Shiren the Wanderer - The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate - PS Vita Review

There’s something to be said about becoming complacent when it comes to certain genres of gaming. With some of the more recent “hard” releases such as Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne’s The Old Hunters, alongside a myriad of others, it can become a bit difficult at times to remember where their core ideas came from. These experiences allow for dying without the loss of very much and so we forget a little bit more upon each of these new releases. The newest entry of Shiren the Wanderer - The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate reminds one exactly what a Roguelike is in almost its purest form. It’s hard. It’s punishing. It holds no punches. Death is absolute and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Shiren, as by the title, is a wanderer that loves to get himself mixed up in challenging situations* alongside his talking ferret companion Koppa. Arriving one day at a small village Shiren and Koppa start to talk to the various people that live there until they come across Oyu, a girl who is lying sick and dying in her bed. Nothing less than pissed off at the situation, Jirokichi, Oyu’s childhood friend rises from his knees, yells, and charges off to the Tower of Fortune in order to gather the Dice of Fate in order to save her from the sickness that would claim her life. Following the path left by the other, Shiren and Koppa head out after him.

Once Shiren’s feet hit the field any mistake can be deadly. This includes being in the path of an ally as they launch their own attack as it can kill you, no seriously, there’s even a trophy for it which didn't exactly sooth over the terrible timing or painful feeling of that particular death. Dying to friendly hands aside for the moment, dying itself really is a painful experience that sees Shiren lose everything. Any and all experience, money, items and equipment are lost as he is unceremoniously brought back and thrown onto the ground in town with nothing but his person. Being prepared is everything but sometimes even the most prepared of adventures can go terribly wrong when there’s a crazy lightning wielding monster killing everything else on the floor and leveling up to the point of one-shoting Shiren. You would think the guy was One Punch Man…

Gameplay wise Shiren the Wanderer does not seem overly complex at the beginning but that is before everything else falls into place which creates a good portion of the challenge. For every move that Shiren takes everyone else present on a dungeon floor is allowed to do the same such as:
-    slower creatures and people move once for every two steps that Shiren takes; and
-    faster creatures and people take two steps for every one that Shiren takes.

This is normal enough for the style and any returning Roguelike player will immediately feel at home. Interestingly enough are the people young and old that Shiren can encounter. Some of these are lost souls not sure what to look for in life or are gambling everything away while others are masters in their profession and can either pull out their smithing gear to upgrade something that Shiren is carrying or identify any specific type of gear that they choose to.

These people that can be encountered are random and counting on specific ones to show up is like expecting a Canadian team in Hockey to win the Stanley Cup**. What can be counted on is hordes of monsters that can either arrive one at a time or arrive in a large group making life a bit difficult for our wanderer. When enemies come within range Shiren whether or not he has a weapon equipped can swing in eight different directions (up, down, left, right, and all the in-betweens) unless he is standing beside a wall or inside of a hallway. From this point it’s a numbers game with Shiren’s level and his equipment becoming very important very fast if he is to survive the higher dungeon floors.

Leveling up, which has to be every time Shiren walks into a dungeon, is important as it raises his max hit points letting him survive that much longer if things get dicey. A lot of the other attributes are covered by Shiren eating a variety of herbs that make can:
-    upgrade his strength which lets him hit harder;
-    expand the size of his stomach which increases his max stamina; and
-    temporarily :
-    increase his defense
-    increase his attack
-    increase his perception allowing a view of the traps on the floor
-    increase his speed allowing him to make two moves before others can make one;
-    and increasing the upgrade speed of any weapon equipped.

Every move you make becomes important as the more you move the hungrier you get. Becoming starved is definitely not something you want as every step then takes from your health. Packing food in town or finding it out in the field will be one of the many differences between life and death. If Shiren is full however, eating “more” should be considered as like the herbs that can increase the size of your stomach, eating while full will have the same result allowing Shiren to go on for longer periods before needing more food. This becomes a gamble though as inventory space is quite limited and there's a lot of things to be picked up out in the field. Also eating on the field does take up a turn so do make sure not to do it when enemies are close.

With all of the herbs, edible and not as some allow to spew dragon’s breath, there are a crazy amount of others that can be picked up from a variety of weapons, shields, magic wands, scrolls, talismans, bracelets, and pots. Pots truly are the more interesting of the bunch as Shiren can hide in them, hide a monster in them to run away, store equipment, store food in a preservation pot so nothing spoils it, make enemies laugh with a hilarious pot, and so on. Keeping a couple on hand is always a good idea for a variety of reasons.

With Shiren getting hungry by walking around and fighting it really is important to keep food close by. Now with food being protected by a preservation pot, it doesn’t mean that everything else is protected by the numerous and devious traps that are littered around every dungeon. Rusting traps degrade equipment unless they’ve been given coating, hunger traps make Shiren hungrier by reducing how much he has left in his reserve, and others can blind, cut, smack, teleport, and trip you flat on your face making you lose things that you were carrying. Some equipment can prevent certain aspects but Shiren cannot carry everything otherwise there’s no space left to bring new things home. If he makes it home. Thankfully to give him an edge on the dungeons Shiren does not need to go at it alone as Companions of various backgrounds can join up.

Companions are interesting. The first ones are available almost right away is Jirokichi tagging along in order to save Oyu and a panda like girl who is also a merchant outside at the base of the towers that Shiren, Koppa, and Jirokichi have to enter. From there the rest becomes a bit random like the ever changing design and possibilities of the dungeon. A Fox looking for her sister will join as she will morph into different monsters as well as punch them in the face. Her sister by contrast will morph into either a sword or a shield for Shiren to use. A rich boy from town can be found to join up now and again if he’s found out in the fields who hits like a truck and throws money to hit enemies even harder. Rich people huh? Some NPCs can be found at the same place such as the sisters who await back in town and the merchant girl at the base of the tower. Others occur by chance and even those who can always be found in the same locations could be found wandering the dungeons. Regardless of this, only two people can join Shiren at the same time so some consideration as to who joins up can be important. T

Speaking of town however, this place has everything. It has storage, it has a bank, it has a point shop (think frequent flyer miles), it has synthesis, it has “item creation”, it has shops, and it has dungeons of its own. This town sits right beside the first one that serves as the starting location and even it provides a series of tutorial levels in order to introduce features which reward Shiren with an item for every one that is completed. These completion bonuses really come in handy as it gives a bit of a head start to Shiren as he first starts his dungeon crawling. Taking the time in order to do these is really recommended for that very reason as well as it gives better ideas as to how to survive in some rather inventive ways at times.

The storage and the bank are honestly Shiren’s best friends. Both of these allow for Shiren to place things that are not affected if he falls in a dungeon. This obviously requires making it back first but this can be done either by completing a dungeon or exiting through the use of an escape scroll or by an herb that allows for Shiren to resurrect on death or teleport back to town with all of his equipment and money.

When it comes to the frequent flyer miles this is something that should really be remembered BEFORE going back out into the dungeons after dying. In each dungeon there are things that look like traps but are instead give out points that can be put onto a card. When enough points have been obtained then Shiren can exchange these for items at the point shop. It is well worth it though if Shiren dies then it means he loses his card which means that a new one must be issued. At first the cost can seem a bit steep but it really isn’t that bad after a little while and the rewards really are quite worth it.

Finally Shiren can after a bit of dealing with a crazy Tanuki make new items. These “new” items are items that Shiren puts into vats that leaves them there for a literal twenty-four hours. Once an actual day has gone by then they can be removed and are then added to a book in which that particular item can be bought again. For example, Shiren has upgraded a sword to a worthy enough level and has it plated so that rust cannot affect it, throw it into the pot, wait twenty-four hours, take it back out and it’ll be available to buy another copy as needed in the future. Items can be left up to seven days before going “bad”, haven’t tested that one out as three to four is the max that I would leave it in before throwing in another piece. Leaving them in for more than one day will possible upgrade the items such as raising its attack or its defense values. It’s a worthwhile use of a literal twenty-four hours.

What makes things a bit more interesting is the dungeon that lies between the village and the towers. At first this could be a bit annoying at it seemed rather pointless unless Shiren went in with zero equipment. Later on though the levels that could be gained before heading into the more difficult towers helped a lot both in terms of experience and extra supplies that could be had. That in the end becomes one of the main points. Everything is uncertain so use the time wisely. As with what can be found out in the fields there’s no certainty that escape scrolls or revival herbs will be on sale in the village. Taking the time and going through each of these earlier levels to check out what can be picked up becomes worthwhile especially if merchants are found earlier on. Just remember that sometimes a chance needs to be taken by taking valuable equipment and money into the field. It could be lost, but then again, it could not.

Shiren the Wanderer - The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is amazing. It’s hard, it’s challenging, it’s a Roguelike. While there are many features present in order to help out Shiren and Koppa, none of it matters if fate has other plans. Careful consideration of actions is just as important as making proper preparations but above all else, it’s ok to run away sometimes in order to come back with better equipment and beat the crap out of whatever made you run away in the first place.

* Shiren and Adol from the Ys series should have a crossover as they are always getting into heaps of random trouble
** Don’t know enough American Football to make an analogy in that sports vein. Editor? (Editor's Note: I almost made a Lions winning the Super Bowl joke here, but you were simply saying that the odds are unreliable - not non-existent)

Game Information

PlayStation Vita
Spike Chunsoft
Aksys Games
Single Player
Coop options
Other Platform(s):
Nintendo DS (2010)

Article by Pierre-Yves