Review – Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island

Unforgiving Turn-Based Wanderlust

Overview

Developer Spike Chunsoft
Publisher Spike Chunsoft
Genre Roguelike RPG
Platforms Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date February 27, 2024

Shiren is a name I would venture few people know. The titular wanderer has only come state-side in a handful of entries. In a world full of roguelites that bleed sustained progression, Shiren the Wanderer has set itself apart by remaining true to the roguelike tenets. With The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, we get a little more story and a lot more turn-based gameplay. Is it worth your time?

Content Guide

Violence: Enemies die with a poof of air and vanish. There is no blood or gore.

Sexual Content: There is no sexual content of concern here.

Drugs and Alcohol: There are references to the use of alcohol consumption.

Language/Crude Humor: The game contains some minor humor but nothing that ever feels like it crosses into the territory of concern.

Dark/Spiritual Content: There are monsters and demons everywhere. There is a religious group that worships a spirit that’s suspected of causing severe drought in the land.

Review

In their travels, Shiren and his ferret buddy, Koppa, have made their way to Serpentcoil Island after getting a vision. Spurred on by a potential damsel in distress and the rumors of treasure hidden on the island, they set out to become heroes and get rich in the process. This is complicated by the deity believed to be holding the girl hostage, Jakaku, and a sect of monks devoted to stopping you in its name. It doesn’t help that every step of the way is guarded by an army of monsters and littered with dangerous traps.

While the setup for Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is straightforward enough, it gets you into the action quickly. The world and story have a few key narrative moments that keep things interesting, too, provided you can make it far enough into the dungeon to experience them…and make no mistake, Shiren has his work cut out for him. This game is intentionally brutal.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a classic turn-based roguelike RPG. To the uninitiated, it’s essentially a borderline-abusive turn-based game set to kill you. When you die (and you will die…a lot), you’re returned to the starting inn where you’ll have to start your journey over again. Oh, and every time you play, the game is randomized.

As you delve through the dungeon, you’ll have to explore each floor, managing your hunger and unveiling the map as you look for the stairs to the next stage. Fail to keep up on your food and you’ll lose health, eventually starving. Along the way, you’ll fight monsters and grab items and equipment. For every action you take or step you take, every other creature will get an action too. This can quickly lead to you getting surrounded and overwhelmed. With some practice, you’ll learn each monster’s patterns. In time, the game’s movement and combat will begin to feel more like a dance with a healthy dash of random chance mixed in instead of an undecipherable ball of chaos.

With a few exceptions, combat has essentially been the same in the Shiren games for years now. You’ll attack enemies adjacent to you with melee weapons while arrows, throwables, and magic staves give you more options to handle the situation from a distance. As you kill foes, you’ll level up, increasing your strength and health. Things get harder with each floor you traverse, requiring both a sharp tactical mind and a healthy dose of luck.

With Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, the development team has made a few upgrades to make the experience a little smoother. When I say a little smoother, I mean it. The updates here are notable but given the sheer difficulty of the series, ultimately feel incremental instead of game-changing (and perhaps that’s for the best for a die-hard audience). First, you can now assign projectiles and magic items to a hotbar so they can be used with a couple of button presses instead of having to sort through the whole inventory. They’ve introduced a couple of new display modes that I quite like that give you access to more data as you explore.

In terms of gameplay updates, they’ve added what they’re calling “Sumo Status.” This lets Shiren get stronger if he eats enough onigiri. It’s difficult to achieve but it can make you quite the wrecking ball. To the other side, enemies can now spawn as “Roaming Behemoths,” essentially making them the destructive force unless Shiren can get around a giant defensive barrier they run with.

Finally, perhaps the most significant addition is the implementation of some online elements. These include essentially creating a seed of the dungeon you’re in for friends to play alongside you (but not cooperatively – just the same randomly generated dungeon) and when you’re killed, you can request to be “rescued”, essentially letting others from across the world play through your randomly generated dungeon in an attempt to reach your body. Rescuing others gets you some nifty incentives and you can even try to rescue yourself. It can be a big help if you don’t want to throw away a good 30-minute run. I have a few problems with its implementation though. You can only have a single run at a time and waiting to be rescued (which, in my experience, is quite rare) takes that up as a dead slot. If you want to continue playing the game, you’ll have to abandon any hope of rescue and start fresh.

From a visual standpoint, Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is an underwhelming experience. It feels like they essentially took 3D models from the Wii version of Shiren the Wanderer, upscaled the game to an HD resolution, and called it a day. Yes, it looks better than the Wii version, but only marginally and, I would posit, actually looks like one of the most dated games I’ve played on the Switch.

Despite dated graphics, I’m a sucker for a good roguelike and the Shiren franchise never fails to deliver a great time. Though the improvements feel minor, I’ve still had a great time playing Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. Sure, dying and losing progress constantly can be frustrating but that makes the great runs that much better. Given the amount of time the studio had between entries, I expected more quality-of-life updates than we go. Still, I’d love to see future installments consider a roguelite option so a wider audience can enjoy what Shiren has to offer. Diehard fans will have a good time with Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, but the game intentionally makes itself a hard sell to a wider audience.

Review copy provided by Spike Chunsoft

The Bottom Line

 

The latest Shiren game stays true to its roguelike roots and delivers a solid experience but the updates made to the franchise beg whether the pivot to roguelite should be considered in the future.

 

7

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Joe Morgan

Husband, gamer, software developer, animal lover. When he's not writing for GeeksUnderGrace, he's probably fishing or working on content with his wife for Coffee and Adventure, their YouTube channel

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