi-fi capabilities. While there isn’t anything of the multiplayer battling sort on offer, there is somewhat of a nifty player-to-player messaging system in place. When the going gets tough — such as say, the umpteenth time your exploration team finds itself under-levelled in sporadic circumstances — is where the game’s SOS option shines. Allowing cries for back-up to be sent via email address, mobile phone or even Wii Message Board, to a fellow Pokémon Mystery Dungeon player, this ‘meta’ rescue system is one of the alarmingly few bright instances of thoughtful entertainment to be had with the game.

Perhaps the most telling sign of the depth to be found in Explorers of Darkness is the marketing of the game. As is the norm with the Pokémon franchise, the seperate version of the latest Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games contain a slightly different, yet minuscule range of exclusive Pokémon available for enlisting in your exploration team. Of course, this negligible exclusivity has already been made all for naught by community discoveries. Choosing one version of the game over the other should therefore be as contemplative as deciding which cover art is the more attractive. And Explorers of Darkness does have a cheeky Chimchar on the front, after all. Just don’t be expecting anything more than the endearing pictures within.

 Some will say that this is a poor and repetitive game with the Pokemon name slapped on to sell. I don’t think this is completly true. This is just like the original Mystery Dungeon, but with slight and impressive add-ons. Yes, it is repetitive at times, but if You enjoyed the previous version, you’ll love this. But for those who don’t understand the point of Pokemon, don’t even bother with this.




  1. i have a question. youd be doing me such a good favor by answering it. could any1 get me a picture of spoinks pearl when you first find it in explorers of time/darkness? ty

    • all it is is a pinkinsh purple orb. u find it on floor 7 of drenched bluff.

  2. u cant get it stupid

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