Starting all the way back on the Super NES in Japan, the Shiren the Wanderer franchise has had a rocky road in the west. First brought over by SEGA in 2008 on the Nintendo DS and later in another entry by Atlus on the Wii in 2010, it hasn't seen the light of day over here since. But like the end of the its title hints, western fans of the series got lucky as publisher Aksys Games has localized the Vita remake of the fifth game in the series. So is the game a high roll or a low roll?
While the roguelike genre isn't known for its compelling narratives, what's present in Shiren the Wanderer is decent enough to keep players interested. Playing as a silent protagonist alongside your trusty ferret Koppa, you come across a local village where a young girl is sick and is nearing death. You vow to obtain the Dice of Fate and head to the Tower of Fortune to the talk to the area's god of destiny to change her fate. So all in all, it's a simple narrative but it works and doesn't get in the way, which is great for a genre where gameplay is king.
And what would a roguelike be without its gameplay. If you haven't played a roguelike before, specifically one of the Mystery Dungeon variety, you should know they're known for being notoriously difficult. Dungeons are laid out in a grid-based fashion, with various enemies, treasures and traps found within. The catch is that as you move, enemies move as well. When both meet, battles take place in a turn-based fashion.
While the game doesn't dumb things down to appeal to newcomers, which veterans of the series will love, there is aspects made to bring them into the fold. If you're new to the genre, there's a Beginner's House area where you can go through various tutorials that teach you all of the in's-and-out's of Shiren the Wanderer. The catch is that each of these tutorials take a fair bit of time to complete, so you can spend a few hours at least if you intend to go through them all. Thankfully the game doesn't block this off after the start, so you can return back to this area as necessary throughout the game or if you need a refresher from time to time.
The key element that will either turn on or off players from this game, bar none, is the death system. As many series veterans already know full well, when you die in Shiren the Wanderer, you go back to the village at the foot of the dungeon with all of your items, experience, equipment and money lost. So essentially, you're starting back from the origin of the game over again.
While seemingly cruel at first glance, this mechanic does force the player to analyze their steps ahead of time, as any misstep could be their last. There is locations such as a bank to deposit your money, storage houses to deposit weapons and items, and even skills that transfer between deaths. So it's all up to the player to decide when its best to hold and let go of their inventory at any given time.
As far as unique aspects go, one interesting twist in Shiren the Wanderer is its day/night cycle. During the day you have your normal enemies, but once nightfall hits they're replaced with enemies that not only are impenetrable to your weapons but also deal critical amounts of damage. The magical attacks I otherwise would have used sparingly during the day became paramount here when forced into an nighttime encounter.
As far as graphical touches go, the sprite-based graphics in this entry really shine on the Vita's high-definition screen even if it's originally from a Nintendo DS title. Pretty much everything item, equipment, etc.-wise has its own unique graphic and the dungeons don't really copy over one another much. I liked that the menus were optimized for easy use, such as a quick-sort button for optimizing your inventory, but the UI feels like it's still made for a Nintendo DS title instead of the Vita's widescreen display.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a tough game without a doubt, but fans of the series wouldn't have it any other way. The developers did a good job in this entry of bringing in newcomers through the Beginner's House, but it'll still be a steep climb to figure out all of the title's nuances. Part of the thrill is seeing if you can make it through a dungeon without losing all of your items "” if that sounds like fun then this is exactly the game for you.
|The Beginner's House area is a good way for newcomers to learn the ropes.|
|The graphics really shine on the Vita, even for what's originally a Nintendo DS port.|
|Always fun trying to make it out of the dungeon alive.|
|UI feels like it could have been slightly more tailored to the Vita's widescreen display.|
|Partners in dungeons aren't as useful as in previous entries, which may annoy some returning players.|
|While the Beginner's House is nice, it is a bit of a time sink of if you want to go through everything in it.|