HIGH Clever uses for items. Battles can be intense.
LOW Starting over really means starting over.
WTF Tom Nook has nothing on the scamming tanuki here.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (just “Shiren” from this point on) is a well-made turn-based roguelike that features an interesting story, varied enemies, innovative inventory usage, and a clever ‘multiplayer’ system. It also failed to captivate me with its old-school insistence on (almost) completely negating my progress after a failed run.
When silent protagonist Shiren and his loquacious companion Koppa the ferret enter a new town, they learn of a woman with a mysterious illness and her fiancé’s desire to change her destiny by tackling the Tower of Fortune. Once he reaches its top, the god of Destiny there may be able to alter the future for him. Shiren and Koppa decide to aid the ill-equipped lad in his quest, and thus a new adventure begins.
Shiren’s adventures play out from a third-person isometric perspective. All movements and actions are turn-based and actions pause when an item, trap, or enemy are encountered. Readying an item or weapon, moving, or any form of attack requires one turn, and after Shiren goes, opponents have an opportunity to counter, maneuver, or engage.
Combat is straightforward as equipped weapons do a predetermined amount of damage based on Shiren’s current strength and the quality of the weapon being wielded but where the action really shines is in how items and equipment can be used to vanquish enemies or avoid them altogether.
During Shiren’s journey, he’ll discover all kinds of mysterious items that can be used on himself, his items, or his enemies. Weapons may gain abilities from steady use, or they may be upgraded by or by using herbs to enhance their effects. Additionally, certain weapons and armor resonate with one another, providing even greater benefits.
Unfortunately, many of these benefits are extremely short-lived as traps and creature attacks may not only damage Shiren directly, but also permanently weaken weapons and armor — getting caught by well-hidden obstacles and unexpected attacks can ruin a promising run in a hurry.
Shiren’s inventory space is limited, so learning what’s important to carry is vital to success. Pots can be collected which provide extra storage space — some also transform or enhance items, and some even allow Shiren to hide from enemies for a few turns. Honestly, there are so many clever ways to utilize inventory that I found it overwhelming. There is a robust tutorial/training system in place, but even that has a tendency to provide more information than I could comfortably handle.
Shiren also has to contend with a hunger meter (fortunately, it’s not too intrusive), a day/night cycle which brings forth more powerful enemies and limited visibility, and the “Winds of Kron” which basically act as a timer for each run — if the winds blow Shiren out of a dungeon because he dallied too long, it’s treated like a death.
Shiren encourages methodical, thoughtful play. With proper preparation and some decent protective items, it’s possible to have early success. However, a run ends when Shiren completes an area, returns to a hub location, or when he is slain. The penalty for a death is the loss of all equipment he was carrying when he fell, including that prized sword I’d been steadily upgrading…
I usually have no problem with item and progress loss in my roguelikes, but Shiren’s irritates me. I feel like making me start from level 1 with all new gear back at the very first dungeon is not respectful of my time. Had the game provided a slightly friendlier checkpointing system, I would have enjoyed it far more.
Shiren does allow players to store items in warehouses to prevent their loss upon Shiren’s untimely demise, but that made me spend more time worrying about what gear to use when rather than just getting on with the dungeon-delving.
For runs that go horribly wrong, there is a possibility of resurrection — upon death, players can “ask for aid” from the Shiren player base. A sub-menu from the main screen allows others to revive fallen players by performing a “Wanderer Rescue” sub-game. It’s a clever implementation of asynchronous multiplayer and I enjoyed rescuing others, but I was never patient enough to wait for someone to help me.
There’s a lot to like about Shiren. There are plenty of places to explore, there are intricate puzzle rooms that provide extra challenge, and the loot flows freely and generously. I’m just not sure I’ll get back to a place mentally where I’ll see Shiren’s travels through to the end — I became weary of the repeating gameplay loop much earlier than I thought I would.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. It is currently available on PC and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 15 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E10+ and contains Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, and Language. The official ESRB description reads as follows: This is an action role-playing game in which players assume the role of a wandering samurai through a fantasy world. From a 3/4 perspective, players explore dungeons, interact with characters, and battle enemy creatures (e.g., giant insects, wild animals, monsters). Players use punches and swords to defeat enemies in melee-style combat. Impact sounds, slashing effects, and cries of pain occur during battles. The game also contains references to alcohol (e.g., “The plant is famous for the liquor that is made from nectar extracted from its core.”). The words “a*s” and “bastard” appear in the game.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles can be altered or resized. All dialogue is presented via text. All audio cues have an accompanying visual cue. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.