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pokemon mystery dungeon
games Posted 2006-09-28 12:42:44 by Jim Crawford
Japanese game developer Chunsoft has purportedly been making console roguelikes for many years now. Pokemon Mystery Dungeon is their first, as far as I know, to have been localized to the United States, so it's the first one I've played.

The roguelikeness of it is debatable; it's missing randomized items, which I consider to be the core of roguelikes along with randomized levels, but it's definitely “like rogue” in many ways: the random levels, movement on a grid and restricted to eight compass directions, the very short turns (I've heard games with this type of movement called “steppers,” a seemingly generic but effectively descriptive term, since nearly all your moves in these games consist of stepping in one direction or another). But on top of the roguelike gameplay they threw a lot of banal cut scenes that people expect from traditional console RPGs, e.g. the rest of the Pokemon series. I'm told that the real gameplay only starts after you finish story mode anyways. So I'm looking forward to that.

Published reviews of the game are written by people who have the opposite problem: they all seem to have been written by fans of the Pokemon series, who obviously just want a traditional console RPG. As a result, they interpret every change in gameplay from the main series as a deficiency. What's especially annoying about this is that despite the lack of roguelikes in mainstream gaming, there actually is a popular predecessor for this particular variant: the Diablo series. But I guess in the eyes of whomever assigns games to reviewers, the Pokemon license is a more important factor than the genre.

A note to roguelike veterans who decide to pick this up: the gameplay itself started out pretty boring for me, because I would always feel compelled to explore each generated dungeon. I developed this heuristic by playing Nethack, where there are a limited number of levels, and where the next level down is considerably more dangerous than the current one. Since you want to be as tough as possible before heading down, each level must be squeezed for every drop of character advancement.

But as it turns out, semi-obviously, that heuristic is wrong in Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, because levels don't get orders of magnitude more dangerous within a given dungeon, and because you can repeat each dungeon as many times as you want. Levels aren't a limited resource. The all-too-limited resource I should be optimizing for is my precious time, and exploring each level entirely actually wastes time because you advance much more while exploring new areas than while backtracking.

Since that realization, I've been leaving each level as soon as I see the staircase, unless I know there's something I want on the level. The way I see it, a Schroedinger's Cat model in which items are generated only when I observe them is just as valid, if less likely from a game code perspective, as a model in which the level is populated with items as soon as I enter. The rooms in the next level are going to have better items anyways. And it's more fun.
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