It feels like every indie game released these days are either Metroidvanias or Roguelikes and for good reason. They provide an addicting formula to create a memorable experience when done right. Shiren isn’t the first rogue series but it is one that helped make the genre what it is today. Although there have only been a few Shiren titles to reach US shores, all are noteworthy for numerous reasons. Originally released on the PS Vita, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is now available on Switch and retains its high watermark of quality.
What makes Shiren so good is the attention to detail and depth of dungeon exploring. Although random, each floor is beatable as it has balance; you won’t find hallways that lead to nowhere or a one-sided onslaught of enemies around that one corner. Always challenging but never unfair, the pacing is what makes Shiren a solid experience. Combat, mission prep, and overall navigation is actually incredibly complex, perhaps this title’s biggest flaw, but fans will love every second of it. To put things in perspective, the optional opening tutorial will take hours to complete before even setting foot in a dungeon. Newcomers to the rogue genre will have a lot to learn but the game at least explains things well – there is just a lot to explain. In fact, there is so much depth to this game veteran players will most likely forget how a feature works, or that an option was even available, after spending dozens of hours in the tower. Personally, I had to play through the tutorial in several increments and often forgot how to perform a certain action and had to re-do some tutorials.
Shiren enters a village and notices a sick person wanting to save their spouse from an illness. Being the good man that he is, Shiren agrees to climb the fate tower to try and change destiny. Along the way, the player will be introduced to many NPCs, all have something important to say or explain, and makes the world feel true. However, the story isn’t the star of the show here; it is the gameplay.
Top-down and tile turn based, this is roguelike through and through. This means that enemies perform an action with each step/action taken. Die and you lose it all and need to start over, gaining just a little experience each time. Each run essentially starts the player with little to nothing but the game acknowledges this thanks to the thoughtful design. As the run begins, the player starts in a simple area used to gain some items before venturing deeper to face the tough spots. Since everything is turn based, the player has all the time in the world to plan each and every move. Pro players will want to analyze each encounter. Should I take another step and attack, or backtrack to a narrow corridor? Should I swing my sword against that creature or use an item, and if so, which item? Since there are so many items, so many skills, and so many features, the player is given a massive repertoire of verbs to finish each fight. Sometimes running, like using a teleport scroll, or drying up a puddle of water to escape is the answer, as fighting could very well be the worst option. Besides being used, items can also be thrown, pots can be used to store items, and the limited inventory system makes each pick-up valuable. Every action means something which is why the experience is so addicting. Each death is a learning experience too. While there are spots with strong enemy attacks, each death makes you look back with hindsight as you realize you could have overcome that obstacle if only you made a better decision.
There is so much to Shiren that it is impossible to explain it all. What matters is the end result and this game delivers one of the best modern roguelike experiences whether playing the original Vita version or this Switch port. Yes, there is a high challenge and there is even more to learn, but the considerate approach proves that these types of games do not need to be stupidly punishing and filled with rage quitting pain points.
Also Try: the original DS and Wii Shiren games too
Better Than: most indie rogues
Wait For It: A Shiren sequel with a shorter title