Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a gem of an experience. In a time where rogue-likes are a dime a dozen, Shiren shines a bright light showing me why I love this genre so damn much.
Mystery Dungeon as a franchise has seen many crossovers over the years. The Pokémon ones are the most famous, no doubt, but I was enamoured by this series when I played Etrian Mystery Dungeon. Shiren The Wanderer for PlayStation Vita is a remake of the Nintendo DS title that never made it outside Japan.
Shiren has a talking ferret as a companion in his journey. Both of them come across a village and find a woman who is on the brink of death. Oyu, the woman in question, has a lover, Jirokichi who decided to play with fate and climb the Tower of Fortune. Shiren follows him along with the ferret, Koppa. There’s not much more to the narrative and stories are never the focus in Mystery Dungeon games.
Traversing through procedurally generated dungeon floors is the meat and potatoes here. Initially the amount of systems in place is daunting but I love the tutorial in the Beginner’s House in the village. Traversal is grid- and turn-based so each step causes time to pass and monsters may move closer to you, traps may get triggered, or you might just run out of energy and start losing health. Combat is also turn-based as expected, and each turn may have more enemies come closer or even have multiple enemies attack you at once. Thankfully, a plethora of item types exist to aid your journey in some form. Getting killed in a dungeon is something that will really turn off most newcomers to the franchise, because you lose all your items and go back to level 1.
Speaking of systems in place and the synergy, later on you unlock various kinds of things that let you recover equipment or save yourself from the jaws of death in a dungeon. Inventory management is a real problem, so you must learn to let go and keep only what you absolutely need in a dungeon. In addition to the items, you can also recruit allies that aid you in different ways. Even though you do recover health with each step, thinking every step through helps and is essential to getting out of sticky situations. There’s no shame in using an escape scroll when the going gets tough (and believe me, it will).
The randomness is felt throughout as each run differs in items, layout, and even wanderers in a dungeon. Items like scrolls may help you identify traps and key areas on the map or even put monsters in a particular room to sleep. Experimenting is your best bet after reading through the details in the menu.
There’s no shortage of content here with a lot of new things unlocking after you complete the main story. Difficulty is a concern, though. The barrier of entry without actually spending time in the Beginner’s area with tutorials will be far too high for casual RPG fans.
Shiren The Wanderer is a handsome game. I’m a huge fan of good-looking sprite-work and Shiren maybe the best looking pixel art game on the Vita. Everything is crafted so damn well that it feels like I’m playing a good SNES game in terms of mechanics and visuals. Dungeons and environments look stunning and I wish more games could nail the retro aesthetic as well as Shiren does. I like the attention to detail with lower floors being parallax scrolled but not fully visible as you traverse as well. There’s no voice acting, but the music is really good and fits the aesthetics well.
I’m glad Aksys gave Shiren a shot on Vita because it is now an essential for the system along with the rogue-like greats Rogue Legacy, Spelunky, and Crypt of the Necrodancer.
Stunning sprite work
Addictive dungeon crawling
Various mechanics work great together
Maybe too complex for some
You’ll spend a lot of time in the menus
Difficulty may put off casual players