Review: Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
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Title: Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (400 MB)
Release Date: July 26, 2016
Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Chunsoft
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: T
Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is also available on Nintendo DS.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a mystery dungeon roguelike game that pulls no punches. One mistake is all it takes for the player to lose all of their progress and items.

Gameplay:
Most roguelikes throw the player straight into the fire since the newbies will not last very long anyway. This one allows the player to jump straight into the game, but it also offers tutorials. These are great and cover some of the finer points of the game that can really matter late in a run.

That being said, there are way too many. After completing the first two pages of tutorials, three more pages unlock and four more pages after that. There are fifty-two tutorials in all. I completed the first thirty-five and it took me almost two hours. Do they really expect players to spend three hours completing tutorials before jumping into the game?

Once the player sets out on their journey, it doesn’t take long before the game starts to feel like it’s partially an inventory management sim. The player only has twenty-four inventory slots to hold all their staffs, swords, shields, scrolls, leaves, and pots. The choice of what to keep and what items to leave behind can be crucial further up a dungeon.

forest

To progress through the dungeons, the player wanders around each floor searching for the stairs to the next floor. Players must resist the urge to rush from stair to stair avoiding combat whenever possible. Defeating enemies earns XP, causing the player to level up while increasing their health. Avoiding combat can cause the player to be underleveled, making it much easier to be killed on the higher floors of a dungeon. On the earlier floors I tried to explore every room to earn all the experience I could.

The constant balance of risk and reward does not stop there. There are escape scrolls that allow the player to leave the dungeon and return to the village. The player will have to level up all over again but they get to keep everything in their inventory. The higher the player makes it in a dungeon, the easier it is for them to be killed, but also the better chance for superior loot.

Success requires a combination of tactics, proper use of items, knowing when to run away from a fight, and sometimes just a little luck. The dungeons are procedurally generated and the randomness is of part what makes the game interesting. You never know what will be around the corner. The tutorial warns the player that things can go wrong very quickly. At times though, it can also make the game feel unbalanced.

… a nice distraction …
Sometimes this works against the player and seems really unfair. I have ventured through The Path of Destinies and reached a dungeon without finding either a sword or shield. The procedural generation can also work in the player’s favor. When I beat the third dungeon, I was halfway through but barely hanging on. I went up the stairs to the next floor which put me in the same room. That happened three times in a row.

Never knowing what will happen does make the game exciting. I was cruising through a dungeon with two NPCs when a monster made a beeline for me, picked me up, and threw me into another room. I was no longer with my companions and surrounded by enemies. I was completely taken by surprise. I survived but fell victim to other deaths that felt similarly cheap. It quickly becomes frustrating when you lose all your progress and loot in what feels like a less than fair death.

For players who get tired of running through the dungeons, there is some side content to explore. There are puzzles where the player has to move blocks around onto special squares to advance to the next. There is even a minesweeper clone. And for those who cannot get enough of the main dungeons, there are unique and challenging dungeons.

store

The player can find items in these side activities that they use in the main game, but I never found anything special. Players will not miss anything if they never touch this extra content but it can be a nice distraction.

There are a few minor issues that do not take anything away from the game but still are annoying. There are a few controls that require the player to hold down one face button and then press another face button. The game is turn based and Vita exclusive, so a few touch controls would not have hurt things.

… the added difficulty of figuring out the mechanics …
The blessed, cursed, and sealed symbols on items are tiny and easy to miss. It would be nice if the status of the item showed up in the item’s details.

The game also allows the players to do things by accident that it could easily stop. I have tried to use a scroll to level up a shield when accidentally selecting my sword. The scroll did nothing and was wasted. I’m not sure why it let me select any item other than a shield.

There are some complaints that are harder to forgive. There are so many tutorials that go so deep into the game’s mechanics and yet barely touch some important systems or completely ignores them altogether.

blue dungeon

The game is hard enough on its own, it doesn’t need the added difficulty of figuring out the mechanics. There are some systems that I did not discover until I accidentally came across them a few hours in or when a friend told me about them. A few of these systems are pretty much essential to beat the game. There are people out there who will love that. Personally, I would have enjoyed this more if I had waited until three months after launch and there was a good Wiki online.

Another big complaint is that the player cannot see the health of the enemies. After a while, you start to learn how many hits it takes to kill them and you plan your moves accordingly. However, at times the player will come across a leveled up or raged enemy. I had been stomping all over a certain enemy in two hits and was killed far into a dungeon with some great loot because I failed to kill a raged enemy in four hits. Had I known I would not be able to kill it in four hits I would have gone about things very differently.

… very boring visually …
Visuals:
The 2D art is a mixed bag. The villages are beautiful and the character art is great. The randomly generated levels of the Path of Destinies all look similar but at least there is some color variation between the trees, pathways, and water. Each level has a little pop to it.

Some of the dungeons on the other hand leave something to be desired. The first three dungeons all seem like carbon copies of each other with a different paint job. The floors and walls do have patterns and designs when you stop and look at them, but have very similar colors. It’s very boring visually.

Audio:
The sounds of will be familiar to any fan of 2D RPGs, complete with the menu music and scroll text sounds. The multitude of different attack sounds and the miss noise are well done while the three second musical sequence that plays every time the player levels up is addictive. The dungeon music is great, but players who have to repeat a dungeon many times will quickly become tired of the same track.

shield details

Online/Multiplayer:
The multiplayer is a big missed opportunity. The co-op can only be played ad hoc and not over Wi-Fi. I don’t know anyone near me that owns a Vita, much less a niche old school Japanese mystery dungeon game. The ability to co-op some of the dungeons would have been a lot of fun. It also would have kept me coming back much longer than just playing by myself.

A cool ad hoc feature is the ability to rescue fallen friends and items. The problem is that the game does not explain how any of this works. I played with one of the other writers, Jason, and we couldn’t figure out how to rescue each other. The game kept saying there was no one waiting to be rescued. A quick Google search showed that there were many others online also looking for answers.

Conclusion:
Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a game that is purposely made harder by unexplained systems. The developers, Chunsoft, nailed the game they were trying to make and I’m sure there is someone out there who will think this experience is near perfect. Personally, I would have done things a little differently. Being able to see the enemy health and unlocking a few respawn points along the way would have made it much more enjoyable.

Score:
7.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.

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