Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Roguelikes have enjoyed a resurgence in the indie gaming scene, in particular hybrids with elements of strategy games, platformers, and shooters. There’s a lot you can enjoy, but if you’re looking for classic-style roguelike, then you needn’t look any further than Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer on the Nintendo DS. Originally released for the SNES, the DS version of Shiren is the best way to experience one of the finest roguelikes ever created. SEGA brought it stateside with one of the ugliest boxes of the decade, but the contents of that box make a fine addition to any collection, and make for a perfect RPG to enjoy on the go. There have been other Mystery Dungeon games, and the Pokemon: Mystery Dungeon series offers a fun (and much kinder) alternative, but the old gaming creed of “original is best” holds true in the case of Shiren the Wanderer.
Shiren will beat you down hard. Sure, it lets you save your progress, but once you hit that Game Over it forces you to start over with all your items and progress reset. Shiren wanders in a world where danger is all around, and every step means enemies advance. Exploration requires careful consideration of your surroundings and foes, and must be kept to a minimum lest your hero succumb to fatigue and hunger. On this journey you’ll run into some interesting towns and meet some kooky characters. A few will join you, but but only for as long as they can survive.
It’s a constant and unpredictable battle for survival, with area layouts and enemy patterns changing each time you play. It all seems very discouraging at first, as the game mercilessly punishes you by disregarding your hard work upon failure and forcing you to start from scratch (although the DS version keeps a nice record of stats). Yet if you don’t end up chucking your DS across the room, you’ll feel compelled to have just one more go to see how long you can last and how far you can venture into the world. Each play-through is different from the last in terms of level layouts, the weapons you discover, and the characters you meet, so it never feels repetitive to start from scratch.
Games like Shiren the Wanderer are more about the journey than the destination. Sure you lose items and experience points each time you fail, but the understanding you gain from that mistake is far more valuable than mere stat points. The best part is that the game is designed to reward foresight and experience, and you can sense yourself improving with each attempt.
At times Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer almost feels like a coin-gobbling arcade game – it’s that simple to jump in and play – but this is a deep and varied RPG with great replay value. It’s the ideal game to have for a handheld, offering a satisfying and challenging role-playing adventure without asking for a serious time commitment.
With addictive, endlessly repeatable gameplay, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is a worthwhile addition to any DS library.