Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team - Staff Review  

Repetition by Any Other Name
by Michael "CactuarJoe" Beckett

Very Easy
20 to 25 hours


Rating definitions 

   The Mysterious Dungeon series of games is not one that has seen a great response from gamers in North America. Chunsoft's dungeon crawlers generally exist as an offshoot or sidestory to a particular series, each entry borrowing a bare minimum of play mechanics from the series license it uses, while repeating a few basic concepts throughout the series. In the case of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team, the series adopts the elemental resistances and counters that form the basis of the Pokémon combat system. Unfortunately, it chooses to ignore the other game mechanics that make the elemental combat work, most notably the ease of recruiting new characters to counter a given element. New characters are hard to come by, which not only makes it exceptionally difficult to have the right counter for the right creature at the right time, but also destroys the draw of character collection, a major component of the Pokémon series. But taken on its own merits, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team is simply a very repetitive game with a very poor interface, and some decent, if unsteady writing. The combat system combines aspects of dungeon crawlers with some tactical RPG influences in an unusual way, but very poor ally AI and some overlong dungeons make it a chore to play. Although some of the game's concepts are interesting, none of them are implemented well enough to make the game worth playing.

   As with all Mysterious Dungeon games, the combat system is a combination of real-time dungeon crawling and tactical RPG movement systems. To begin with, a player is dropped onto the first floor of a randomly generated dungeon of indeterminate length. With each step the player takes, the enemies on that floor will make a move, either taking a step of their own or attacking the player. Additionally, each step the player takes decreases the Hunger Meter, which will result in a game over if the meter drops to zero. There are a number of items that restore the hunger meter - apples, seeds, and so forth - but the general idea is that the player must find the most economical path from point A to point B in order to conserve the meter. The combat system itself is neither complex nor particularly compelling, as there is little or nothing in the way of tactical planning required. Most moves have an attack range of one, meaning they target only the space directly in front of the critter. This means that, short of making use of the weak Gravelerock throwing items liberally sprinkled around the dungeons, players will have to move directly next to an opponent before combat actually begins. Allies operate entirely on AI, and although this can be upgraded during the course of the game using Gummies, allies never really outgrow the nasty habit of ignoring player input and wandering off on their own, regardless of AI setting. Between the repetitive nature of randomly generated dungeons, the limited variety of monsters in any one dungeon, and the poorly implemented Pokémon game mechanics, the combat system is simply too monotonous to be of any interest.

   One of the more interesting ideas adopted from the Pokémon series is interactivity between the two versions of this game, Blue Rescue Team and Red Rescue Team. Should their Pokémon lose all health in a dungeon, players can send a cry for help to other players in the form of a lengthy and complicated password. There are also a number of other unusual connectivity features, such as the Dojo Visit feature, which allows players to import parties from the Red Rescue Team version for combat in Blue Rescue Team. Unfortunately, the visiting team is restricted to AI only, which is a huge disadvantage.

Party size is constrained by both the size of the dungeon and the size of your creatures. Party size is constrained by both the size of the dungeon and the size of your creatures.

   One of the game's most major problems lies in its interface. Its use of the touch screen is solid enough for menus, but attempting to control the on-screen characters with the stylus is asking for trouble, particularly with the Hunger Meter counting every step. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team has several options for displaying its map, character data, and other information. This is a godsend, considering that the default setting uses a transparent map overlayed on top of the gameplay. The default map is distracting, hard to read, and much better suited to sitting on the top screen, out of the way. Unfortunately, the problem then becomes one of being unable to see character status without opening the menu, making it difficult to make sure the wayward and often incautious helper characters are in good health. But altering that display setting creates more problems. The game simply has too many issues displaying all the pertinent data for a system with two screens. Menu overuse is another issue, although this problem stems largely from the player's lack of direct control over his or her allies. In certain combat situations, particularly boss fights, winning or losing often depends on using the right element attack or status move at the right time, but getting an ally to use a specific move is quite complicated. The player is required to open the menu, set one move to on and the rest to off, and set the helper character's AI to "Exclusive Move User," then switch the whole thing back once the move has actually been executed. The interface is overcomplicated, confusing, and poorly designed, making the game unnecessarily difficult to control.

   If there were a specific theme running through this game's design, it would have to be one of repetition. The music of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team has reasonably solid sound quality and instrumentation, but compositionally, it is every bit as repetitive as the gameplay. There are a few standout tracks, particularly in some of the later dungeons, but even the best tracks become dull over the course of twenty-five floors worth of dungeon crawl. The sound effects suffer from similar overuse, with a handful of effects covering multiple bases. The four-move limitation, a holdover from the Pokémon series, doesn't help much, either. Players are likely to hear some highly similar and repetitive sounds over the course of the game. Overall, the sound is of reasonable quality, but it does nothing to break the monotony of the game.

Zapdos is actually kind of a jerk when you get right down to it. Zapdos is actually kind of a jerk when you get right down to it.

   Though the Mysterious Dungeon series includes titles like Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon and Torneko's Mysterious Dungeon, it isn't too far-fetched to say that this will be the first introduction to Chunsoft's dungeon crawler for many gamers. With a history in Japan dating back to the SNES, the Fushigi no Dungeon formula is well established; randomly generated dungeons and the Hunger Meter are the hallmarks of the series, with certain items and other aspects returning from game to game. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team adds its own elements to the series tradition, but the basics of the game - elemental tactics and randomly generated dungeons - are extremely prevalent outside the series which the game draws them from. This means that even newcomers to the series will see other games in its design.

   Surprisingly, the story of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team is fairly decent. The main plot of the game follows the player, transformed into a Pokémon in order to save a world populated solely by the catchable critters. This world has been experiencing earthquakes and other natural catastrophes in recent days, opening up fissures and caves all over the world. In short order, the player is recruited to save Pokémon trapped by these disasters, and eventually, to discover their source. Overall, the story is cute and reasonably well-written. The only real glaring problem with the writing is a back-and-forth swing in the main character's attitude between silent protagonist and non-silent protagonist, which starts causing problems about midway through the game. In the end, though, the story takes the Pokémon theme of friendship and runs with it, creating a reasonably solid, if vacant, plot.

   As with many Mysterious Dungeon games, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team draws its visual style from its license material. The main characters of the story will all be immediately recognizable to anyone with a passing familiarity with Pokémon, without a hint of new design. The overworld, which contains holding areas for allies in addition to shops and NPCs, is bright and well-designed, and the Pokémon seem very much at home in them. The visual design of the dungeons, on the other hand, could have used some work. Though they use more or less the same color palette as the overworld and creatures, the overuse of a limited number of tiles combined with a high number of floors with the same tileset just reinforces the feeling of repetition that the game engenders. Taken as a whole, the visual design of the game isn't particularly stunning, and like the music, tends to reinforce rather than counter the game's reiterative nature.

   Although Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team has a number of limitations placed on healing items, party size, and other things players count on for advantages in combat, the player is far more likely to collapse in a dungeon as a result of ignoring the Hunger Meter as opposed to loss of HP. Enemies tend to come at the player one at a time and in single file. In spite of the very short range of most attacks, and given that the player is in no way restricted from ganging up on opponents, dispatching foes is rarely a problem. In fact, over the course of the game's twenty to twenty-five hour play time, the most consistent challenge it has to offer lies in getting one's allies to understand what is desired of them.

   The primary focus of the Pokémon games has always been elemental tactics, a story about friendship, and amassing a horde of violent creatures to do one's bidding. Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team does a solid job of replicating the interplay of elementals, a surprisingly good job at the story, and an absolutely awful job at character collection. However, the main issues with the game don't stem from an attempt to integrate aspects of Pokémon into another series with its own established traditions, but rather from the overuse of repetitive and somewhat cliché game mechanics. At the end of the day, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Blue Rescue Team comes off as a collection of things that other games have implemented with more originality and creativity. Given all this, it simply lacks any compelling reason why a player would push through such basic, uninteresting gameplay with no real reward.

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