kjorteo: Teary Bulbasaur portrait from Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. (Bulbasaur: Teary)
[personal profile] kjorteo
The original plan, way back when I had finished 999, was to complete a few more quick things from my backlog before venturing into my next big "start a full-length game from scratch" project. I had a ton of games on the list that were either one-hour indie romps or something I'd already 90% finished years ago, and just needed to dust off and do the final stuff. I like cheap easy victories to pad the "number of games I've completed this year" and blog post counts. So it was that I nibbled my way through shorter games like AM2R and "I was almost done anyway" games like TIS-100. While I was at it, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Darkness had been haunting my to-do list basically since it came out, and I'd already beat the main game, so I just needed to do the postgame content and be done with it.

I vastly underestimated just how much postgame content there was.

It's only fitting, I suppose; the sunk cost fallacy is basically what pulled me through a good chunk of the game, even down to the fact that it was this version I was playing. Honestly, if you're going to play PMD: Explorers, play Explorers of Sky instead. It is literally the same game but better, a later enhanced rerelease with extra dungeons and side stories and generally more and better everything. There is no downside to Sky and no reason whatsoever to pick Time/Darkness, unless you're like me and were already 35 hours into Darkness when Sky first came out and you just didn't want to start over. (In retrospect, with how much of a marathon the final few acts of this game became, not having to play it twice was absolutely the correct decision.) But even then, for the love of Arceus, make sure you still find a way to catch Sky's side stories and content--maybe in a YouTube Let's Play or something. They are easily as good as, if not better than anything in the main game.

Version differences aside, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers has all the things you would expect, including:
  • Pokemon!
  • Mystery Dungeons!
  • Explorers!
  • Having your feelings crushed like a grape!

I have no idea how it came to pass that a series whose entire premise is "You know those cute collectible monsters kids love? Put them in a slightly-friendlified Roguelike" also became synonymous with having among the highest amount of sobbing per capita in Nintendo game history. Neither Pokemon games nor Roguelikes are typically known for their plot, but mix the two and it somehow explodes in a geyser of tears. It's like Professor "Stock brainteasers and crying" Layton in that regard, I guess. Everyone who's played any PMD or even has heard of its reputation knows what they're in for at this point, but if you were somehow unaware, there's a reason this is the series where this icon (along with all my other emotional Bulbasaur icons) came from.

The gameplay of Explorers can get a bit repetitive. (Do you like exploring mysterious dungeons? Do you like exploring mysterious dungeons to the point of it almost being a fetish even within the game itself, with characters revering it the way people in the Laytonverse talk about Puzzles? Good, because here's fifty hours of it.) Furthermore, not every story element worked. The main, non-postgame ending is almost identical to that of the earlier PMD: Rescue Team, with slightly different explanations for why the same things are happening, and overall I feel like Rescue Team did it better. Granted, some of that could be because I'd played Rescue Team first and it doesn't hit quite as hard the second time you see the same thing, but Explorers' take on it did ruin some of its own impact with some clumsy fridge logic which I might get into at another time (ask me in PM or something.) The postgame had a ton of padding, with entire plot arcs that go nowhere and gratuitous abuse of the "Go out and do random bulletin board missions to pass a few days before you wake up one morning and suddenly..." method of plot advancement. The game has more endings than Peter Jackson's The Return of the King, with me at various times thinking I was finally done with it when I had:

  • Completed the main story
  • Completed the first postgame story arc
  • Oh no that was just one arc and it turns out there are five entire arcs according to this walkthrough
  • Completed all five postgame story arcs and defeated the postgame endboss
  • "After a few more filler days, you'll wake up to find there's a commotion on the beach..." (I was done with dungeons after the postgame endboss, so at this point I tried passing the days via the sentry duty foot-identification minigame because I didn't want to go out anymore. It didn't work, so instead I found a password generator and gave myself a bunch of Wonder Mail passwords to go arrest a low-level Pachirisu on B1F of Beach Cave.)
  • Recruited a certain Pokemon after a few filler days, who told me about the existence of a dungeon after a few more filler days. I didn't care. But hey, that was officially where the story events stopped happening which means technically...
  • Wait no you can still go complete Spacial Rift again to unlock the ability for you and your partner to evolve Don't care.
  • Watched an LP of all the Sky side stories (Obviously yes to this one)
  • Recruit all the Legendaries, max your levels and IQ, unlock the extra dungeons, do all the plotless hardcore 99-floor Zero Isle South type bonus nonsense No.

In short, a lot of this could be because I'd underestimated the postgame and expected it to be over sooner, but the main story ending fell flat and a lot of the postgame was kind of a slog.

However.

What Explorers does do well, it does really well. Explorers is, above all else, a story about its characters, and this is where it differentiates itself from Rescue Team and really shines. The cast is full of personality, especially after you've lived in Treasure Town for a while and really gotten to know everyone. These personalities become a huge part of the game's draw. Even if they had the same main story ending (and Rescue Team's was better), Rescue Team didn't have Wigglytuff, Chatot, Bidoof, Sunflora, and all the others in Wigglytuff's Guild, who bond with each other and with you over the course of the game. They all have their quirks, some you invariably end up liking more than others, but together they're a family. That family includes you, by the way. Toward the end of the postgame there is an entire dialogue to that effect. On one hand, it is so Stock Heartwarming Speech that I swear it came straight from 80s Ending, but on the other it worked and it was moving and, yes, I choked up for that too. (I expect this part in particular will hit [personal profile] xyzzysqrl even harder if/when she ever plays it. She is 100% okay with "yeah it's a little cheesy BUT" and, well, given how much she likes Summer Wars....)

And wow, does Explorers live up to the series' reputation of punching you in the feelings, the Sky content in particular. People warned me that Bidoof's Wish was the destroyer of emotions, and they were largely correct. I expected In the Future of Darkness to be pretty devastating just given who/what it was about, and braced myself accordingly, even if that bracing was kind of like remembering to close the screen door before a hurricane. No one warned me about Igglybuff the Prodigy, though.

So, even though I was really starting to get tired of how many different ways I had to complete this game before it was actually completed, I absolutely loved it in retrospect. In fact, even though I'm free now, a part of me really wants to do Super Pokemon Mystery Dungeon next. I probably won't, if only because I have a lot of other games that kind of have dibs as far as what I need to play next. Someday, though. As grateful as I am that Explorers is finally over for real this time, it did leave a very good impression, such that "okay but this is technically a new and different game" is apparently all it takes to make me want to jump right back in.

But for now, it's onto the next game for me, and I guess a certain Bulbasaur in Wigglytuff's guild will just have retire to a quiet life of staring at Pokemon feet all day. I'm sure that's what she would have wanted.
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Celine Kalante Love

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