Pokémon Mystery Dungeon (which is abbreviated as PMD) is a Pokémon spin-off series based on the standard Mystery Dungeon formula. Each instance has a deep and engaging plot (except Gates to Infinity, which has arguably the worst story ever to be placed in a game), relatable and lovable characters (again, except G2I), and an amazing soundtrack (even G2I). I will not hesitate to say that the PMD soundtracks are often better than the main series ones. These songs help tell compelling stories of honesty, bravery, friendship, love, hope, peace, and world-saving.
Personally, my favorite soundtrack belongs to the second set of games in the PMD series, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time, Darkness, and Sky (which will be referred to as either PMD2 or Explorers). The story of the Explorers trio, which double as my favorite overall Pokémon games, is just dark enough to keep me interested while still being fluffy enough for the target audience. The music of these games is a huge contributor to the story’s success. The tracks show both what the characters are feeling and tell you how you should feel while playing, and it does an incredible job. In this article, I will be discussing the music and its effect on the player and story of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Time, Darkness, and Sky.
BIG FAT DISCLAIMER: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AHEAD. LOTS OF THEM. BIG ONES TOO. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. Then again, this is one of the best games ever, so if you have not played it yet that is your loss
and I don’t want to be your friend.
We will be presenting the themes in the order of story appearance, so…
The Guild, etc. (Chapters 1-12)
This section will mostly be random themes I like from the first part of the game.
“AND… THREE! SMILES GO FOR MILES!” – The Guild’s morning chant.
So for any of this to make sense, we need to know a little bit about the PMD concept. You play as a human that has been turned into a Pokémon and thrown into a world where only Pokémon live. At the same time, something totally horrible is happening to encourage plot, and most of the time there is some lame excuse for why only you can save the Pokémon world (insert The Last Airbender reference here). Upon your arrival into the world of Pokémon, you meet a Pokémon that becomes your partner and asks you to join an Exploration Team. Thus begins the story of every PMD game to date. PMD2 specifically has you and your partner joining a guild of explorers who assign you jobs and other fun things like that.
Anyway, the above theme plays in Wigglytuff’s Guild, which serves as your home and base of operations for the majority of the main story. The atmosphere is almost always bright, cheery, and a little bit chaotic. The upbeat but unpredictable theme gives a home-ish feel while still reminding you that this is the place where your adventures begin each morning.
The Guild is located just outside of Treasure Town, which serves as your place to restock on supplies before going exploring. Everyone in TT is incredibly nice to you and your partner. It is also a safe haven, nestled between the Guild and your next big adventure. This theme for me represents the way life should be if there weren’t evil people doing evil things and the like. It just sounds so happy and reassuring that I can’t help but smile whenever I hear it. The combination of some woodwind sounds with light percussion from the clapping is such an amazing way to perk up someone who had a disappointing day. This theme always lifts my spirits after I fail a dungeon, which I do often, and is incredibly important to my enjoyment of the game.
“That is… a Time Gear.” – Uxie.
What? Three tracks at once? Well, the point with these is how connected they are. Each of these dungeons appears in the story in the areas that hide Time Gears, which are important to protect because if they are removed time literally freezes in the area. Thus, after each of these dungeons, there is some trick or puzzle to prevent intruders from taking the Gears, as well as a legendary guardian.
The first of these is Foggy Forest, which you discover on a huge expedition with the Guild. Later, you need to quest to protect the Gears from a Grovyle, who is trying to steal them for reasons explained later. They each are an adventure tune, with Crystal being a bit more serious due to the fact that the fate of the world is in the balance when you reach it.
The point I am trying to make here is that these dungeons are all connected. Thus, listen to the first notes of each song. Notice how closely they parallel each other? This happens in the dungeons that immediately follow each as well, to show their connection to the Time Gears.
Back To The Future (Chapters 13-16)
The end of Chapter 13 is the start of this game’s plot twist, and it is honestly the best-written one I have seen in a video game ever. In my first playthrough I honestly never predicted it. I am also about to spoil it, but I need to set the mood or my entire point is mute.
The short version is that the legendary explorer Dusknoir captures the thieving Grovyle and reveals that they are from the future. Then he drags Grovyle back to the future to hang him, but before he goes back he grabs you and your partner and brings them too. You wake up on the gallows (this game is rated E, kids), and have to help Grovyle escape. Then Grovyle is suddenly a good guy, Dusknoir is evil, and you are Grovyle’s partner and therefore also from the future. And you get a huge chain of dungeons with no shop access! Oh, and time has completely stopped in the future, which is why Grovyle went back into the past. On the bright side, the future has awesome music! And I fully intend to look at nearly every future piece, as the progression between them so closely matches the emotional progression of the chapters.
Well, we have escaped being hung, but now a pack of Sableye is trying to catch us and we are still locked in the future. You are then forced to run into Chasm Cave, which has one of the best themes in the game. It gives you this weird mix of the “adventuring into a new land” feeling and the “Oh damn, we’re being chased and this place is dark and creepy” feeling. It certainly instils a sense of fear into the player, which you can just assume your partner is feeling. It does not give off a sense of urgency as much as the other dungeons here, but that is because your characters do not really know the magnitude of the situation they are in… yet.
“Even after all this… I still can’t believe it. I don’t know what to believe anymore… I’m feeling all jumbled up…” – Partner.
Congrats, you made it past the Chasm Cave! Now what? Well, those Sableye are still chasing us and we have no leads, so sure, we’ll go climb this really spooky hill. At this point the characters have mostly realized what’s up, even if they are having trouble accepting it, and the music is not afraid to let you know that. This uses the Hoenn-esque trumpets that were omitted from Mt. Pyre’s theme in Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire and Emerald, but is very similar to Mt. Pyre otherwise. Spooky and ominous to say the least. It truly sets the tone for the bleak future.
Sealed Ruin Pit
“I won’t give up anymore. Because you’re by my side, I can be brave, [Player].” – Partner.
At this point, you are tired and desperate. You are caught somewhere between fatigue and restlessness, thinking about your pursuers and the road ahead. Of course, you have no way to know if it is time to rest or not, because the whole “time has stopped” thing has blown the day/night cycle to hell and ruined your internal circadian rhythms (sorry about that). The music for the next dungeon, Sealed Cave, helps reinforce this. It and the theme for the Pit sound like a musical cry of desperation and sets the mood before your only Boss battle of the future.
Deep Dusk Forest
“It’s times like this, when things are tough, that you have to be strong. Think for yourself, then act as you deem right.” – Grovyle.
At this point, you know how to get back to the past, but you still need to get there. Luckily, Grovyle is on your team now and is willing to help. This ominous but somehow happy theme actually serves as a good wrap-up to the future saga, as it almost sounds like you are clawing for an idea. It seems like a dark version of some adventure tune, but with a flute line to represent the light at the end of the tunnel (or in this case, the forest). It the Deep theme, it is less hopeful but more suspicious. Oh, and you think those Sableye are likely still on your tail. Unluckily for you, Dusknoir knows your final destination and just decided to call an ambush. You eventually return to the past in panic.
Probably Saving the World (Chapters 17-Final)
The endgame is full of moving emotional pieces and intense dungeons. I am just going to start now before I electrocute myself by crying on my keyboard.
Through the Sea of Time
“It is a gap in time itself… It’s the space between parts of a split second.” – Lapras.
Through the Sea of Time is a perfect example of a piece that can have two completely different associated emotions but the same meaning. It first plays when you, your partner, and Grovyle venture into the Hidden Land in your attempt to prevent time from stopping. At this point it represents going on an adventure with the weight of the world on your back. The second time it plays… for now I will say that Grovyle has an emotional moment and leaves your party. In this case, it represents the sadness of losing a friend, but also reinforces that you and your partner are really on your own now, carrying the fate of the universe in your capable hands. The piece itself is a chilling serenade to friendship and trust, and one of my favorites in the OST.
“We’re nearly there, [Player]. There’s no turning back now.” – Partner.
In my opinion, there are two ways you can go about making a final adventure theme. The first is a powerful rock melody to get you pumped up like PMD1’s Sky Tower. What PMD2 chose however, is a theme to represent the huge amount of pressure placed upon your shoulders. Temporal Tower leaves no stone unturned in its attempts to make the player feel this emotion. Temporal Spire takes this even further, by just removing any upbeatness to the music and tells you that you are tired and your whole being is focused on saving time. The crank and clock noises in both themes just hammer down the fact that time is of the essence. This theme also takes into account the fact that your character, but not your partner, knows that this will be your last adventure together. Also take note of one of the melodies that appears in each that matches Through the Sea of Time. This melody is in almost every major plot piece.
Dialga’s Fight to the Finish
“GRRR-OOOOOO…OOOOOH!” – Primal Dialga.
Oh Arceus. This. Is. Epic. I barely even need to talk about this piece for you to understand how the characters feel right now. The freaking GOD OF TIME just roared at you. I’m done here. *drops microphone*
What this theme manages to accomplish more than any final boss theme I have heard ever is to establish that said boss, Dialga, is not inherently evil. He just is a little bit out of sorts due to someone (who he assumes to be you) destroying his home and causing time to go out of whack. Thus, he rampages and tries to kill you. Once you beat him and save the world however, he thanks you for saving him from himself and apologizes sincerely for all the trouble he caused. This is so eloquently displayed by the tempo of the music and selection of instruments as violins and flutes rather than guitars and drums.
Don’t Ever Forget
You thought the feels were done after you beat the final boss? Who do you think made this game, Square Enix? You now disappear from the world because the future you are from has ceased to exist, and your beloved partner is just finding this out now. This piece is the only thing I have ever cried over in a videogame, and I still am holding back tears listening to it ten years later. The intro is a slow, deep violin solo that sets the tone, and the ever changing melodies wash over the listener like a wave of calm and sorrow at the same time. Two best friends who adventured together, overcame their fears together, and saved the world together are being forced to tearfully part in each other’s arms. Each time the melody stops, only to get picked back up, seems to represent the player and partner’s sadness. It is such an intense theme emotionally, and it ends the story in such an amazing way with you coming back to your partner because Dialga is a benevolent time lord. I can not say anything more here, as there is nothing more to say.
“The important thing is not how long you live… It’s what you accomplish with your life. While I live, I want to shine. I want to prove that I exist. If I could do something really important… That would definitely carry on into the future. And so, if I were to disappear, I think that all I have accomplished will go on. That is, that would mean that it’s living, right?” – Grovyle.
The music of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games conveys the characters’ emotions in such a way I have never seen anywhere else (with the possible exception of “Don’t Speak Her Name” from Fire Emblem Awakening). The music makes your partner’s joy your joy, and their sorrow is your sorrow. These pieces just contribute to what I consider a nearly perfect game in every aspect. There are so many other tracks that I would love to include here, but they just do not fit in this article. Heck, my favorite dungeon theme isn’t even here. The moral of the story is, Explorers has beautiful, impactful, and heartfelt music, and you should all go play Explorers of Sky right now. That is all.
Edited by 5qwerty and bobandbill.