What is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity? A simple enough question. One answer is it’s the latest in the Mystery Dungeon series and the first one for the Nintendo 3DS. Another answer is that it’s a that mixes Pokémon with roguelike, dungeon-crawling mechanics.
But the bigger question that needs to be asked is: who is Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity for? I honestly can’t say. And I have a feeling that Spike Chunsoft can’t answer that either. Not having a clear audience in mind leaves the game full of boring, repetitive gameplay that wastes the player’s time.
Like previous Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, this one starts with you (the player) being turned into your choice of five starter Pokémon. You then choose one of the remaining four to be your partner. You’re then tasked with saving the Pokémon world. It’s not an earth-shattering narrative, and the “save the world” parts really don’t come into play until the last third of the game.
But your journey to save the world doesn’t begin right away. Instead, the first two thirds has you and your partner teaming up to create a Pokémon Paradise—which is something like a fancy new housing development/retail center for wayward Pokémon.
You build your Paradise by venturing into dungeons and collecting materials. This could’ve been one of the game’s best features. I got a little thrill every time I was able to build a new dojo or berry farm in my Paradise. The problem is, dungeon-delving is incredibly boring and repetitive.
Even though they’re randomly generated, most of the dungeons and their various floors all blend together. And you’ll spend so much time going in and out of them over and over again. Make no mistake, the game is long—well over twenty hours for the main story. Near the end of the game, I stopped undertaking sidequests just because I didn’t want to have to go through yet another bland dungeon fighting the same Pokémon that I’d fought before.
Maybe I could overlook the bland dungeon design if the combat was exciting. Unfortunately, it too captures none of what makes roguelikes or Pokémon games fun. Because you can’t directly control your teammates, you’ll groan every time they use an ineffective move even though they have a super effective option in their arsenal.
When you’re fighting against a single enemy, things work out okay. However, when you get thrown into the game’s various boss encounters, things fall apart. Many of these feature your team greatly outnumbered. Because you can’t control your teammates, all strategy goes out the window. Instead of focusing attacks on a single target, your teammates will attack whatever enemy they feel like.
Plus, you’re the only one able to use items. So if you want to heal your allies, you waste a valuable turn giving them a berry. And then on the next turn they’ll waste their new lease on life by they don’t attack the enemy with the least amount of health remaining. If the game is supposed to be aimed at kids, I doubt they would want to sit through this much lackluster combat anymore than adults would.
An entertaining narrative is usually enough for me to get over poor combat mechanics and level design. However, the story never moves beyond its simple themes of overcoming hardships with teamwork and friendship, but like I said before, it’s hampered by a terrible script.
Mirroring the design of the dungeons, the characters repeat themselves every chance they get. Coupled with an inability to skip or even speed up dialogue, having to listen to the characters blather over and over about friendship is exhausting. I promise you, by the end of the game, you’ll dread reading the phrase “give it your all” again. Again, the game’s ostensibly for children, but I doubt even children would have the patience to sit through hours of repetitive dialogue. Parents, on the other hand, will probably be a fan of the game’s positive messages.
The endless conversations, similar-looking dungeons, and tedious combat all work together to strain the player’s patience and waste their time. The game could’ve easily been hours shorter with just some small changes.
Gates to Infinity does try to take advantage of the 3DS’s unique capabilities. The game abandons the pixel art of previous entries and renders all the characters as rather adorable 3D models. There’s even a feature where you can use the 3DS’s camera to create portals to random bonus dungeons. However, creating these Magnagates was nearly impossible in my apartment at night, even with all the lights on. How much of a selling point this fickle feature will be is hard to say.
The game also uses the Street Pass feature to help rescue your team if you go down in combat without any reviving items. However, I spent over two days at GDC with my game blaring my request for help. It never came. If I couldn’t get revived at an event full of over twenty thousand game developers and members of the press, then I have doubts about how well it will work in suburbs and small towns.
Using the handheld’s local wireless capabilities, players can also work together to explore special dungeons. I didn’t have a chance to test these features, but I imagine working with real people instead of brainless AI-controlled Pokémon might make the combat slightly more tolerable. The game also launched with three DLC dungeons, including the free Poké Forest dungeon. However, I can’t see myself spending money on more characterless dungeons.
The new 3DS-specific features are neat in theory, but they don’t overcome the game’s biggest flaws. It glosses over the “capture ‘em all” mechanics of the main Pokémon games and dumbs down the challenge of true roguelikes. So who’s the game for? Kids? They’ll have a better time replaying Pokémon Black & White or waiting for X & Y. Adults? There are other more challenging roguelikes out there. Go play them instead. Because of poor design choices, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is tedious to play, and it ultimately wastes the player’s time.
This review is based off a downloadable copy of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity for the 3DS.