By: Brian Gunn
Shiren the Wanderer is a long-running series that has had only intermittent releases in the West. Aksys Games has brought the latest entry, entitled The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, from developer Spike Chunsoft stateside. Can the notoriously difficult series grow its following to ensure further releases, or is it bound to remain primarily in Japan?
A turn-based dungeon crawler, Shiren the Wanderer has an overhead perspective with a grid-based movement system, though diagonal movement is allowed by holding a modifier. Attacking is simple, just get next to an enemy and hit the interact button — there are also multiple items like arrows and staves to use at range. These extras create decent variety but will also force you into the game’s bulky menu system.
Shiren the Wanderer is a series that’s mainly either been handheld or Nintendo focused, and it’s not known for its cutting edge graphics. What it does have is a charming art style with many different and unique sprites for the dozens of items you’ll be snagging. Enemies are charming, and the levels, even if randomly generated, are often appealing in their own right.
In terms of sound design, Shiren fails to stand out. The music is mostly forgettable outside of the main theme. At least there are loads of unique sound effects that give the action some much needed punching up.
The titular Shiren has just, well, wandered into a new town. There’s a mysterious tower nearby that is said to hold the ability to change fate itself, provided you can brave its dangers and get to the top.
Now, being the typical silent adventurer type, Shiren doesn’t have much use for such a prize. However, a young girl in the village is dying from an unknown illness, and the boy that loves her can’t sit idly by and watch her die. And so he heads off to the Tower to change her certain death while Shiren follows to make sure he doesn’t get himself killed in the process.
There’s not much story beyond the initial setup, though Shiren will encounter a few more notable characters on his way, some of whom will act as battle companions. And while you can obtain help, this is mostly a solo affair, with your companions seemingly helping only when they feel like it.
Combat is fairly basic, measuring your stats against the enemy, with each movement or attack taking up a turn. For a majority of weak monsters you’ll likely want to just go up to them, or let them come to you, and stick your sword in them.
When you’re outnumbered or paired up with something stronger, however, you’ll want to reach into your bag of goodies. The various tricks at your disposal will let you do the usual things like cast a fireball or sleep spell, but there’s also some unique stuff like the ability to teleport your enemy to the exit of the map, allowing you to reorganize, or perhaps try to sneak by it.
Dungeons are random, so you’re never quite sure what’s lurking around the corner, both enemy and treasure wise. This can lead to some frustrations if you get a bit of bad luck, but for the most part things are doable.
Expect to manage your inventory a lot, whether it’s just to use things or to dump stuff out because you’ll constantly be getting new stuff, and knowing what to dispose of or use frequently can be the difference between life and death.
It’s also worth noting again that the series is famously difficult and is one of the early predecessors of the roguelike trend that’s all the rage in gaming. When you die, you’re restarting outside the tower without your gear and money.
That being said, some modern conveniences have accumulated over time, such as the ability to stash money or items in banks to use them after your eventual demise. There is also a very lengthy optional tutorial area that goes over nearly every topic of the game — so much so I found it exhausting and left to go explore, opting to revisit when I stumbled over topics I was unsure of.
Shiren the Wanderer is a tough but fun journey. It’s worth picking up as one of the more polished and storied roguelikes around; then maybe we’ll see the games brought to our shores with greater frequency.