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Joseph Rositano
22 Apr, 2008

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer Review

DS Review | Has time treated this SNES classic well?
The Mystery Dungeon franchise has been around a lot longer than most people realise. The first game in the series, Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon,was actually released in 1993 for the Super Nintendo but never made it outside Japan. Similarly, the second game, Shiren the Wanderer, was also a Japan-only release, but has now been ported to the Nintendo DS and been translated for Western audiences to enjoy. While there are a few new features such as being able to rescue other players via the internet and move around using the touch screen, the game remains largely unchanged. So, has the classic dungeon-crawler stood the test of time?

One of the unique things about Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is that it had a completely original cast of characters, and wasn’t simply a spin-off game to an already established franchise. In the game, players assume the role of Shiren, a mysterious traveller who attempts to reach the Land of the Golden Condor. Along the way you’re accompanied by a talking weasel named Koppa, who appears to do nothing more than impress strangers and translate what animals are saying.

If you’ve played other Mystery Dungeon titles you’ll be familiar with how the game works. Essentially, when exploring dungeons you move around in a turn-based manner. Each time you take a step, use an item or talk to someone it counts as a move, which allows enemies and other characters to perform a single action. At first this system seems a little basic, but once you get up to the latter levels it becomes a genuine part of gameplay. For example, if there is a space between you and an enemy, simply walking into it will allow them to attack you first. If you decided to fire an arrow however, not only will it hit your enemy from afar, but they will likely move in closer, allowing you to deal out a second attack without taking damage. Later on, things get a little more complicated as enemies will become tougher, are able to fire projectiles, and tend to surround you from all directions. So, blindly running through a stage and attacking anything that moves will likely result in a quick death, while planning out your moves when necessary will allow you to reach the more challenging levels.

  
Don't be fooled, strategy is a key element in the game.

Don't be fooled, strategy is a key element in the game.
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As you progress through each dungeon, you’ll be able to level up Shiren by defeating enemies and occasionally helping other characters. While this does make things easier, the game encourages players to also upgrade their weapons and shields by taking them to blacksmiths. Additionally, some weapons will rust with repeated use, so they’ll need to be replaced or have a spell cast on them to prevent rusting. Apart from weapons, players can also utilise items such as scrolls, herbs and rice balls, all of which will affect you and the surrounding environment in different ways. Scrolls for example, can stun enemies, reveal where items are and even destroy the walls to make it easier to get to the exit. Herbs on the other hand, can heal your health and let you breathe fire. It’s quite fun to discover what each item does, and because of their sheer variety, it keeps game feeling fresh and engaging.

During your travels, you also meet other wanderers who will give you advice and in some cases, heal you or upgrade your attributes. Under certain conditions, some NPCs will even join your party and provide cover by watching your back and help defeat monsters. Unfortunately, the AI can get a little annoying as your party members will often leave you to go and fight monsters on the other side of a room. At times, they’ll even get stuck in certain areas simply because another NPC is standing in their way – you seem to be the only person who can switch places with other characters.

  
You'll be playing through the same dungeons a fair bit.

You'll be playing through the same dungeons a fair bit.
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One thing in particular that will frustrate some players is that each time you die the game sends you back to the first town, stripping you of all your items, money and your level being reverted back to one. As we mentioned before, the idea behind this is to get players to carefully traverse through each dungeon. Unfortunately, this also means that all the hard work you put into upgrading Shiren and his weapons is wasted, and it makes trying to complete the game a little daunting. Of course, there are a number of features that make things a little easier such as the warehouses in each town that are used to store items. Also, a staple element in the series is that all dungeons are randomly generated, which certainly helps the fact you’ll be re-exploring them dozens of times. However, this also brings about a design flaw – the exit will sometimes appear in the first room you are placed in, leaving you with little reason to explore unless you want to collect extra items. To be fair this doesn’t happen too often, but it occurs enough to be noticed.

New to the DS version is the ability to request a rescue from other players if you die. There are two ways to do this: you can either link up to nearby players or send out a request on the internet via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service. If a player chooses to accept the request, they’ll have to start from the first town and make their way to your location. Once rescued, you can continue on from that particular point with all your items and attributes intact. You will however, be limited to only three requests before having to start from the beginning again, so the system balances itself out with the original concept.

  
I think this situation calls for the use of a scroll.

I think this situation calls for the use of a scroll.
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Visually, Shiren the Wanderer looks exactly like it did over ten years ago. While this isn’t necessarily a bad thing for fans, it also lacks an extra spark to bring in newcomers. Environments and effects look dated, and it simply isn’t as appealing as the newer entries in the series. The same can also be said about the game’s soundtrack; there are simple and unmemorable tunes that get the job done.

Despite being over ten years old, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer has done a decent job of retaining its charm from the original SNES days. The game is challenging and has many engaging mechanics such as the turn-based gameplay and a variety of different items to use. That said, some players will find it frustrating to start from the beginning every time they die, while the overall visual presentation isn’t quite as appealing as new entries in the series. Those wanting an old-school experience however, won’t be disappointed.
The Score
While some will be turned off by the challenging gameplay and the less appealing visuals, those seeking an old-school gaming experience should look no further.
Looking to buy this game right now? PALGN recommends www.Play-Asia.com.

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2 Comments
5 years ago
sounds pretty interesting, but $69.95 for a snes port?!?!?

the least they could have done was redo both the first and second titles that were never released outside of japan
5 years ago
OK first, I really like this type of game (Roguelike) so I'm biased. Weapons don't rust with use, only some traps and enemies do that. If you use the exit without exploring the whole level you'll soon die, as your level will be too low.

I agree that the audience for Shiren is limited by the restarting system, each 'life' starts you back from the beginning, but there are a lot of sidestories that progress with each death, most making your next life a little bit easier. I love this aspect of Shiren, as no amount of grinding will help you win, it's all about strategy and planning.

I do disagree about the longevity score, if you like the concept after you finish the first quest 6 more dungeons open up, 3 of them needing a totally different strategy and most being much more challenging, Fei's final dungeon is 99 levels of true roguelike punishment icon_biggrin.gif

I didn't care about the graphics or it being a port, its the first time a real Mysterious Dungeon game has been properly translated, it's much better than the mindless Pokemon versions.
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  Pre-order or buy:
    PALGN recommends: www.Play-Asia.com

Australian Release Date:
  20/03/2008 (Confirmed)
Standard Retail Price:
  $69.95 AU
Publisher:
  SEGA Australia
Genre:
  RPG
Year Made:
  2008

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