Among hardcore role-playing game fanatics there is a saying and this adage states that there are only three types of role-playing game in existence. There are western RPGs like Baldur’s Gate, there are Japanese RPGs like Final Fantasy and then there’s the Elder Scrolls games.
Mystery Dungeon isn’t an Elder Scrolls game and it isn’t a western RPG either. Without meaning to make sweeping generalisations. you should already have a decent idea of what to expect then if you know your Holy Avengers from your Vorpal Blades.
Mystery Dungeon then is a Japanese RPG – JRPG for short – for the Nintendo DS. It’s therefore going right up against the likes of numerous Final Fantasy remakes, Phantom Hourglass and a plethora of other, lesser role-playing games like. Oh, and the Pokemon games too.
Does Shiren possibly stand a chance then, or is he about to wander himself off a cliff and straight into the bargain bin? Grab your +5 Sword of Patience, because we’re about to find out.
Shiren The Wanderer is a bit of a throw-back to the old days of RPGing and the game itself knows this. It doesn’t try to hide the fact that it is filled with multi-layered and semi-randomly generated dungeons and traps and it doesn’t try to win players over with new, gimmicky features like scratch and sniff touch-screens or deeply involving romantic relationships with NPCs.
Instead, Mystery Dungeon lets players know the truth right from the start when it unveils the basic framework of the story and then deposits you straight into the tutorial dungeon. There’s no filler or fluff and the developers have clearly recognised that Shiren The Wanderer is a game cast from the refined mold of other old-school RPG games. Shiren is more like Rogue than Pokemon, despite the colourful presentation.
Shiren can read magic scrolls once they've been identified.
And yet, there is a certain quirkiness in Mystery Dungeon which helps lend the game a few traces of added charm and charisma – like the talking weasel who accompanies players throughout the game for no readily apparent reason, helping Shiren on his quest.
And what a quest it is! Over the course of the game the player will have to guide Shiren and his weasely pal to the top of Table Mountain, the lair of a giant Golden Condor. The game starts far away from the mountain itself though and Shiren will have to journey through many villages before he can start the ascent proper.
Shiren is actually part of the long running Mystery Dungeon series too, well known in Japan for the difficult rogue-like gameplay and intricately developed settings. However, Shiren features entirely new characters and levels, despite also apparently being a remake of an earlier SNES version.
The fact that Shiren is a stand alone game in the series is important if, like me, you haven't played a Mystery Dungeon game before. It means you don’t need to worry about being behind on the backstory or plot for the game – everything is explained from the very beginning by Koppa the inexplicably vocal and ever-present weasel.
By this point, some of the more hardcore RPG fans will probably be going off the idea of Shiren though. Talking animals? Cute and colourful cartoon graphics? This is some sort of wimpy kids RPG! To those people, I laugh and declare that, yes, it has these things – but so do the Pokemon games, and they can still be involving and challenging. Nowhere near as challenging as Shiren The Wanderer though…