Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer - Staff Review  

Wandering into Death
by Mikel Tidwell

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Less than 20 Hours
+ Good looking portable dungeon crawler
+ Rescue system
- Too reliant on luck
- NPCs run off and die, leveling up enemies
- Sound is completely forgettable
Click here for scoring definitions 

    Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is a direct port from the 16-bit era. It has been touted as Rogue-like. For those not familiar with Rogue, it was a text based random dungeon crawler where the player was a typographic at sign (@) and was required to survive the entire onslaught of the alphabet. Each letter was a different kind of monster with a different kind of attack. It was well known because it was completely unforgiving in death; you die and you lose. The end; game over; thanks for playing. A score was given based on how well the journey went, but that was the only satisfaction that came from death. The way to win was to traverse 26 floors of increasing difficulty, find a one-of-a-kind item, then ascend back to the surface with the item. Upon completion of the journey, the winner could then be fully qualified to rant about how all the future dungeon crawlers can't stack up to the sheer brutality of Rogue. Since Shiren is not near this unforgiving, the comparisons to Rogue fall flat in the end.

    The story is very thin. This is standard fare in the random dungeon crawling sub-genre, but this game doesn't even try. Shiren joins a collection of adventurers who are trying to discover the Golden City. Because they are true adventurers, it is more important to find it first and alone, than to find it at all. This kind of thinking has led to no one actually finding the lost city and many adventurers are never heard from again. Shiren finds this to be a swell plan, so he sets off on his adventure. No one knows anything about the Golden City in the Hamlet Town, so Shiren hurries off to the next town in hopes of some clues.

    In order to reach the next town, Shiren needs to wander through a few floors of dungeon first. No one explains why the way to and from the same town is always changing, it is simply accepted for the sake of the game. As the journey gets farther from the starting town, the distance between two towns grows longer. Shiren can go forward or backward at the transition point for each zone up to the 15th dungeon. There is a town at the midway point, and if Shiren decides to continue beyond this town, it becomes a one way journey for 15 more dungeons where the only two ways out are by victory or death.

Strength is meaningless against luck Strength is meaningless against luck

    Death is harsh. Shiren will lose all items, gold, companions, and stats, including experience, when he dies. He wakes up back at the starting town, looking to start anew. If Shiren should return voluntarily to Hamlet Town, he will magically lose all stats, companions, and gold, but his items stay intact. This makes it rather difficult to level up before pushing beyond the 15th dungeon. The key is to rely on weapons, armor, and items more than HP and levels. This key factor makes the game seem harder than it really is. All the early towns have storage facilities, allowing Shiren to work on increasing the power of an item, then storing it for safe keeping until the next time he is in town. It also adds a lot of repetition to the game as the same dungeons are traveled again and again trying to build up the perfect equipment. If the equipment wasn't good enough, or simply some bad luck occurs, the item is forever lost, making all the effort for naught.

    Another challenge is hunger. As Shiren travels, his belly grows empty. When his belly meter reaches 0, Shiren begins to lose HP for every step taken. This is fairly standard for dungeon crawlers and Shiren should have plenty to eat unless the player is careless. The game even gives out a free Big Riceball, which completely fills the Belly when eaten, at the beginning of every journey. There is also a special shield that makes Shiren's belly empty slower, and with the a special jar, this ability can be fused onto any shield of his liking. Still, there are traps that can ruin food or cause Shiren to become hungry in an instant. Luck can still play a major part in survival.

    There is a saving grace for those who want it. If Shiren dies, a call for help can be sent a maximum of three time during a single journey, using either a large password or the Nintendo WFC. A friend, or even a random stranger, can follow the same journey and toss Shiren a Revival Spell. After Shiren has been revived three times, it's back to Hamlet Town after his next death. Most people should be able to finish the adventure within these three saves, so Shiren offers even harder dungeons once the game has been completed. These are the ultimate test for this game, so people use their saves deep inside the dungeons. In order to save someone, Shiren must have already been to the same floor, so the deeper the travels, the more people he has a chance to save.

    In each town, there are various places to visit. Usually an item shop or a blacksmith to help spend that hard earned gold Shiren earned on the way. Every time Shiren visits the town for the first time on the journey, some of the NPCs may have progressed in their minute stories. Quite a few of them even become companions that will accompany Shiren on his journey. All items that Shiren has found will instantly be identified upon entering any town, allowing Shiren to save effort and money trying to identify the countless staves, jars, and amulets found on the way. His HP and Belly are not refilled, however, but can be for a price. Sometimes, items in shops will not be identified. The rarer the item, the more likely this is the case. Shiren would have to purchase on good faith and then leave and come back to learn what he has actually paid for. Since gold is a spend-it-or-lose-it commodity, this is only a small gripe for an unnecessary game mechanic. This is yet another way luck makes a difference.

Curse girl? Curse girl curses you cursingly

    The graphics are clearly dated to the era in which the game was originally made for. Fortunately, for Sega, this matters little in the small screens of the Nintendo DS. In fact, it looks better than the more popular Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series. There is more detail in the characters and the monsters, where the Pokémon seem to be in their simplest form possible. Shiren's equipment looks different for each item, allowing easy reference to what he's currently using. There are not many options for our hero to wear, but even this little bit is appreciated. Picking up the Dragonward and having a shield with the face of a dragon on it makes Shiren look like he is ready to battle a horde of dragons. There are also many different looks to the dungeons themselves. It's not 30 dungeons of brown or green. There are forests, mines, and even treetops as Shiren searches for the Golden City.

    The sound falls absolutely flat. There's almost no point to listen to the game at all as nothing heard will remotely stick around afterward. This is not entirely unexpected for dungeon crawling games, since so many of the same paths are crossed over and over, but even so, Shiren's sound and music are bad. Find something else to listen to while playing this game.

    Localization has become an evolved form, allowing most gamers to take the text for granted, almost forgetting the games are translated. However, there are multiple errors in the text of this game. It was rather jarring to realize that they slipped past QA in this day and age. Whether it's because the game is a port or other reasons is unknown, of course, but someone clearly wasn't paying attention. It's not as bad as many of the games of the era, but it is, sadly, quite noticeable.

    Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is not for everyone. It's a hardcore dungeon crawler with little going for it except the fact the challenge exists. To simply beat the game, it's not even that hard of a challenge. The extra content will keep the player going for a long time, but the repeated rebuilding of equipment wears down on the enjoyment in a hurry. It's best to take the game in little chunks instead of one large play through. Even so, there are simply better dungeon crawling games out there with better stories, better gaming elements, and a little less luck involved.

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