Review: Pokemon Mystery Dungeon – Red Rescue Team (Game Boy Advance)

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon -Red Rescue Team
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Dungeon Crawl
Release Date: 09/19/2006

Chunsoft is best known for releasing dungeon hacks and only dungeon hacks. This isn’t the first licensed dungeon hack they’ve done either. They made the Torenko (Dragon Quest spinoff) dungeon hack for the SNES and PSX for example. Now they’ve taken on the license of yet another major RPG chain by giving us a massive Pokemon dungeon crawl.

This marks the last Pokemon game that will be released for the Game Boy Advance. It’s also quite a departure from the usual Pokemon style of RPG that has cluttered handhelds over the past decade. It’s well known that I am probably the biggest Pokemaniac in our respective industry, but even I gave Emerald a “mere” 6.5 as the formulas had become too repetitive and the stories too similar for my tastes. This is why the one-two punch of Dungeon and Ranger have been a source of hopeful optimism for me over the past few months. It’s that hope that new life will be breathed into the RPG branch of the franchise. Sure Pokemon has consistently added innovative and highly original spin offs to the series like Dash, Hey You Pikachu, Trozei, and Pokemon Channel, but the life and blood of Pokemon are the RPG’s. It’s nice to see Game Freak taking a chance and letting Chunsoft give a new RPG point of view a try. The question is whether or not Pokemon Mystery Dungeon lives up to the original greatness of the line, or if it’s as stale as the Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald games proved to be.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The game starts with you having to take a personality test. How you answer the questions determines which of sixteen starting Pokemon you will be. I really enjoyed this as it was a new way for you to determine your starting Pokemon instead of outright picking one. As well, this has always been one of my favorite RPG main character customizing gimmicks. Games like Ultima IV and Ogre Tactics: The Knight of Lodis did this, and both games are two of my favorite RPG’s ever.

After the personality test, you are allowed to choose a partner Pokemon. Your choices include every Pokemon that has ever been a starter in the previous RPG Pokemon games. Yes, that includes Pikachu. For this particular game I got Machop as my main Pokemon, which is good as the first boss is Skarmony (Steel/Flying) and out of all the starters, Machop is the best to deal with him. I also chose Mudkip as my secondary Pokemon because out of all the other starters his final evolution has two types that do not share the same weaknesses with Machop. Torchic is Fire Fighting and Bulbasaur is Grass/Poison, both of which are weak against Psychic, meaning if I teamed them with Machop, we’d be extra vulnerable.

The plot of the game is simple and yet refreshing. You turn out to be a human who has been turned into a Pokemon, yet you can’t remember how or even much of your life as a human. You’ve also been transported to a world where everyone is a Pokemon. They live in houses and run stores instead of being wild animals trained for cock-fighting as in the normal Pokemon RPG’s.

This particular world has been wracked with severe natural disasters recently. Earthquakes, thunderstorms, and a lot of Pokemon are worried and nervous. Your friend, whatever you chose, finds you unconscious in the forest and eventually tells you of his plan to form a rescue team: A group of Pokemon devoted to helping and protecting Pokemon. It’s kind of like being super heroes. You even pick you own team name.

Now, you’re not the only rescue team out there. There’s Team Meanies, led by Gengar, who are actually evil Pokemon posing as good guys in order to achieve…World Domination. Methinks Team Meanies should actually be called “The Thunderbolts,” but I digress. There is also Team Red, consisting of Alakazam, Charizard, and Tyranitar. Ouch. They’re the biggest, most famous rescue team, and are some of the only evolved Pokemon in the game. Indeed, for some strange reason, Pokemon haven’t been able to evolve for a while. That’s just one of the mysteries you’ll be solving in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.

As I said, it’s been a long time since an RPG had a plot where the characters aren’t angst ridden Ziggy Stardust wanna-bes, or dark anti-heroes. Here you have a group of characters that just want to help their fellow Pokemon and figure out what’s making these disasters occur. It’s simple, yet the plot is heartwarming and reaffirming that reminds us of the days of games like Sakura Taisen and Shining Force, where you can save the world and still be happy at the same time.

PMD is definitely a step up from “Tween becomes the greatest Pokemon trainer and stops an international criminal syndicate” that the Pokemon RPG games have been shoehorned. It’s a breath of fresh air and while it may not be the best story released in a game this year, it’s certainly a good one that anyone can sit down and smile from. It’s fun and light hearted. Sometimes that’s all we need.

Story Rating: 7/10

2. Graphics

This GBA version fares better in this category than the DS version even though the graphics are the same. That’s because the game is quite impressive for a GBA game, but merely decent for a DS game.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is quite vibrant and well detailed. The Pokemon look the best they ever have on the GBA, and the facial expressions are adorable and hilarious at times. Whenever I defeated a Gloom, the look it gives manages to make me laugh out loud every time.

The backgrounds of the game are beautiful as well. The friend’s area (where you teammates hang out) are by far the most detailed bits of the game and each one looks amazing. The inner dungeon working graphics are unique for each respective dungeon, but they are nice looking as well. They’re a little repetitive, but considering some dungeons are 99 levels long, things are bound to blur together at that rate.

My favorite thing is that the Pokemon actually FINALLY do their attacks in this game. You can see Machop do a Low Kick or a Karate Chop. Zigazoon actually headbutts its enemies. Magnamite shoots out a thunderbolt. It’s wonderful. A version of this happens in the N64 and Game Cube Pokemon games, but it’s like watching a high graphics version of Final Fantasy I where your character takes a step, swings his weapon, steps back, and the monster goes ow. Here we get full contact fighting and it’s a real treat.

Finally, when you turn on the game, you’re greeted to one of several full screen Pokemon “paintings” for lack of a better word. Each one is adorable, my favorite being Cubone looking at a Peliper stooping on his mailbox.

This is graphically the best Pokemon game for the GBA. It was as fun to watch as it was to play.

Graphics Rating: 8/10

3. Sound

The music for Pokemon Mystery Dungeon fits the game well, even if the music isn’t anywhere as catchy as the original Pokemon songs. The in-town music is serene and calm. The dungeon music tends to be a little bit spooky and ominous, but not too much as this is Pokemon after all. Boss music is also higher in tempo and more rushed, indicating urgency and importance.

Sound effects? Well, there’s not much there. Attacks have their own sound effects and for the most part, they are different from each other, but they’re still blurps and squeaks and other noises.

One odd note about this game: the music is very loud. Much louder than a normal GBA game, and that’s just a heads up. I tried this cart of three different GBA’s and where most GBA game’s I have the sound up on the halfway mark, this game was on minimal and still was just as loud! The same holds true for my import copy of Red Rescue team.

The music and sounds are a nice pairing with the action and story of the game, but a definite step down in the level of quality of the usual Pokemon music. I was surprised they didn’t remix the original traveling music for this game. Ah well, nothing’s ever perfect, is it?

Sound Rating: 6/10

4. Control and Gameplay

If you’ve never played a Chunsoft dungeon crawl before, here’s the basics. You take a step or action, then everything else in the dungeon takes a step or action. It’s like a cross between a turn based RPG and a tactical one. You don’t really notice this effect and it feels like a regular dungeon exploration scene, until you encounter some enemies it is. Sometimes this style of gameplay is really well done, as in Azure Dreams. Other times it’s pretty damn awful, as in Nightmare of Druaga. A lot has to do with the speed of the game, the AI of the computer, and the layout of the randomly generated dungeons.

Yes, randomly generated dungeons. This means everytime you go into a dungeon it will be different from the last time you entered it, in terms of layout and enemy/item locations. This can be annoying or it can add replayability to the game, depending on you particular tastes and opinions on the matter.

I’m happy to report that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is one of the good dungeon crawls. The AI of the game is well done, with me only ever having one problem with one of my teammates in the entire game. Of course that one time was me escorting a really weak Pokemon through a powerful dungeon and he wanted to fight wild Pokemon instead of going the direction I was and he ended up dead. But hey, is there ever an RPG where you don’t question the actions of your AI controlled partners?

A lot of the game is very reminiscent of the usual Pokemon RPG’s. You level up, you can gain new moves by reaching higher levels or using TM’s (still only four per character), and you can gain new Pokemon to your team. With the latter you don’t use Pokeballs. Instead, you may defeat a wild Pokemon in combat and they may decide to join you, impressed by your strength and convictions. If you can get them out of the dungeon safely, they will join your team permanently. This is harder than it sounds as the wild Pokemon seem to gravitate right towards them. By the time I got to Zapdos (a boss in PMD) I had only recruited four new Pokemon to aid myself and Mudkip: a Magnemite, a Zigazoon, and two Yanmas. The others I had recruited didn’t make it out of their dungeons alive.

The game is quite solid in most respects with my only two issues involving the button for running is also the button for bringing up your menu, and sometimes the diagonal movement detection is off. Other than that this is probably the second best dungeon crawl I’ve played after Azure Dreams. The controls are solid, the AI is tight and challenging at times, and it’s always fun to check out new dungeons and see how different powers translate into this game. It also appears to be bug free. I can honestly say this is better than any of the Dungeon Crawls I’ve played by Chunsoft before and hope that whatever license they get next, they keep up this level of quality

Control and Gameplay Rating: 8/10

5. Replyability

Wow. Where to begin here? You can attempt to befriend all 380+ Pokemon in this game. You can try out the Ultimate Dungeon, which is literally the same format at Azure Dreams in the fact every time you go in, you are reset to level 1. You can perform unlimited rescue missions. You can even keep playing after the game has ended and perform quests and missions that were previously unavailable to you. There are specialized type based dungeons for you to level up in. There’s even the ability to have a friends team rescue your own if you are defeated or for you to be the rescuer! There is so much to do in this game, it’s not even funny. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon’s main story is about 25 hours long, but you can easily wrack up over a hundred hours just doing sidequests.

This game will keep you occupied for months. Even then you might not have a full roster of Poke-friends.

Replayability Rating: 10/10

6. Balance

The key to a Dungeon Crawl is simply leveling up enough so that you can take out the boss. It doesn’t matter how skilled you are or how clever your tactics are, if you spend a ton of time leveling up by running rescue quest after rescue quest, the main storyline missions will be a breeze. If you JUST whip through the storyline however, you’ll find it quite tough to progress through the game. Of course the obvious solution, if you want to maintain a degree of challenge, if to do a nice mix of both. That’s not really possible though. Basically this kills any balance the game really has. As well, if you just play to level up, you’ll quickly become bored with the game because you’ll be playing to munchkin and miss the whole point of it all.

Thankfully, this is where the Ultimate Dungeon comes into play. You have to start at level 1 and must make it through 100 levels. You can’t really munchkin this as you start at level one every time you enter, thus separating the skilled players from the power-gamers. As well, you can’t just wander through a single level of the dungeon and level up for hours, because your characters need to eat. If they don’t eat every so often they will faint and leave the dungeon. With a random assortment of items per level, there’s no guarantee you’ll get any food! Finally, if you spend too long on a level even with a full supply of food, a wind will come and whip you out of the dungeon. Again, this is the real challenge of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and it’s wonderful. Again, this is VERY similar to Azure Dreams.

The balance just isn’t there in the main game, and this is a general fault of most RPG’s, but the Ultimate Dungeon more than makes up for it.

Balance Rating: 5/10

7. Originality

For a Pokemon game, this is quite original and entertaining. The plot and gameplay is so different from any Pokemon game that came before it, it’s really show new life into the franchise. For a Chunsoft game though, it’s yet another dungeon crawl. All their games have almost the exact same engine and gameplay. The only thing really new here is the plot and the Pokemon aspects added in. This makes this a tough category to really review.

To rate this as simply a Chunsoft game, I’d have to give it a 3/10 due to the fact the every game they make is nearly the same and the only thing saving it are the mechanics brought in from the Game Freak Pokemon games. For a Pokemon game, it would get an 8/10 due to how wildly different this is and such a huge step for the franchise to take after a decade of making the same exact RPG in terms of plot and gameplay. He only fair thing to do is average the two scores.

Thankfully though, even if you’ve sat through everything from Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon to the GBA Eye of the Beholder remake, this game really does stand out from the average dungeon hack, as it manages to be quite entertaining and fresh. I feel the story has a lot to do with that.

Originality Rating: 5.5/10

8. Addictiveness

This weekend alone I put in 8.25 hours into Red Rescue Team. That doesn’t include time with the DS version or my original import version of RRT that I’ve had for a few months. This game is Pokecrack, So many familiar and beloved characters with new ways to use and interact with them. If you’re at all a Pokemon fan, you’re going to have a lot of fun with this, as it’s like rediscovering Pokemon all over again. Even the people I know who are apathetic to the series are leaving me comments like “WHY DO I LIKE THIS GAME SO MUCH???” You find yourself sucked in. With the various rescue missions and how quickly the dungeon levels go by, you’ll find yourself saying “Just one more dungeon, then it’s time to eat/sleep/shit/shower.” But of course we all know it’ll be four or five dungeons. This game is great at sucking you in. You’ll find yourself having favorites on your team, even if they’re not the strongest Pokemon, and just plain having a ball without any need to stop a hideously evil being beant on either taking over or blowing up the world.

If you play it, you’ll find yourself hard pressed to put it down. ‘Nuff said.

Addictiveness Rating: 8/10

9. Appeal Factor

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. The average video game reviewer? They don’t get Pokemon. They’re the kind of person who needs blood and boobs in order to really get into a game. They’re the kind of person who tries to convince you they’re HARDCORE for owning hundreds of games, but spend nearly nothing on say, hygiene products. Okay, that’s mean. But the truth is, the people who work for video games sites and review products are not the typical Pokemon fan. A perfect example is Pokemon Channel. Most reviewers panned the game. I gave it an 8. And you know what? The large Pokemon fan base agreed with me. In a poll done by Pokemon Magazine a while back, Pokemon Channel was listed as the fifth most popular Pokemon game of all time. It’s not the reviewer’s fault that they don’t get Pokemon. Hell, I don’t get GTA or Devil May Cry. It’s the website or magazine’s fault for not hiring people with the knowledge base they need for certain game. In this case, it would be hiring someone that knows the Pokemon fanbase. That GETS the mindset of the average Pokemon fan and what they want in a game, whether they be 9 year old boy or 35 year old female Wall Street stockbroker.

So listen to me when I say this: The average American gamer doesn’t get turn-based dungeon crawling. It tends to be more of a genre of RPG the Japanese enjoy. I can’t think of the last one that sold well, or even the last one that wasn’t obscure as hell. This though? This is going to sell and be liked. A LOT. Why? It’s Pokemon, something the average American gamer does get and thoroughly loves even where the average American reviewer doesn’t get it and is almost indignant that his or her opinion is in the vast minority. It’s Beyond Good and Evil in reverse. And thankfully in both cases, the average American gamer realizes not to listen to the average American reviewer, because the instinctively know said reviewer is afraid to even like Pokemon because it’s cute. Gotta be hardcore! Hardcore like a 125 pound scrawny nerd that got wedgies in high school! Hardcore like a thirty year old with a massively receding who extent of “social interaction” is playing a MMORPG or getting on Xbox live instead of dealing with human beings face to face. HARDCORE! HAAAAARDCOOOOORE!

To the average American gamer: You’ll love the game. It’s characters use like doing all the things you’ve always wanted them to do. No humans, just cute monsters doing cute things with simplistic and yet addicting gameplay

To the average American game reviewer: Remember we ALL sometimes forget that our personal tastes are not in synch with the majority of gamers.

Appeal Factor: 7.5/10

10. Miscellaneous

This is the best Pokemon handheld game I’ve played since Crystal and/or Puzzle Challenge. Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald all got 6.5’s from me and Trozei got a 5.5. Pokemon Dungeon though has everything a Pokemaniac wants. It has the familiar trappings and characters. It has the ability to “catch ’em all.” Then there are new variants to the game such as how you can interact with your friends through passwords and mailings. You can rescue you your friend’s teams, and be rescued in turn. You can attempt the Ultimate Dungeon, which is far more challenging than what we’ve seen in post beating the game Pokemon bonuses before.

Gone are the random battles that are the bane of most RPG gamer’s virtual lives. Enter fixed battles you can avoid. Gone are those pesky humans locking up their dueling beasties in airtight spheres. Enter houses and shops run by cute little monsters. This is definitely a Pokemon RPG that will appeal to those that preferred games like Pokemon Snap to the typical RPG fare Game freak has given us for a decade.

This is a very well made game, and the best thing is, we’ve still got Pokemon Ranger to come in just a few weeks. Trust me as a guy who has an import copy. It’s worth the wait.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores
Story: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Sound: 6/10
Control & Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 10/10
Balance: 5/10
Originality: 5.5/10
Addictiveness: 8/10
Appeal Factor: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10
Total Score 73/100
Final Score:7.5 VERY GOOD

Short Attention Span Summary
The best Pokemon game released on a hand held in roughly five years, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is sure to please long time fans and even win over some new coverts to the ever growing herd of Pokemaniacs. It’s certainly no Pokemon Crystal, but it’s a worthy contender to the throne. If you need one game to fill the dying gasp of your Game Boy Advance, let it be this one.



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