Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorer of Darkness - Staff Review  

Lost in the Dark
by Stew Shearer

Click here for game information
Less than 20 Hours
+ The story can be amusing.
- The dungeons are very bland.
- The combat becomes quite tedious.
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   Continuing the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, Explorers of Darkness is at its base level a game that demonstrates what it means to take a tested formula and drain the fun out of it. Just about eveything in the game is less than average; where it shines it doesn't shine brightly, and where it is dull it's very dull.

    The story is well written enough to keep the player focused, for a while at least. Split into chapters, the player is introduced as a human who has somehow been transported to the Pokémon world, and then subsequently transformed into a Pokémon. The game's plot revolves around the mysterious time gears, which, in true RPG fashion, are key to the balance of the world. These gears are being pilfered by yet another unknown force. The story is one of the brighter spots of the game. Sticking true to the tone of other Pokémon games, there are enough themes of caring, friendship, and goodness to fill an entire morning of preschool television programming. At times, the story can be too lighthearted for its own good. This said, it still features a number of touching and chuckle worthy moments that defy the shortcomings of the oft childish storyline.

    At the start of Explorers of Darkness, players are met with a series of questions. The game starts by running the player through a miniature personality quiz. This is explained by the game as necessary for determining the player's "aura." The way the player answers determines what Pokémon they play as throughout the course of the game. While it is certainly an interesting way to go about assigning a character, it is risky. Much of the game is making sure you have a balanced explorer team to deal with the various opponents you're bound to meet throughout, and many players who would prefer more direct control over the process are bound to be annoyed by this mechanic.

Like those colors? Don Like those colors? Don't get too used to them.

   Outside of forcing a specific Pokémon on the player, the game gives a lot of control over what Pokémon go on various missions. Immediately after being assigned a Pokémon to play as, the game lets the player choose a partner Pokémon who will accompany them throughout the game. There are a slew of partners to choose from, of multiple elemental types, ensuring from the get-go that as long as the player selects carefully they will be able to start with a relatively balanced team. As well, as the game progresses it becomes possible to recruit enemy Pokémon, thereby expanding the team during mystery dungeon exploration.

   TThe mystery dungeons themselves, and the combat that constantly punctuates them, are probably the worst problem with Explorers of Darkness. While the mystery dungeons are technically randomly generated, they are done so in a way so simple that the resulting maps are incredibly uninteresting. Usually the only significant change is a shifting of rooms, and as the game automatically maps everything, the instant the player walks into a room almost everything is revealed. The exploration process is far too easy to be interesting save to a complete novice, and as any progress is lost if a player leaves a dungeon or is defeated, there is little incentive to explore each dungeon to its entirety.

    The combat system tends to be boring. Typical of the Mystery Dungeon franchise, most of the time the player and their compatriots wander around the dungeons in real time. When a hostile Pokémon approaches, the game slows into turns. The player can then attack or flee. Attacking is generally simple. The player can either push the A button, launching a general, moderately powerful attack, or they can access one of the specialized moves they have learned. This is done via a pop up menu that can be accessed at any time. The player will trade blows until either they or their opponent are defeated. The problems that arise concern the player’s teammates. While bringing team members is both required and makes the game significantly easier, the player only has limited control over them and most of the time they operate completely on their own, attacking at will. This can complicate things; as long as one of the player's teammates is continuing to fight the game stays in turn based time. When there are multiple fighting Pokémon on screen, the action can slow to a standstill as each monster goes through its own turn and the player is forced to wait patiently until their character can move. It can leave the player feeling almost completely out of control of the situation, and over time fighting becomes a tedious necessity more than anything enjoyable. Add to this the fact that combat is made relatively easy by a quickly recharging health bar and by a surplus of items lying around most dungeons, there is not even the incentive of a challenge to tempt a player to fight.

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   Aesthetically, Explorers of Darkness is also sub par. The game looks little different from its GBA based predecessor and sounds like a game firmly trapped in a previous generation. The visuals do the job but they are nothing special. At their best, they are colorful and lively in a dated looking way. At their worst however — namely in every mystery dungeon-- they are bland and generic, reusing ugly patterns and colors throughout. The music, as well, is quite forgettable. There are some moments when it is catchy, but more often the player is likely to prefer it turned off.

   Explorers of Darkness also makes little use of the DS and its capabilities. The touch screen is usable, but it is much easier to control the game via the traditional d-pad. As well, while both screens are used, most of the time all the action is displayed on the lower screen, while the top screen displays a constant list of controls.

   Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness is not a horrible game, it's just not a particularly good one. As a game it is simply subpar. While fans of dungeon crawlers will find some limited degree of amusement from the title, the game is best reserved for hardcore Pokémon fans or perhaps as an easy intro to RPGs and dungeon exploring games.

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