Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is shaping up to be worth the wait

Sitting down to play Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, above anything else there was one thought on my mind: It’s been over 13 years since the last truly new Shiren the Wanderer. Even more than that, for the first time ever Western players will be able to play the latest game in the series without an incredibly long wait for the localization. Thanks to a preview event hosted by Spike Chunsoft, we had the chance to demo the upcoming release prior to its launch in Japan later this month.

If you’re new to the series, you can get a refresher for many of the basics of Shiren the Wanderer from Adam’s review for the PlayStation Vita release of Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate from back in 2016; though, to sum it up, players take control of Shiren -  a wandering swordsman - as he journeys through randomly generated dungeons, filled with traps, unique items and enemies, and ever-evolving difficulty that aims to keep players on their toes. 

Keeping track of your hunger, your health, your equipment and your surroundings all remain unchanged from Shiren’s past adventures; as always, the roguelike formula aims to challenge players with thinking quickly on their feet. What was new, and what we had the chance to experience during our 4 hour session with a build of the game is how Spike Chunsoft’s latest crack at the formula tries to balance the inherently hardcore nature of that gameplay loop while providing an on-ramp to more easily get newcomers into the series.

Never is this more readily apparent than with the game’s newfound focus on character interactions, and its narrative. While previous entries have certainly had their stories, plot developments were generally locked strictly to progression through the Mystery Dungeon. While that’s still technically the case, we noticed a much larger focus on character interactions - many of which will culminate in longer stories spread across multiple runs, eventually culminating in alternate paths to explore and new allies to recruit and help escort you through the Mystery Dungeon.

In one instance, we had to assist a village of defected ninjas protect their home; in another, we reunite with Shiren’s longtime friend, Asuka. Perhaps next run we’ll find out what the opposing pirate factions are up to? For longtime fans, this probably won’t be a selling point on its own - but I do think it’s a great addition overall, and helps solve the core problem that continually tackling a randomized, difficult dungeon might have on players trying the series for the first time. By offering that extra reward across your various attempts, I could see more players getting over the obstacles in their way from enjoying their time with what has otherwise been a niche franchise, especially over here in the west.

Mechanically, while the basics remain the same - there are a few elements I’m eager to explore in more detail with the full game, particularly the Rune system. New to this game, in addition to simply upgrading the stats of your equipment, they also can come equipped with Runes that offer them unique effects. Certain weapons will always come loaded with specific Runes, but equipment have numerous slots to place them; and once players have progressed far enough into the Mystery Dungeon, they’ll eventually unlock the ability to add new Runes to equipment that they find scattered about.

Runes can have all sorts of effects. For example, you could find a shield that might make you immune to rusting - preventing your equipment from dropping in power. Or, you could find one that makes you immune to a certain enemy type stealing items straight from your inventory. Maybe you find a Rune that extends the range of your attacks, or one that increases damage dealt to specific enemy types. One example is a sword we equipped that dealt extra damage to Cyclops enemies - denoted by the Japanese Kanji for “eye” adorning one of the weapons Rune slots.

While the day and night cycle has not made its return, later floors might find Shiren face-to-face with Behemoth enemies; these enemies are gigantic, immune to attacks from the front or side, and offer very little in terms of reward for killing them. Much like how traversing the Mystery Dungeon at night in Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate offered yet another wrinkle to exploring each floor, the same can be said here as players aim to avoid combat as much as possible.

There are other new features, such as the Sumo mode, that we didn’t get enough of a chance to get a handle on the new mechanics; but so far Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is shaping up to be exactly what fans of the series have been waiting for. It’s been far too long, but I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game. Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island launches for Nintendo Switch in North America and Europe on February 27.