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Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky
Explorers of the Sky proves one thing: Pokemon's a fantastic classic RPG, but it still doesn't work as a dungeon crawler.
When it comes to video games, spin-offs are almost never as good as the original material. Pokemon, on the other hand, has actually been pretty damn lucky with the polish and high-quality gameplay of titles like Pokemon Snap, Pokemon Puzzle League and the lesser-known Pokemon Trading Card Game for the Game Boy Advance. Heck, even the Pokemon Ranger series isn't all that bad. That's why I continue to be surprised at the lackluster Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series, the Jan Brady of the Pokemon Family. It's not as successful as the rest of its siblings, and any fan can tell it tries really hard to stand out. Maybe one day, it'll grow into its place, but Explorers of Sky is just a reminder that day hasn't come yet.
- Interesting-yet-hokey stories, tonnes of Pokemon, gorgeous graphics...
- ...until you get to the dungeons (which are bland, confusing, and maddeningly repetitive)
Seriously, it's like slaving through the dungeons in Legend of Zelda, except all the levels look exactly the same and you don't know where anything is.
Price$ 69.95 (AUD)
For people who don't know, Mystery Dungeon is the series with the following plot: "I've lost my memory and turned into a Pokemon!" Moreover, Explorers of the Sky is the remake of the second round of games in this series, Explorers of Time & Darkness. After you take an introductory personality test to determine what Pokemon you'll awaken as, you begin a journey as part of a Pokemon guild, which is exactly what it sounds like: you embark on epic adventures to help fellow Pokemon, seek out treasures, and battle other Pocket Monster trouble makers over hours and hours of semi-addictive dungeon crawling. People make a lot of comparisons between this and Shiren: The Wanderer, but I prefer to think of it as Final Fantasy XII's Monster Hunts -- with Pikachus instead of Chocobos. But the question is, as a Pokemon fan, is Explorers of Sky even worth your time?
Well, that depends on the type of Pokemon fan you are. Explorers of Sky does bring a few new game elements into play that weren't present in the last two titles, like new starter types, a bigger roster of playable Pokemon, more plotlines involving different characters, tweaked difficulty, and adjusted gameplay rules (for example, you no longer lose all your loot if you crash and burn in a dungeon romp). But in the end, these are all minor improvements and add-ons that don't address the real problem of Mystery Dungeon -- it's just not a compelling dungeon experience. In fact, the main problem I had with the last few Mystery Dungeons is that the core gimmick -- the actual dungeons -- are the worst part of the game. If you're the kind of player that draws Pokemon fan art and prints out the characters on computer paper for your scrapbooks, I'm sure that you're probably not going to mind the bland dungeons, cookie-cutter missions and repetitive combat.
For what it's worth, I actually really like the concept of being able to recruit so many different types of Pokemon, micro-managing their movesets, and assigning stylized teams to tackle certain missions. That alone just barely echoes the appeal of customizing your own Pokemon Team in D/P and Platinum, but it's still not as good as the real deal. If only you didn't have to send in extra teams to rescue your fallen comrades (it's easier to just restart the game), I'd definitely enjoy the dungeons a lot more.
However, if you're the Pokemon fan who mainly dabbles in the core series, Explorers of Sky will frustrate and annoy you enough that you won't care how interesting the main story arc gets. Usually, I can get through 10 to 15 hours of a Mystery Dungeon title before it loses my interest. Explorers of Sky did that in less than six. If you own Explorers of Darkness/Time, you're probably better off saving your cash for Pokemon HeartGold and SoulSilver, which I'm sure is going to be freaking awesome. But don't worry, Jan: I'm sure you'll get better at this when you're just a little bit older.
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