Spike Chunsoft has been on a wild ride with their Mystery Dungeon meta-franchise over the past two decades. The diverse lineup spans Dragon Quest, Pokémon, Etrian Odyssey, and their original series Shiren the Wanderer. However, while there has recently been a remake on the Pokémon front with Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX for Switch, the last original title in the PMD lineup was 2015’s Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, a Generation 6 title so refined and content-packed, and simultaneously so quickly forgotten, that I am left wondering: will this roguelike spin-off see the light of day again? Because I would really like it to.
I have been on a personal journey, a pilgrimage of sorts, to expose myself to as much Pokémon as possible in preparation for the release of the flagship series’ Gen 9 title, Pokémon Scarlet & Violet. On the PMD side, I got to play versions of each of the four localized games: first Rescue Team DX, then Explorers of Sky (the combined-content third game following Explorers of Time & Darkness), then the 3DS entry Gates to Infinity. With each title, I saw growth in scope, dialogue (including localization), and intuitive use of the game’s mechanics. Many of the lessons the devs learned along the way managed to make it into the DX remake on Switch, but it was actually Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon that blazed the trail. Option to change party leader at a moment’s notice? Check. Improved inventory management? Double check. Difficulty balance that can reward risk and penalize without completely demoralizing the player? Check, check, check!
But I’m getting ahead of myself. So let’s start at the beginning.
Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon opens like many others in the series: a personality quiz to determine which Pokémon you’ll control from about a dozen options. You can manually override the selection if you don’t like the choice assigned to you based on your quiz options, and also select your primary partner and best friend at this point. Moments later, you wake up as whatever Pokémon you chose (Mudkip in my case, if only for the memes), remembering that you were once a human but otherwise suffering from severe amnesia. Again, this is par for the course for the entire PMD franchise. A friendly Nuzleaf saves you from danger and takes you to a little village called Serene Town. Here you meet your Poké-pal (in my case, a friendly little Chimchar), and as children, we start going to school.
Yes, that’s right. Instead of being thrust into the action of working for a group of explorers or a rescue team, the game throws you into an outdoor classroom with a handful of other unevolved (presumably “young”) Pokémon, where you are taught life and survival skills in an increasingly threatening world. What feels like a tutorial scenario at first becomes the first half of the game’s plot. The fellow children and villagers of Serene Town each have their own charming side stories and plenty of secrets. Moreover, a friendly Ampharos wanders over early in the game to name you and your partner “honorary Junior Expedition Members.” This activates some of the game’s core mechanics, namely the Connection Orb.
From a gameplay loop perspective, it’s worth noting that unlike many of the other games in the series, Super Mystery Dungeon offers you the opportunity to recruit exactly one of each Pokémon from the first six generations (721 total). They appear on a constellation map in the Connection Orb, and fulfilling quests for Pokémon in need grants you the ability to use said Pokémon in future missions as they essentially join your party. Better yet, each Pokémon is then connected by some association with one or more other Pokémon, opening new quests. And yes, in this iteration of PMD, you can conveniently complete multiple quests in the same dungeon. Complete five quests in a dungeon, find tons of great loot, recruit five (or more) Pokémon, and expand connections between a dozen or more Pokémon to take more quests.
This loop is frequently, and thankfully, interrupted by plot-specific missions. Early in the game, this includes exploring rumors of ghosts haunting the local school or kids daring one another to explore ever more dangerous areas. As the game’s plot thickens, your dynamic duo find a reason to commute from Serene Town to Lively Town, where you are officially welcomed into the Expedition Society — a motley crew of Pokémon with great skill and eccentric behaviors, including Jirachi, Mawile, Swirlix, and others. And it is here that you learn of the greater mystery and danger facing the world. And, tired as this plot formula may be, your amnesia is the key thing blocking you from knowing what your team is working to discover. The reasons differ from previous games in this entry, making for a great plot twist, but some gamers may rightfully be tired of the amnesiac protagonist trope.
By the time you are ready to face off against the game’s final boss, so much has been accomplished and revealed, and it’s all been a pleasantly challenging experience with surprisingly light and heavy moments. I mentioned this in previous PMD reviews, but I cannot stress this enough: having talking Pokémon is one of the greatest ideas ever. It is such a drastic shift to go from a game where humans catch and train Pokémon to one where these creatures live in (relative) harmony and humans are thought of as something out of legend, like the Loch Ness Monster or the Tooth Fairy. The writing is excellent as well. As you uncover more and more secrets about your character and your partner, how those two characters are written makes more and more sense.
I adored playing through Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon. The only disappointment, for me, was the postgame story. Each of the other PMD games have lengthy, worthwhile postgame story content that leads to a satisfying conclusion. Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon fails to do this, due to a lackluster series of brief quests and a landing beat that doesn’t feel like the resolution you’d expect. The emotional pangs we typically feel in the postgame in other PMD titles all happen in the main ending to Super Mystery Dungeon; the postgame feels like a small chore to get an expected result.
Story aside, however, the postgame is wonderful as a gameplay loop for anyone who wants to “recruit ’em all.” The variety of dungeons, quest types, and experimenting you can do with your team, all make for a postgame that is every bit as good as the DX remake of the first games in the series.
I also want to note Super Mystery Dungeon‘s music. While it shares many melodies from previous entries in the series, there are some startling original themes from the noisycroak music team. Sadly, just like the rest of the PMD titles, this game has no soundtrack available.
When I look back on my experience with Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, I have to say that I am well satisfied. However, I am also hungry for a new PMD title to coincide with Generation 9, based on the improvements Spike Chunsoft has made with their meta-franchise in the past decade. Consider this: the four (localized) games in the PMD series corresponded with Gens 3 through 6 in straight succession. Then nothing for Gen 7, and nothing again (well, a remake technically) for Gen 8. Considering Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon sold over a million copies worldwide, I am hoping the collective appetite of Mystery Dungeon fans will lead Spike Chunsoft to make a fantastic return to this quirky, colorful roguelike series.