So... I've been thinking about it, and I feel as though Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Gates to Infinity is a game of a lot of flaws and virtues, making it very hard to judge when compared to its predecessors. Give then, I think I would like to summarize the top 10 things PMD: GtI did WRONG and the top 10 things they did RIGHT on the slim hope that someone at Nintendo is paying attention and wanting to fix their mistakes if and when PMD comes back.
I will do my best to keep this NON-SPOILER, but I make no promises about the comments section. Read comments at your own risk.
TOP 10 SINS OF GATES TO INFINITY
10: Terrible cover art - This seems like a minor deal, but it's really significant. Taking a look at the covers of Rescue Team and Explorers, we see BEAUTIFULLY rendered characters in adventurous situations with a wealth of imagery and color. It absolutely sets the tone and the mood of the game and tells people this is a game where you play as Pokemon and go on adventures!
Gates to Infinity shows as nothing of that, instead using terribly rendered CG versions of the starters that look less good than their in-game versions against a stark white background with an unrecognizable new logo. Everything they did on the cover art was totally and completely wrong. Why does this matter? Because the cover art is supposed to grab the eye and make you WANT to play the game. Poor CG over a light background with a significantly less-visible and less stylized logo does not do that.
Here is a story which I SWEAR is true. For the first month or so GtI was out, I didn't even notice it at the GameStop, and I was LOOKING for it. At a glance, it looks like a sequel to Pokepark or something. And try to tell me that was a gaming masterpiece that the ages will remember.
So yes. First impressions count for a LOT. Bring back the beautifully-rendered artwork of the other generations.
9: Removing gender from the international versions - Again, this might seem like a minor quibble, but this was something that WAS IN THE GAME when it first came out. Yet, they decided to take it out. Why? They had gender in the previous games. They had it on the Japanese versions? Don't tell me it's because they didn't want to have more than one pronoun for the characters in the script. not only does that smack of laziness, but again... they HAD gender before and it never hurt the script at all. Just leave it in!
8: No evolution during the storyline - This is one that has always irked me since the first one. Only the Wiiware PMDs actually got this part right. Nintendo, I know you want to ram the cuteness of the first forms down our throats, but believe it or not, some of us really like to evolve our characters. It gives us a sense of achievement and variety and spices up cutscenes seeing a different face speaking. There's absolutely NO good reason why they have to stop you from evolving until the post game. What's more is that there isn't even a STORYLINE reason for this anymore, as Pokemon besides the main characters are allowed to evolve before the game end. Just... come on, already. It won't hurt the story. At all.
7: Dumbed-down gameplay - This is a huge stumbling block for GtI. In other games you could take on a handful of missions in a single level and feel the sense of accomplishment from knocking out 3 or 4 rescues in a single go. Forcing us to only perform one rescue at a time really hurts that appeal a lot. It makes something that was fun a lot more of a chore.
The reduction of the hunger system to only select dungeons was a bit confusing as well. I feel they should have either left it in or taken it out entirely. One or the other. Some people dislike the hunger system because it's mostly a waste of inventory space, but I actually thought it was a nice feature that added some risk-reward to the proceedings at times.
Either way, don't fix what isn't broken.
6: Not enough done with the Magnagates. - That was such a novel and intriguing concept! Scan a circle, make a random dungeon! SO COOL! But... tell me... If the part is randomized as well and there's no reward for doing them. So... what's the point? Being able to make ultra hard dungeons you can save for later and play with your party for rewards would be so much cooler.
5: Significantly fewer Pokemon - In a game with the processing power of the 3DS behind it, there is absolutely NO excuse for having less than a THIRD of the game in the same series on the Game Boy Advance. You might say it's because they don't want to model them. Well news flash, animating a character in polygonal 3D is easier than animating a 2D sprite-based character. Because with sprites you have to redraw each frame. With models, you just reposition the models and can often use stock animation motions.
4: Nagging messages - Who asked for this? At all? Who EVER asked for a game to tell its players to stop playing? If a parent wants their kid to stop playing, they will TELL the kid to stop playing. Even the v-chip generation knows how to do that much. This is exacerbated by...
3: Slow text speed - The text speed on this game is MADDENINGLY slow. Nintendo never seems to get it through their thick skulls that people hate this. If you're skipping through the text, it should be ON YOU, not the game. This whole trend began with Ocarina of Time and it's only grown worse as time has gone on.
2: Very little post-game content AND DLC, the cardinal sin. - Okay, these are actually two different things, but I think they're sort of related and they both bear mentioning.
First of all, PMD has a similar problem to the evolving thing in feeling as though once the main storyline is over, we don't care about the main characters as characters anymore and don't want them to have more storyline stuff to do. This game has a LITTLE bit of that, but not much at all. I have this feeling, mentioned earlier, that Nintendo feels we won't relate to the main characters after they evolve, so once they're allowed to, they kind of assume they're not important anymore. This is one of the biggest problems they keep insisting on making with these games and this in particular.
However, the biggest problem of all would be...
1: Significantly fewer starters - This is a similar thought to the fewer Pokemon available in the game, but to a MUCH more important extent. The starters are characters we as the players are supposed to identify with and enjoy playing as the most. So who in the blue blazes of fiery HELL decided that people only care about the gen 5 starters and axew now? Oh, and that fucking yellow rat, of course. This was one of the two big things that made me really not want to buy this game for the longest time. And it still really, REALLY bothers me a lot. I wanted Charmander to be my first starter on every game. Nintendo says too bad. Herd someone lieks Mudkips? Nintendo says who cares. Thought Meowth or Psyduck was a fun alternative? Well, Nintendo says cute alternatives are VERBOTEN. you'll play as Oshawott and LIKE it. And if you don't like Oshawott, you have to plaster on a smile and PRETEND you do.
So... Now that I've talked about the fairly significant flaws, you have to be left to wonder... Why bother playing this game? it must be terrible. Well... To every Yin there is a Yang. There are also things that GtI did very, very right. So let's talk about...
TOP 10 VIRTUES OF GATES TO INFINITY
10: The little things -there are little minor touches here and there which I really like but don't really have their own category all their own. I like that the evolved versions of the main characters have facial expressions and pictures when talking now. I like the clever little animations such as pikachu/raichu walking on their hind legs, but running on all fours. I like the little minigames you can play like Starmie diving. I loved being able to play as other characters during the main story, experiencing things from their perspective for a little bit. These are little bits and bobs that just add to the experience for me.
9: Shared IQ/Team Skills - While I'm on the fence about passive experience gain (less grinding, but also less accomplishment and control over the characters), I really do like that IQ skills are now used by the whole team. They're a little bit too easy to earn, BUT I think it was a good change from Rescue Team and especially Explorers, which had a system that didn't even allow some Pokemon to get any decent abilities. I really like this system a lot; they just need to make the abilities more challenging to earn.
8: Team attack - In Rescue Team and Explorers, I've always felt like having more teammates was a liability rather than an asset. As much as I loved the partner, from a practical standpoint, they were often more trouble than they were worth, splitting off and getting hurt (such as when a warp trap triggers) or getting attacked from behind while you're trying to use an item. In GtI, implementing a special team-up move which can clear a room makes it feel much less of a burden to have them nearby. Plus it adds a little bit of strategy when deciding when to unleash that attack. I liked this aspect a lot.
7: Alternate paths and random dungeon events - Not much to say about this. It was just a neat addition and added a bit of variety and the occasional need to change your game plans a bit. So... moving on!
6: The music - This is something that the game absolutely has in common with its predecessors. The music in the game is memorable and beautiful. In particular, the music for your home, Paradise, is incredibly uplifting and fitting to the place and mood.
5: Town building - I really liked this bit of ActRaiser-like gameplay, adding new places like shops, gaming places, and training areas to Paradise. It felt really fun watching the place grow and flourish.
4: The 3D, environments and cutscenes - Okay, now we're REALLY getting into the good stuff. Now, you might or might not be tolerant of the 3D, but regardless of if it's off or on, this game's presentation is spectacular. From the very opening cutscene to the tear-rending ending, this game really makes you feel like you're a part of it. The ice palace area was just a marvel to behold, and for those that enjoy the 3D, it is done absolutely AMAZINGLY. Some of those beautiful moments are just burned into my mind. So much variety, splendor, and action in one game. Yes. It's that good.
3:The supporting cast - Oh, man. I can't express enough just how much better the supporting cast is in its entirety than the other games. This is the second-biggest IMPROVEMENT over the other games that really made a huge difference.
It's hard to say where to begin, so we'll start with the partner. Now I will point out Rescue Team as an utter MASTERPIECE and one of the best mergings of story and gameplay of all time, but I'll concede that the partner is really more of a hanger-on than an integral part of the story. Does he add to the story? Oh, definitely! Don't get me wrong. The partner in Rescue Team is a charming, wonderful, and oftentimes very humorous character that I really felt connected to. But the story would have been BASICALLY the same without him. In Explorers the partner eventually proves himself and comes into his own, but you have to admit he started off being really kind of an annoying wimp and a MASSIVE hanger-on.
By contrast, the partner in THIS game is absolutely superb. If you think about it, in a lot of ways, the story of the game is HIS story and YOU are just the follower. Think about it... your partner is the only Pokemon left in the world who believes in hope, love, and trust. He is driven by his morals and his passion and doesn't let anything stand in his way. During some events I can't spoil but DAMN they are good - your partner hangs on and pushes himself further and harder than anyone could reasonably expect him to. Your partner is a true hero, and one of the strongest motivators in the entire PMD series. You WANT to push on for him. You WANT to prove him right about the world. It's even strongly hinted that you are in love with him. (Don't look at me like that. You KNOW it's true.) This is just the strongest partner from a characterization standpoint in PMD history.
But it doesn't just end with him! Because in this game you really come to know and love a LOT of the supporting cast. One of the boldest steps they took is NOT making the Pokemon world some kind of idealized place. In this version of the Pokemon world, the characters start off and malicious, conniving, untrustworthy, hopeless, and apathetic. They don't get you or your partner and you often feel like you come off as a joke to them. Seeing them begin to come around and see what true hope and friendship is... beginning to help one another and you... That is a genuine character arc that I don't think is given NEARLY enough credit. If you've played the game, really go back and THINK about how the supporting cast began and the things that happen with them as the game goes on. You might be surprised at what you notice on your second look.
2: The storyline - This sort of ties into the above, but it should really be mentioned again. All three of the internationally-released PMD games have peerless storytelling, so no change here. There are a lot of elements and concepts that are discussed very subtly and cleverly through this tale. Stories about how trust and hope can be lost and won. Stories about trying and believing and hoping and despairing, and just caring about what happens around you. There are real morals and philosophies that are being shown here apart from good versus evil. One could argue that the vast majority of bad guys in this game aren't evil at all. There's even a lot of darker elements at play such as mass suicide. All in a story about Pokemon. Really, give the story and characters a second look. You might be surprised at what you learn.
And the number one virtue of Gates to Infinity is...
1: The main character - Now you might think... "Well, he's just like the main character in the other games. Just a human that changes into a Pokemon to save the world." Well, let's not be quite so hasty. Because there are quite a few things that elevate him/her above the previous main characters that you might not have immediately noticed!
The first and by FAR the most noteworthy change is really something that is hardly mentioned at all and often glossed over, but it is a big deal. In this game, you play as the first human protagonist who is unambiguously NOT suffering from amnesia. This adds a lot to him as a character because he immediately KNOWS why he came to this place. He remembers it constantly. He agreed to help someone who was crying out for help. That's why he came. That is what brought him here. And it's the bigger troubles of the world at hand that make him continue helping his friend as he continues. He remembers, he thinks, he plans, he keeps secrets... The main character is a CHARACTER.
Astoundingly - and this is something that REALLY, REALLY needs to be taken into account, here... Your main character SPEAKS. He SPEAKS to multiple characters in the game. Not often, mind you. He's kind of like the protagonist in a Shining Force game - MOSTLY silent, but speaks up from time to time. But this was such a huge risk Nintendo should be applauded for. Not making the main character just a blank slate really did help keep you motivated and understanding why you want to keep going and working toward your goal. It's always exciting when he speaking to someone, because what he says usually matters a lot, even if it's minor.
Finally, I am ENTIRELY in favor of just PICKING your Pokemon for the main character. I think that they need to keep that in, because the questionnaire was just kind of random and luck-based and not much fun for me.
So... those are my opinions. Do you agree? Disagree? Want to play it? Want to never see it? Leave some comments and let me know!