15 years ago, Chunsoft combined the new mystery dungeon genre with the Pokemon IP, creating Pokemon Red and Blue Rescue Team. The spinoff series has gone through a wide evolution throughout the years, with highs that surpass some mainline Pokemon games and lows that are better off forgotten. After years of this evolution, a remake of the original games allows for an answer to an important question: has this evolution truly improved the series, or will this remake make apparent faults and misdirections of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series?
The highlight of the PMD series has always been its story. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX contains a near word-for-word retelling of the original story in Red Rescue Team, which isn’t an issue in any way. The original story set up a lot of tropes that later games followed and holds a charm that is in no need of updates.
The formula for the PMD series is simple: you wake up as a Pokemon, but you have memories of being a human. You don’t know why you’re a Pokemon, and can’t remember much about your old life either. Another Pokemon finds you soon after you wake, and you somehow get swept up in helping them out. When you succeed, you form a team with them. From there on, you help them unravel mysteries in this Pokemon world free of humans. The tropes are simple, straightforward, and stand up to the test of time.
Despite the simplicity, DX packs in a lot of emotional moments into the story through characterization. Your partner Pokemon, who stays with you throughout the majority of the game, is the most prominent example of emotion. Throughout the game, you see them develop as a friend and partner, struggling through their own emotions and worries, different from the mainline games where connecting with the Pokemon is only something seen in mini-games.
Other Pokemon hold important roles in the story, and all bring a different type of personal flair that matches what you’d expect. Charizard is a bold, daring hero that the town can look up to, Alakazam is an intelligent strategist and leader, Makuhita is a tough and energetic dojo leader. These characters and their interactions with the world are what make the DX story engaging and endearing. As you play, you can feel yourself getting immersed in the life of the Pokemon town you live in, escaping into your role as a savior for weak Pokemon and an explorer of new dungeons.
The PMD games have always been story over gameplay. In telling its story, DX allows its players a sense of ease during gameplay through a variety of design choices – some positive and some questionable.
PMD is a randomized dungeon crawler with some additional Pokemon elements. Dungeons are procedurally generated, with each spawning a number of different enemies, items, and stair location. The goal is to go through the dungeon by finding the stairs to the next floor. With the randomization, there’s an element of luck added. You could travel around the whole map and find the stairs in the last room you enter, or spawn right next to them and be able to move on immediately.
As you go through each randomized dungeon, you’ll come face to face with enemy Pokemon. You then have a variety of choices that will be familiar to any Pokemon veteran: you can use one of four moves, use an item, attempt to run away, and more. The Pokemon universe’s rules still apply, including type matchups, to add a further layer of strategy.
Items are also important. You have items that can work as attacks, such as blast seeds and gravelerocks, items that buff teammates, such as the various scarves, and basic Pokemon items that heal status conditions and recover HP. One of the most important items, however, turns out to be the apples, which fill the belly. It seems that the speed that the belly empties is greatly sped up in DX compared to previous titles. You’ll find yourself needed to fill up a lot more than expected, especially in longer dungeons. This puts a greater importance on item collecting, which is supported with item locations being marked on the map for each new floor.
Dungeons come in a variety of lengths, with your introductory dungeon being only three floors with some post-game dungeons having 99. Many of the longer dungeons in the game, especially those with boss battles, are split into two halves with a checkpoint in-between. This checkpoint will prevent you from needing to re-climb the whole dungeon if you lose against the boss, as well as give you access to your storage to stock up on important items.
Ease of Play
Rescue Team DX has provided many options that make it as easy as possible to play as little of the game while still progressing through. When attacking, there are two options. You can press ZL and see all 4 of your moves and pick the one you think is best, or you can press A and the game will choose the best one for you. While exploring, you can travel on your own and pick your own path through each dungeon and floor, or you can press L and the game will auto-traverse the floor, at least until you reach an enemy Pokemon.
These choices are great for allowing all types of players the opportunity to experience DX’s story. However, having them as default options, and in the case of moves, easier to access than other options brings the game to a difficulty level that’s almost laughable for veterans of the series. The game’s AI is designed to where if you use these easier options, it will always make the optimum choice. Adding to this is the game’s relatively low difficulty scale, where simply by playing through the main story you’ll find your character at the exact level, if not higher, that is ideal for each dungeon. With the game capable of playing itself, it can almost be compared to a visual novel, where story reigns over everything and gameplay is mindless button-pressing.
For most dungeons, you can choose to enter with a party of 3, mostly of your choice with some specific Pokemon occasionally required by story. When fighting in dungeons, occasionally Pokemon you defeat will ask to join your party, or you may run across a fainted Pokemon that you can give an apple too. Through these two methods, you can get up to eight Pokemon trailing behind you, four more than the original games and two more than the latest in the series. While quite helpful for boss battles, this can occasionally be hectic in the dungeons, with the Pokemon at the end of the party getting caught up in skirmishes you can’t see and your teammates grabbing items and traversing the floor without your input.
However, having lots of Pokemon can be quite helpful if the ones you meet and recruit have Rare Qualities, which are qualities that make certain aspects of the game easier. Such buffs include Small Stomach, which allows for food items to completely fill your belly, or Sales Pitch, which will allow you to sell items in dungeons for a higher price. Some Pokemon have these naturally, but if a Pokemon you like doesn’t hold one, they can acquire one later through certain items that you acquire through the game. Collecting a variety of rare qualities for your team becomes just as important as having a team of different Pokemon types.
After you complete a dungeon, whether the Pokemon continues along with you and joins your rescue team depends on if you have a camp for them to stay at. Camps are bought in the square from Wigglytuff after a certain point in the story, and are where you access your teammates and can feed them Gummis to get Rare Qualities or other stat-boosting items. Compared to the original games, the camps are a bit of a visual downgrade, being limited to static pixel art instead of explorable landscapes where your teammates roam, but this is made up for in ease of access.
DX tries its best to always make sure there’s a new place to explore. There’s a variety of dungeons to explore, each with different themes, items, and Pokemon to encounter. Missions are endless, with there always being help wanted by other Pokemon. Taking on a number of these missions will cause your Rescue Team to level up, giving you a variety of useful perks such as enhanced storage, the ability to take on more job requests, and more. Additionally, the main game only takes you through certain dungeons, leaving others to be explored as a stop-gap between story beats to break up the game whenever the player sees fit.
The post-game further expands this content, opening up many new dungeons and introducing a few more storylines that can be followed. There are many types of new dungeons, from normal dungeons that simply introduce new Pokemon to challenge dungeons that can make you start from a low level and work your way to the top, restrict what can be in your inventory, or limit the number of teammates you can take with you. Legendaries can be sought out and invited to join your team, some by playing through previously conquered dungeons and some hidden within the more challenging post-game dungeons.
The only issue is that while there are many types of dungeons to go through, the dungeons themselves don’t change much aside from the end-game challenge ones. Due to the procedural randomization, there’s not a large variety of layouts the game can create. You’re likely to run into the same types of floor layouts over and over, and with the changes made to gameplay, occasionally these dungeons will become boring. It can make long playthroughs tiresome at times, especially after the story ends and the game mostly becomes self-driven.
Online and Extras
With a focus on main-game content, the extras in DX are limited. Separated from the main game in the start-up menu, there are two main extras: friend rescue and wonder mail.
Friend Rescue is the main online feature. It allows you to rescue friends or other people online through passwords generated when they faint in a dungeon in the main story, and your friends can do the same when you faint. This is useful if you have a friend at the ready who can rescue you or know of groups online that you can send your code to; however, without those connections, this feature falls flat. The rewards that come from helping other players aren’t anything special either. The only positive of this feature is not having to restart a lengthy dungeon and lose some rare items you may have on you, but the time it can take to find someone who’s willing and able to help makes it far easier to simply cut your losses and start over.
Wonder mail is the other main extra. Here you can input various passwords from online to attempt special missions, get a variety of items, or find certain Pokemon. It simply functions as a way to get neat little extras. Nothing added through Wonder Codes is new, but the little content it adds is fun and the Pokemon you can recruit through these codes are rare, so they’re worth looking into.
While gameplay had a few changes, the aesthetics of the game were what received the biggest boost in this remake. The entire game is designed like a storybook, with a soft watercolor aesthetic for the backgrounds and models. This is the perfect style for a remaster, with the art perfectly accompanying the story being told. The soft colors are easy on the eyes, and help make traversing the occasionally repetitive dungeons all the more interesting.
The game still features the original melodies, with minor upgrades to modernize the sound. The music greatly assists in setting the mood for each area, with methodical tracks for some areas and mystical tracks for the areas more unknown to the characters. Towards the end of the game, the tracks steadily become more grandiose as the story changes and evolves. The musical elements alone can tell a story; adding them into the game only improves the experience.
As far as remakes go, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX isn’t as ambitious in changing up the original game drastically. Instead, few changes are made to modernize some elements of gameplay and revamp the visuals, while leaving much of the rest untouched. Some of these changes ended up removing the player from the experience, but this is made up for in the solid story and engaging aesthetic decision.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX gets a 7.5/10