Shiren the Wanderer, a subseries within the Mystery Dungeon titles, has had a rocky localization road in the west. We didn’t receive a Shiren game until 2008, when Sega released the Nintendo DS remake of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer, a game which saw its original release on the SNES in 1995. Although we received the third Shiren the Wanderer game on the Nintendo Wii in 2010, the west was left behind with the various releases and rereleases of the second, fourth, and fifth game until now.
With Aksys handling the localization of Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, itself a remake of the Japan-only Shiren 5 on DS, English-speaking Vita owners are once again given the chance to revisit ever-changing dungeons and the dangers within.
Mystery Dungeon games are pretty infamous for the challenge that accompanies their gameplay. While it is definitely true that Shiren the Wanderer can be difficult, it rarely ever feels unfair. As you delve into dungeons and climb towers you will have to contend with both a plethora of enemies that will come at you a variety of skills as well as the various tricks and traps of the dungeon itself. An enemy might gobble up all the remaining uses on a wand you carry before you defeat it, then as you rush into the next room you might step on a trap that blinds you as a group of monsters surrounds you. While it might seem overwhelming and unfair at first, especially if a series of unfortunate events causes you to collapse in the dungeon, as you play the game you will be able to notice and avoid these threats. A robust equipment system that allows you to really buff up even the stick you start with to have some pretty wild abilities helps mitigate some of the dungeon’s dangers, but be sure to have the equipment you really care about tagged in case you do fall in battle. All of the above result in the gradual progression of your skills as a player that makes you want to continue to play; every time you die you’re going to want to hop right back in because this time you know what to do differently.
While the story in Shiren the Wanderer will last most people 20-25 hours, there are over 25 post-game dungeons to conquer, some of which have more floors in them than the entire story dungeon. Many of them have a gimmick as well, with some dungeons letting you control traps and befriend monsters while others make any item that hits the floor vanish or require you to leave behind all your powered-up equipment in favor of living off the land and hoping you find good new stuff on the ground. There’s plenty of game here to keep you playing for well over 100 hours.
Speaking of dying in a dungeon, Shiren the Wanderer offers an ostensible wealth of multiplayer options. Unfortunately, upon further review, these multiplayer options are mostly severely limited. While there is a wealth of options if you have a local friend with the game who wants to do some ad-hoc play, online multiplayer is restricted to rescuing fallen wanderers, but only those who have fallen in one of the many post-game dungeons. Don’t get me wrong, rescuing is perhaps most needed in the difficult post-game areas, but it still would have been nice to help some beginning players as they headbutt against the difficulty spikes in the story dungeon. My biggest qualm with the game is that features like multiplayer adventuring and competitive battling will only be experienced by the happy few who not only know another Vita owner but also another Shiren the Wanderer player.
It would be an absolute shame not to mention the gorgeous art, both pixel and drawn, that is in the game. The title screen rotates through a handful of pieces that are all entertaining and stylish. The detailed pixel work in the game ranges from bucolic Japanese-style towns replete with Menaki Neko statues, hot springs, and floating peaches, to islands floating high above the ground, to brick or dirt caverns laden with traps. Every character sprite is filled with personality, so much so that often the small drawn portrait that accompanies their text box was inferior to the sprite. The only time the art bored me was in a few uninspired dungeons that felt more repetitive than interesting, but these were few and far between.
The music in Shiren the Wanderer serves its purpose well. While I can’t particularly recall any standout tracks, there also aren’t any that are aurally offensive. Towns have jaunty tunes that are probably the best in the game after big boos fights, while the BGM in dungeons is mostly serviceable but never goes beyond just background music. Sound effects of attacks, throwing and breaking pots, and stepping on traps are perfect and satisfying.
The trophy list for the game is extensive and very time-consuming. Obtaining the platinum requires you to collect every item in the game, thereby obtaining and upgrading every single weapon and shield which is time consuming itself, and beat most of the post-game dungeons. It’s easily a 100+ hour plat, though 200+ wouldn’t be too much of a stretch depending on your luck.
Shiren the Wanderer Final Verdict
For all of its difficulty, Shiren the Wanderer - The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a thoroughly enjoyable Rogue-like with lots of game packed inside. The lack of online multiplayer options slightly brings the game down, but the wealth of dungeons to explore, items to find, and monsters to slay makes this Vita title well worth the asking price as well as one of the best games on the system.