The newest entry in Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon series precisely titled Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate landed on the PS Vita as the fifth installment in the series (and the third to make it to our Western shores). This was my first Shiren title, but I was no stranger to the gameplay. Many would-be familiar with the Mystery Dungeon name in a context related to Pokemon (as I was; I played many of the popular DS entries in the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series) or Final Fantasy’s staple Chocobo, but Shiren the character has been around in the series since the mid-90s. That being said, although many might not be familiar with Shiren (me being one of them), the classic gameplay will make both JRPG gamers and previous Mystery Dungeon fans like myself feel at home on this new platform.
PlayStation Store Description:
“Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is the latest installment in the storied franchise. Legend has it that Reeva, god of Destiny, holds sway over the past, present, and future. Said to dwell in the mysterious Tower of Fortune, Reeva decides the fates of all mankind with a trio of magic dice…
Lead Shiren The Wanderer and his sidekick Koppa in their quest to conquer the Tower of Fortune!”
Although the game’s difficulty might turn away some people (hopefully before they smash their systems), those that stay will be rewarded with a quality title and a good dungeon crawler/roguelike for the handheld. Starting in Inori Village, the player is introduced to their main character: Shiren the Wanderer. Shiren, like his name implies, is an adventure-seeking wanderer that travels Japan with his ferret, Koppa. Seeking to assist an inhabitant of Inori, Jirokichi, the trio set off to the Tower of Fortune to help his girlfriend, Oyu, who has a terminal disease and is about to die. The Tower of Fortune is home to a dangerous legend: if you can successfully climb the floors of the 3-part tower (Tower of Past, Tower of Present, Tower of Future) and battle Reeva, the god of Destiny, you are given the chance to change one’s fate.
For those that are not familiar with the Mystery Dungeon style or are even knew to dungeon crawlers/JRPGs/roguelikes in general, the game is surprisingly easy to jump into. Inori Village is home to the Beginner House which has a multitude of tutorials that are split into bite-sized pieces. Though veterans of the game will most likely jump into dungeons immediately and skip the tutorials, they are a great refresher for those that haven’t played the game in a while as they also reward you with items to take into dungeons. However, similar to other dungeon crawlers, Shiren will not hesitate to make you pay for a death – if you die, you lose everything. All of your items, weapons, armor, experience points, and your levels accrued will vanish instantly as you respawn in the home town (which I was painfully made aware of, as I ventured into the first dungeon with 2 pages of items I accrued from tutorials – only to die when experimenting with a wand, losing everything instantly). The home town is introduced very early in the game: Nekomaneki Village. Nekomaneki is your familiar “home base” style of town that has all the bells and whistles that you’d want in this type of game: item and gold banks, gear shops, ability-teaching NPCs, side-story bonus dungeons that reward special items for doing unusual requirements, and the Rescue Center. The Rescue Center is where you’ll get some of your ad-hoc work in – if a friend of yours, or you, fall in a dungeon, the player can request for help and have them come and revive you via multiplayer.
This installment also has 2-player co-op over Ad-Hoc, which might be an interest to even those that have gotten used to the Mystery Dungeon formula over the years. Offers to battle against your friends or traverse into dungeons together to defeat mobs are both here, expanding upon the sometimes lonely feel of the game.
The game’s styling is charming – typical classic RPG sprites with a background soundtrack that doesn’t seem to get old, though it’s undoubtedly repetitive, look and sound excellent on the Vita. The game’s day and night cycle (that, might I add, changes various elements from how much of the dungeon you can see around of you as you walk to how hard enemies are) meld well with the randomly-generated dungeon system that keeps the game fresh even when you travel through the same floors of the same dungeon (which you can expect to be doing a lot of, as deaths are a given in this title). Paths, mobs, item drops, and randomly appearing NPCs all vary and might make for one of the easiest dungeon runs you’ve experienced, or one of the most frustrating experiences you’ve ever had. Everything is turn-based – you make a move, a mob somewhere else will make a move towards you.
The story, while obviously not the focus of what the game portrays at its best, slinks into the background as the gameplay overshadows its thinness. While having a main overarching goal, the game knows that people are here for the challenge and the gameplay – and it is completely aware of that, which makes the game work so well. Sooner than later, you’ll find yourself walking around the floor of a dungeon wondering if you should explore all of its areas to find more items (at the risk of dying and having to restart), or blasting through the dungeon as quick as possible to risk the smallest possible chance for death. You’ll find yourself thirsting for another plunge through a dungeon rather than an advancement in the storyline.
Even with all of these pieces, there are other elements of the game that come into play later on that might not be found in all other games in the genre. There are pots to create custom items in the game to assist yourself throughout dungeon runs. The Point Shop allows you to collect points and exchange them for items that you can take into dungeons (great for not going back empty-handed into a dungeon where you died and lost all of your Gitan!). Friendship Licenses allow you to befriend monsters in a Pokemon-collector style, allowing them to join you in your quest to defeat mobs. Various equipment can be upgraded, and some specific combinations will earn you Resonance benefits – challenging the player to look at every item they pick up, and not just the stereotypical mindset of “Equip the item that’s the most powerful!” All of these pieces play together excellently and Spike has done a great job in refining their formula for these titles.
For fans of both the series and the genre, this game is not a disappointment even with its seemingly hefty $39.99 price tag. Randomly generated dungeons, loveable (though shallow) characters, various minigames, and seemingly endless replayability make this a title that should find its home in your Vita library at one time or another. If you’re a gamer that craves a challenge, or someone that might even be new to the risk-it-all gameplay style of roguelikes, this is equally a great game to find yourself at home or find your footing in. Although the game is not perfect, it works in short five to ten-minute gaming spurts but could also hold you down for a few hours on end as you struggle to beat just one more floor.