Roguelikes aren’t typically for kids. It’s a demanding RPG genre that requires focus, patience and dedication, things that are in limited supply with the youngin’s. Yet the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series never fails to pull in the kids, with Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon being the most effective yet. Why is it so good at what it does? Well, it’s probably because it goes out of its way to remain young at heart.
Such a thing is difficult to do in a game where the avatar is mostly a blank slate. You’re told your character is a kid; most of the possible starters and partner options are the first in their evolutionary track. But it’s difficult to really capture that in the confusion of the moment. The player character is too consumed with trying to figure out life in the Pokemon world and adjusting to life as a Pokemon to provide a proper personality. Especially since the standard JRPG amnesia applies. It’s here that the importance of the partner character is realized.
The innocence and mindset of the Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon is critical. He, or she depending on your initial answer, is a quintessential kid. The partner is exuberant, to the point of annoying. He owns this flaw and makes that optimism part of his drive to succeed. Significant growth is shown, as the partner learns to tone down this reckless abandon after seeing the consequences of his actions. It’s akin to the development real children show as their personalities form.
Even more important, the Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon’s partner’s dialogue rings true. There are silly insults. Self assured quips abound. He has a single-minded focus and plenty of idealism. The character is bright, but never says anything you wouldn’t hear come out of a 10 year old. It’s critical to keeping things as realistic as possible and helping kids connect with the characters.
Especially since the behavior of the partner character fits in so well with Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon’s school. Of all of the classmates, the partner behaves most like a real child. Yes, the other possess certain characteristics that are childlike. Goomy can be cowardly. Pancham and Shelmet both have bullying tendencies. Their behaviors come across as more isolated incidents, where the partner character is more well rounded. We don’t see them grow in the way the partner does.
This helps players forge a connection with Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon, despite its occasional difficulty spikes and repetitive nature. Seeing fellow children succeed and exceed expectations can help a younger player believe they can complete every challenge. The partner is on the same intellectual and emotional level as they are. He learns the same lessons. It’s easier for them to bond with the character they’re seeing on-screen, and that makes continuing more enticing.
Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon’s partner character helps make this installment. The game wouldn’t be nearly as believable or welcoming if it weren’t for the character’s optimism, excitement and innocence. Roguelikes don’t often count stories or characterizations among their strengths, but this 3DS game does.