There's a lot of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon's soul in modern Pokemon stories
I’ve always loved Pokemon, but it's consistently been the weirder and more experimental entries in the franchise that I’ve found myself attached to. Games that took the Pokemon world and made a real attempt to flesh it out; and naturally, those have more often than not been the spinoffs. Games like Pokemon Colosseum, Pokemon Ranger, and of course - Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.
It goes without saying that Pokemon is a series full of beloved spin-offs, but none of them are quite as beloved as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon; and of the sub-series, none as much as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky. While the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and its sequel in Explorers of Time and Darkness brought a deeper story and narrative to the franchise, there’s a reason why Explorer of Sky’s additions are so fondly remembered, even 14 years later.
When Explorers of Time & Darkness first launched in 2007, the deep story of your main character, their partner, the dark future they hailed from and their struggles with Grovyle to prevent it from coming to pass all culminated in a conclusion where even one mere screencap is enough to get the tears flowing for fans; and while that arguably remains the best storytelling in the Pokemon franchise, the addition of Explorer of Sky’s Special Episodes flesh out the world and characters that you went through the effort of saving.
While Pokemon Mystery Dungeon’s gameplay has always been good, it’s safe to say that many are fans of the franchise primarily due to their stories; especially for the characters that inhabit them. Getting the chance to play as Bidoof as he aspires for his dream, or to see a happy ending for the inhabitants of the ruined future, or even to see how Wigglytuff got his start as an Explorer goes a long way to fleshing out the game’s world and the Pokemon who inhabit it.
That’s not to say that the original Explorers games felt incomplete, but rather Sky’s additions added to the overall experience and contributed to what made those games so beloved to begin with.
Growing up with Pokemon, it’s fair to say that for many RPG gamers, the series was their first experience with the genre; and while the mainline games might have gotten many acquainted with the mechanics of an RPG - the stats, the leveling, the party building - it wasn’t until later on that the mainline Pokemon series felt like it truly began to embrace storytelling in quite the same way as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon.
Sure the series has its memorable cast of characters now; such as N from Black and White, or more recently the cast of characters from Pokemon Scarlet and Violet, or even some of the members of the Galaxy Expedition Team in Pokemon Legends: Arceus. It’s hard not to get the impression that more modern Pokemon stories crib a lot from the groundwork that Chunsoft set on the Nintendo DS.
Maybe it's a coincidence, and maybe it's not; but at the end of the day looking back on the events of Area Zero in Scarlet and Violet it's impossible to not get similar feelings to the events of any of the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon stories; hand-in-hand with friends to save the Pokemon world, with a fair helping of bittersweet feelings in tow. Despite all that you've struggled to get this far, you'll still come out on top with the help of those around you.
I have no way of knowing if that connection is real or not; but even if the more modern Pokemon games have embraced what I and other fans learned to love about the sub-series, it’s hard not to pine for a follow-up. While we got a remake of the original Pokemon Mystery Dungeon in 2020, the last time we got a properly new entry was with 2015’s Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.
While I would very much not be opposed to a remake of Explorers as a follow-up, it feels like it’s high past time for a proper new entry in the series; there are many more stories to be told in the world of Pokemon, and many more friends to meet.