Ever hear of a little series called Mystery Dungeon? Of course you have, as ever since the release of Pokémon Mystery Dungeon in the west years ago, the grand series of roguelike dungeon crawlers has grown in popularity. While the term “Licensed Game” has a stigma to it, developer Spike Chunsoft knows exactly what they are doing when it comes to making great dungeon crawler, roguelike RPG spinoffs of already amazing properties (Etrian Odyssey, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest have all been done, and quite amazingly I might add). However, The Shiren the Wanderer sub series exists as the only games in the Mystery Dungeon series to not be a licensed game, and because of that it was never really given a chance outside Japan. Only two of nine Shiren games have made it to the West previously, and before the announcement of this game’s localization I actually hadn’t even heard of it. Aksys Games have decided to give the series another chance by localizing Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, the Vita remaster of the Japan-exclusive Nintendo DS title Shiren the Wanderer 5. However, because of our site’s new relationship with Aksys, I was given a chance to review this new take on an old DS classic.
Players take the role of the silent wanderer known as Shiren, who travels the world with his talking weasel Koppa. On their adventures, they come to learn about the mysterious Tower of Fortune and the three Dice of Fate that are rumored to change the fate of those who acquire them. Shiren the Wanderer doesn’t waste your time with its story, and I think that’s pretty commendable. You are given small bits of story to keep you motivated from dungeon to dungeon, and that’s about it. It never tries to be a grand epic or anything similar, but just another one of the many adventures in the life of Shiren. Best of all, you don’t need prior knowledge of the stories of any previous Shiren the Wanderer games, so new players are free to jump in and enjoy. The characters are pretty good for what they are given, so while none of them are absolutely fantastic, they have very distinct personalities and quirks that give the game a bit of charm. It’s important to point out that Shiren’s focus on gameplay over story doesn’t necessarily mean you should expect a heartless dungeon crawler- quite the opposite, actually.
Chances are, if you are reading this review you know exactly how a Mystery Dungeon game plays, but I’ll sum it up quickly for those who don’t know. You and/or your party travel in randomly generated dungeons, going from floor to floor until you make it to the end. Every step and action you take uses a “turn”, and the same applies to enemies. It’s essentially turn-based combat, but everything feels a lot more tense because nearly everything you do can cost a “turn”. The dungeons actually feel alive and teeming with dangerous monsters that want nothing more than to kill you. Along the way, you can pick up items such as weapons and food, so you have to manage equipment, hunger, and bag space all at once. With every step you take you get hungrier, and when your hunger drops to 0 you begin to lose health. Preparation is key to surviving in these dungeons, so it’s a good idea to save food items for when Shiren really needs them.
Dungeon exploration is the meat of the Shiren the Wanderer experience, and you will be spending most of your time doing exactly that. There aren’t many story segments separating dungeon traveling, but the game doubles down and makes all of the gameplay an absolute blast. When you arrive back at town after an expedition, there really isn’t a whole lot to do during your down time. You’ll spend most of your time checking in on storage and your bank, buying equipment and making sure you are prepared in case of death. Honestly, I wish there was a bit more going on outside of dungeon traveling, but at the same time I can’t stay too mad at the game when there are just so many dungeons to explore. Outside of the main story is a plethora of amazing dungeons for the player to go through, so devoted players will stay entertained for a long time to come.
Something very important to mention is about how this game handles player death: When Shiren falls in battle you lose all items and money and are reset to level 1. You can either ask to be rescued online (which can take a while, so I don’t recommend it unless you seriously don’t want to lose all your loot) or face this “punishment”. While that sounds like a brutal way to punish dying, I’m glad to say that the game is balanced around that, and as long as you keep some good equipment and money in storage you’ll find no problem getting back to your former glory.
Dungeons are chock full of interesting NPCs and tough enemies, each adding a lot of personality and charm to the grim-looking dungeons. There are people who you come across that can upgrade equipment, ask you questions, sell you things, and give you quests. The core element of a Mystery Dungeon game is the idea that anything can happen in these random dungeons, and the soul of that idea is as strong as ever. There is also a cast of recruitable party members that you can find outside of dungeons that all have unique designs, personalities, and skill sets. It’s refreshing to see a mystery dungeon game with party members that are more than just random Pokémon, or characters made by the player (Etrian Mystery Dungeon). It’s a little ironic that the party members in a Mystery Dungeon game without a focus on story are probably the most interesting I’ve seen from the series.
This game has aged pretty well when it comes to the visuals, especially for a game making the transition from Nintendo DS to Playstation Vita. The pixel art is absolutely gorgeous and full of beautiful colors, and the art style perfectly fits the feudal Japan theme it was going for while still managing to be fresh. Most of the character interaction is between the sprites with occasional portraits showing up for major characters- pretty standard for a game like this, so I had no problem with it. The dungeons can be a mixed bag visually, as some look absolutely stunning (the first one comes to mind), while others just seem boring in comparison.
The music is probably one of Shiren 5’s finest attributes, as along with the art it perfectly fits the feudal fantasy feel that the game is trying to achieve. The dungeon music is also really important to make note of, as every dungeon theme manages to get you in the right mood to just pour a ton of time into exploring. Most of the time the tone is mysterious, but the soundtrack seemingly knows to get more tense the further you get into a labyrinth. There isn’t any voice acting, but that’s another thing the game doesn’t really even need. Sound effects are another thing Shiren nails, as every step and attack just feels so satisfying. My personal favorite sound effect is the level up sound (every character has a unique tone of it), which I implore you to hear for yourself should you have the opportunity.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a title that I never really felt was too ambitious in its mechanics or story, but still managed to succeed in everything it attempted. Many Mystery Dungeon games attempt to keep adding systems and mechanics that end up overcomplicating everything, but Shiren just tries to tackle a few core ideas and manages to pull off all of them amazingly. The story isn’t very complicated, the challenge the series is known for remains, and the gameplay is straightforward and enjoyable. I had a lot of fun with Shiren the Wanderer– it was a different experience than what I’m used to with the series, but it was still a memorable one. There are definitely better Mystery Dungeon games out there in my opinion, but I will remember this one as one of the coolest. I’d certainly be willing to give the series another try if there will be a return to it.
- Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is better than the Nintendo DS Pokemon Mystery Dungeons, but not as good as Etrian Mystery Dungeon. Weird opinion, but I’m sticking to that.
- If you get addicted to this, you should try Etrian Mystery Dungeon or Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.
- A better name would be Shiren the Badass 5: The Game Where There’s an Item Referencing 999.
- Buy/Rent/Enjoy: I’d say this one is a buy if you either love the genre or are looking for an RPG outside of your comfort zone. It’s not the most beginner friendly of games.
- Shiren’s design on the box art is god damn amazing. I want to give the artist in charge a medal.