Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island Review – Shiren The Wonder Of A New Adventure

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is the latest in a long line of Spike Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon or ‘Fushigi no Dungeon‘ series. “Wait,” you might be saying to yourself, “isn’t that a Pokemon thing?” And if you were asking that, you’re not wrong, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s the label for any rogue-lite game developed by Spike Chunsoft – or people they grant permission to – and the series dates back to 1993 on the Super Famicom with the Dragon Quest IV spinoff Torneko’s Great Adventure: Mystery Dungeon. It wasn’t until the next mystery dungeon game two years later that Shiren and his world and supporting cast would come about, and even then, it was Mystery Dungeon 2: Shiren the Wanderer. There have been nearly 30 Mystery Dungeon games, with very few of those being Shiren games, most of the others being Pokemon, Dragon Quest, Final Fantasy, and Etrian Odyssey crossover games. In fact, The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is only the sixth main entry in the Shiren series after almost 30 years.

Given how few Shiren games have officially made their way west, it might be worthwhile to explain who Shiren is, his supporting cast, and the world he lives in. Shiren is a wanderer, an adventurer with no real aim or goal, who seeks out adventures and gets drawn in to helping people. While his appearances changes from game to game, he is always depicted with a gray and blue cape – usually but not always striped – and a wide brimmed straw hat. He is a silent protagonist, so almost all of his interactions in game are done via his constant companion Koppa the talking ferret. Yes, a talking ferret, creatures that are uncommon but entirely ordinary within Shiren’s world.

Finding and managing your health, fullness, and limited inventory is the name of the game here
Finding and managing your health, fullness, and limited inventory is the name of the game here

Another thing that’s entirely ordinary is the existence of the mystery dungeons themselves, mysterious patches of land divided into floors, areas that change their shape each time someone ascends or descends a level but which always stay connected. Serpentcoil Island, where Shiren and Koppa travel in search of treasure and adventure, is absolutely crammed full of these areas, as well as a colorful cast of bizarre characters, including the island’s regular inhabitants, competing gangs of pirates – in greedy and altruistic flavors – dragon cultists, all sorts of wild and wacky monsters, and of course the powerful monster at the Island’s peak.

So, let’s get into the mechanics of The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. You start out fighting the very monster Shiren travelled to the island to fight in a forced loss you can’t hope to win or to save any items from. After that, you wake up at the edge of the Island in one of its many cozy villages only to learn Shiren doesn’t really remember anything about his adventures on the island thanks to his defeat. So, you have to start all over again, trekking through it’s many mystery dungeons on your way to the mountain shaped like a dragon rising to the heavens where the game began. So, you set out, at level one, fighting off the enemies in your way, looking for items to help you rise in power – scrolls and wands for their special powers – herbs to help you grow stronger or use special attacks, weapons, shields and armor to deal more and take less damage, and onigiri to stay fed. Yes, fed. One of the aspects of Mystery Dungeon games that set them apart from other rogue-likes and lites is the hunger meter. If that meter ever empties, you start taking damage each turn instead of recovering. And you need to keep an eye on your health, because if you run out of health, your run is over and you have to redo it from the very beginning – more or less.

Get used to seeing this screen and the resulting loss of progress.
Get used to seeing this screen and the resulting loss of progress.

The dungeon sections of The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island are turn-based, grid-based dungeon crawlers where every time you move or take an action, then and only then does the entire rest of the dungeon, on a one for one basis. These dungeons are split into segments called floor, and each of these segments is randomly generated each time you enter it. Not each time you enter the dungeon, but the floor itself. The layout changes, the specific enemies and traps change, oftentimes new items will appear. Your goal is to amass enough equipment, enough good equipment, to tackle the final dungeon and defeat its boss, but it’s not going to be easy.

As alluded above, when you die, you lose everything. All your levels, all your equipment, and your progress along the island. The only things not lost are your plot progression and any items you may have had sent to a warehouse, either through an NPC’s delivery service, or an item that sends the items it contains into the warehouse, and these are not guaranteed to appear by any means. Due to the RNG heavy nature of The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, it’s item placement, enemy spawns, item drops and thus its difficulty can be incredibly swingy, so you might die. A lot. But there is hope. In addition to items that fully recover your health on death – good luck finding those – the game does have a very nice feature in the form of rescue mode. When you die in The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island – after a certain number of deaths – you can choose to request a rescue up to three times per day. You make a request, it goes up on the online rescue request board, and you wait for another playing to trek through your dungeon and reach your downed Shiren and complete the rescue. On the flip side, you have the option to go to the rescue board, take on a rescue, and challenge it’s dungeon.

Rescue mode offers an alternative mode of play and a way to avoid the setbacks of death up to three times per day
Rescue mode offers an alternative mode of play and a way to avoid the setbacks of death up to three times per day

These dungeons are not randomized, with the same items, enemy placements, and layouts each time you tackle it. It actually makes for a pretty satisfying puzzle version of The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, and there’s a reward system for doing rescues, though it seems to just be for use in the rescue system. You can also choose to rescue yourself, if you’re tired of waiting. This was the Quality of Life improvement I was most glad to see. Another nice QOL improvement is the monster dojo, where you can go to experiment with any combination of enemy, item, trap and layout you’ve previously encountered to better understand the game’s many mechanisms because there is a lot of complexity to The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island under the surface. And while the game does provide an always accessible catalog of enemies and items that you have encountered, being able to play around to learn about item and seal functions and enemy attacks without repercussion is a welcome addition to the genre.

To sum up, The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a mystery dungeon game, and all that entails. If it’s your first foray into rogue-likes, maybe try a more forgiving entry, like the Pokemon Mystery dungeon series, also by Spike Chunsoft. If you’re prepared to deal with its sudden shifts in difficulty and everything else inherent to the more punishing side of the mystery dungeon series, it’s worth picking up. It doesn’t do anything too radical with the visual, story, or mechanics, but it absolutely delivers a solid experience presented in a visual appealing package that’s got an incredible amount of content packed inside just waiting to be discovered.

Tim played Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island on Nintendo Switch with a review code.


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