Discover the mystery of why this is a good game.
Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is a very curious game. The spin-off franchise has been divisive in the gaming (and especially Pokémon) community. As such, it is only natural that Spike Chunsoft would elect to, for the first time in series history, turn the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon (PMD) formula on its head.
The PMD series has always had simplified roguelike gameplay; the games include a simple overworld, a story, and a series of dungeons. The dungeons all have a randomized, top-down, grid-based series of floors that feature Pokémon to fight and recruit, items to collect, and the characteristic simple mechanics of the Pokémon franchise. As in traditional Pokémon games, Pokémon still take turns, level up, have the same seven stats, and carry four moves. However, the spin-offs also focus on positioning and team work. PMD tasks you with handling your entire team of up to four Pokémon at once. You are always controlling the lead Pokémon, while smart AI takes control of the other three. You are also responsible for making sure your Pokémon are positioned well around the enemy to take advantage of type and range advantages.
While many roguelikes are monotonous, PMD: Gates to Infinity adds a new element to break monotony. Occasionally in a dungeon, an outdoor area will appear in which the grid-based movement turns into free movement and there are simple puzzles to solve, a few enemies to beat, and some items to collect. I appreciate having an open, colorful area separate from the dungeon crawling.
Dungeon traversing is further enhanced in the new game through several features that make dungeons much more forgiving. Expect frequent checkpoints where you can hard save and manage inventory, quick-saving from anywhere, and dungeons that almost never push 10-12 floors. However, while the core game is less frustrating (and a bit easier) than ever before, the difficulty and frustration hardcore PMD fans want can be found in the hefty post-game.
A few other peripheral mechanics have been altered in Gates to Infinity. Hunger, which previously required you to keep your team from starvation using food items, is absent (with a few specific, post-game exceptions). The same is said for IQ, a now-defunct mechanic that originally involved Pokémon consuming items for various stat and team benefits. Instead, new mechanics arrive in their place: Move Levels and Team Skills. Move Levels advance as Pokémon use a certain move. As the move levels up, attack power, accuracy, and usage capacity increase. Move Levels are universal; when Quick Attack on Pikachu gets to Level II, a recently recruited Umbreon will also have a Level II Quick Attack. Team Skills are collectible skills that can be found in various chests in dungeons. When equipped, they can offer benefits to your squad, like making your team AI use better attacks more often or skills that keep your team safe from traps. These mechanics go to great lengths to simplify and streamline the experience.
One final change deals with the area in which you store your Pokémon and is centered on a major plot point. This game, like others in the PMD series, features an exceedingly charming plot (you will be amazed at how well-written and engaging the characters and stories are). Here, your human character is transformed into your choice of one of five Pokémon and teams up with a partner Pokémon selected from the remaining four. While you are out to save the world, your partner is hell-bent on creating the perfect paradise for Pokémon. This paradise essentially takes the role of the place where all of your recruited Pokémon stay when they aren't in use. In addition to this, the paradise also provides several blocks of land where around 40 totally new shops can be built. These include places that make your moves stronger, fields that can grow items, shops, and even two neat minigames that take advantage of the 3DS. Gathering the right materials and building new shops is surprisingly addicting and is one of the best new features in the game.
Despite all of the aforementioned gameplay tweaks, the mission structure from PMD is practically unchanged. On a bulletin board outside of your paradise, there is a continuous stream of mostly randomized missions that task you with going up a series of floors to either recover an item, beat an enemy, or save a Pokémon. These simple missions are crucial for gathering materials to build the paradise. A second, separate bulletin board provides more difficult missions for you, and up to three other friends can compete in a basic local co-op mode.
Gates to Infinity also has two new features that take advantage of 3DS capabilities: Magnagates and StreetPass. Magnagates are portals to special dungeons that can be opened from the main menu and are summoned by taking a photo of something circular with the 3DS camera. Once the photo registers, you're taken to a random dungeon, which isn't impacted by your picture. Playing as a random starter Pokémon not of your main party, you go through the dungeon, beat a boss at the end, and send the items and money you get back to the main game. StreetPassing is an inconsequential feature where, if you faint in a dungeon, you can wait for a StreetPass to potentially revive the fallen team member, while you have the option to do the same for someone else.
Presentation is one of the strongest features in the entire game. The GBA-like sprites of the old games have been replaced with silky smooth, fully-animated character models. Furthermore, the story mode features a plethora of great looking in-engine cutscenes and are a visual treat to watch as the story climaxes. The music is also really great. Ranging from catchy and lighthearted to somber and quiet, the quality is near that of the newer mainline Pokémon games.
Pokémon fans may be disappointed to know that only around 150 Pokémon are in the game, compared to the hundreds found in previous PMD games. Moreover, while around 100 are entirely new to the spin-off series, the smaller number of Pokémon becomes painfully obvious when you hit post-game and every dungeon features monsters that you have already seen in the main quest. This brings back some of the monotony that Spike Chunsoft tried to avoid with this new entry.
Though the gameplay is mostly unchanged, Spike Chunsoft has gone to great lengths to streamline what didn't work well in previous games and dramatically improve areas that were already good. Consequently, in spite of a low Pokémon count, Gates to Infinity provides the best PMD experience yet. If you're a Pokémon fan who has always been a little skeptical of the PMD series, it might be worth giving Gates to Infinity a shot.