Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Aksys Games
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: July 26, 2016
ESRB: E for Everyone
Shiren the Wanderer is sort of like the great granddaddy of roguelike dungeon crawlers that only a select few actually remember by name. I imagine people are likely aware of its many "Mystery Dungeon" offshoots, such as Pokemon: Super Mystery Dungeon, or maybe even the Final Fantasy-themed Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon, but not poor ol' Shiren himself. I can't really blame people either as actual localized Shiren titles have been far and few between over the years.
Either way, out of seemingly sheer randomness, we are blessed by Aksys with Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate on Vita. Though originally a former (and Japan-only) Nintendo DS title, the enhanced Vita release of the fifth main entry proves that the time-worn adventurer still has more than a few worthwhile tricks to survive even now.
The pretense in this title is rather brief, but to the point -- refreshingly so. Veteran wanderer, Shiren, and his talking ferret companion wind up in a foreign land with whole new problems. In his newest adventure, Shiren finds himself wanting to help a local townsfolk, Jirokichi, who is adamant on changing the cruel fate of his dying friend. In order to do so, however, Shiren and Jirokichi have to literally challenge the god of destiny by climbing the Tower of Fortune and collecting the dice of fate. Hence the wordy, but surprisingly accurate, game title.
Right at the start, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate comes off immediately as charming. It pulls off an old-school RPG charm and feels completely earnest about it. Everything from the simple, but well-realized, 2D aesthetic to the brief, but cute, main story just feels right at home with releases many console generations past. This certainly helps as Tower of Fortune has no problem being quite mean and "old school" in regards to challenging gameplay as well.
As the case goes for Mystery Dungeon releases, specifically Shiren, combat is turn-based and dungeons are random. Basically every action, or step, Shiren takes constitutes as a turn making the entire roguelike flow feel very methodical. Also part of the signature roguelike formula is a rule where when Shiren dies, all of the money and held items he had are lost. It is a very harsh consequence, and honestly, you will die more than you succeed, especially early in.
That said, Shiren does quite a few things to help you mitigate it. Roguelike shenanigans will occasionally deal an unfair hand (...or many consecutively), but most of it can actually be offset by preparation or coming to understand the many small nuances within its gameplay. And I do truly mean many. Thankfully, most key gameplay naunces are explained rather well through the many optional, but insightful, tutorials.
Aspects like knowing matching gear sets give you buffs, how to synthesize gear to carry over valuable skills from various items, learning how to deal with many tricky enemy types, or that you can't read helpful ability scrolls at night time without proper lighting seem small but can make all the difference when trying survive. And, contrary to the series' standard rules, you can even prevent the loss of gear if you cough up some cash "plate" them in advance, which will have them appear in a Lost and Found after death.
Tower of Fortune is also one of those games that starts out very basic, yet continues and continues to open up as you uncover its many layers. Beyond standard dungeon exploration, just taking a stroll around the various towns throughout will lead to unraveling the surprisingly breadth to the game: such as a point based shop that rewards players for stepping on switches mid-dungeon, finding companions to fight at your side, the ability craft/name entirely new items, heck, there are even several minigames -- one of which is essentially Minesweeper. Players can also dabble with online functionality as well, like requesting revives from other players or being one to help those in need. Though, I think it is an absolute crime that co-op multiplayer is delegated to local ad-hoc only. Still, the gameplay is just dense in ways one would not expect.
This applies the most in the post-main story content. I personally beat the main story in about twenty hours (I feel like it would have been a fair bit less if it were not for some harsh lessons...), and the post game is more than likely to double that for more hardcore adventurers. There are so many optional sidequests and dungeons that unlock after the main story that it is honestly absurd in both the amount of time you can throw at it and difficulty in trying to surpass them. Granted, for as much fun as I have had with the main story, I did get discouraged considering how strict certain optional dungeons were, such as increased hunger rates and lack of recruitable companions, and how much more reliant the were on luck they felt like. But I'm sure more seasoned adventures can prove me wrong with the right setup.
So, what is one to make of a of Mystery Dungeon series? Let alone the fifth entry? Well, if anything, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate absolutely relishes in series' pedigree. It embraces the harsher, yet addictive, qualities of roguelikes and goes above and beyond.with its surprisingly charm and gameplay nuance. All in all, while it does not deviate from too far from an established formula, it makes a fine example of why it does not need to.
+ Genuine old school RPG charm from the ground up
+ Simple, yet quite addictive, dungeon-crawling formula with a very deceptive amount of depth underneath
+ Rewarding structure that allows players to mitagate most of the harsher gameplay aspects with smart preparation
+ Absurdly huge amount of post game content that can keep players occupied for quite a while
- Roguelike shenanigans is certainly in place and skill can not always compensate for really bad luck
- The consequence of dying is still quite harsh and can be rather off putting for those not used to the "Mystery Dungeon" formula
Overall Score: 8 (out of 10)
Rich with charm and surprising depth Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is likely to captivate many fans of roguelike dungeon crawlers
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Vita code provided by the publisher.