Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Genre: Roguelike RPG
Release Date: 03/24/2013
Although originally created by Western developers, rougelike style RPGS have become little more than an obscure niche subgenre on this side of the Pacific while still heartily embraced by the East. That all seemed poised to change with the release of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red Rescue Team for the Game Boy Advance and Blue Rescue Team for the Nintendo DS back in 2006. The games were quite successful, both critically and financially and Red Rescue Team even took our “Game Boy Advance Game of the Year” award in 2006 – the last title to ever do so. Nintendo and Chunsoft smelled money with the series and it’s since become the longest running spin-off from the core turn based RPG series, even outlasting the console Pokémon Stadium/XD style games and Pokémon Ranger. In 2008, Explorers of Time and Explorers of Darkness, which were as successful as the first. In 2009 we got the remix of the previous two games, Explorers of Sky and then…nothing. The Pokémon Mystery Dungeon franchise went silent for four years stateside. In Japan they got not one but THREE Mystery Dungeon games for the Nintendo Wii. Why Nintendo of America never even considered bringing them over here when it would have basically printed money for them and given RPG fans something to play is beyond me and is up there with not releasing Fatal Frame 4 stateside as proof that NoA either gave up on the Wii or just wanted to be exceedingly cruel to their loyal customers.
I’m not sure how but we did manage to get Gates to Infinity stateside. Unlike previous versions, there aren’t variants ala Red/Blue or Time/Darkness/Space. This is a straight up one version only game which is both good and bad depending on how you viewed the previous entries into the series. As well, Gates to Infinity is also noticeably quite different from the previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon titles. Sure it has the same basic roguelike trappings, but fans of previous releases will no doubt have very strong and differing opinions on the changes. We’ll be taking a look at most of them as we review the game now.
Gates to Infinity uses the same idea of “a human turned into a Pokémon and sent to a world of nothing but Pokémon” that all the previous games have used. Personally, I say just let the main character be a Pokémon. It made sense in the first generation of these games for the protagonist to have once been human, but it was unnecessary in both the previous and this generation. As well, your choice of starting characters is drastically reduced from those in previous games. Red/Blue offered sixteen different starters, ranging from the usual Generation starters to interesting choices like Cubone, Machop and Eevee. Time/Darkness gave you another sixteen with some changes to the lineup. Gates to Infinity gives you a whopping…five starters. That’s a pretty big disappointment consider a game two generations ago offered you over three times as many starter choices. Here you have Pikachu, Snivy, Oshawott, Tepig and Axew. My suggestion is to take Axew as your main character as you’ll be getting Grass, Electric added right away, Fire and Water Pokémon are plentiful and being a Dragon gives you a distinct advantage throughout much of the game, not to mention Axew has the highest Defense and Special Defense of any of the starters.
The plot of Gates to Infinity is one of those “save the world” sorts of stories we tend to see in RPGs. However, the build to this is quite a slow one. The game mentions this is why you have been turned into a Pokémon in the first place, but from there you’ll spend helping to create a Pokémon town/village/etc like Post Town and Pokémon Paradise. Eventually you’ll be able to pick what kinds of shops go up in your town and so in some ways, Gates to Infinity is closer to Azure Dreams (a beloved roguelike from the mid 90s) than previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon releases. Eventually you do get to the world saving bits, which involves entering new dungeons, gaining new teammates and the like. Like previous Mystery Dungeon titles, the story is a lot darker than most Pokémon games and at least one major character dies here, so be prepared for that, especially if you are purchasing this for young children who are used to Pokémon only “fainting” or being “knocked out.” The PMD series is definitely for older Pokémon fans in terms of gameplay and storytelling, but it’s still light hearted and sweet enough for kids to enjoy. Just know if you give this to say, a five year old, they’ll most likely react to bits of this game like I did to Optimus Prime dying in Transformers: the Movie.
Graphics-wise Gates to Infinity looks great. It’s the best looking portable Pokémon game yet and with full 3-D visuals, it’s a huge change from the 2-D graphics in previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon releases. The game still features static portraits that change based on the emotion of the character talking, which is a nice throwback. These portraits are really well done and look like they were ripped directly from the anime. I was really impressed with how the series has evolved into 3D, but I shouldn’t have been surprised as roguelikes have been doing these type of visuals since the PSX/Saturn era. Generally I do like my Pokémon 2D, but I’m really happy with the visual style used here. Everything is animated smoothly and Gates to Infinity really is one of the best looking games on the 3DS.
The audio aspects of the game are a mixed bag. There is no voice acting. Just the pipipipipipipi noise a lot of RPGS make instead of actual talking. This has been done since video games have had concrete stories and dialogue, so it’s fine, but in the case of a game like this where everyone is a Pokémon, in this day and age they really should have just used voice acting from the anime ala the PokePark titles. It would have really enhanced the flavor of the game and helped to cement that you are in a world of all Pokémon. The soundtrack to the game is quite nice though. It’s very soothing at times, but in cases of major boss battles or especially loathsome dungeons, both the style and tempo of the tracks changes accordingly. The track creates a nice collection of background tracks to listen to as you explore the game. There’s nothing here that will get stuck in your head and leave you humming it for hours or days afterward, but what’s here is quite nice.
Gameplay is where we really want to spend the bulk of this review as so much has changed. The core dungeon crawling aspect is the same, where your characters each make a move or attack and then everything else in the dungeon has their turn. On and on it goes until your characters are knocked out or beat the dungeon. As you defeat enemies you gain XP and level up. Stat and move gains are exactly like you would find in the core RPG Pokémon series, however your four moves here are special attacks. You always have the option of a basic Normal attack so you don’t waste PP. This is a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon standard and it not only lets you save Moves for big battles, but makes even Moves like Pound or Tackle seem more special. If you’re new to the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series, then remember you have this option. It is fairly weak though, so don’t rely on it too much.
I should point out here that things are a LOT easier in Gates to Infinity than with the previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon releases. Hunger management is completely wiped from the game (save for three dungeons at the very end of the core story mode), making getting through dungeons far easier. I can’t emphasize enough how much easier the game is without this, and I really do miss is as the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games were very easy roguelike compared to pretty much everything else in the genre and to make it even easier by not having hunger should make this game a cakewalk for anyone who has experienced any other game in the dungeon crawl/roguelike fashion. Another big change is that, in previous PMD games, when your party was defeated, you lost all the items you were carrying, so it was risk vs. reward in regards to what you brought into the dungeon or kept in your item bag. Now, defeat is a minor setback at worst unless you steal from a Kecleon and get caught – THEN you lose everything. Again, the game is just super easy to the point of never offering a challenge because of these changes.
Other examples of gameplay being changed to make the experience much easier includes how TMs now have unlimited use instead of being one shots. This puts the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series in-line with the core franchise (which also recently made this change. As well any Pokémon on your team that are not brought into a dungeon now receive experience points. All you have to do is bring one of those Pokémon left on standby into a dungeon and BAM – massive level gain. Now instead of micromanaging your team, the work is done for you.
The changes to the franchise in Gates to Infinity are all just in regards to making the experience a pushover. The most obvious change comes with the Magnagates. Using the 3DS’s AR ability, you can scan round objects found in the real world and the game will turn them into specialized dungeons for you! Think of it like Monster Rancher, but dungeons instead of allies. The color and shape of the object will determine the size, difficulty and antagonists of the dungeon. Magnagates are also the only dungeons where you can choose to leave behind your main character. Magnagates must be completed in a certain amount of time or a wind will blow your team out of the dungeon. If you’ve played the demo, you’re in for a much different experience with Magnagates in the real game. The demo only offered about fifty of the possible dungeons and the scanning didn’t determine what you got – you were just thrown into a random dungeon. The real game has 486 demos and as mentioned earlier, what you scan and how it looks determines what you get.
There are some new dungeon exclusives aspects too. You main encounter an obstacle where you need a specific Pokémon type to get past. A fire Pokémon to get through a wall of fire for example. There are ground features that will activate when a Pokémon lands on them. A yellow star that lets a Pokémon attack twice a round is just one of the new features that await you. You can also be affected by weather condition like Hail or Rain. These effects merely turn off your party’s constant regeneration ability, so although they don’t occur that often, weather effects are one of the few ways difficulty can increase in the game. Mapless Streets are another new dungeon aspect. These randomly occurring levels can show up in one of six different dungeons and add a new level to said location. This floor is extra in addition to the levels you have to clear out of the dungeon and it doesn’t count towards that cleaning up. However the level is totally randomized in terms of items and Pokémon that you will encounter and they are the only way to get the Starter Pokémon outside of your two choices at the beginning (I did Axew and Oshawott). Golden Chambers are similar to Mapless Streets, but they contain rarer items and Legendary Pokémon.
Moves gain their own experience in Gates to Infinity. So if you use Ember, it will gain XP each time you use it. With enough, it will level up and do more damage, as well as gain more PP and a higher accuracy level. Move experience is across all Pokémon, so any Pokémon with the move you’ve leveled up will gain the bonus as well. This makes weak but very common moves like Pound much more valuable than in the core RPG series. You’ll also find chests that contain Team Skills, which replace the naturally learned IQ Skills from the previous games in the series. Team Skills are exactly what you would expect – two or more members of your team attack at the same time for a super attack. Finally, we’ll last talk about Victini’s Roulette wheel. Once a day (in-game, not real time) you can spin Victini’s wheel and whatever Type it lands on will see the power of moves from that Type increased. You can spend money to increase the odds of the Type you want winning, and it can even land of Victini itself, which then lets you pick whatever type you want for the day. There’s a lot more we can talk about, like the ability to play with friends over wi-fi, but it’s not very well done. All you can do is mull about Pokémon Paradise or replay some boss missions.
Like all Pokémon games, Gates to Infinity offers a staggering amount of replay value. After all, there are a lot of Pokémon to catch and have join your team (thus becoming playable characters) and post-story there are lots of new dungeons to explore and even new affects like “dungeon aura” or trying to start up the Pokémon Musical. Unfortunately, the number of Pokémon you can get in Gates to Infinity is a fraction of what was available in either of the previous two generations. Much like the starter choices, it’s sad to see that the 3DS version of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon offers far less content than the DS or even the Game Boy Advance versions of the game. Why Chunsoft skimped when they could have easily made this the biggest Pokémon game of all time due to space in the cart is beyond me. You’ll only find Unova Pokémon in the game, save for a few others like Pikachu, and considering each generation’s Pokémon are less interesting, unique and toyetic than the ones before…that’s not going to be a real selling point, especially for long time Pokémon and especially the 151 movement. Sure the game is fun, and you can wrack up more play time with this than any other game for the 3DS right now if you’re trying to 100% the game, but it’s also a fraction of what there was in games one or two generations older and that’s kind of sad when you think about it. The good news is that the game promises to have a lot of DLC. The bad news is most of it will not be free. The first downloadable dungeon will be free for a limited time, but then it’s jumping up to two bucks a pop thereafter. That is crazy expensive when you realize there are twelve pieces of DLC so far in the Japanese version and possibly more to come. With a $2 price tag, you’re paying $24 for all the DLC – bringing the total cost of the game up to sixty dollars. What makes this even worse is that in previous games, unlockable dungeons were available via passwords – and were free. Many of the DLC dungeons are similar to ones that were standard on the previous games too. I don’t know whether to blame Chunsoft or Nintendo for this, but it’s a truly deplorable decision to be taking a game that is a fraction of the size of previous and that could easily handle the DLC on cart and then charging for it. This is the state of the industry currently though, and if gamers would stop letting companies get away with these business practices, they’d have no choice but to stop. So the DLC is nice in theory, but it comes at a price much higher than just the exorbitant $2/dungeon charge. I should point out passwords are still in the game, but they only unlock items and the Starter Pokémon now.
While Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is the weakest of the eight Pokémon Mystery Dungeon titles so far (five if you only count North American releases), it’s still a well made game with a fun story for all-ages. It’s a very long game considering you have the core story, the post story, the ability to make Magnagates and the DLC, so even though it is less than half the size of previous PMD titles in terms of content, you’ll still be able to while away dozens of hours with Gates to Infinity and have a blast doing so. I had a hard time putting down the game in all its forms, be it the demo, the Japanese cart or the North American version of the game. I know most Pokemon fans will get a kickout of this game, and even those that can’t stand the core turn based JRPGs seem to really enjoy the Mystery Dungeon series. I know I’ve been hard on Gates to Infinity but I feel it’s rightly so because it’s not as powerful or well made an experience as the previous two generations. It’s still a good game and it’s only one of seven games for the 3DS I’ve found to be worth holding on to (The others are Bust-A-Move Universe, Fire Emblem: Awakening, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, Pokemon Rumble Blast and Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars. I’m very picky about what games stay in my permanent collection (Opposite of a pack rat to be honest) and for Gates to Infinity to make the cut says volumes about not only how good this game is, but how GREAT the previous PMD titles were by comparison. For those truly upset about how much less content is in Gates to Infinity or how much easier it is, you always have five older options to choose from and for less money. For those who want to experience the series with all new Pokémon and completely different visuals, Gates to Infinity is well worth purchasing.
Short Attention Span Summary
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity isn’t as good as previous releases in the series. It has a third of options for starting Pokemon, a fraction of the dungeons and the least amount of obtainable Pokemon yet. The difficulty has also been drastically reduced making this a cakewalk from beginning to end. While one may wonder why the GBA Pokemon Mystery Dungeon game has more content than a 3DS one, unfortunately it’s not a question I I can really answer. The good news is that Gates to Infinity is still a really fun roguelike that offers dozens of hours of RPG goodness, an enjoyable story for all ages (but noticeably darker than most Poke-tykes might be ready for with at least one major Pokemon dying quite horribly) and some pretty impressive visuals. Gates to Infinity is one of the best looking games on the 3DS and it’s definitely worth purchasing if you are a fan of Pokemon or RPGS in general, although longtime fans of the series may be disappointed by how easy the game is and the fact the game has far less content than previous releases and only features Unova based Pokemon. Two dollars per DLC dungeon is also going to be a bit of a sore spot consider the older games had these same dungeons for free and built into a cart with much less capability. At the end of the day Gates to Infinity is overshadowed by the previous Mystery Dungeon games, but it’s still an enjoyable one.