Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate Review (Switch)
Release Date: December 2, 2020
File Size: 541MB
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft US
Click here to view on the Nintendo eShop.
The Nintendo Switch has single-handedly made me a fan of roguelikes over the past few years. While my experience with the genre dates as far back as the early ‘90s, with Castle of the Winds II, I’ve missed out on most titles that fans would consider “essential” simply because of my subconscious avoidance through my earlier gaming years. This, of course, includes the beloved and long-running Mystery Dungeon series.
Primed by my positive experience with Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon: Every Buddy from last year, I was happy to hear that the franchise’s original mascot, Shiren the Wanderer, would be heading to the Switch in some capacity. Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate released on December 2nd, and is essentially a re-release of the original DS/Vita game with some additional dungeons, a music player, and an optional HUD designed with streaming in mind. The Switch has no shortage of roguelikes, however, so the real question is whether or not this game does enough to stand out among the crowd.
Let’s find out.
While roguelikes aren’t typically known for their story, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate does an acceptable job setting things up. Following the travels of Shiren and his talking ferret, Koppa, the game focuses in on a region thats fate is determined by the god of destiny, Reeva. Inhabitants are predestined for fame, fortune, or even death, and this often cruel fate is determined by a mere roll of the dice by none other than the god of destiny themselves. In geeky layman’s terms, this is a D&D campaign with a particularly sadistic dungeon master that gives you no chance for reprisal…unless local legends are to be believed.
It is said that those crazy enough to chase after the god and demand a change of fate can do so, though nobody has ever lived to give validity to these claims. There is a tower in the distance said to be Reeva’s domain, but that in itself is intimidating to even the most desperate fate seeker. This legend isn’t genuinely put to the test until Shiren witnesses a man, Jirokichi, refusing to accept a cruel twist of fate – that being his lifelong partner, Oyu, stricken with a terminal illness. Determined to change the hand that he’s been dealt, Jirokichi sets off for the tower, with Shiren and Koppa following closely behind. With Shiren’s help, Jirokichi may very well rewrite his destiny, changing the cruel, grim fate of his beloved in the process — or, he gets a bad roll, and the dungeon master cackles maniacally in return.
While the setup might make it seem like there’s a lot of story content to be had, it all amounts to a minor portion of the game as a whole (which should be unsurprising to anyone that frequents the genre). There are some interesting (and unexpected) things that happen along the way, but the game is still very much about dungeon diving – or more accurately, tower…climbing? – in roguelike fashion.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is a turn-based roguelite that, surprisingly, is equally welcoming and punishing in difficulty, starting with baby steps before demanding much more finesse later on. A plethora of optional tutorial mini-dungeons are available at the very beginning that are great for introducing players to both game-specific nuances, and just roguelikes in general. Seasoned players can choose to skip these, but there are reasons for even them to play through some of them since you are compensated for their completion.
In terms of the main campaign, there are roughly a half dozen randomly-generated dungeons to explore, with hubs in between that allow for a moment of respite. These dungeons start off trivial in difficulty and short in length, but gradually become longer and more difficult with the player’s progression. It is a masterfully crafted curve of difficulty that allows green-eared roguelike players a relatively harmless ground for legitimate training (beyond the tutorial) that also isn’t so lengthy that it becomes tiresome for the more seasoned adventurers.
The player’s overall awareness and equipment (or lack thereof) go a long way into making the dungeons easier (or more difficult). Early dungeons start out with weak enemies and minimal traps, with later ones featuring more difficult enemies, a plethora of traps, and even a day-and-night cycle that throws the most heinous creatures at Shiren under a dim moonlight. WHAT A HORRIBLE NIGHT TO HAVE A CURSE. Each type of enemy has a set of unique mechanics that, as individual units, doesn’t necessarily pose much of a threat. However, taking into consideration the myriad of traps – also fair when their mechanics are viewed individually – the player really has to have their wits about them in order to survive long term.
Nighttime not only throws enemies capable of one-shotting even the most astute players, but also makes scroll reading (one-time use items) more difficult, obscures vision, and nullifies the use of standard attacks, instead forcing one to utilize abilities. Shiren will learn an assortment of abilities that can, under normal circumstances, only be used a single time per floor, making the dangers of the night even more of a concern. These abilities cannot, however, be used during the daytime, but can be set and adjusted in certain hub areas between dungeons.
Shiren must equip himself with the very best gear to survive, most of which is facilitated through leveling up and upgrading weapons and armor, synthesis, and item creation. Weapons and armor are leveled up over time by killing enemies, which in turn increases their power and ever-raises the ceiling for upgrades and runes. Upgrading equipment is easier than leveling them – also providing power boosts – but again, can be bottlenecked by the level of the gear in question.
Through synthesis, unique properties of gear can be transferred to your preferred equipment, substantially increasing their capabilities as a result. As for item creation, cauldrons can be found in the main hub that will accept just about any item (including gear), adding random properties to them over time. Because improving the same gear over time plays such an integral role to progression, it could be devastating to lose them in any situation. This is where the game’s tagging system comes in, allowing you to purchase insurance on items so that they may yet be recovered in the event of a disaster…most of the time (more on that later).
Intelligent use of the limited inventory system is a must, as you can only carry around so much at a time. On top of that, players must be weary of the hunger meter, which will begin to eat at Shiren’s actual health reserves if it happens to reach zero. All in all, there is a lot to consider and look out for when dungeon diving, and the generous curve of difficulty helps to prepare you for the more challenging content that surely lies ahead. Keep in mind that this (and any information henceforth) is all in relation to the dungeons provided through the main story, and not necessarily an accurate representation of any side or post-game content.
Death is inevitable in roguelikes/lites, and Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is no different. At a base level, collapsing in a dungeon means that you permanently lose everything that was on you at that time, though there are ways to mitigate these damages. Being a roguelite, Shiren allows for a generous amount of storage and a bank in town, which is safe from the throes of death. The aforementioned tagging system also gives some peace of mind for the most important equipment, but that isn’t completely foolproof (again, more on that later). There are also certain items that can be used to either escape a dungeon prematurely, or automatically revive Shiren upon death.
Furthermore, you can also opt-in to the rescue system, which allows other players across the globe to go on a rescue mission to revive you at the very spot in which you perished. This can obviously be very useful, but appears to only be usable a total of three times per file. It seems like an interesting system that, from what I can tell, has appeared in other Shiren titles before, but is certainly a welcome addition for those looking for a potentially easier way out of sticky situations.
Fortunately, Shiren doesn’t have to dungeon dive alone. Along the way, he will befriend various companions that can assist him in a dungeon, though they will ultimately act in their own interests rather than your own. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as party members can be extremely useful in later parts of the game in terms of providing additional damage and soaking potentially fatal hits, but they will occasionally go awry, wandering off to do their own thing. This is only really problematic with Jirokichi, because he must remain alive through the entirety of the campaign. He will have to be revived should he fall in combat, and will also remain behind in a dungeon (dead or alive) should you prematurely escape from it (also dead or alive). The party system, regardless, is more of a boon than not, though do be aware of its shortcomings.
While Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate has no shortage of fun and interesting mechanics and gameplay options, including some bonus content exclusive to this version of the game, it does have one significant shortcoming. The only way to save your progress in a dungeon is to use the game’s “suspend” mode from the menu. If you completely close out of the game any other way, it will assume that you perished, strip you of all your items, and throw you back to the primary hub, without allowing you to request a rescue mission.
That in itself isn’t a problem, but what makes it concerning are the crashes that some players, including myself, have experienced that have resulted in premature, unwarranted deaths. For me, the game crashed during a transition between day and night, and upon rebooting, destroyed all of my inventory – including my tagged, nearly 20-hour upgraded weapon and shield – and would not allow a rescue mission. And yes, I did check the lost and found at the Sage Village and they simply gave me a blank stare in response. As soon as I thought this crash was behind me, it happened again after close to five hours, stripping me once again of everything and including no way to recover my newly-tagged items…for a second time.
Death is inevitable in this genre, so adding random crashes on top of that is not a good thing. I really would have had no issue with this if it was by my hand, but because it was due to crashes (in turn destroying nearly 25 hours worth of equipment progress), that is a bit concerning. I’ve read at least one other review that has mentioned a dungeon crash, so I can only hope that these occurrences remain few and far between for the masses.
The visuals of Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate can stand with virtually any of the 16-bit games in which it draws inspiration from. While the dungeons/towers themselves are a bit limited in design due to their randomized nature, they make use of varied tilesets that change up both the look and feel of any given zone from time to time. The hub areas show off beautiful, colorful pixel art of various Eastern-styled architecture and locales, while the tower itself – from the outside looking in – displays a daunting, immense amount of depth, amplifying the trippy perspective of its many, many floors. The music, while certainly passable, doesn’t stand out as much as the visuals do, and the sound effects in general also somewhat suffer from a similar fate.
Impressions and Conclusion
Overall, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate has impressed me in almost every way, which speaks volumes considering it is more or less a re-release of a 10-year old game. There’s just enough story here to make things interesting, but not enough to take away from the core of what makes roguelikes/lites engaging – that being virtually endless gameplay. The excellently balanced curve of difficulty (for the story campaign) will not overwhelm the player at the beginning, but will still challenge even seasoned players before the journey’s end.
Unfortunately, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is hard to recommend in its current state, which is a shame because it is really fun to play. Crashes in any form are not good, even more so in a genre that is already built around severely punishing the player’s mistakes. If this issue can be patched, however, then the game is easily one of the better roguelites available on the Nintendo Switch.
Update: Spike Chunsoft announced a Switch patch that, in theory, should resolve the aforementioned crashing issues. As such, the rating will be updated to reflect that change.