Publisher: Aksys Games
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co.
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
I avoided laying Shiren The Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate for the longest time. When I casually mentioned to an employee at my local Gamestop that it was on my to-play list, he instantly launched into a spiel about how hard it was, and how it was brutally unforgiving towards newcomers from the get-go. As someone who generally isn't fond of games for which "brutally unforgiving" is adjective, that made me hesitant to even start playing.
Turns out it was just another bit of bad advice from a Gamestop employee. Shiren the Wanderer is definitely hard, but not to the extent that newcomers shouldn't even think about playing it. It's more tough-but-fair, a game that includes a three-hour-long tutorial for a reason — the reason being, of course, that it's a complex game that demands a lot out of players. Just play that tutorial, learn what you're doing, level up your character a little before heading out into the world, and you'll be fine.
Well, not "fine". More you'll die a little bit less. Because Shiren the Wanderer is definitely a challenging game. It's an unapologetically difficult, old school roguelike dungeon-crawler, and it forces you to be methodical as you make your way through each room.
I've played harder, though. Provided you play through the lengthy tutorial — which you really, really should; I cannot emphasize this enough — Shiren the Wanderer actually is much more user-friendly than other games. Combat is a relative breeze, as is moving. Your character levels up pretty easily. Organizing the many, many items you need to carry around is pretty simple. In almost every respect, it's as if the developers understood how hard their game was going to be, and decided not to complicate things even further.
Which makes the game's one big flaw all the more puzzling. Shiren the Wander has a baffling save system. There's no autosave, which is something I only learned after completing that aforementioned length tutorial. I completed the first, simple dungeon, my backpack full of useful items, arrived in the second location, stopped playing…and then returned to discover that the game assumed I had moved on to the next dungeon, died, and lost everything I'd earned in those first few hours. It was, to say the least, infuriating. I'd have avoided had I just realized that the options menu's "Abort" was another way of saying "Save and Quit." For a game that's otherwise clear about most things, this one lack of clarity is surprising.
But it's also something that you'll learn from, and then move on. And once you do move on, you'll be reminded that Shiren the Wanderer is one heck of a game. You'll get the most out of it, of course, if you're the type who likes tough dungeon crawlers with a retro feel, but even if you're only mildly interested in the genre, this game has enough to get you hooked.