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March 4, 2008



- Randomly generated dungeons provide a unique play experience

- Tough yet rewarding gameplay

- Outstanding soundtrack



- Ge nerally very user unfriendly, and quite difficult



Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Phantom Hourglass (DS)

Review: Glory Days 2 (DS)

Review: Lost Odyssey (360)



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Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer

Score: 8.0 / 10


In order to enjoy Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer, you need to accept one basic fact - you will die. You will die often, usually painfully and cruelly. But dying in Shiren shouldn't be seen as a loss - rather, it's an odd role playing game that revels more in the journey rather than the destination.


shiren the wanderer          shiren the wanderer


In Shiren the Wanderer, you take control of a little explorer wearing a straw hat. The game itself is a Japanese rogue-like, an evolution of the ancient computer game Rogue. It's actually a remake of a Super Famicom game, which in turn was a sequel to a spinoff of a Dragon Quest game. (Confusing, huh?) There are have been a handful of similar games released in America over the years - Azure




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Dreams and Chocobo's Dungeon 2 for the Playstation, and most recently, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon for the DS. This genre has evolved drastically through the years, but there are a number of common elements. For starters, all of the dungeons layouts, items and enemies are randomly generated. Although it utilizes an overhead viewpoint similar to the Zelda


games, all combat is turn-based. It's all pretty simple - just walk up to an enemy, hit the attack, and then they hit back. In addition to monitoring your health, you also have a constantly depleting hunger gauge, requiring that you speed up your search or procure as many fod items as possible. Finally, the most important aspect is permadeath. Once you run out of HP, you lose all of your weapons, items and experience, and its back to the start of the dungeon.


This unforgiving nature makes Shiren a tough experience, but learning to beat the system is part of the fun, and it rewards cleverness. For example, every few levels, you'll come across a town, where you can buy stuff, strengthen your weapons and obtain various bits of information. Many towns have a warehouse, which allows you to store your items. Normally you'll lose all of the equipment if you die, but anything left in the warehouse is kept safe, waiting for you on your next journey. Although the game heavily discourages grinding, you can use these tricks to forge more powerful weapons through repeated adventures.


Indeed, it may seem harsh that you're bounced back to square one when you're defeated, but it's not the end of the world. With each play, you eventually learn more and more about the different items and weapons, and discover the most efficient way to play. Shiren forces you to play smarter, not harder, and the knowledge you gain with each successive playthrough is far more intriguing than abstracted experience points.


shiren the wanderer          shiren the wanderer


The dungeon itself is around thirty floors (not including the extremely difficult postgame quests), and you could technically beat it in less than a hour. Given the difficulty, you probably won't though. The first few stages are pretty easy, but then you come across foes that will muck up your equipment, steal your stuff, turn you into riceballs, teleport you all over the map, and generally screw around with you as much as possible. Trying to deal with multiple enemies is usually a recipe for failure, so you're challenged to find creative uses for all of the items you've (hopefully) stockpiled. In general, think of it as an old school action game, which were short but required huge amounts of skill, rather than a traditional RPG - it's easier to adjust to that mindset. You can save anywhere at anytime, but this save is deleted when you reload it, to prevent cheating.


There is a new option to the DS version of Shiren that allows you to send out a code whenever you die. If you give this code to another Shiren player, they can attempt a quest to retrieve your body - if they succeed, then you get revived. It's an interesting workaround to the constant deaths, but it also requires patience, considering you need to wait until you find someone - in real life or on the Internet - who's willing to help.


Plus, each adventure holds something unique and interesting. The types of floors you explore - and generally, the types of weapons and enemies you find - are set, but the actual content and layout is new each time. Most interestingly, there are a number of subquests or NPCs that randomly pop up, occasionally giving you an extra player to tag along. This, along with the fantastic soundtrack - composed by Dragon Quest mainstay Koichi Sugiyama, who music fits the feudal Japan theme nicely - keeps the dungeon crawling fresh and interesting, even as you hack through familiar floors for the nth time.


Not everyone is going to take a liking to Shiren - it's a game where you need to actively seek out its pleasures, and other than some occasional advice from wandering NPCs, you'll need educate yourself by reading FAQs or interacting with other Shiren players. There are certainly a number of roadblocks you'll come across, and it's all too easy to blame the game for being too difficult, especially since there's a huge factor of luck that comes into play. There's almost no story here too, so gamers who look for strong narratives will be disappointed. But the game is still fairly well balanced, and when you die, it's usually because you made an error in judgment, or took a stupid risk. If you can come to terms with that, Shiren is one of the most intriguing RPG experiences on the DS, and the finest Japanese rouge-like out there. Now hopefully someone will see fit to localize the Wii-only sequel....


- Kurt Kalata

(April 22, 2008)


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