By Joseph Puntschart / August 20th, 2016
|Title||Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate|
|Release Date||07/26/16 (NA/EU)|
|Genre||Dungeon RPG, Roguelike|
Shiren the Wanderer, and by extension Mystery Dungeon, has always had a mixed history with localisations. The localisations for Shiren titles in particular have been patchy at best. Originally released on the Nintendo DS in 2010, the PS Vita port is the definitive version of Shiren the Wanderer 5 (which includes the ability to look around the room with the right analogue stick) which is the version that Aksys Games have localised for us Western gamers to enjoy. Shiren at its heart is an old school role-playing game through and through. This is very evident throughout the entire game. The story is one example. The story stars Shiren and Koppa as they go to The Tower of Fortune, since they heard that it is possible to change your fate there if you roll The Dice of Fate. They do this to help Jirokuchi, whom wants to save his wife whom is dying from a terminal illness. He wants to change her fate so she doesn’t pass away. You also meet other characters like your guide Tao, whom you can recruit to help scale the Tower of Fortune. The story is only of secondary note, as the gameplay is where Shiren really shines (which will be elaborated on later).
Another example of Shiren’s old school heart is its visuals. The graphics are mostly hand-sprited 16-bit akin to SNES-era RPGs and they are nice to look at. The palette used is vibrant and the areas covered throughout the game are diverse. For example, there is Nekomaneki Village, the place where you start out when you seek to climb the Tower of Fortune and where you end up when you die. The buildings are of a very oriental Japanese style and there are pink cherry trees. They are lovely to look at and really help with atmosphere development. The dungeons themselves are a little more generic when you are inside the tower, however the variety of colours used for each section helps prevent the atmosphere from getting stale, which is important considering the amount of times you’ll be retreading the same terrain. The character portraits you see above the dialogue boxes (like below) are hand-drawn which also look very nice, even though they look like they could do with being redrawn into high definition so they are optimised better for the PS Vita.
The gameplay is perhaps the most distinguishable feature of Shiren that shows how the games of the past influence it. It’s a roguelike, where if you die in the randomly generated dungeons, you will lose all of your gear and you will have to start again from the beginning. There is little hand holding with the game opting to teach you the basic mechanics through entirely optional text boxes and dedicated tutorial dungeons. If you’re new to roguelikes like me, you will be spending the first hour of your game reading and playing these tutorials. However, it’s also old school in the case that if you know the game’s systems and are able to use them to your advantage, you will find your playthroughs easier. For example, in Nekomaneki Village you have all the facilities you need such as storage, a shop, a curse breaker facility as well as recruiting party members that can join your party after certain events, like the fox sisters Koharu and Okon. There is also the “Point Card” system, where if you step on golden buttons in the dungeon you can get points to spend at the Point Shop, which includes revival items and Preservation Pots, both essentials you will need to help make your time in Shiren the Wanderer’s dungeons easier.
The dungeons in Shiren the Wanderer are set in an aerial view, with control of the player movement being restricted to the D-Pad only, another example of Shiren’s old school roots. Every time you make a move every ally and enemy make a move too. So if you attack a monster next to you, the monster will attack back. You can also pick up various items in the dungeons such as grass (which can heal your HP or other effects if Shiren eats them), scrolls (that can give various effects on the environment around Shiren) or pots (items can be placed in them so they cannot be stolen, or transformed by monsters or turns passing). One crucial item, onigiri, is used to stave off hunger. If you do not eat and keep your hunger bar full you will eventually start draining your HP until you die. This feature is typical of roguelikes. Like the dungeons, there is an element of luck in what items you can find, so sometimes you may end up with loads of gold but not enough of another important item. Therefore, there is an element of strategy to consider when playing Shiren the Wanderer in terms of what items to bring into the dungeons so you do not find yourself struggling with resources the deeper you go into them.
The enemies also have a wide variety of designs and behaviours, allowing for some varied movements and gameplay every time you visit. Some enemies can move multiple tiles at once, cast spells, have restistance to magic and ailments etc., adding lots of depth to the gameplay including a layer of strategy. Shiren the Wanderer is at its most fun when there is this layer of strategy as every move could be crucial, particularly when you are surrounded by monsters (such as in a Monster House). Which enemy do you attack and with what? Should you even fight this enemy at all? These are the kind of questions that the player will need to engage with every time they see an enemy in Shiren the Wanderer. There is also the “Day and Night” mechanic, where the enemies that appear at night are much stronger than the ones during the day, therefore you have to use your ability orbs in order to defeat them rather than your regular weapons.
Much like old school RPGs, Shiren the Wanderer is no cakewalk. It’s very challenging at times, and sometimes unfair to the player, such as being warped away from your party and being surrounded by enemies in your location, for instance. This means that this game will not appeal to everyone or be easy enough to be handled by younger or less experienced gamers. However, the sense of determination or “one more go” may be very appealing to some more experienced players as they gain more knowledge on how to handle the various day and night monsters encountered in the tower. The portability of this title also helps with this as well as with accessibility, meaning people can instantly take a break and return to the game straight away. It is also PlayStation TV compatible, so if people wish to play it with a TV the option is there.
There are also additional multiplayer modes that are in this game. Players can go and rescue their friends in multiplayer mode by entering their tower and rescuing them, therefore allowing them to continue their adventure without losing all their items. Likewise there is also a co-op/versus mode available where you can play with other players. I wasn’t able to test these however, assuming they work fine, this allows for a sense of community when playing this challenging game. Another thing worth noting is that the audio is where the old school aesthetic is absent. There is no FM synth like in the DS Etrian Odyssey games. Instead we have orchestrated music made with instrument sounds in a synthesiser. This could be seen as breaking the old school aesthetic that the game appears to pride itself on so much. However the music itself isn’t terrible, it’s actually quite good, but arguably unfitting. There is also no voice acting which fits the games aesthetic rather well, but may turn off those whom don’t like reading walls of text.
Overall, Shiren the Wanderer will not be for everyone, but if this style of this game appeals to you then you could potentially sink hundreds of hours into this game. This doesn’t just include the main dungeon as there are also various activities in the “Dungeon Centre” including statue moving tasks and extra dungeons with set requirements within, hence acting as a postgame so to speak. It took me just under 44 hours and 123 attempts to clear the Tower of Fortune and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, and this is recommended if you are into challenging RPGs or would like another game for your PS Vita.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Aksys Gamesdungeon rpgPS VitaReviewRoguelikeShiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of FateSpike Chunsoft