Luckily, any roguelike worth its salt has a deep selection of items to aide you in your quest. Diligent inventory management is a big part of the game, and if that sounds tedious to you, well, then you probably wouldn’t enjoy roguelikes to begin with. There are a number of standard RPG quest items: recovery herbs, spell scrolls, swords and shields of varying strengths, a selection of projectile weapons. But Shiren Wii gets creative too. There are healing staffs that characters can wield against each other, playing a game of tag-team HP recovery during a boss battle. There’s a shield shaped like a rice ball that keeps you from getting hungry. Simple stones you find lying on the ground can be hurled at enemies with surprising effect.
Your inventory space is finite, but there are several locations where you can store your items and even your money in a universal bank of sorts. You’ll often find jars of holding as well, allowing you to store excess items for later use. It’s fun to stack these jars one within another until you have a long chain of holding, but you can’t use an item until you’ve removed it from a jar, so it’s better to keep things well organized.
Hand in hand with the inventory system is AI management. Shiren is accompanied by his skilled but liquor-fond uncle, whom he simply calls Sensei, and both heroes are soon joined by a female wanderer-ninja named Asuka. Team AI can be a real headache if not managed well, but luckily Chunsoft knows this well. Shiren Wii gives you the ability to micromanage your team’s actions down to the smallest detail.
You can change the priority of the weapons they use, the kind of tactics they’ll employ in a boss battle, and even disallow actions altogether. This is useful if you don’t want them firing off high grade arrows all the time, or pissing away rare and powerful spell scrolls on common enemies. Overall the teammates were surprisingly helpful, especially in regards to HP recovery; they’ve tossed me a much needed health herb or tipped a healing staff at me on a number of dire occasions.
Shiren Wii has robust gameplay that matches the rest of the series in depth and scope, but it also does a lot for the series’ plot as well. It’s amazing but little has been made of Shiren’s past over the last fifteen years. The Wii entry remedies this by expounding on the large-hat-wearing hero’s backstory, through conversations with his teammates. Most informative is Shiren’s wisecracking ferret Koppa, who offers insights when the stoic protagonist doesn’t feel like talking. The game’s plot isn’t too involved, focusing on Shiren’s quest for a mythical treasure-filled mansion, but the dialogue is clever enough to keep you interested through the game’s 30-plus hour quest. Important scenes are played out in gorgeous pre-rendered cinematics that give the game a suitably epic feel.
The in-game production values aren’t nearly as sweeping or beautiful as the cutscenes, but they get the job done. Animations tend to repeat a little too often but they are smooth and smudge the line between hard turn-based movement and real-time adventuring. The game has a colorful appearance that makes many references to Japanese art and mythology. The overworld locations are markedly better looking than the randomized dungeon tile sets, but even the dungeons have an organic appearance that strays from the utilitarian norm of most roguelikes.
The music is fully orchestral but is mostly Japanese folk influenced. There are some soft strings and a lot of nice woodwind work, but don’t expect the swelling score you’d get in a Final Fantasy. The music is true to the game’s mythical theme, but when you’re grinding your way through a long dungeon the pieces tend to repeat too much. There’s a great deal of text dialogue in the game but no voiceovers—somehow this doesn’t detract from the experience, but adds to the old-school aesthetic.
It may not satisfy the most ardent fans of the roguelike, but Shiren the Wanderer on Wii is an excellent bridge into the genre. It isn’t so hard that it’s unplayable to newcomers, but it offers significant challenge and a massive quest to those who delve into its labyrinthine dungeons. There’s even a wealth of extra features to unlock, including an obligatory hard mode, achievements for creative deaths, and the bonus content from the Japanese version that was download-only in that region. The story is classic JRPG fare, filled with Japanese fable references and style, but has its own sense of humor and a deceptive ship-in-a-bottle scale. Shiren Wii isn’t for everyone, but if you’re patient gamer who has always been curious about this kind of game, there isn’t a better place to start.
Shiren the Wanderer's first Wii outing isn't nearly as hard as other Mystery Dungeon titles but it won't hold your hand either. It's a mixture of old school mechanics and modern presentation--a combination that makes it the perfect starting point for the roguelike genre and a very enjoyable dungeon-crawling RPG in its own right.
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