Shiren the Wanderer is the latest release in the long-running Mystery Dungeon series by (Spike) Chunsoft. The series has entries in the Pokémon and Dragon Quest realms, but this is already the fifth major entry in the Shiren series as well – although it’s the series debut on the Vita.
The game’s full title is actually quite a mouthful, since it’s Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate – as if one long title wasn’t enough, they fused two of them together. But although it’s tempting to just stick with Shiren the Wanderer, we have to point out again that this is the fifth title and it builds on the formula set out in the previous entries. That formula blends roguelike gameplay with a high difficulty, and it does it well.
The term ‘roguelike’ definitely gets thrown around a lot these days, but it’s the Chunsoft brand of games that has been delivering on this type of gameplay for years now – and it shows when you look at how self-aware this particular Shiren game is. As if it knows how difficult the task ahead will be, Shiren the Wanderer on the Vita starts off with a lengthy tutorial that is broken up into tons of little quests that familiarize you with the game’s core mechanics.
But despite all this training, you’re still very likely to fail – early and often. When you die, you lose all your money and weapons – so when you’re resurrected, it’s going to be even harder to succeed. This makes it important to manage your resources in a smart way. You’ll want to keep a stash of weapons and funds tucked away for a rainy day… although that day might come very quickly indeed.
The nature of Shiren’s gameplay means that whenever you take three steps forward, you’re very likely to take two steps back again. Once you’re in a dungeon, you’ll get stronger and level up – but you’ll lose that progress if you end up dead before the dungeon is over. As a result, progress is slow, and the game doesn’t give up its full level of depth until much later. This will come once you start exploring dungeons together with fellow heroes, and you have access to special attacks.
Originally released on Nintendo’s DS, the game has a distinctly ‘retro’ look about it, even though it’s definitely well-polished, bright and colorful. My only gripe is that after over a dozen hours of gameplay, its backgrounds definitely start feeling a bit repetitive. This isn’t necessarily a problem with the game’s graphics, but more of a side effect of its punishing level of difficulty.
If you’re a fan of the Mystery Dungeon brand of games that Chunsoft has been delivering for years, then you were probably excited to find out that Shiren the Wanderer was coming to the Vita. There’s a chance you’ve already played it on the DS and in that case it’s hard to recommend if you still have that version, but with the game’s randomized dungeons there is plenty of replay value here. It’s a tough road to walk on, but after a lot of stumbling and falling it’s also a fun, deep and rewarding adventure.