Some games can do almost everything right. Starting with a simple but engaging narrative, a game can hook you in with mere story progression. It pushes you to work your way through floor after floor, all in a valiant effort to reach that next cutscene. The easy-to-grasp combat and the ever evolving strategies that can stem from it only aid in this process, as it keeps your mind active and your attention gripped. Another thing that helps your eyes stay tied to the screen are the visuals. A game that looks good is (almost) as important as a game that plays good. Finely detailed and diverse environments filled with unique and varied sprites are a great thing to have. So too is a deep variety of gameplay, items, and features, to give the feeling that there’s always plenty to do.

Certain types of games manage to combine both of these aspects and execute them in such a way that can make for a truly memorable experience. For some, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is that kind of game. For others however, a certain design choice may overshadow everything that makes it enjoyable and leave you with nothing but an overwhelming sense of exasperation for this truly bothersome and unfair chore of a game.

SW1

But before we get there, let’s run through what makes this game great! Starting with the story, Shiren the Wanderer begins with Shiren (a.k.a. the wanderer) walking up to a cliff side overlooking a village which pokes out of the surrounding forest. Alongside him is his partner, Koppa. Koppa briefly explains that what they do is “travel the world in search of mysteries of all kinds”, and then alludes to a previous adventure in the series before setting up the one they’re about to stumble into. Also, Koppa is a talking ferret.

So they stroll into town and the player finally gains control. After going through the age old JRPG tradition of exploring stranger’s homes without any expressed permission, you’ll eventually find yourself in the room of a bedridden girl. Oyu has a terminal illness, and her friend Jirokichi decides he’ll do whatever it takes to reverse her fate. He brashly rushes out of the room to go take on the Tower of Fortune and retrieve the Dice of Fate, which should be able to cure her…for some reason. Shiren follows in hopes to catch up and help Jirokichi. It’s a pretty basic plot, but nonetheless a solid foundation for the game to build upon. And of course, more complications and party members will be thrown into mix further down the road.

SW2

Pretty soon Shiren reaches Nekomaneki Village, the main hub world that seems to be full of wonderful things to do! There’s shops, storage, banks, and more to be unlocked later in the game. Two particularly notable buildings within the village are the Dungeon Center and Hotel Nekomaneki. The Dungeon Center is like a training dojo where you can try out an assortment of dungeons and play fun little minigames. You can take your prizes from the Dungeon Center back to Hotel Nekomaneki, where you can place them in storage or sell them for gildan (money) to deposit in the bank. Inside the hotel there are even more renovations to come with a group of cute little raccoon dogs working on some kind of store in the basement.

Aside from that is the rescue desk, where you can go to setup rescue quests of other players. Sadly, the system is a bit convoluted and the player base doesn’t seem large enough, or at least engaged enough with this part of the game to consider it worthwhile. When you die in a dungeon you have the option to either wait for someone to rescue you or just go back to Nekomaneki Village and lose all of your inventory. In concept it may seem like an interesting way to build camaraderie within the player base, and perhaps affect positivity in the community overall. In practice, you’ll be waiting days if not an eternity for a savior, so all it really does is take away, time that could’ve been spent actually playing the game.

SW3

The dungeons are what you’d probably expect: random floor layouts, lots of traps, legions of monsters roaming around, a decent amount of loot, and a surprising amount of sometimes helpful NPCs. Occasionally villagers will find you in the middle of a dungeon and talk to you about a range of things, but mostly they’re just begging for money. There’s always a choice to indulge them or not, but it never seems to do anything, or at least not right away. Shiren the Wanderer is full decisions with consequences that aren’t immediately apparent, but they’re not too substantial either.

Enemies come in all different shapes and sizes, with a variety of abilities and fighting tactics. Some will fly through walls when hunting you down, others might pick you up and throw you into another ally for a hefty amount of damage. Then there’s monsters with ranged attacks and multiple forms, opponents that can teleport you, and a whole lot more. Sometimes these enemies will randomly have stat buffs, making them even harder to defeat or get away from. It’s especially frustrating when an already high attack monster gets an attack boost, forcing you to run because it’ll wipe you out in 1-2 hits.

SW4

And while running away may seem like an easy solution, your stupid allies will not feel the same way. As soon as a monster is in contact with one of your teammates, they will fight to the death regardless of what you actually want them to do. There is no changing their battle style nor is there any way of controlling their actions manually. Having to cope with poorly programmed AI is just part of the game. Luckily, they don’t set off traps or pick up items, so you don’t have to worry about extra inventory management or waiting for an ally to awake from a sleep trap. It’s also worth mentioning that while it’s okay to let some of your allies die (because they’ll just return to the village), story specific characters like Jirokichi need to make it through the floor otherwise you will not be able to advance. He can be revived by herbs, but if you don’t have one in your limited inventory you’ll have to start all over again.

So far Shiren the Wanderer seems like a pretty enjoyable experience. Sure, it can be a little annoying sometimes with its abundance of ways to indiscriminately screw you over. It might feel a bit too reliant on chance, as if skill isn’t going to be quite enough to progress your way through. In typical RPGs, if you feel like you’ve hit a brick wall that’s usually because your level isn’t quite high enough yet. The simple solution here is to grind until you reach the appropriate amount of strength to knock over the next obstacle in your way. Shiren the Wanderer doesn’t have this simple solution…or at least, it’s a hell of a lot harder.

SW5

The biggest “problem” with this game is that it doesn’t allow for overarching level progression. You start every dungeon at level 1, and you can level up as many times as you want, but once the quest is over you’ll revert back to level 1. It doesn’t matter if you failed, escaped, or completed the quest, you’ll just return to the same starting point. And that same starting point has the same low health bar with the same low damage. The only way to reliably build up your strength is through upgrading your weaponry, but you have to keep in mind that if you die in a dungeon, you lose everything. A sword you spent countless hours building up could be lost in an instant thanks to the harsh conditions of a randomized dungeon. Monsters can literally rain on your parade if you step into an ambush, and there aren’t many ways to ensure you, your items, or your party are safe.

I put “problem” in quotations because this isn’t really a problem, but perhaps more of an “acquired taste”. When stakes are raised in video games, in such a punitive and arbitrary manner such as this, some (like me) can’t help but feel anxious and annoyed. Not only that, it’s incredibly time consuming to try again and again, only to get smacked down AGAIN and AGAIN. For those with patience (not like me), the many adversities Shiren the Wanderer offers might make the accomplishment of beating it feel even grander. However, for someone who already has a busy schedule and many other games to play, The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate just isn’t worth the effort.

  • ADL

    Sadly, it seems that you didn’t go so far in the game. When you gain acces to the point card (just after the 3 mini-dungeons of the dice of fate – you have to go back to the Point Shop -), life become easier : You can exchange some points for “undo grass” easily (auto-effect : revive or leave the dungeon with all your belongings), and then can concentrate your efforts on upgrading your weapon and Shield (without forgetting to “platine” and “put runes on” them).

    Plus don’t forget that the teammates have an interesting feature : Their level doesn’t go back to level 1 and keep growing, so they help a lot if you’re under-equipped.

    Oh, and don’t forget some useful and easy to get bracelets, like the “growth” one : it gives XP to each of your action (including walking), and you can find it before the last of the three “dice of fate” mini-dungeons.

    And what about the Synthesis Pot ? Its gives all the abilities of the weapons/shields you have to the weapon/shield of your choice.

    And the “tag” system ? Just after the 3 “dice of fate” mini-dungeons, you can tag your weapon/shield to recover them if you make a mistake (like “OMG I forgot the easy-to-get “undo grass” and I’m dead ! Oh wait, my weapon and my shield are here, cool !”). And did you know that before the tag system, you could find your weapon or shield on the field of the first village just after a game over ?

    And… etc etc etc etc etc etc etc etc

    The biggest problem with this game is that it transfer the classical rpg habits – concentrated on the sole character levelling – to a myriad of usually optionnal things like equipment (weapon, shield and bracelets), objects (scrolls, pots, herbs, etc), teammates, day/night cycle (with specific powers to find), etc which are all essentials to the mastery of Shiren. It needs some time and good observary skills.

    (btw, sorry for my bad english)

    • crispyn64

      Yeah, I just didn’t have the time nor the patience to get very far in the game. It wasn’t from a lack of trying, as I still spent what I thought was a considerable amount of my time getting beaten back to Nekomaneki Village over and over again. I made it through the first two mini dungeons and had already suffered hours of feeling at a complete stand still. Really wish I could’ve had more undo grass then.

      I kind of understood that the game had a somewhat heavy reliance on items, because of the lack of character leveling like you said, and to me it just seemed incredibly tedious and un-enjoyable, so I suppose I should’ve touched more on that in my review. I’m sure fans of the Shiren series will love the game, but for newcomers like myself this game is too unforgiving in the beginning to warrant the hours of random failures and tedious item management it would take to reach the end.

      Even after reaching the point where the game gets “better”, I don’t think I’d find myself interested enough to actually complete it. The game doesn’t really give enough of a reason for me to care, be it its fairly generic plot and lack of fresh or exciting combat. Even with that, it would’ve been fine to me if not for its roguelike aspects. Not that I don’t like roguelikes, I just that I think they lend themselves better towards games that move along quicker.

      • DCGX

        So this review is based on only a partial playthrough? This should be noted somewhere. I understand where you’re coming from, in that it almost seems for naught even if you complete dungeons and missions, but it’s also not fair to the game if you didn’t play enough of it.
        I was already on the fence with this game after reading about half a dozen other reviews (I do already own it, but just haven’t opened it), and I usually take the Lounge’s reviews into much consideration of a game, but this didn’t help.

        • ADL

          Just play it. 🙂

          • DCGX

            I will. Same with Aegis lol

        • crispyn64

          I put a lot of effort and time into playing and reviewing this game. What might be considered “enough” to give a fair assessment of a game is completely subjective, and I don’t feel I owe this game or my readers more hours of my time. Sorry if this review wasn’t substantial enough for you, but it was my opinion. I also don’t see how my review was unhelpful, as I still go over the basics of the game and systems that will mostly likely stay throughout it. If you already own the game you might as well give it a shot and form your own opinion. Feel free to come back or message me on Twitter as I wouldn’t mind a second opinion.

          • DCGX

            I asked because, seeing everything ADL listed, there seems to be a lot of additional gameplay elements that you never reached. Elements that seem to change the way the player progresses through the game.
            So like I said, I get where you’re coming from with the game’s design choices in general, and the game was always billed as being hard/challenging, but if there’s more layers to the gameplay, that changes things.

          • ADL

            Your review is really good, you don’t need to justify yourself. It’s just too bad that the majority of the reviews (on the web, not only on TVL) don’t add a simple and clear line of context / habits of gaming of the reviewer at the beginning of the review (essentially time played and affinity for the genre). Not everyone have the same gaming experience after all, and it’s very interesting to see different reviews of the same game but played by different people with different experiences.

            Plus you don’t shoot down the game even if it’s not your preferred genre (like the Aegis of Earth review on TVL, tsss), so what more ? Very good review. 🙂

          • crispyn64

            Thanks for understanding, perhaps I should add a line stating the time I spent with the game from now on. As for affinity however, I don’t typically take on reviews for genres I don’t understand/appreciate. I’ve played mystery dungeon games like Pokemon Blue Rescue Team and Sorcery Saga, and because I really enjoyed those I thought I’d enjoy this too. And to an extent, I did 🙂

  • John

    You didn’t even finish the game before reviewing it? I guess play-asia didn’t pay for this review either. Nice work Vita lounge

  • Daniel Dominguez

    So can anyone tell me how many hours to get through the first 3 mini dungeons then? If the time is more than 6-8 hours I can relate to reviewer

    • ADL

      it depends on many factors (for example, if you discover the genre, it’ll take the upper limit), but you take approx 5 to 10 hours to tame the game and pass the 3 mini-dungeons (the 3 towers).

    • Kevin Aaronson

      3 maybe 4 for me. The mechanics are solid, its up to the player to work out the most effective playstyle. It’s fun as shit, but can be difficult and obtuse if you don’t learn from mistakes or play through like a standard RPG.

  • EXE

    We call games like this ROUGELIKE. It’s the same with dungeon crawler rpgs. It’s an acquired taste and not everyone will like it because of the difficulty. It would really be a pain for someone who doesn’t appreciate rougelikes as it requires a lot lot of patience. You keep on dying because you lack one. Haha