There's something to be said about a game that sets you in the world of Pokémon, with eyes unclouded, as a citizen, and not a slave driver. It's an interesting experience to see the realm from their perspective, which, for the most part, consists of outlooks so positive, that it's nearly enough to make your life feel inadequate in the process.
In addition to being a successful roguelike dungeon crawler, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series never ceases to provide that aforementioned base level of entertainment to fans of the franchise, while taxing them in the process with tricks and traps.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is the newest iteration, poised to be the first ever polygonal game released outside of Japan, and the first ever 3DS entry. Yep, it's more Pokémon Mystery Dungeon. Just a little bit easier this time around.
Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity (3DS)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Release: March 24, 2013
Gates to Infinity is the first game in the franchise to take place in the Unova region -- or for those who aren't up to date on their Pokémon games, the areas featured in Black/White 1 and 2.
It's also the first polygonal and 3D Pokémon Mystery Dungeon game released outside of Japan, and damn does it look great. If there's one group that consistently does right by the 3DS' 3D, it's games based on Nintendo properties, and Gates to Infinity is a prime example. The vibrant colors of Unova's pastel Pokémon really shine on the 3DS, and the 3D effect absolutely should be kept at the full setting during the entire experience.
As the name implies, most of the game takes place in dungeons, where your Pokémon will move about randomly generated areas from a top-down perspective. The franchise itself plays out as a "roguelike," which is a type of dungeon-crawling game that operates similar to a strategy RPG in many ways -- just without the permanent death aspect. Similar to most roguelikes, there's always a sense of "do I press on?" as you decide whether or not to go deeper into the dungeon for more wares and experience, or get out while you still can.
Although you can't always see it unless you press a button, combat is grid-based like a strategy RPG. Enemies follow the grid pattern as well, and every single input, including movement, constitutes an action. So in other words, if you move to get a better vantage point, that's a chance for an enemy or AI partner to attack or move as well -- for tougher battles, everything needs to be precise.
Just like a regular ol' Pokémon game, there are berries, PP up items (that recharge your abilities), and your usual suspect statistics (Hit Points, Attack, Defense, Special Attack, Special Defense, and Speed).
I have to say outright, this is the easiest Mystery Dungeon game I have ever played. For starters, hunger is no longer a factor at all. You also don't lose the farm for dying in a dungeon, items are more streamlined, and IQ points for individual Pokémon are now team-based.
In past games, you could stand in place in a dungeon to heal yourself, at the cost of "Hunger." If your Hunger was zero, your HP would start to decrease until you ate food to bring it back up. It was a great way to regulate players from spamming certain tactics over and over, and force them to regulate which items they wanted to take to each dungeon, considering item space was limited.
Now, that's all gone. Outside of basic item management, you don't ever have to worry about recovering between fights. In some ways, this basically eliminates the survival aspect of the roguelike. While boss fights can still be a proper challenge, dungeon crawling in general is now extremely easy outside of the special parameter dungeons that don't appear for quite a while. It's a conundrum, as the series was always on the lighter side of roguelikes in the first place, but I do lament the removal of some of the strategic elements.
You'll constantly get most of your supplies from the abundantly stocked and highly inhabited Post Town, as you work your way towards your partner's dream of the ultimate Pokémon Paradise. Outside of the dungeons, there really aren't many towns to explore, but given how beautiful and endearing Post Town is, I was fine with it.
Instead of taking a personality test to decide your playable character, you simply choose a starter in this game, as well as your AI partner (the choices being Snivy, Tepig, Oshawott, Pikachu and Axew). It's a bit less imaginative for sure, but it lets you play the game the way you want it from the beginning, which I appreciate.
There are two concurrent narratives: one serious, and one a lot more lighthearted. As the story progresses, your character will have frequent dreams of the possible extinction and deaths of the Pokémon race, as your partner character dreams of creating his own Pokémon Paradise. Eventually, the two stories will intertwine, with a ton of wacky hijinks along the way.
By "wacky," I mean that these subplots often will play out just like the anime's storylines. It can get a little...weird...to say the least. I'm talking Pokémon crushes (under the auspices of dialog like "I really want to be her friend!"), con artists scams, and "best friends forever" subplots. There's a lot of emphasis on "following your dreams no matter what," and acceptance. A typical Saturday morning, if you will.
But it can also get a bit dark as well, with themes that deal with the acceptance of death, bullying, human (Pokémon?) nature, and rejection. Although it can get a bit hamfisted at times, I have to give Gates to Infinity major props in that it's fairly unpredictable throughout (whether it's serious or silly), even including a non-Pokémon creature for the first time in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series.
Your enjoyment of the game's theme can hinge on your opinion of the generation V games, as at this point, some of the designs can get a little ridiculous, and very little of the cast in Gates to Infinity will be represented by Pokémon outside of the Unova region.
Like most Mystery Dungeon games, this adventure is long, and will last you at minimum 20 hours. After completing the game, there's even more to do, including a post-game dungeon and the ability to play every other dungeon over and over.
Auras in dungeons that modify its floors with different wacky parameters, like speed reduction or the inability to recover health. There's also an augmented-reality component, that lets you discover new Magnagate dungeons through scanning in circular objects in real life.
Similar to Fire Emblem: Awakening, DLC maps are planned, with the first one dropping for free for a limited time. In Japan, there are currently 12 dungeons that have been released, ranging from $1 to $3. But between the Magnagates, and the post-game content already on offer, you most likely won't need the DLC for a long while.
It's always tough to judge whether or not a game should be commended or punished for streamlining a series that previously catered to a niche audience. In this case, it simplifies the experience a bit too much, but given that this is the most accessible game yet, it could lead to more potential fans, which is always a good thing.
Although it may not be the best game in the franchise, Gates to Infinity is still an enjoyable dungeon crawl, and a beautiful-looking game to boot. So long as you can deal with an easier adventure, this is another mystery worth solving.