Editor’s Note: Some screenshots in this review were taken with the Nintendo Switch in handheld mode.
A remake of the Game Boy Advance games from 2006, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is the first new game in the series since 2015.
While fans champion the series and always felt it should have gotten more attention, this newest entry shows why. This time around, they are certainly right.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Producer: Nintendo, The Pokémon Company
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Release Date: March 6, 2020
You have a awoken as a Pokemon (after a quick personality quiz, that you can abandon if you want to pick from one of 16 Pokemon manually). Thanks to your new best friend and fellow Pokemon (one of the remaining 15 “starters”), you learn that this new world isn’t as happy as it appears.
The world is being wracked by natural disasters, causing typically friendly Pokemon to be on edge and attack outsiders to their territories. Teaming up with your partner, you form a Rescue Team- a small group of Pokemon who help those in need.
While the story seems twee and aimed at a younger audience at first, the story does go to some surprising places. It’s thanks to this pleasant tone that more dramatic and even sad moments catch you off guard. The same applies to the odd gag, which can be quite witty regardless.
This isn’t to say the more serious moments always blend well with the story. Without spoilers, a particular set of missions in the game take a dramatic turn, and yet you go back to “business as usual” before the grand finale.
While you’d expect a story to have a rise, fall, and greater rise to finish, the main story is a little stranger. If those missions had appeared a little later, it would have had a much better pay-off. On the other hand, it may have left too long a period between delving into one of the game’s mysteries.
A minor thing of note is that Pokemon on your team no longer issue dialogue based on their species, but based on personality shared among several Pokemon. It generally doesn’t affect much, aside from text bubbles above their head while they are attacking or getting attacked.
The main story wraps up surprisingly quickly (for an RPG), though there is one particular plot thread continued into the post-game. Due to gameplay elements encouraging you to complete numerous non-story missions, this is not a major issue, and overall still feels like a perfectly fine adventure.
The basics of Mystery Dungeon have players explore a randomly generated dungeon, usually to complete missions they had chosen to take up. Players must explore and fight-off opposing Pokemon in grind-based turn-based combat, while they look for a Pokemon to evac, or find a specific item.
While you only control the “Leader”, you can switch who the leader is in-dungeon among the three Pokemon you came in with. There are also AI options to give some vague control over your allies, but for the most part you’ll want to keep them following you.
As you explore, you slowly lose “Belly” (a hunger meter). An empty stomach will result in a Pokemon rapidly losing health (far more than the original games), so you’ll need to bring food along for the adventure.
Being able to move around adds a surprising level of depth to combat. The type, power, and accuracy of a move (a Pokemon’s special attack) are no longer the main factors; but also the area it hits, and its range.
Moves can also be slightly increased in effectiveness when used over and over, meaning you can safely stock a variety of moves for type advantage, and being able to deal with foes from any distance.
Damage is high for the most part, and you’ll often find your Pokemon go down in two or three hits (sometimes even after eating temporary HP boosting berries). As such, a “hard and fast” approach is usually the best tactic for most enemies, running through dungeons like an elite sniper team. Pokemon with a high speed stat can even execute moves twice in a row.
You can also “link” different moves together. Linked moves are executed in one instance, at the cost of some Belly. This usually wipes out most foes on earlier dungeons, with easier enemies. While powerful, it becomes less viable with longer dungeons.
Even so, status moves (which cannot be powered up outside of items) certainly help make matters easier- and enemies will especially abuse them. Though your allies will offer to use status healing items on their turn, if your leader is sent to sleep, you cannot change control to someone else.
Status moves in general can be devastating- with sleeping moves being able to make an already sleeping target flee in terror (for enemies), or be turned on allies (against you). Confusion also makes Pokemon attack in a random direction (possibly hurting allies), or even throwing a useful item to the enemy!
The game is mostly fair in spite of this. Despite running across enemies that can use attacks that hit everyone in a room (even if that room is massive and said enemy is not on screen), late and post-game enemies and traps tend to be the most brutal.
To deal with greater challenges, you need to train and prepare. The former happens as you fight enemy Pokemon (with Pokemon not going on the mission getting some EXP), but the real focus on if you’ll survive a dungeon are the items you bring.
Firstly you have a limited inventory space- slightly increasing as your rank as a rescue team improves. Second, the shop in town has an incredibly limited stock. A random selection of basic items per day (when a completed dungeon).
As such, you’ll often find yourself going on missions to not just be rewarded with good items, but scavenge the items from dungeons as well. This is especially true with the game’s later dungeons, demanding more items to heal, cure status effects, incapacitate enemies, and keep well fed. The fact Reviving Seeds still leave a nigh-useless Plain Seed behind to clog up your inventory is still infuriating.
Items can make bosses easy to cheese, while at the same time a necessity for late and post game. While bosses can recover from status effects quickly, status-effect inducing wands can be stacked in your inventory (along with seeds that cannot).
As such, it’s possible to keep a boss asleep for most of the fight, while your allies chip away at it. You need to abuse this with late and post game bosses, or be leveled to high-heaven to survive. You will have to find said wands and seeds first though.
Even when these fights are not made lackluster, there is often little movement. You will see your allies surround the stationary boss, and the boss pummels whoever is closest. Most bosses are also larger, which grants them wider hitting attacks.
Only a few bosses utilize ways to shuffle your team around the room, or create places they cannot stand without damage. These battles (if you do not have the means to constantly disable the boss) are far better end caps to hard-fought dungeons. Otherwise, you have half-hearted and foregone conclusions, or brick walls that ruin your invested time.
As you can surmise, dungeons are usually tougher than the bosses themselves. Often your three man team will not be enough. On paper, when you defeat a Pokemon with the party’s leader, there is a chance that Pokemon will dust itself off and join you.
Assuming it survives your expedition, up to five Pokemon you have managed to inspire will offer to join your permanently. This does mean you need the corresponding camp for it to live in. These can be bought for a large amount of money back in town, and if you reject a Pokemon you get a decent chunk of money instead.
However, your team mates (especially if they are armed with long ranged moves) will usually kill the target before you can. While you can order your team not to attack, temporary party members do not listen to such orders. This can be especially frustrating for rare (or even shiny) Pokemon you wish to nab.
While there is seemingly a focus on picking up allies, several major story missions prevent you from bringing allies along. One moment locks you into doing dungeons back-to-back with only your starting partner (good luck if you share the same weakness), with no prior warning. While you have access to temporary dungeons to build up resources, it comes out of left field, and can leave you ill prepared.
Ally AI is pretty lackluster for the most part. While they are smart enough to use their strongest moves against a given foe, there is no way to command them to keep their distance from a foe, or avoid a particular tile (aside from uncovered traps which they avoid automatically). Your options are pretty limited, though usually sufficient.
Those familiar with the original should know of some changes this time around. By incorporating newer features from the later games, this is almost a new entry rather than a remake. All the “Gen 3” Pokemon are here, with their evolutions, mega evolutions, and prevolutions from other games.
Almost all dungeons (apart from the tougher post game ones) will show enemies and items on the minimap, even if the floor itself has not been explored. This does take some of the tension out of exploration, though the toughest dungeons tend to hide this information, and there are still surprises not shown on the minimap regardless.
There are some other curiosities to make life easier. While being able to dash the entire length of a room or corridor until you hit something of interest is useful, there is also “auto mode” that automatically explores for you.
In addition, the type-less neutral non-move attack has been removed. While this forces you to use moves more, it also means tapping the A button will usually result in the leader using a move that will deal the most damage.
This can make the game incredibly mindless, and the game offering to play itself for you is always a terrible idea. If overused early on, it can give the false impression the game is easy.
Items and supportive moves become a necessity for later dungeons, as well as preserving the usage of moves, and clever exploration (such as a handful of scattered items in a room indicating an ambush).
Dungeons can also have “strong foes,” that not only live up to their name (again requiring the abuse of wands and other items), but usually have a type advantage over the sort of Pokemon you would bring into that dungeon. It is a small touch, but it adds a layer to dungeons that would otherwise have little variety in their typing.
The Makuhita Dojo also no longer provides additional short dungeons to explore, but timed micro-dungeons filled with Pokemon that can be one-shot by whoever enters.
Despite the tickets being common, my fears of over-leveling were quickly disproven. It perfectly serves its function to help lower level team-mates catch up, while higher level Pokemon won’t get much out of it.
Another major change is the abandonment of the IQ and Team Skills, replaced with gummies and Rare Qualities. These Rare Qualities act as an ability that affects your whole squad, and eating gummies can grant a Pokemon a new one (or the choice to replace an existing one).
Acquiring a duplicate of a Pokemon for a better Rare Quality, or stuffing its face full of gummies to get what you want is an interesting choice. Even if the gummies do grant a small stat boost, finding a specific skill will take a LOT of time and gummies.
While the stats and overall usefulness of a Pokemon in the mainline games are reflected here, there is very little focus on min-maxing for all but the end of post-game content. As long as you’re attempting to avoid type disadvantages, load up with decent moves, and have the proper items, you’ll be OK and make some new favorite Pokemon.
There are some minor annoyances worth mentioning. You will need to keep your own notes on how long a dungeon is once you are inside it, as you cannot access this information when in a dungeon. Equipping an item to a team-mate is also shockingly convoluted, needing to deposit and withdraw items from storage first in different sub-menus.
The game also utilizes autosaving which cannot be disabled. As this is very frequent, save-scumming is not an option no matter how badly a run went, and how many resources you lost. Depending on your mindset, you may find this a welcome challenge, or a nuisance.
Literal snooze-fest bosses and your team-mates stealing your friend-making kills aside, there is something to be said about the gameplay loop.
One minute you’ll be cursing not having enough space for more food or healing items, the next you’ll be rather smug all the preparation finally fell into place on a tough dungeon. It is a slow-burn to the pay off, but if Mystery Dungeon style dungeon-crawlers are your thing, you might find some serious bite in this rather cute package.
Speaking of, the game certainly does try to look good. Aside from bright colors bleeding from every part of the game, the whole thing utilizes a watercolor effect. This tends to be only noticed when you are closer to models in cut-scenes, and your eyes can filter it out after a while. Nonetheless, it is certainly charming when noticed.
“Closer looks” are something the game usually tries to avoid however. As the camera hangs quite high above during gameplay, some of the rather wooden animations are more acceptable (including attack animations).
What is more maddening is there are a few rare cutscenes that try something fancier, and they look great. Apart from keeping combat short and sweet, a little more flair would not have hurt. Although considering dashing across a room with a large number of Pokemon can cause some frame-drops, maybe it would.
The dungeons themselves also do their damnedest to not look like a series of boxes and corridors, with some rather nice environmental assets. Nonetheless, you do start to notice some dungeons share their tile-sets, or utilize recolors to cover it up. This is easy to look past however, as everything still looks good.
Mystery Dungeon DX also loves to show off some of its artwork, with a dedicated button to “Admire Illustration” in some menus. It is indicative of the game’s graphics as a whole- clearly a lot of love and care put into most areas, but only getting to shows its best side in rare moments.
The music benefits from being originally on a more limited system (demanding creativity), now remastered for the Nintendo Switch. While most tracks use some little chip-tune instrumentation to evoke any nostalgic memories long time fans will have; the retro touch somehow feels fitting for the dungeon-crawling subgenre.
Emotional moments also manage to keep their weight, preferring to use (synthetic) instruments. While you won’t be able to hum many of the game’s tracks, none of them overstay their welcome during your long expeditions.
Fans of the original can rest easy, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX is a worthy successor to the franchise’ crown. Alongside some QoL improvements to make some elements of the game less frustrating to play, the game still retains its challenge. Add a point or two onto that final score.
To those who never played any of the series, this is the perfect time to dive in. If you can forgive needing to turn bosses into doormats, and failing to hire the odd Pokemon, you’ll probably find the greatest challenge the franchise has offered yet.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a personal copy obtained by the reviewer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.