ChunSoft, you did it! You finally upgraded your mystery dungeon formula and created a bigger, better roguelike (a randomly generated dungeon crawler). However, this babysteps approach has only made Shiren the Wanderer marginally better than its contemporaries. But some progress is better than none, right?
Shiren the Wanderer is actually known as Shiren 3 in Japan. It’s the third game in a series of roguelikes: role playing games with randomly generated dungeons that use a 1 action = 1 turn system for gameplay. The series has been around for 15 years now, following the adventures of the strong and silent Shiren and his wisecracking ferret, Koppa. They’re like the original Japanese Jak and Daxter.
Mystery Dungeon games have been around for a while, and I’ve complained before about the dated gameplay that the genre uses. Shiren takes steps in the right direction, mostly through upgraded visuals and presentation. The game actually has a plot, and while not an amazing one, it provides motivations, introduces villains, and even has some twists in it. There’s a mysterious girl, a legendary mansion, and angry gods. Koppa gets a lot more screen time, acting as the voice for the main character and providing some humorous dialogue.
It’s a shame this game is so ugly. There are some beautiful environments and paintings, but the dungeon crawling is either bland or hideous. The cutscenes are few and far between, and every time they happen it emphasizes how bland the rest of the game is. Thankfully there are more animations than the characters and enemies usually get in this type of game, so at least we’re making progress. And the enemies are all sorts of crazy, ranging from bugs, to catballs, to dragons, to huge sabretoothed tigers.
Shiren doesn’t feel as hard as the previous games, though it does still have the punishment system. If players die in a dungeon, they get transported back to town and lose all their money and items. But the levels stay intact and players have the option of going back to the town to deposit their items safely. It’s actually a lot more like the Pokemon Mystery dungeon games than a Shiren game in that respect, and some of the hardcore fans might be a little turned off.
I actually prefer this system, but it’s also combined with just a generally easier dungeon set, so the game is far easier than other Mystery Dungeons. I blazed through the first three bosses without batting an eye, and I know I’m not a master. Granted the game did get more difficult after that, but it’s a slow progression. The only other difficulty mode in the game actually makes the game easier, so the Shiren veterans are kind of out of luck.
There are still the staples of a ChunSoft game, both good and bad. There are upgradeable weapons, recruitable party members, spells, and other cool items. Occasionally players will appear right next to an exit (though it seemed more rare than in other games), and there are those cheap annoying Monster Houses that drop you in the middle of a monster gang bang.
Shiren is improved, though not by much. The better visual flair and actual story make the game more interesting. The less sadistic difficulty also makes it easier for newcomers to get into, though the lack of a higher difficulty may make it too easy for the longtime fans.