Pokémon Mystery Dungeon
Like the main Pokémon series, the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games lets players create, level up, and fight with a team of Pokémon. Unlike, the original series, however, you aren’t training Pokémon… You are a Pokémon. Rather than a grand adventure to be the best trainer, you transform into a Pokémon to explore a dungeon and team up with other Pokémon to solve mysteries.
The Mystery Dungeon series incorporates roguelike gameplay elements, an RPG sub-genre known for “permadeath,” meaning if your characters die, you must begin again from the beginning. Thankfully, the Mystery Dungeon games take it relatively easy on players compared to other roguelikes. Instead of resetting all progress upon death, for instance, you’ll only lose your items. At the same time, many of the core moves, items and, of course, Pokémon make their way into the games.
There are several Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games available across Nintendo’s portable consoles. The most recent game, Pokémon Super Mystery Dungeon, is available on the Nintendo 3DS.
Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth
Digimon has always played second fiddle to Pokémon. While the series, which began life as a Tamagotchi-style virtual pet, may have never quite achieved the same levels of popularity as Pokémon, the series has endured for almost 20 years. Like Pokémon, the Digimon franchise has spawned numerous anime series and movies, manga, and video games. The most recent game, Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth, is the closest the series has ever gotten to Pokémon-style gameplay. Players assume the role of a young, skilled hacker who, through a series of strange encounters, winds up with the ability to travel freely between the real world and cyberspace.
Utilizing the help of the Digimon — aka digital monsters — you capture and train in cyber space, players work to solve a threat plaguing both the real and virtual worlds. Like Pokémon, Digimon can transform into other, stronger creatures through a process known as “Digivolving.” This isn’t a linear process, however, and Digimon can Digivolve along a number of branching paths, which adds greater depth and customization when it comes to powering up your team. Digimon are also added to your Digibank after you encounter them in battle a certain number of times. This makes collecting all the creatures in the game much easier, and also ensures you have plenty of Digimon to use in combinations and Digivolutions.
Jade Cocoon, a forgotten gem from the original PlayStation, Set in a world covered by giant forests and jungles overrun by hostile monsters, Jade Cocoon puts players in the role of Levant, a young guardian of the town Syrus, who embarks on a quest to save his village. To aid him in his quest, Levant can capture “minions,” wild beasts that fight off forest creatures for him.
Battles against enemy Minions are a one-on-one affair, which feature elemental rock-paper-scissors system very reminiscent of Pokémon. Also like Pokémon, minions in Jade Cocoon can transform into stronger beasts. By combining two different Minions, players can mix and match not only what abilities pass along to the next form, but their outward appearance.
While the original Jade Cocoon is beloved for its minion battling and upgrading, the sequel represents a major departure from these original systems. Jade Cocoon 2 is still a fine game, but if you’re looking for a Pokémon-like experience, stick with the original.
Golden Sun series
Ever since its debut on the Game Boy Advance, the Golden Sun series has made a strong impression on gamers and critics thanks to its deep battle system and character building, both of which revolve around tiny elemental creatures called Djinn. In these deeply narrative-driven RPGs, players stumble across Djinn hidden in dungeons, and will obtain the creatures as a reward for exploring and solving various puzzles. Once obtained, Djinn increase the strength of characters, enabling the use of stronger moves, increasing their stats, and unlocking powerful spells. While you don’t train and fight Djinn like Pokémon, finding and collecting them becomes an important and addictive objective.
Golden Sun and Golden Sun: Lost Age were released on the Game Boy Advance in 2001 and 2002, respectively, while a third game, Golden Sun: Dark Dawn, was released on the Nintendo DS in 2010.
The Monster Hunter series is a very different from the other games listed here. Players hunt down large monsters in large-scale environments, either by themselves or with other players. The goal is to slay or trap monsters; not the cute, cuddly creatures you might find in Pokémon, though. Battling giant beasts can be more challenging and intense, but also more rewarding.
Rather than character collection, the gameplay revolves loot and upgrading your equipment: You hunt monsters to gather crafting materials, which you’ll use to upgrade your equipment, which, in turn, you will use to take on harder monsters. That probably doesn’t sound all that much like Pokémon, but there are some similarities, particularly when it comes to the monsters. Each monster has its own set of unique attacks, weaknesses, and strengths that you must learn in order to take them down. You’ll modify your equipment with special properties — like ice or fire, for example — that allow you to exploit the weaknesses of your prey, or bolster your defenses. While you won’t be capturing and leveling the monsters themselves, you will be collecting materials from them and using their traits to trick out your gear.
There are quite a few games in the Monster Hunter series, and they’re all fairly similar. The more recent entries in the series have added new features that have made the games slightly more accessible, but these are still deep, hardcore games designed for hours of gameplay. The latest entry in the franchise is Monster Hunter Generations on the 3DS, but there are games available on Wii U, Wii, PS Vita, PSP, and PS2.