So what do you think of the mystery dungeon games?
Well, I only ever played the first one and have incomplete secondhand knowledge of the plot of the subsequent titles, so anything I say here applies only to Mystery Dungeon Red/Blue and should be taken with a grain of salt. I like the feel of them a lot. It’s nice to have Pokémon games that are just about Pokémon, without any of those pesky humans to get in the way (even if the plot felt it was necessary to have humans exist… somewhere else… without ever really explaining their relation to the world we were actually playing in…). It’s just cool to have Pokémon working together to solve their problems and protect each other, although some more effort could have been spent on explaining why exactly their problems seemed primarily to be “other Pokémon” (“they’re really mad at everything because of the natural disasters, okay!”).
The gameplay was… flawed in a number of ways, though (and here I will remind you that I’m going purely off the first titles in the series; many or all of my complaints may actually have been addressed later, I don’t know). Adding new Pokémon to your team happens entirely at random, which is frustrating. The dungeons themselves very quickly start to feel like they’re all the same – you wander through a randomly generated maze hitting anything that gets in your way until you reach whatever it is that you’re there for. Tactical positioning doesn’t play nearly as much of a role as you’d think. Sometimes your companions’ AI just does incredibly stupid things, like running off down a long corridor in pursuit of… something… and not being able to find you again. Some moves are either crazy overpowered or completely useless: Silver Wind just damages everything on the screen (in addition to its side-effect of sometimes raising all the user’s stats), so sometimes you just die before you can even get close enough to attack whatever is using it, whereas your companions’ AI has no clue how to handle some support moves like Reflect, and will spam them every time you take a step until they run out of PP, which is not really helpful. Each Pokémon’s level-up move list seems to have been directly copied over from Ruby and Sapphire without any consideration for how the strengths and purposes of the different moves are changed by the radically different demands of the battle system – I can understand not wanting to review every Pokémon, but surely it would have made sense to tinker with the ones available as player characters (I played as Psyduck, whose level-up list is appalling compared to what most of the starter Pokémon get, with no real advantages to balance that). In short… there’s a lot of evidence in there of a general lack of effort in adapting the existing material of the Pokémon franchise to the game mechanics implied by the new concept. Maybe it got better; I don’t know. I hope so, because it was a very cool idea.