In a previous blog post, I pointed out that my game Voyage to Farland is heavily influenced by the Japanese console roguelike game Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer and that it's even been called a "Shiren clone" by some in the video game press. While "Shiren clone" is not strictly accurate (Voyage deviates significantly from Shiren in a few key areas), it's close enough to being true that I don't mind the comparison. I prefer to call Voyage an homage to Shiren, even though that sounds a bit hoity-toity.
Never heard of it?
But what if you've never heard of Shiren the Wanderer? It is a little known game after all, with only a couple of official releases outside of Japan: for the Nintendo DS in 2008 and for the Wii in 2010. When many gamers read "Mystery Dungeon" they probably think of the Pokemon games which share some similarities to the Shiren games, but are still quite different.
Being designed for consoles ranging from the SNES to GBA to DS and Wii, the Shiren games have a distilled down control system that works really well with game controllers. This is one of the first things you'll notice when comparing Shiren to western PC keyboard-based roguelike games. All of the Mystery Dungeon games are highly animated with charming 16 bit pixel art, while the Wii release sports some nice 3D art.
So how does it play?
The game balance as well as the item and monster designs are all extremely well thought out and solid. There are no single-use-case items nor weird inside joke tricks you need yet are only available as spoilers on a wiki somewhere. You can learn everything you need to know in the game through dialogue with NPCs and studying the explanations of items you pick up on your adventure.
Indeed, the Shiren games seem uncannily designed to ramp up difficulty as you progress. There's also no room for grinding in the game and multiple player classes are eschewed in favor of multiple devious monsters that can level up themselves and multiple bonus dungeons you unlock as you progress.
Still interested? Here are some links...
John Harris covered the English patched SNES release of Shiren in his @Play column on GameSetWatch, much of which applies to the DS release:
Give those a read and let me know if Shiren sounds as cool as I feel it is!