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Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer

Muscling Beyond Difficulty in a Standard Universe

Shiren the Wanderer, a rogue-like RPG from Chunsoft, is a beastly vintage dungeon crawl. Randomized and tooth-and-nail difficult, itís a rehash of a legacy-constructed Super Famicon title done extremely well Ė when youíre not ready to hurl the DS at the wall. It comes from the makers of several Pokemon: Mystery Dungeon platforms with a dashing of old-school Dungeons and Dragons underneath the hood, and it can be rewarding once youíve found a rhythm to go along with it. Getting over that difficult hump can be treacherous, however; just make sure youíve got a WiFi connection handy.

Structuring the plot for this is a rather slim affair. It involves a Golden Condor, and the mystical city lying underneath its wingspan. Less cryptically, it takes place in feudal Japan and concentrates on Shiren, a wandering warrior, as he searches for this location along with his trusty talking weasel Koppa for guidance. Along the way, heíll encounter many townsfolk who will educate him on the lengthy journey up to the mountain. Through that, Shiren will have to navigate through many, many dungeons (roughly 30) filled with monsters of all different strengths, levels and elements. Along the way, heíll be able to upgrade his weapons Ė both by discovery and as rewards for good deeds Ė and purchase items to aid him in his quest. Many secondary plot elements ink into the picture, but getting to the Golden Condor at the top of the mountain is the bedrock of it all.

Gameplay Nuts and Bolts:

Navigating through the floorplans of Mystery Dungeon will feel like most birdís-eye-view RPGs, as movement can be handled either with the directional buttons or the stylus, but itís recommended to use the stylus for streamlined reasons. With the stylus, you can navigate either by pushing the direction buttons or by pointing at a specific point on the grid. Itís decidedly easier to pin-point specific locations with the stylus, since it makes movement much easier. That will, of course, come in handy when near enemies. Now, thatís not to say that the directional button control scheme is flawed, which itís actually quite fluid when utilizing the A-button as the attack; however, during the course of battle, it felt more natural to tap on the enemies with the stylus than to wail away with the button. Thatís likely pure prerogative, however. Ultimately, itís all interchangeable underneath the Game Settings function, where Walking Speed, Display Grid, Top Screen content (map or other content) and Attack Input can all be altered to the userís liking.

Battle consists of a familiar, surface-level turn-based structure befitting many other rogue-likes for the DS, determining its outcomes based on the level and weaponry that Shiren is wielding. Pressing the X Button will access the interface, opening up the inventory tree and also showcasing Shirenís current stature Ė Level Completion, Sword Strength, Shield Strength, Experience, Strength, and Fullness. Underneath the hood, it operates on an intuitive basis, meaning that everything endured will have a subsequent effect on Shiren Ė including fatigue due to hunger. A hit point counter is in plain sight throughout, along with Level and Gitans (read: Gold), and a drab yet thoughtfully colored map adorns the top.

Be prepared for things to get hairy Ė and quick Ė because this Mystery Dungeon is very intensive. Youíve got to play your cards right when going into battle, because a false determinant in its flow will very rapidly render you lifeless. Things happen rather quick with the real-time motion, just like other rogue-likes; however, the randomized enemies in Mystery Dungeon grow far more difficult with each level you conquer. Talking to people will give you clues and, potentially, some partners to help you out, but most of the broad-ranged success hinges on the luck of the draw. And with that, things get rough at a rather fast rate. Frustratingly rough, even.

Moving along (walking) will alleviate the damage that Shiren takes in the dungeon, so points can be earned back once battles are concluded. He also sports different food items Ė namely Rice Balls of varying sizes Ė to replenish his fatigue, along with Medicinal Herbs for health. Just make sure what kinds of meat you consume in the dungeons, as they can also transform Shiren into the Formof the creature from which the meat came. This, of course, can assist in specific situation, but like everything else itís only with planning that you can benefit from this.

Several other helpful items can be snatched up in the dungeon, naturally, to aid Shiren. Along with scattered Rice Balls, Herbs, and Meat, several scrolls and other weapons can be located. The Scroll of Light, for instance, illuminates the entirety of the map without having to walk the entire perimeter. It also shows where items and monsters can be found around the area. Of course, weathered dungeon crawlers will likely not need this, as itís highly beneficial to scan the entirety of each floor for any helpful trinkets whether their whereabouts are known or not. Each one can be helpful, in one way or another, amidst the strain to squeak out of each batch of floors Ė growing in power the deeper you go. It seems rudimentary for those who have plowed through the likes of D&D, Final Fantasy, and other rogue-likes to say that the deeper you go, the better the treasure gets; however, these tools grow quite essential.

But then, you die Ė and trust me, you very likely will. Many times (many, many times in my experience). At that point, the gutshot reaction to Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer harks back to generations of gaming: once youíre chomping on dirt, youíre at the end of the line. Thereís no extra lives, no continuation, no resurrection potions, no nothing. Itís back to the front with you, and in a game as labyrinthine and the myriad of levels in Shiren the Wanderer, that can be both a drawback and a challenge. Thereís little you can do but soldier forth, try everything again, and hope that the luck of cards will be better this next go-around on the floor than worse. Trying over and over again with the same dungeons will eventually become a very large asset.

Wi-Fi Connectivity:

However, there is one saving grace to death: the Nintendo DS WiFi connectivity. Though thereís only one online function available in Mystery Dungeon, itís an important, stress-relieving one. Travel Rescue enables several ways for users to come to Shirenís aid and get him back in the game without having to vault all the way back to ground zero. To be rescued, itís basically like sending up a flare Ė putting out a Rescue Request indicates for another user to come and revitalize the player. This can, however, only be done three times. Along the process, you can adventure while waiting for a user to come and rescue or simply wait. A Rescue Spell will be sent to you, enabling a password to be entered, which will then be initiated. Afterwards, a Thank You Letter can be sent to the player that did the rescuing. Naturally, you can be the one doing the rescuing as well, which will be available for selection at a location on the map Ė similar to taking on tasks in other RPGs like Final Fantasy.

Graphic, Sound, and Longevity:

Visually, Mystery Dungeon isnít a lot to look at outside of the cleverly-drawn anime cards placed in sporadically throughout the game. Itís colorful and designed to look very similar to the Pokemon games, operating on a grid-based structure similar to other like-minded SNES and Gameboy crawlers of its ilk. Colors do remain bold and crisp without any glitches, while the scant cinematics carry enough character to be pleasing when watching Shiren and Koppa. It's a fairly robust experience, considering the serviceable structure at play. Sound, however, isnít quite as charismatic. Itís fine, mind you, with punchy blotches for hitting effects and old-school flutters for magic. The biggest success out of the sound design is the musical score, which does a fine job of replicating Japanese flair through meager design.

Honestly, the longevity of this game will largely depend on your patience. For me, putting many hours into this rendered several deaths and some waiting to be rescued, which can grow a little wearisome. However, once youíve plowed through the main dungeon and all the fruits of your labor unlock the endless goodies lying underneath its initial floors, youíll certainly gain a rather satisfied feeling from the triumph.

Final Thoughts:

Many games might not try their damndest to be tough, but Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer certainly seems like one of Ďem. Itís a furiously frustrating rogue-like RPG, randomly generated and as dense as youíre able to dive into the dozens of levels present in the game. Itís obvious that difficulty has been brought up several times in this review, but itís something thatís worth considering before venturing towards the Golden Condor; itíll bring out curse words you didnít realize you knew, all wrapped up in an age-old structure thatíll seem like little more than an old-school RPG Ė and thatís pretty much all it is, only a hell of a lot tougher when considering the fight-or-star-over nature of its construction. Thankfully, thereís a rescue function, or else Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer would be endlessly difficult for many. Instead, itís simply a tough, deliberate RPG thatís still worth the time for its challenge aspect.