Sometimes a challenge comes along that makes a reviewer earn the riches that are poured upon them. Spike Chunsoft’s Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is one such challenge. The game is a pure rogue-like, a genre that has seen no small amount of representation in recent years. So, when climbing the mountain of gold doubloons to reach the ornate, carved writing throne ensconced at the summit (wife’s note: he was on the toilet playing Tap Tycoon. I was starting to worry), much thought was dedicated into how one would put to word why this title is an achievement over its peers.
The history Shiren is a long-running one. Part of the Mystery Dungeon series, one that has also seen Pokémon and Chocobos venturing into the depths, the games follow the titular hero and his talking ferret companion, Koppa, as they venture from place to place searching for adventure. Or shiny things. Considering the attention span on display, it is probably the latter. The games utilize a battle system similar to those found in Fatal Labyrinth and others. Every time the player makes a move, such as take a step or swing a weapon, everything else in the dungeon goes at the same time. This speeds up the turn based structure and keeps things extremely tense.
In TToFatDoF, as the kids call it, Shiren finds himself entering a village. There he quickly learns of the Tower of Fortune and what rests atop, the Dice of Fate. Getting a chance to roll the dice allows the unfortunate to realign their destiny. With that established, he ventures into the home of a girl on her deathbed with her grief stricken lover, Jirokichi, vowing to venture the tower and save her. He doesn’t care if no one has ever returned. Shiren, hearing of a new distraction, decides to follow. As a quick aside, if no one has ever returned from the Tower of Fortune, then how do the villagers know what is on top? Stories like that are always troublesome. Anyhow, he soon reaches the tower, saves the lover, who was already dead, and proceeds to explore each of the three sub-towers found inside. Venturing out into the dungeons can be a daunting challenge. It starts off fairly easy to give new players a chance to acclimate, but does ramp up. As the game goes on, it seems that the enemies are just ever so slightly overpowered for the hero to tackle head on. Failure is extremely punishing, as falling in battle finds Shiren unceremoniously tossed back into town, with all of his items, levels, and cash stripped. (It is extremely wise to store a couple extra sets of equipment and bank earned cash in town.)
Fortunately, there are numerous systems and such to help the player out, as long as they pay attention and use them. Ordinarily, an attempt would be made at giving a full run down of the tools at players’ disposal, but this review is only meant to be a webpage, not the collected works of Faulkner. It is extremely intuitive to anyone who has ever played this type of game before. Newcomers need not worry, as a highly detailed tutorial that teaches the ins and outs of every little thing that can be done to pull out a win and see that next floor.
One thing that must be noted is that the game is not stingy with the items. For players who love collecting loot, upgrading it, only to toss it aside when the next cool thing comes along, this is the game. Every floor and region that is explored is littered with items to equip and consume. Their use is highly encouraged, too. With limited inventory space, the player must constantly cycle through or risk needing to drop items. The game counteracts this by giving things, such as healing items, extra traits. Even if health is full, eating a healing item is useful as it raises the maximum health. Players should never feel like they need to hold on to something, such as a staff, for emergencies. Something else will always come along.
That last is what makes Shiren so darn addictive. There are so many unique items to find, each with varying properties that effect how each encounter plays, and what decisions should be made from moment to moment. This, combined with the procedurally generated floors helps the game retain a constant sense of freshness, even when needing to start from scratch. It’s also nice that, with this generosity, failure typically comes down to the player not making the right strategic decision too many times in a row.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is one of those games that has a built-in audience. Being the fifth entry to this offshoot of the larger Mystery Dungeon series means that existing fans will know what to expect going in and those players should know that this is arguably the best entry to the series. For new folks interested in seeing what some of the more obtuse genre entries are all about, this is the perfect place to start. It is just as deep as the other famously unforgiving titles and offers a hefty amount of challenge, while proving to be one of the most immediately accessible genre entries. So, while it might be a niche title, it is also one that can easily be recommended to anyone curious about the non-action version of the categorical class.