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Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer

For: DS

A game with hidden depths

Product: Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer | Developer: Chunsoft Co., Ltd | Publisher: Sega | Format: DS | Genre: Conversion, RPG | Players: 1 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer DS, thumbnail 1
Depending on what games you've been exposed to, your own personal definition of what constitutes an RPG may be wildly different from someone else's. For example, The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass may sit in the same section as Final Fantasy Tactics in your local video game retailer, but dedicated fans of both titles will go to great pains to make sure you're aware that the two experiences are wildly different.

Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is another example of the myriad different styles prevalent in the Japanese RPG market. It's a completely different kettle of fish to the likes of Final Fantasy and Zelda, with a particularly strong focus on fighting your way through randomly generated dungeons in search of precious items and valuable experience points, and less of an emphasis on building a narrative.

If you like your RPGs to contain elaborate and convoluted plotlines that would put War and Peace to shame then Shiren the Wanderer is almost certainly going to disappoint. The story is wafer-thin and essentially superfluous; instead of dangling plot-based carrots in front of the player like many other Japanese role-playing titles do, Shiren the Wanderer relies on the appeal of improving your avatar and tracking down superior equipment in order to keep interest alive.

It's actually pretty easy to summarize the general flow of gameplay found here. Upon entering a level your ultimate objective is to locate the exit that will take you to the next floor – it really is that simple. Often you'll find the exit is in clear view as soon as you enter a new level, but rather than being a shortcoming of the randomly generated dungeon system, it's actually perfectly intentional; it offers the player the opportunity to decide if they should take the straightforward route or if it's worth putting their character in harm's way in order to fully investigate that particular floor for valuable items.

This neatly-balanced 'risk versus reward' system is put into even sharper focus by the fact that once you die you're unceremoniously dumped to the last town you visited, minus all the weapons and cash you've accumulated. This seems unreasonably harsh to begin with and there's every chance that it will prove to be immensely off-putting to many gamers, but it's actually something of a masterstroke as it forces the player to really mull over their options before wading into battle.

Although you have complete freedom of movement the action isn't strictly real-time; each step your character takes counts as a turn. The upshot of this is that you can dictate the pace of the game – stop moving and your enemies remain motionless as well; you can therefore assess your surroundings without having to worry about being attacked. Those of you that appreciated the lightening fast hack 'n' slash action of Zelda may be slightly disappointed by the stop-start and rather stilted nature of the combat, however.

Taking into account that Shiren the Wanderer is an enhanced version of a Super Nintendo title, it would be churlish to expect a visual feast; although it's impossible to brand the game ugly or unappealing it nevertheless falls short of the kind of graphical splendor we've recently witnessed on the DS. The dungeon interiors don't change much and visually everything becomes a little repetitive after a few hours' play.

But although the game is firmly rooted in the past, one aspect did strike us as particularly innovative: the use of Nintendo's online wi-fi system. If you happen to die during your epic quest, other players have the option of trawling through the dungeon and reviving you. It's an original concept but we can't help but feel it would require almost superhuman levels of compassion for a complete stranger to potentially spend hours of their time trying to locate your wounded character.

Taking into account the rather unforgiving gameplay and relatively archaic nature of the visuals, this is unlikely to enjoy mainstream appeal. Ironically, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon is part of the same lineage and has sold like hotcakes based purely on the branding alone, yet it's arguably inferior to what's on display here. This is an RPG distilled to its most basic, core elements – Shiren the Wanderer certainly doesn't give players an easy ride but those of you that are willing to persevere will find a very rewarding and worthwhile gaming experience.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer
Reviewer photo
Damien McFerran | 1 April 2008
It certainly won't be to everyone's tastes but deep within the dusty catacombs of Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer resides a unique and impressively addictive game
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