Despite the needlessly long and complicated name, Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a new entry in a series that a lot of gamers have played. As part of the Mystery Dungeon franchise (whose spinoffs include Pokémon and Dragon Quest games), Shiren offers up Chunsoft’s signature brand of roguelike dungeon crawling — albeit a rather challenging version of it. This isn’t a beginner’s course on the genre; instead, it’s a master class for those already familiar with it.
While Shiren‘s high difficulty (more on that later) makes it impossible to recommend as an entry point for those looking to get into dungeon crawlers, it does have a surprisingly great tutorial. Right after the game’s intro finishes playing, the player can go to a beginner’s house that is filled with dozens of different miniature quests. These all go over a single aspect of the game (such as using herbs to replenish health) and do so in a simple manner. While it takes over an hour to go through all of these (there’s a lot!), I found it to be well worth it as I felt more than prepared as I started off on my journey.
In fact, I probably felt too prepared. Since Shiren is a roguelike, it meant that every time I died in a dungeon (which like an RKO can happen outta nowhere) I lost all of my gold and items. This led to a vicious cycle where a) it was difficult to have a successful run since I didn’t have any money or items and b) I didn’t have any of those resources because I couldn’t put together a good run. I later found out that I could store leftover items in storage and put money into a bank, but I found that out too late. It felt like a Sisyphean task I was never going to conquer until I finally lucked out and beat the first dungeon.
After that first triumphant victory, Shiren really started to click for me. What was initially an underwhelming combat system (I could only really equip a sword and attack enemies a square away from me) soon opened up once I gained access to special abilities that I could use on each floor of a dungeon. Using these magical attacks, along with recruiting partners to join me in my journey, really opened up the game’s combat. What was a monotonous grind became an enjoyable struggle. Sure, I still died plenty along the way, but I found a satisfying balance of only taking what I needed for a run and building up a solid inventory along the way.
While I began to really appreciate what Shiren The Wanderer was trying to do, I couldn’t help but miss some of the more forgiving features found in other dungeon crawlers (even ones made by Chunsoft). I missed having a sense of progression and watching my character get more powerful, as the game resets Shiren’s level and stats after each attempt at a dungeon. It was a bit demoralizing when I finally beat a level that I had been stuck on for hours and then went straight back to struggling against basic enemies. This push and pull is what makes the genre special, but I definitely struggled with it at times.
It was particularly heartbreaking when a good run would go awry due to some bad luck. Since all of the levels in the game are randomly generated, it means that sometimes fate just isn’t on your side. Sometimes a good run would get abruptly stopped since I spawned into a monster house (a room filled with enemies), and there wasn’t really anything I could’ve done differently. In a weird way, this sort of bad luck actually ties into the game’s plot, which revolves around Shiren and friends attempting to defy fate. Turns out more often than not — you can’t.
The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate was originally released on Nintendo DS and it shows. That’s not to say it looks bad or dated, just that it very much looks like a sprite-based game designed for the DS that has been given a larger screen to shine on. It translates surprisingly well to the Vita, as the areas are highly detailed and full of character. Despite not being familiar with the world that Shiren inhabits, I really enjoyed visiting it and it seemed fully fleshed out.
It’s a good thing that the locations look good, since I ended up seeing the same areas a lot. This isn’t due to repetitive art design, but because the game is so difficult. Regardless, the themes got repetitive after hours of seeing similar-looking levels. It would’ve been nice if some of the locales got randomized graphically, but all that changes is the level layouts.
It may lack the familiar setting or world of other Mystery Dungeon games, but Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a pretty darn good one. It does an impressive job at simplifying and introducing a complex game to new players, even if the title itself still isn’t beginner-friendly. Those up for a challenge will have a lot of fun — just be prepared to not make any progress for hours at a time.
This review is based on the PlayStation Vita exclusive, which we were provided with.
Shiren's latest adventure is a rewarding one. It offers up an enjoyable dungeon crawl, one that is not only challenging but also surprisingly inviting. Just don't expect it to feature constant progression, as players will fail far more times than they succeed.