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    Review: Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer (DS)
    Sunday, 3 August 2008
    We’re more familiar with the roguelike subgenre nowadays through entries in the “Mystery Dungeon” series such as the well-known Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games. Due to the Pokémon theme, it has somewhat helped to bring the Mystery Dungeon series to the masses. However, it’s Shiren the Wanderer who leads by example in being Chunsoft’s original core series. So its here, questing with Shiren and Koppa that the true Mystery Dungeon experience can be found. How good can a game that relies on being randomly generated ultimately be?

    Shiren the Wanderer isn’t a new game at all; it is in fact a 1995 SNES game that has been re-released on DS. The premise is a simple and linear one: basically, you are aiming to complete the main dungeon by making it from your starting location right the way to the goal, the lair of the Golden Condor. What sets Shiren apart from other RPGs is this roguelike tag we all associate with it and other games of its ilk. What this means is that unlike most other videogames, death is a very real threat. Sure you die in other games, but it’s easy enough to restart and not lose a lot of your progress. In Shiren the Wanderer when you die, that’s it. You go back to the inn at Canyon Hamlet, the first village and lose all your items, experience as well as any companions you may have picked up along the way. Its every bit as brutal and sadistic as you would imagine it to be, but this is where the true art of Shiren lies. Very rarely will you find that you are killed cheaply. Each time you die, you will learn something new about how to play the game and you will be wiser for your next run through. Its best to think of it in terms of Super Mario Bros., whereby your aim is to get from world 1-1 all the way to Bowser’s Castle in one go. A game over in Mario is the equivalent of death in Shiren- if you get a game over at Bowser’s Castle then you have to start over from 1-1, no power ups, no extra lives, no nothing. All you have is the knowledge of how to play and get to Bowser’s Castle, and you will know why you died and be ready for it on subsequent attempts at rescuing that pesky princess. Obviously in Mario you can learn the layout of levels but due to the fact that each floor in Shiren is randomly generated, it’s a different challenge. Nevertheless what you learn is techniques for best defeating bad guys, what to do when certain situations arise and when its best to use items you pick up. It’s the thinking mans game.


    Gameplay is grid-like and highly strategic. You have the illusion of walking around freely, but in effect each step you take and each action you make constitutes one turn. Baddies and townspeople will only move when you move, meaning you can take as long as you need to think out your strategy for each situation you find yourself in- you are never rushed, and you play at your own pace. You may be put off by the prospect of the randomly generated dungeon floors, but when you get into the adventure, it’s this very feature that keeps things fresh. No two play-throughs are the same, meaning you never get settled into a gameplay rhythm and you always have to think out your approach to clearing each floor as its never the same as last time.

    Graphically, Shiren the Wanderer is nothing special if you are expecting modern day visuals. However the graphics are charming and do the job adequately, harking back to the 16-bit days of gaming. Locations are all varied, with towns, forests, cliff sides and caves helping to differentiate between each section of the journey. Where Shiren the Wanderer is found lacking is in the special effects department. When you use items and staves, there is a small animation but no flamboyant effects that we are accustomed to in other RPGs. On the other hand this doesn’t hurt the gameplay, and means the action isn’t broken up as you wait for Shiren to swing a stave or read a scroll. The dual screens of the DS are put to good use, giving you the option to customise what each screen displays- using one screen for displaying gameplay and the other for the map is the set up of choice.

    The music is by Koichi Sugiyama and whilst some would argue that the music is a weak point in Shiren the Wanderer, they are wrong because when you listen to it and get into the game, everything blends together seamlessly. The music isn’t in your face or overpowering but it complements the eastern themed atmosphere of Shiren’s adventure perfectly and so it’s difficult to criticise it.

    An unexpected aspect to Shiren the Wanderer is that it encourages players to join together and help each other out. On a play through, you are allowed to be revived three times, and all kinds of options are available so as to give you the best opportunity possible of being rescued. You can send or receive your rescue request via local DS communication, via Nintendo WFC where friends or random adventurers can rescue you and failing that, you can have a password generated that you can give to others so they can come and revive you. This community aspect is greatly encouraged, and makes you realise you are not alone in the quest to reach the Golden Condor.


    All in all, do not allow yourself to be put off by Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderers harsh exterior. You are going to die, so accept it and open yourself to this alternative style of play because when you get into it, Shiren provides one of the best experiences available on DS. There are workarounds to the setback of losing all your items upon dying- you can store your gear at various warehouses along the way meaning you can leave things to pick up on subsequent play-throughs. There is a lot more to this adventure than the main dungeon that will lead you to the Golden Condor. After completing the main quest you will open up new dungeons to test yourself in. As well as this there are side quests to get involved in, sidekicks to befriend and recruit and if you so decide you can take the time to upgrade your weapon and shield- but don’t get too attached, because its certain you will die and lose them sooner or later.

    There is a lot to sink your teeth into with Shiren the Wanderer, so cast off your doubts and preconceptions about how RPGs are supposed to work and embrace Shiren, the roguelike Wanderer with an open mind.

    Second Opinion
    Aaron "D_prOdigy" Clegg

    The meat and bones of Shiren certainly does sound like a pretty acquired taste… and that very much is the case. If you don’t like “hardcore” games that see you dying and starting from the drawing board several times a play-through, you’d be forgiven for being rather put off by Shiren. But if you’re willing to have an open mind, and are interested in knowing what it’s like to be challenged by a video game, you won’t find a better tool to test you. It’s going to make you angry at the world, but Mystery Dungeon games have never been interested in holding your hand, and the beast gets its kicks from baffling you by radically changing the over-world every time you perish. That’s not to say the world of Shiren never feels familiar. You’ll find yourself stumbling across friendly NPCs time after time, who acknowledge you as a warrior, and always remember you. It’s this sort of design choice that makes Shiren feel constantly new, without totally changing things every hour.

    On a personal note, I must highly recommend Shiren to these snobbish gamers who consider themselves “hardcore”. After playing this extensively, I think it’s safe to say that no-one can consider themselves to be anything but mere mortals until they’ve mastered Chunsoft’s 1995 epic. It may be a 13 year old relic, but in this day of 7-hour shooter-fests, it’s the freshest game I’ve played all year.

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    posted by darksnowman @ 20:13  
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