I’ve always been a fan of the Roguelike genre. Games like Dead Cells still maintain a high amount of accumulated hours played on my Nintendo Switch. These titles are inherently repetitive, but they still maintain a semblance of progression. It wasn’t until last year that I’d dive into the Mystery Dungeon sub-genre and found that I loved it. So when I saw the Nintendo Direct that highlighted Shiren the Wanderer, I was nostalgic. It reminded me of the golden era on the SNES. I felt young, despite Shiren the Wanderer first being released in 2010. Now, in 2020, it’s been given a 3rd chance at life. I’ve spent 50+ hours ascending the tower and feel I’m ready to offer a deep dish of analytical goodness!
WE HAVE TO SAVE HER!
Shiren the Wanderer has a light narrative that begins with our hero wandering into a village. With his pet ferret accompanying him, the pair stumbles into the home of three individuals – a young woman named Oyu, an older lady, and a boy named Jirokichi. Overhearing their chat, we learn Oyu is terminally ill. Her destiny is thus; she’s meant to die. However, Jirokichi refuses that, vowing to change her destiny. He storms off towards The Tower of Fortune – home to the Goddess Reeva. Hungry for adventure, Koppa – the ferret – urges you to follow.
Shiren the Wanderer is a strategic buffet that will keep you alert. While the story may not be in-depth, it’s meat lays with its gameplay. It’s an addictive experience where brute force isn’t a means to an end. Items are vital and require you to fuse and create powerful variations to aid your progression up the Tower of Fortune. It’s a journey that’ll be full of monsters and traps. As you race to confront Reeva, the uncertainty of success looms – can you alter Oyu’s fate of death?
IS THIS A TUTORIAL?
Three hours; that’s how long this tutorial took. It over-explained itself and because there’s so much, it got confusing. I did it all regardless, and completing the task will net you an item – so that’s nice. Though, I do think a lot of what it touches on didn’t need to be said. For example, it went into detail on how to use items. It’s a bit redundant considering that by default, each one already has a description. Said description then notifies you what it does, and its proper use. It renders that piece of tutorial pointless. To its credit, it’s all optional. However, there’s good information mixed in. Like for instance, it’ll teach you further ways to get more from fusing. I do feel it tried too hard to hold the player’s hand though. In doing so, the tutorial felt more like a chore to do.
THIS AIN’T A MATHEMATICAL GRID!
For those familiar with titles such as Chocobo Mystery Dungeon, the gameplay is essentially the same. However, if you’re feeling befuddled, allow me to explain. Shiren can only move on a grid. He can go up, down, left, right, and any diagonal direction – it’s the discount Konami code. The strategic tinge comes into play here. With every movement, an enemy will mirror it. It’s important to note some monsters don’t always function under the traditional one space at a time. For example, one such foe mimics the movement of a chess piece – the knight. Each move you take will see it jump a few spaces forward. On the other spectrum, there‘s also an enemy that will cut you off. If Shiren moves along the four directions, it immediately appears beside you. To maneuver properly around it, you’ll simply need to step diagonally.
A HERO NEEDS POTS AND WEAPONS!
As I’ve touched on in the introduction, items are vital to your survival. There are all types to be found: from those that raise your overall strength, health rejuvenators, and scrolls. I also found pots, but you can’t smash them ala Zelda – it’s tragic. Instead, their effects include but aren’t limited to;
- Transforming items into something different
- Selling items without the presence of a store
- Preventing the degradation of food
Yes, Shiren needs to eat – dungeon crawling is tough work. Because of the plethora of traps hidden throughout, you may trigger one that causes the food to decay. So be sure to utilize pots to preserve it. It’s important because starving depletes health with each step. And uh, I may or may not have died twice to this.
Probably the most valuable among the pots are “Synthesis Pots”. By inserting either swords or shields into these, the end result combines the strength of its “materials”. Also, each piece of equipment has a unique ability. It could be potent against a specific enemy type or raise your health. These will be inherited by what is created as well. I adored the experimentation on offer. It was always fun trying to create a high-quality weapon or shield. As a bonus, certain pairs resonate with one another – pay close attention. During your runs, you‘ll see bracelets. Normally, you’d only be able to wear one. If you wield a compatible pair though, it’ll be two. I recommend sets as bracelets have nifty effects.
Inventory space is somewhat decent but will fill fast. Make use of the pots found as they’ll superficially extend how much you can carry. Don’t be like me and spend the first few hours smashing them against the wall.
AN ALLY OR A HINDRANCE?
I personally had fun with Chocobo Mystery Dungeon, especially one mechanic. I could fight through levels with an ally to alleviate the difficulty. It was a Godsend, more so while I searched for stronger equipment. Shiren the Wanderer has this, but comparably, the A.I. felt less intelligent. In Chocobo, your partner aligns themselves to the enemy automatically. Shiren the Wanderer does it differently. They don’t get into position themselves; they stand there. Imagine bringing a friend to help you, only for them to instead watch as your ass is kicked. In order for them to attack, you’ll have to place them beside a foe manually. This is annoying, but it’s not the biggest problem.
Enemies level up and from what I understand, it takes one victory. Because your partners are usually defensively weak, they die quickly. As a result, that monster sees a boost of strength. More times than not, it’s enough to cause fast deaths. It stunted my progression, to the point I’d forego allies outright. I got much further without them, and it was less frustrating. I do think a simple tweak to the A.I. could substantially help. As is, I never hesitated to skip altogether.
FRUSTRATING DEJA VU!
I’d like to preface this section by saying I had some fun. Shiren the Wanderer is addictive, and the music is catchy chiptune. It really is a throwback to the past. However, there are two things I came by that cause the score to suffer, and that’s especially true for the second.
The first is that the game has to be suspended. Because it’s a roguelike, there are no checkpoints you return to upon death. So, if you‘re playing and somehow accidentally back out without having suspended it, the game assumes you’ve died. All the work you‘ve put forth will be for naught. In this way, it’s pretty punishing. It’s important to note I only did this once, and it was because I had no clue it would happen. If you’re proactive, it can be avoided. However, if you’re one to play multiple titles, do keep this in mind.
Now for the second, but before I get into it, I’d like to paint a picture. I want you to imagine killing monsters and progressing far up the tower. You’ve created high-quality equipment and are untouchable. As you’re fighting, two messages then appear. These notify you that the sun is setting. You continue up the tower until it happens – the night falls. You press the menu button to equip a torch and…nothing. The game’s locked up. None of the buttons are responsive. Try as you might, nothing works. You’re forced to shut it down because of a bug. In doing so, it’s now assumed that you’ve died and you’re brought back to the hub town. The first time this occurred, I lost about two hours – no biggie. The second was much worse. I lost about seven or eight hours. Shiren the Wanderer threw up a metaphorical middle finger. I’m not sure if it qualifies as game-breaking, but it is for sure a deterrent.
AM I DOING THIS RIGHT?
As the header indicates, I’m not sure I handled this mechanic properly. In the basement of the building you awake in after falling in combat, you’ll find two raccoons. One will sell lottery stuff, but it’s the second one that’s interesting. Beside the counter he’s behind, there are a few cauldrons. These are “Secret Pots” and what they’ll do is take equipment and make them purchasable. Sometimes, they’ll even have an ability or two that it originally didn’t. Sounds good, but then you play with it.
There’s no explanation of how it works. A bit odd when you consider Shiren the Wanderer has a tutorial that took me three hours. Now, I can admit I might be misunderstanding; hear me out though. I had a sword that had been upgraded massively. It had a +50 beside it, indicating the numerical value added to the weapons base strength. My assumption was that by throwing it in the secret pot, I’ll be able to preserve it. So I threw it in and had to wait a day; that’s one day in our time – 24 hours. I don’t understand why this wasn’t streamlined a bit. They could have made it so that after two failed in-game attempts, the pot would complete the process; but that’s beside the point. Upon obtaining the finished weapon, I was in awe and not in a good way. The sword was weaker, and it lost all the abilities I put into it. It did gain one it didn’t have before but that’s no consolation prize. I found it wasteful of a good weapon; a sword I had spent hours strengthening.
AND THE REPEATING VERDICT IS…
I feel that there’s fun to be had with Shiren the Wanderer. The game loop is addictive, and I loved experimenting with weapons. Getting to choose what abilities I’d like to toss into my sword or shield was intriguing. It added more strategy to a game that already has plenty. I love the chiptune music, and the pixelated graphics reminded me of the SNES days.
Unfortunately, the game – albeit rarely – has a habit of locking up. In my 50+ hours, this has happened to me twice. It resulted in losing all my progress and sent me back to square one. I did feel that the mechanics weren’t as good as they could have been either. The ally system is skippable. It’s not worth wrestling your partner to get them in the position you’d like them in. That said, I feel a tweak to their A.I. may save this feature. I, sadly, do not feel the same about the secret pots. I was struggling to understand how they work, and any strong weapons tossed in came out with weaker stats.
As is, there’s a good time to be had with Shiren the Wanderer. I enjoyed it for what it is, but I feel the cons here are too strong. If I weren’t reviewing this, I’d have jumped out after my second lock-up. At the same time, I think if the A.I. was fixed and clearer instructions are given in regards to the secret pots, this could be a recommendation. Oh, and of course, the lock-ups, again, need to go. In its current state, I say;
WAIT FOR SALE ON SHIREN THE WANDERER: THE TOWER OF FORTUNE AND THE DICE OF FATE
Many thanks go to Spike Chunsoft for an Nintendo Switch review code for this title.
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Painfully single, but still somehow a master of dad jokes. If asked, he’ll answer it’s for his inner child. Fabio enjoys JRPG’s and has embraced his anime love.