Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island - Nintendo Switch Review

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island by developer and publisher Spike ChunsoftNintendo Switch review written by Richard with a copy provided by the publisher.
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Well folks, it's been a while, but we finally have the next installment of Shiren the Wanderer in the West! Buckle up and get ready for some good old fashioned roguelike fun, because we're about to take an adventure into the wonderful world of RNG and table-flipping frustration. But in a good way. It's time to take a look at Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island.

Shiren is a series that has been going on for a while now, since 1995 under the Mystery Dungeon umbrella, although it has been a decent while since we've had the last Shiren title. This time araound Shiren will be exploring Serpentcoil Island. While on his travels, Shiren and his talking weasel companion Koppa have arrived in a land facing a serious drought. Unfortunate for the locals, but after Shiren shares some food with them, they tell him the legend of Serpentcoil Island, where a great treasure is hiding. Being the adventurer he is, Shiren heads off to conquer the perils of the island.

As an amazing adventurer, Shiren manages to make it to the pinnacle of the island, and faces off against the monster guarding the treasure. Here we have some bad news, some good news, and some more bad news. Unfortunately for him, he gets beaten up. On the plus side, anyone who collapses or should otherwise be offed while traversing the island actually just gets sent back to the starting town. More unfortunate, Shiren gets amnesia for some reason, and can no longer remember all the paths he took or how to fight well. He also lost all his stuff and got sent back to level 1.

And so it is that we come to the heart of the frustratingly entertaining Shiren and Mystery Dungeon titles, the bane of my existence: RNG. Shiren is a more traditional Roguelike title. What this means is that you don't get to keep upgrades, levels, items or what have you. You can't get "better runs" by purchasing extra starting stat points or health or exp boosters. How well a run goes is approximately sixty percent knowing what you're doing and how to deal with things, and forty percent luck. 

Those who've read some of my other reviews may be aware that me and luck only go together when there is "bad" in front of it. Do you have any idea how awful it is to get ten floors into a run and not get a single shield? Awful. Super bad. I also only ever got one food item. Needless to say, that run ended pretty badly. For those unfamiliar with the genre, here we have a series of floors, all of which are randomly generated, with random item drops you can find and pick up, different enemy amounts and placements, and different traps that can be placed around the floors. Your job is to beat up monsters to earn exp, collect the items needed to complete the dungeon, and make it through each floor until you get the treasure, all while managing your hunger.

You can explore around the town a bit before setting off, maybe bumming an onigiri off an old man, but then it's time to head into the dungeon. Once in the dungeon, you'll be met with a few things, but you may notice that your minimap only has the "room" you are in currently mapped out. Each floor consists of multiple large areas (rooms) connected by thin paths for you to explore. Gameplay is turn based, so you will take an action and then the enemies take an action. Beating enemies will provide exp which will let you level and get more health, and they may also drop items such as weapons, shields, or scrolls. As you explore more, the rooms get mapped out, although that all gets reset whenever you start a new run.

In addition to this, you need to manage your health and hunger. If you get hurt, you can either move around or run in place to restore health. There are also items you can use to heal you or increase your max stats. Be careful though, as every action you take will cause you to get hungrier. When the gauge indicating your hunger becomes empty, you'll be in for a real bad time, so make sure you eat things in order to keep your satiety up!

Now, as you may have picked up on, all weapons and shields (armour) are randomly found in the dungeon. This also includes consumables such as scrolls and edibles, whether they be plant or food. This means it's really hard to plan a run, because you can't be certain of anything. Add to this that the floor layouts are different every time, and the game can be pretty challenging. Don't be like me and hoard items, if you don't use them, you will die, and then you lose them anyway.

As you take your multiple, or maybe only single if you're both good and/or lucky, trips through Serpentcoil Island, you'll have the chance to interact with the locals and others coming to the island. This could be some pirates with an interesting back story, or perhaps a ninja trying to care for his princess. These side stories are interesting looks into the characters you interact with, and are a good reason to keep going for multiple delves.

One of the best draws of the Shiren games is that every run does feel different thanks to how randomized everything is. On the other hand, the games can be really tough, man. Like, really difficult. As I mentioned earlier, if things don't line up your way, your run can go south really fast. Get dropped into a room full of monsters without anything to deal with them? You're done. Step on a trap that completely screws you over? You're done. There's a lot that can end a run really fast, and it feels really bad sometimes, especially if a run is going well. But perseverance is key, yeah? Keep on trying, and eventually you'll make it. If you really can't, you can also ask others online to recover your body to help out up to three times. Use what you've got!

This installment of Shiren comes with some pretty interesting locales to traverse, a colourful cast of characters to interact with, and some cute chibi stylized characters to look at and fight. The music is also fitting for the game and areas you explore, and add to the thematic presence of each area you go through.

Overall, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a great new addition to the series. While it can be dishearteningly difficult at times, the sense of accomplishment you get when making a new best run is really worth it. While no new gimmicks or features have been added, this just shows how strong a title the Shiren games can be just by sticking to the basics. Shiren is a shining example of a roguelike, both in nature and in how fun they can be.

Score: 9 / 10


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