Release Date: March 4, 2008
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is a role-playing game that takes place in a feudal Japanese setting. The game was originally released for the Super Famicon and has been ported to the Game Boy, but this is Shiren the Wanderer's first appearance on the Nintendo DS. There was also a Nintendo 64 sequel, but the first three games of the series were only released in Japan, so this is also the first time the series has been available in North America.
Shiren the Wanderer is set up in the same style as Deep Labyrinth for the Sega Genesis or, more recently, like the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon games, which is to be expected because Chunsoft also developed them. You play as Shiren, and you're tasked with wandering through randomly generated dungeons while collecting items to eat, equip or throw at various monsters. Accompanied by Koppa the talking weasel, you embark on a quest to travel to the top of the Table Mountain, where you hope to find El Dorado and the Golden Condor — the lost city of gold and a wish-granting bird. You're also hoping to encounter your old friend, who went missing while attempting the same journey.
You'll travel through 30 dungeon levels, and the goal is to reach the exit of each. When you enter a town to talk to the NPCs, there is a missed opportunity to create or progress a story, but alas, everything feels a bit generic, and we've been here and done this before in ChunSoft's other Mystery Dungeon games. As you go through the dungeon levels and collect items, you must also battle monsters and manage your limited inventory space.
When you are in the dungeons, you'll see monsters and other travelers walking around. Everything here is turn-based, so each step you take is considered a turn, so every monster and NPC within the dungeon will also take an action. The good part about this is that you can strategically place yourself within the game so that you only have to fight one monster at a time. The bad part is that this style of gameplay has been around for about 20 years, and it wasn't the best of styles back then, either. You also have to manage your hunger, which increases with each turn.
The absolute worst aspect of Shiren the Wanderer is that there is no way to effectively save your game. If you decide you want to stop playing while you're walking through the dungeons, you can quit playing, and your game data will be suspended at your location. However, you can't save somewhere, have a monster defeat you, and go back to a save point. You have to start all over from the very beginning of the game and begin your trek up the mountain again, stripped of your possessions and experience levels. The one saving grace is that you can store some of your items in a warehouse when you come into town, but it's kind of pointless because you're probably going to be using your best gear when some monster kills you, so you'll lose the gear as well as any items that are in your inventory at the time.
Another thing that is frustrating about Shiren the Wanderer is the length of the game. There are only 30 levels, and each one can be completed in about 10 minutes, which would make the game really short if you manage to get through it without dying. Otherwise, you'll see that the developers tried to increase the replayability by randomly generating the dungeons so that things will look different the next time around, but on subsequent playthroughs, the game feels stale, and you just don't want to go through it again.
At the very least, the graphics in Shiren the Wanderer are pleasant. All of the monsters that you fight are on the main screen, as well as all of the items that you will find. There are no randomly generated battles or battle scenes; everything happens from the main dungeon. However, the items all look the same: Every weapon looks like a sword when it's lying on the ground, and every shield looks like every other shield. The developers also did a poor job with the monsters that you'll encounter, as color is the only indicator between the regular and upgraded versions of the monster, which could cause some problems for the inattentive and the color-blind. When you equip your character, his shield and weapon will actually change. Every dungeon or forest that you walk through looks pretty good, although it doesn't exactly push the DS to its limits.
Shiren the Wanderer's music fits the setting and has an Asian feel to it. There is no voice acting here, which is expected for a DS title. Sound effects are serviceable and won't blow you away; you hear the same swoosh sounds when you attack and little bleeps when you get hit by a monster.
The multiplayer portion of this game is a joke. The only thing you can do with multiplayer is be rescued if you die, which requires that you either have a friend nearby who also has the misfortune of playing this game, or rely on the kindness of strangers over a DS Internet connection. Your rescuer needs have reached the same level on which you'd died, but once he accepts your rescue request, he'll need to start Shiren the Wanderer from the very first level in order to reach and "save" you. If your savior succeeds, then you'll retain your items, XP, and most importantly, your progress. However, you can only be rescued three times, after which the game tosses you back to the very beginning again.
The worst flaw in any RPG is the lack of a decent save system, and in that respect, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is guilty as charged. This frustrating trait, combined with the mediocrity that's prevalent in the rest of the title, makes for a pretty poor showing. Unless you're a fan of ChunSoft's work in the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon series or thought that Ninja Gaiden was a piece of cake, I'd steer clear of this one.
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