It may be hard to believe, but it has been a full 15 years since the original Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer was released. Although the title wasn’t much of a success at first, it took on a cult status due to its strict roguelike formula and punishing difficulty. However, only two years ago Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer was re-released on the Nintendo DS to a brand new audience.
In the years between the original and the rerelease, the dungeon-crawling format did not age well, and the Nintendo DS version was sharply criticized for having an unapproachable difficulty level and an antiquated battle system. Still, fans of the original enjoyed the rerelease, and there was enough interest in the game for a sequel to be spawned. Although Shiren the Wanderer on the Wii does have quite a lot in common with its predecessor, the formula has been updated substantially to appeal to a new audience.
One of the first new things you’ll notice about Shiren the Wanderer on the Wii is the adjustable difficulty level. The original Shiren featured very harsh failure consequences that included taking away all your items and starting you over at level 1 after character death. Naturally, this seemed a little extreme to modern gamers when it was re-implemented in the Nintendo DS version. However, this new Shiren gives the user scalable difficulty levels that include much lighter failure consequences. The normal mode will only remove all your items and equipment upon a failure and the easy mode won’t take away anything after a character death. This is great for those who are interested in dungeon-crawling a la Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, as it allows you to experience all the fun tactics-based gameplay without dealing with the harsh penalties associated with older dungeon-crawlers.
If you are itching for a challenge, though, there is also an unlockable hard mode that preserves the failure consequences of the original. This means resetting your level, losing all your items, and starting all over again at the beginning.
Although diehard fans may balk at the inclusion of the Hard mode as an unlockable, going back to the beginning after every death would make the story-telling aspect of the game a little bit repetitive. And no, you didn’t read that wrong. For the first time, Shiren the Wanderer actually has a story! Although the plot is a little formulaic, you’ll be able to experience Shiren’s origins and learn more about his family, why he became a wanderer, and his relationship with the mysterious Sensei.
But, as any fan of Shiren the Wander (or dungeon-crawlers in general) knows, the main story mode is just the beginning. Like its predecessors, Shiren the Wanderer has plenty of post-game content aimed at the hardcore crowd. In addition to extra side quests and bonus items, there is a special post-game dungeon that has 1000 floors. And unlike the game’s other dungeons, this one forces you to start at level one and doesn’t let you take anything in or out of the dungeon. Needless to say, attempting this sucker is not for the faint of heart.
The battle system in Shiren the Wanderer remains almost identical to the battle system in the original game, and is one of its best aspects. For those new to the franchise, Shiren the Wanderer uses a very simplistic, turn-based dungeon-crawling system. Each step, attack, or item used counts as a turn, and part of the thrill of the game comes from planning your moves tactically to take advantage of both your turns as well as enemy movements. The battle system is a little slow-moving for those accustomed to modern RPGs, but if you have experienced games like Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja or Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon, then Shiren the Wanderer’s battle system will feel very comfortable.
Although the system itself remains unchanged, there is one important new element: squad members. Although the first Shiren title saw Shiren going it alone, this title allows you to battle alongside companions. This presents a new challenge, as you will need to control the movement, inventory, and attacks for your team member as well as yourself. This can slow things down a bit because the system switches back and forth when you are actively managing your characters. So, if you are trying to cross the room, you will have to command Shiren to walk one step, and then command the companion to walk one step, and then give Shiren the same command again.
Fortunately, if you don’t feel like moving your companion individually, you can let the companion follow you (Pokémon Mystery Dungeon-style), and you won’t have to worry about giving individual walk commands (you can just hold down the D-pad) and the companion will attack when the AI sees fit. The ability to switch between the AI-controlled companion and the full control mode is very useful as you can quickly speed across areas like towns and sparsely-populated dungeons with your companion following you, and then you can switch to full control to flank opponents and bosses.
As far as technical aspects go, unfortunately, Shiren the Wanderer is a mixed bag. The visuals are pretty good with some impressive pre-rendered cutscenes punctuating the plot. The in-engine graphics are a little less impressive, but everything runs smoothly overall. However, on the negative side, the game’s soundtrack is abysmal. There is absolutely no voiceover, the sound effects are minimalist at best, and the background music is incredibly repetitive. Although I understand it can be quite a chore to localize a game with a full or partial voiceover, with two years between the Japanese and US releases, I expected more in the sound department.
Control in the game is very simple, and you’ll have a choice between using the Wii-mote vertically with the Nunchuck attachment or horizontally. Using the Wii-mote vertically feels awkward, but the thumbstick offers greater precision when trying to move diagonally. Still, the horizontal style is easier to use, and feels more natural. Both control schemes offer shortcut buttons for common actions (like throwing a rock or performing an about-face) but these shortcut button combinations are awkwardly placed and most times it is easier to just go through the menus rather than use the shortcuts.
Shiren the Wanderer is definitely a niche title and won’t be for everyone. Much like last year’s Demon’s Souls, this title will mostly appeal to the hardcore sect. However, I think the development team has done a great job opening up the format. Even though the dungeon-crawling scheme is a little bit antiquated, if you like other dungeon-crawlers, Shiren the Wanderer is a must-buy. If you want to check out a dungeon-crawler for the first time, Shiren the Wanderer is a great jumping-off point. Just make sure you select the Easy difficulty!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.9 Graphics
In-game graphics look polished despite some seaming and texture issues, and pre-rendered cutscenes are highly detailed. 4.1 Control
Using the Wii-mote sideways feels very comfortable, but awkward button shortcuts aren’t as accessible as they could be. 2.3 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Background music is repetitive. The lack of a voiceover is keenly felt. 4.1
If you aren’t a dungeon-crawling fan, you’ll likely play this one only once, but if you are a genre aficionado, you’ll want to come back for the added difficulty.
3.9 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.