A couple days after the Trauma Team demo, Atlus’s Aram Jabbari invited me to another demo about Shiren the Wanderer. The Shiren dungeon-crawler RPG series has been around in Japan since at least the SNES days, but has only recently come stateside in a DS remake of the first game. Part of the Mystery Dungeon genre in Japan, which spans everything from Dragon Quest spinoffs to Pokemon, the gameplay is traditionally roguelike with an emphasis on feudal Japan mythology.
What that means for Wii gamers is that early this year they’ll be getting a new entry in a venerable genre, with a number of major changes that shake up the old roguelike conventions. In fact, Atlus is working hard to exclude the negative aspects of roguelikes from Shiren the Wanderer Wii, while retaining the addictive dungeon crawling that makes roguelikes so popular.
Shiren Wii will be the most accessible in the series so far. Roguelikes are notorious for punishing the player mercilessly for dying by erasing savegames, deleting inventories and tossing the player all the way back to square one. Shiren has a more gradual difficulty progression, letting you choose to play on easy or normal mode. In normal mode, if you die you do lose your inventory but unlike most roguelikes, you won’t lose your XP or current level. When playing on easy you retain your level, XP and inventory no matter how many times you die, so you’ll never have to grind through long stretches of dungeon over again just to stand a chance against that end boss. When on the overworld you can save at any time, and while in a dungeon you can save and suspend play like a save state.
You don’t need to be a masochist to enjoy Shiren Wii, but you still get addictive roguelike elements like a deep inventory, randomly generated dungeons and complex story. Shiren Wii has a ludicrous number of items to collect and many can be altered or enhanced. The example Aram gave us was rice balls; normally they restore some hunger, but if you get hit with a fire attack the rice balls you are carrying get toasted, and restore both hunger and HP.
You eventually have two AI teammates and they play a big part in the dungeons. Atlus is all too familiar with annoying AI and to prevent common AI problems they give you complete control over your teammates in Shiren Wii. At any time you can open up the AI menu and change the behavior, attacks and items your teammates use, and which ones they can’t use. This is useful for boss fights when you want to fine-tune your strategy, but also keeps your teammates from pissing away rare, valuable items on weak common enemies.
Aram said that story and setting are a huge part of Shiren Wii and as a result they put a big emphasis on production values. Aram showed off one of the CG cutscenes that show up occasionally and it was indeed beautiful, and the in-game visuals are nothing to sneeze at either. Atlus made the overworld a lot more cinematic and open. Character interaction isn’t presented through simple portraits like in previous Shiren games, but plays out in small cutscenes between 3D character models. The musical score is also fully orchestral and from what I’ve heard, quite sweeping. The story itself will detail Shiren’s past, which is a pretty big deal considering he’s been such a mysterious character so far. Feudal Japanese mythology is the core design influence for the characters, enemies and setting.
Shiren Wii is a budget title at only $40, but according to Atlus you’re getting more than your money’s worth. There will be 24 main dungeons with a handful of secret ones, and a full achievement set to go with them. Aram said the achievements include creative ways of dying, such as Shiren getting himself transformed into riceballs and subsequently being toasted.
I’ve never been a big fan of roguelikes but Shiren Wii sounds like the perfect entry point for anyone interested in the genre. Sacrificing the most irritating aspects of the genre in favor of improving the best ones is a great development strategy for any game. I’m definitely looking forward to Shiren the Wanderer’s February 9th release.