For a long, long time, the biggest problem with the Pokemon series has been its unwillingness to try new things, its refusal to step out of its comfort zone and expand past horizons it hasn’t sailed to before. It is exactly because of that staleness that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Rescue Team DX – in spite of being a remake of games that are over a decade old – feels like a much-needed breath of fresh air. But here’s the catch- while the visual design and narrative strengths of Rescue Team DX deserve praise, how much mileage you get out of the whole game will depend on how long you can tolerate its frustratingly repetitive gameplay loop.
If you’ve never played the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games, the fact that Rescue Team DX’s biggest strength lies in its story will probably come as a shock to you. Story, after all, is not exactly high on the list of things Pokemon games are known for. And yet Mystery Dungeon’s narrative is bursting personality and charm. You play as a human trapped in a Pokemon’s body, who finds themselves in a world inhabited only by Pokemon. This world is also being wracked by mysterious natural disasters, that are not only putting a whole lot of innocent Pokemon in harm’s way, but also kicking others into a frenzy. Your goal, then, is twofold- to find out just how and why you’ve suddenly woken up as a Pokemon, and to save the world and the Pokemon in it from these natural disasters.
"While the visual design and narrative strengths of Rescue Team DX deserve praise, how much mileage you get out of the whole game will depend on how long you can tolerate its frustratingly repetitive gameplay loop."
In terms of the actual story developments, Rescue Team DX is… not the best. It takes a lot of weird turns, and it doesn’t explain some of its most basic premises nearly as well as it should. But all of that ends up mattering very little, because the real stars of the show here are, appropriately enough, the Pokemon themselves. Throughout the game’s story, you’ll meet all manner of Pokemon, representing multiple generations of the franchise, and each of them adds immensely to the game’s narrative. Each Pokemon has a unique personality and smartly written dialog, and the relationships and friendships that develop between these creatures are the heart of the story. Rescue Team DX’s story is all about the friendships you form with these whimsical monsters, and it is utterly heart-warming.
Equally as charming as the story are the visuals. While Red Rescue Team (on the GBA) and Blue Rescue Team (on the DS) sported a sprite-based pixel art style similar to the third generation of mainline Pokemon titles, the Switch remake has completely reworked the visual design, instead going for a hand-draw oil painting aesthetic that looks strikingly Ghibli-esque. Every bit of the game is beautiful to behold, and contributes to the game’s overall charm heavily- nearly as much as the characters inhabiting the story themselves.
Sadly, almost no other aspect of Rescue Team DX is as solid as the story and the visuals. Combat is the meat of the game, and though it’s a notable refinement over the original games, it’s not nearly enough to stave off the repetitiveness that characterizes the bulk of the game. In true Pokemon fashion, combat encounters are turn-based, but applied here to grid-based arenas. Every action – movement, using items, unleashing attacks – uses up a turn, and each Pokemon can use one of four moves – also similar to the main series. Other core mechanics, like type matchups and status effects, have also been retained.
"Rescue Team DX’s story is all about the friendships you form with these whimsical monsters, and it is utterly heart-warming."
The biggest issue is that the vast majority of battles aren’t nearly challenging enough to keep you engaged for long. Since each dungeon you enter is themed around something specific, you’ll have a pretty good idea before heading in of what Pokemon types you’ll be coming up against, which means a party composed of Pokemon with type advantages will make every battle a repetitive exercise in “press A for victory”. The boss fights are slightly more challenging, and as such, relatively more engaging, but even these can often be quite frustrating, since enemies don’t show health bars.
That isn’t much of an issue with regular enemies, but you never know how far away you are from landing a killing blow on a boss, which means you don’t know how wasteful (or not) it will be to use a healing item during a boss fight. It’s a baffling omission- you’d think having a health bar is something a Pokemon game, of all things, would think of before all else. It was a strange design choice in the original games, and it’s stranger still in the remake, because the developers have essentially ignored fifteen years of feedback here.
Dungeon design also suffers from major issues. Given that it’s a roguelike, Rescue Team DX’s dungeons are randomly generated- but even so, they all feel too similar. Other than the aesthetic differences in each dungeon, they all feel like lazy rehashes of each other- they’re all essentially a series of boxes connected by corridors. There’s nothing interesting about them, and the fact that some of the later dungeons tend to be quite long makes them that much harder to get through. There’s also no permadeath, by the way, in spite of the fact that this is a roguelike, which adds to the game’s general lack of challenge even further.
"Other than the aesthetic differences in each dungeon, they all feel like lazy rehashes of each other- they’re all essentially a series of boxes connected by corridors."
The repetitive nature of the combat and dungeons is exacerbated by the fact that there isn’t much else to do outside of this. The entire game – other than some minor side activities that are little more than distractions – tasks you repeatedly with quests and side quests that all see you heading into dungeons and engaging in one battle after another, and unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough to the game’s core mechanics to keep me interested in any of it for too long. There’s a dojo you can head into to grind and gain some extra XP, but that, too is all about combat. It also places time restrictions on you, which is a strange restriction to place in a turn-based game.
If you were a fan of the original Mystery Dungeon games and/or are purely interested in this one for its visual style and the appeal of its charming characters and story, I can recommend this game to you, albeit with some reservations. However, in spite of enjoying those parts of the experience in particular, I found that they weren’t good enough to carry the whole game by themselves, especially since the meat and potatoes here – the combat and dungeon crawling – are so repetitive and monotonous. It’s a real shame, too, because I want Pokemon to step out of its comfort zone and try new things. I just wish it did it better.
This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch.
An engaging story full of charming characters; Beautiful visuals.
Unchallenging and dull combat; Drab, boring dungeons; Extremely repetitive.