Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

released on Apr 18, 2009

Embark on a journey after you get turned into a Pokémon as a result of a freak accident, causing you to lose your memory as well as contact with and knowledge of your previous adventuring partner, with whom you were on a secret mission to save the world. Watch your story unfold in a dungeon crawling rogue-lite experience as you form your very own rescue team with a new partner of your choosing.

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bruh wtf,i thought people were memeing about this game being good

My favorite game of all time with lots of content to keep you playing long after its masterpiece of a story.

Bold of Nintendo to release a game about toxic work environments
A childhood classic of mine, as I'm sure it is with many people. I'm honestly kind of surprised by its cult status 15 years after its release, but also happy that a game I grew up loving is so heavily revered and has the respect it rightfully deserved as its own work and as a unique spin-off.
But I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous revisiting it after such a long time. I had no reservations about the music still being incredible, I was hoping the story had aged as well as my nostalgia had led me to believe, but I remember it being pretty hard, and the gameplay was never the reason why i remembered it so fondly (as I'm sure many people can relate).
But what surprised me most on this revisit is just how well the mystery dungeon gameplay loop works. The menu-based system of traditional pokémon translates into a grid-based roguelike combat system beautifully. It completely changes how speed works and you now have to take into account range and distance. But the dungeons were the real source of my worries. After playing other games with randomly generated dungeons like Persona 4, Pikmin 2, and Chain of Memories (all games I dislike), I was not looking forward to a gameplay experience that was nothing but that. But it's surprisingly very snappy and not archaic in the slightest. They grant you the incredible blessing of a run button that might as well be a speed-up button on an emulator, it gets you through floors in a matter of seconds. Floors aren't very big, and it isn't until late and post-game when they get really dickish with long winding halls and dead-ends. Sometimes you'll even spawn into the room that has the stairs in it, so the pacing of advancing through floors is actually the fastest I've seen in any game with randomly generated levels. There's also a surprise amount of variety in the level design of each dungeon, and they somehow all manage to feel distinct from each other.
What isn't great about the gameplay loop is the roguelike elements. It's shallow, and certainly not helped by how much the genre has evolved in the last decade. It pretty much boils down to, if you're lucky enough to find apples, oran berries, and max elixers, use them. I really like the seeds and orbs that have multiple beneficial effects for you, but this aspect of the game in general is lacking in risk/reward as well as variety in mechanics to allow for interesting things to happen, and overall works against you without there being potential for multiple attempts at a dungeon to be any different from each other. You can lose all of your inventory if you die, and while I'm grateful for the checkpoints you get halfway through dungeons, they don't give you true Kangaskhan statues, so respawning won't give you access to your storage and you can be screwed. There are some things that boggle my mind, like traps. Why would you put in invisible tiles that do nothing but hinder your progress, give you no way of detecting them, and the only option you have against them is an orb that completely removes the problem? And then you start spamming in the post-game because why? Thankfully dungeons are all a manageable length until the late and post-game at the very least, so these aren't a big problem for most of the game.
But fuck the gameplay, who cares about that
What everyone loves about this game is the story, and forget my reservations going into this revisit. I loved and respected the story even more on this revisit. The setting of the guild and the many side characters of treasure town, the episodic nature of each chapter, how it continues to let minor characters have a presence in the game even after their plot relevance is over, how it uses Team Skull as this constant antagonistic force as well as Grovyle as a mysterious true villain that the game builds up, how many distinct and likable personalities it gives to all of these Pokémon, the way it introduces all these new worldbuilding concepts and fleshes them out as the mystery unfolds, the sheer majesty of its various locales, literally everything about the story creates this lovely Saturday morning cartoon vibe that kept me HOOKED! I already knew this story, but even after not playing it for at least a decade, I could not put this game down.
I was interested to know how the twist would effect me on this revisit. In the nature of twists, it obviously wouldn't work on me a second time, but I hoped it wouldn't be agonizingly obvious in the buildup to it and that I could respect it even though I saw it coming. And honestly I don't really know. I think I'd need to watch someone play it for the first time to get a good idea about it, but I wasn't rolling my eyes at the foreshadowing so I think it did decently well.
The only thing about the story I'm really not a fan of is how many conflicts arise from characters jumping to conclusions and not allowing the protagonists to explain themselves. So much could be avoided if characters just listened to each other and I could understand that writing choice if it was used a couple times (like I think it makes sense when fighting Dialga and Mesprit, and maybe once with Chatot), but it's a device that's used way too much.
But yea, the characters steal the show here. The character development for the protagonist and partner characters are both well done. Wigglytuff is hilariously just the most powerful being in existence and I'm here for it. Chatot is deadass just a toxic manager; he gives you jobs you are literally given no training for, and if you mess up ONCE, you get no dinner. NO DINNER!!! There's gotta be some guild union laws this is violating, because that's actually the cruelest thing I've ever seen in a Pokémon game. Everyone understandably loves Grovyle and Dusknoir, Kecleon strikes fear into the heart of all Mystery Dungeon players, Azurill and Marill are both precious and are probably my favorite minor characters. I could go on, everyone in this game is delightful and I'll reiterate that it's so impressive how they give so many Pokémon personalities in this.
The last praiseworthy thing is, of course, the music. Which honestly should go without saying. This is my favorite Pokémon ost aside from Black and White, and I'd argue is one of the most varied and complex soundtracks every composed for a video game. It shifts between so many different modes in the middle of songs and uses so many time signatures throughout, so many different emotions conveyed, so many leitmotifs used, and so many dissonant changes that make them really challenging to play. Does anyone remember that like 160 page dissertation that was written about this game's soundtrack? Yea, that's how much it slaps. I'd argue that this is up there with Donkey Kong Country and Nier: Automata for how complex, dynamic and atmospheric its music is. An all time great to be sure.
So the only thing left to talk about is how they DROP the ball in the post-game. I feel like this is a controversial take since the post game seems to be praised by the community. But not only do they start getting really cheap with the dungeons here, your graduation from the guild creates a lack of forward momentum in the story for the rest of the game. Part of what made the base game's story work so well were the side characters and how the game uses the guild and the interactions of all the characters to keep you hooked and motivate you to see what happens next. Without their constant presence, and with the main conflict and several main characters out of the picture, and with the decision to force you to complete randomly generated mission between story events, the pacing slows down to a crawl. I went from playing the game nonstop on a daily basis to going weeks between play sessions because I just didn't care. It also doesn't help that the new Shaymin Village content and the early post game missions like Blizzard Island have no payoff once you beat them. They feel so pointless because none of the conflicts or characters end up staying or contributing to an overarching story. So, why did I bother with them? Nothing motivates me to trudge through these obnoxiously long, trap ridden labyrinths if there's no narrative purpose to it. At the moment I've finished the Blizzard Island chapter and rescued Scizor and no further. Maybe I'd care when I finally meet Palkia and Crescelia and Darkrai, but I don't care enough right now to get to that point.
But anyway, that aside, banger game. I don't think I'd call it an all time favorite like I did as a kid (maybe I would if the post game didn't leave such a bad taste in my mouth), but I admire it even more now and it holds up exceptionally well.

Great game. The story doesn't hit as hard as when I first played it, and its lows stick out more, but its highs are still very good.
Gameplay is fun, characters are fun, music is fun.
I need to replay it, and maybe play the rest of the series so I can compare (I've played red but didn't actually beat sky tower...)

Best entry in the Mystery Dungeon series to date. It is so difficult to critique this game as it was consistently fantastic, with a great storyline, soundtrack feels so memorable and mystical. This game never fails to pull on my heartstrings. Overall, a masterpiece and I feel that it is difficult to make a Mystery Dungeon game that could surpass this entry.

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