The sequels to the great Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Red/Blue Rescue Team games are here! The PMD series is known for its unique gameplay and engaging plots. In fact, more often than not, the plot is enough to keep you glued to the game and come back for more. The first pair of games was pretty good; how do the next two hold up?
"Another great game in the PMD series, but still needs to fix a few flaws."
PLOT: 10/10. Yes, as I just said, PMD games are renowned for their interesting and intricate plots. Both pairs start off with an unconscious human who is woken up by a curious Pokemon...only, it's no longer a human, but a Pokemon. The Pokemon who wakes you up will become your partner and stick with you for much of the game, so get used to him. Bolstered by your presence, the timid partner joins an exploration guild with you. The two of you become explorers and live under the regime...*cough* *cough* I mean, the laws of the guild. You wake up early, eat like a Snorlax, go explore some far-off land, and return in time for dinner. But there's not much time for relaxing, as many weird things are happening. Chiefly, the planet is becoming paralyzed because time is stopping. The culprit behind this is...Grovyle! (Cue evil organ music.) Another interesting thing is the unique ability you have to see into the past or future by touching certain people or objects. Cool, huh? Ultimately, yes, you wind up saving the world, but not before eight million secrets and plot twists are revealed. The story's filled with lots of "What the--!?" moments that can truly leave you gaping at your screen like an idiot. Despite how childish the story sometimes becomes (your partner seems to get teary-eyed over everything, and neither the main character nor your partner seem to realize painfully-obvious plot points), the rest of it makes up for it tenfold with the great character development, a plot eight times larger and more complicated than the last game's plot, and some emotional goodbyes.
Present in both sets of PMD games was what I call a "second story." After beating the main story and restoring time to normal, more adventures await you. In the first pair of games, this merely meant more dungeons to explore and the ability to evolve, but in Time/Darkness, it really IS a second plot which further explains the events of the first plot. Always interesting...just when you think the thrilling plot is all dried up, you've got another game to beat.
And in case you are wondering, no, the plot of this game has no relation to the plot of the last couple games.
GRAPHICS: 7/10. There's nothing wrong with the graphics per se, but they've mostly been just recycled from the first couple of games. First-to-third generation Pokemon still look the same, as do items and attacks. It would have been great if they had seized this opportunity to make the graphics look even cooler, or at least just different so we don't have to sit through Red Rescue Team's visual appearance again. That said, the graphics aren't bad by any stretch of the imagination. Pokemon and items are not pixelated blobs that you can't make heads or tails of. They all look distinct and well-made. Colors are bright, as before. It was good that they kept that, at least.
I also think that they should have changed the character portraits a bit. When a character is talking, an image of their head appears on a square. This head changes in expression to match that character's feelings. Most of these expressions look stupid, hence why I want them changed. Charmander, when confused or thoughtful, crosses his arms and stares into the sky with big, buggy eyes. I don't want a dramatic arm-crossing, just a thoughtful expression. You've also got the squiggly, shaking lips that come from sad or depressed attitudes, and with such a cartoony appearance, sometimes it's hard to take the moment seriously.
SOUND AND MUSIC: 9/10. The music in the last pair of games was pretty good, but not outstanding. Time/Darkness surpasses those games and delves into the outstanding category. Dungeon music in Red/Blue usually passed the Dungeonmusicinspect-O-Meter, but wasn't always that great. Almost every dungeon you go to in Time/Darkness has a great track which you may whistle along with or tap your foot to. Dangerous dungeons really feel dangerous, and when mystery's abroad, you become thoughtful and cautious. Boss music's even better than most Pokemon boss music. And I always looked forward to going into the main village because of its catchy tune. Music is truly one of Time/Darkness's strong points.
There's not a whole lot to say on sounds, other than they're bloopy and they're bleepy. When you make and cancel decisions, pick up items, hurl weapons, and do some other stuff, it's often accompanied by a little bleep. There is no voicing at all (aside from the roars of a select few legendaries). There are no grunts, no growls, no nothing. So, for most of the game, it's one bleep after another...still, you get used to it quickly.
GAMEPLAY: 8/10. PMD has very unique, addicting gameplay. In the "overworld," you can buy items, take on missions to earn rewards and points that increase your exploration team rank, and do all kinds of things. Once you're ready, you can leave from the overworld to go into one of many dungeons you've unlocked. These dungeons are crawling with enemy Pokemon and traps...
...But before you even start the game, you must turn into a Pokemon. And that is based off of a personality test. The game will ask you several questions (picked randomly out of a huge batch of other questions). Depending on how you answer them, you'll be turned into a certain Pokemon. This is an interesting idea and one that I appreciated since the first two games. You're only asked about seven questions out of eight gazillion, so you're a different Pokemon almost every time you start a new game. Shortly after turning into a Pokemon, you get to name both yourself and your partner, and then your team name. Such customization is always fun.
Now then, as a Pokemon that supposedly matches your personality, you trek through dungeons with your partner at your side. No, your partner is never smart, and keeping them alive is sometimes a mission in itself, but every so often they'll remind you why it's nice to have them around. Like, for instance, when it leaps in the way of an attack that would have killed you. You can't help but feel grateful. Anyway, dungeons are divided into many floors. Beginning dungeons have about three, and later ones have about thirty. Some even have ninety-nine. To reach each floor, you have to find and go up the stairs. Each floor is randomly generated, so the design won't be the same every time you go in. You move in turns on a giant grid which is separated by rooms and walls. Take your time on each turn to move, use items, attack, or do whatever you need. I'm not talking about long, complicated phases just to move on grid; push up on the Control Pad, and you move a tile forward. There, that's one turn. Your partner moves with you and performs actions according to whatever tactics you've given it. After you move, the enemies move, and they perpetually seek you with bloody-minded vengeance. When you kill an enemy, all team members with you gain experience points. When you gain enough, you level up, and your stats go up. Your goal in each dungeon that is story-related is simply to reach the end. If you've accepted a mission prior to entering a dungeon you've already completed, your goal is to rescue whoever must be rescued, deliver the required item, or defeat a wanted outlaw. Yup, you can now hunt down criminals, which are ordinary Pokemon-turned bosses, beat the crap out of them, and turn them in for prizes and points. I think the whole criminal idea was brilliant. It makes things so simple yet so fun. You can do multiple missions per dungeon.
There are some issues with gameplay that I have, however. These range from Traps to your partner's lack of a fully-functioning brain to IQ skills, and they will be listed in the Flaws section down below.
REPLAY VALUE: 10/10. You can recruit Pokemon to join your party. You generally would not bring anybody aside from you and Bozo the Partner (who naturally becomes one of your strongest as you're forced to lug him around), but trying to "recruit 'em all" can become a worthwhile hobby. You can also recruit all kinds of legendary Pokemon. Wanna bring Dialga with you? Sure, why not! Bring Mewtwo while you're at it! And by completing the mundane little help requests sent in by clumsy Pokemon who seem to enjoy bungee jumping into deep chasms with no bungee cord attached, you will earn points. Earn enough points, and your rank goes up, which can increase the chance of recruiting Pokemon, not to mention make you feel very satisfied. You can evolve and level up as many Pokemon as you want and try to learn every possible IQ skill. (Unfortunately, I'm not happy with what they did with the IQ skills in this game, but you should learn them anyway.)
CONTROL EASE: 8/10. The game does not need the Touch Screen, but you can use it anyway. Like Super Mario 64 DS, it's not practical, either, as all it winds up doing is messing up your movement and making wrong decisions. It's hard to mess up controls, as you can take your time with everything. I think they should have implemented the Touch Screen more, like in mini-games or something, but...oh well. It all works fine.
GAME LENGTH: 10/10. Red/Blue were passable in terms of game length. Time/Darkness are actually LONG. Even more emphasis has been put on story, so segments of the game are divided by chapters. The first chapters are very quick and easy, but later chapters cover several dungeons and events at once. The main storyline's long enough--beats me how long, but it depends on how many missions you take and how sidetracked you get--and the "second plot" is, perhaps, just as long. And after that, you're free to explore all the replayability. I am quite satisfied with the game length.
TOTAL SCORE: 62/70. That's a good score, but it's not all chocolates and daisies.
#1: By eating Gummis, you learn new IQ skills. These can help your Belly go down slower (you must eat to survive while in a dungeon as well as heal yourself), give you tactical advantages, and quite often help partners and teammates do what you want them to as best they can given their mentally-challenged brains. In Red/Blue, all Pokemon learned the same IQ skills. Not so in Time/Darkness. If you're a Charmander, you cannot walk all over terrain safely--that's delegated to certain other Pokemon. You also can't burst through walls, step back after attacking, or learn any skills which might just make dungeon-trekking more fun or even just help you survive. You're forced to learn certain skills, and then that's it. No more Super Mobile. Only one Pokemon in the game can learn that. The freedoms you enjoyed in Red/Blue are gone here.
#2: The Traps in Red/Blue were cheap, and they're still cheap in this game. In case you don't know what Traps are, they're these dangerous tiles which afflict you with some sort of ailment, be it lowering your stats, rendering some of your items useless, warping you to a new location, blasting away half your health, or dropping a move's PP to zero. Do you know how frustrating it is to reach the stairs after a hard journey, step onto a Warp Trap, and teleport to the other side of the universe? Or to have your favorite move rendered useless lest you use one of your precious Max Elixirs? Seeing as PMD is based almost entirely on luck and careful planning, Traps like this are not even acceptable. You can't foresee Traps or strategize against them. One moment you're fine, another you're not.
#3: Who programmed your stupid partners? They use the wrong moves at the wrong times, and should you happen to be separated, instead of trying to find you, they wander around aimlessly, which usually results in their death unless you find the stairs quickly enough. Next PMD, PLEASE make our partners a little smarter. Please don't make them wake up a sleeping monster just because it's there or use moves that aren't very effective when they should obviously be using a move that is.
#4: Like I said, PMD is way too luck-based. Moves do not have power or accuracy like they did in the other games. There is no tactical reason to keep Flame Wheel over Fire Spin, because they both do the same amount of damage and hit with the same rate of accuracy. This also makes moves like Doubleslap and Fury Swipes unfair, because imagine being nailed by five Giga Impacts in a row. Yeah, that's fair. In the old games, they struck repeatedly but had low power. Now, they're as powerful as any other move, so prepare to die many times on mornic enemies. They should change this in the next set of games.
CONCLUSION: PMD is an extremely addicting game and one that I very much recommend. It has its fair share of flaws, but these don't render the game unplayable. Time/Darkness haven't changed hugely from Red/Blue in terms of gameplay. So why get it? Like Fire Emblem, plot is half of the PMD games. It's not just drivel to propel the game forward, it's part of the game itself. The human-turned-Pokemon thing isn't exactly original, but from that point onward, it's a story all on its own. You should also be able to enjoy the music and replayability this game has to offer. If you couldn't care less about stories, this game may not hold as much potential for you. If you love a good story, why not pick this game up? It's good.
Overall rating 4.0 - Good