Review: Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island Is Packed With Challenging Dungeons
Image via Spike Chunsoft

Review: Shiren the Wanderer 6 Is Packed With Challenging Dungeons

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island marks the first time a new entry in the series appeared after almost 14 years. While an enhanced port of the fifth game was released in 2020, the original game appeared in Japan on 2010. With such a long gap between releases, there’s been a jump from 2D pixel art sprites to 3D models. As for its gameplay, developer Spike Chunsoft decided to revisit the basics and emphasize its best qualities. As a result, the sixth game in the Shiren the Wanderer series delivers a challenging roguelite experience that teaches players to learn from failure, to exercise patience, and to carefully analyze each step taken inside the titular Mystery Dungeon.

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As with all previous titles in the series, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a dungeon-crawling roguelike. Each run of the game starts with Shiren at level one, and he’s carrying no items or money. Every action the player takes translates into a turn. This means moving, using items, and equipping new weapons. The maps are laid out in tiles, and Shiren can move and aim in eight directions. These seemingly small things are important to remember, as every trek through Serpentcoil Island can be lethal from the very beginning. For example, during my first few runs of the game, my overconfidence and familiarity with the series kept getting the best of me. Common enemies would easily overwhelm and defeat me while exploring the first three floors of the dungeon. This taught me again to carefully consider my steps, pay attention to my items, my health, and the different rooms in each floor.

Progressing through the floors in each of the dungeon can be a fast process, but defeating enemies, keeping your level on par, gathering onigiri, finding new weapons, and picking up shields, useful herbs, and scrolls is the key to surviving the dangers that lurk everywhere. New equipment, Confusion Scrolls, and especially Sleep Scrolls are easily some of the most important items in the game. I found they will help immensely when Shiren is surrounded by enemies to avoid being defeated, something that happens constantly in Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island.

Failing a run will see the player returning to Shukuba Beach, the starting town in the game, having lost everything collected in the Dungeon. However, this is not as unfair as it sounds. The game expects and teaches you to thrive in failure. The start of each new run means being able to progress in the different side-stories that are happening in Serpentcoil Island, which in turn unlocks new secondary Dungeons. Completing these side-stories tend to be easier than progressing in the main Dungeon, and upon completion will unlock functions that can make each progressive run more approachable. The Monster Dojo is a new inclusion that can help newcomers figure out how to defeat monsters or face dangers, as an example.

Compared to its predecessor, the story of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is equally as whimsical and fantastic. However, I found it a bit lighter. The story starts a few months after the events of Shiren the Wanderer GB: Monster of Moonlight Village, and it follows Shiren and the talking ferret Koppa trying to reach Serpentcoil Island to obtain the treasure hidden inside after having seen visions of it in their dreams. Some of the most prominent character stories in Serpentcoil Island revolve around the theme of greed vs. generosity. Even while seeking treasure, riches, and personal gain, plenty of character blindsided by superfluous goals end up showing compassion for those in need, emphasizing perseverance through cooperation and the strength of community.

During the first few hours, the mechanics of the game are pretty straightforward. It isn’t until successfully completing the first run of the main Serpentcoil Island Dungeon that the game truly opens up. What used to be a few side-paths and side-stories snowballs into a plethora of new content and mechanics. I like how these new dungeons serve as tutorial for different mechanics, and help raise the challenge for those wanting to explore dungeons with certain modifiers. One of the most interesting systems featured in this new entry is the Sumo Status. Making the Hunger meter grow over 150 and fully restoring it will make Shiren become a beefy tank. His defense and HP will skyrocket, and his damage will increase. Hoarding food in pots and using them to enter Sumo Status helped me immensely in dealing with some bosses and difficult encounters.

As with many other roguelite games, the Shiren the Wanderer series is not for everyone. Mistakes are very punishing, and defeat can happen suddenly and be frustrating. Fortunately, the online rescue system function can help curb some of that frustration. Players from all over the world can rescue your character by visiting your dungeon. This means you won’t be able to play for a while, but in turn you can help by rescuing other players, or even rescue yourself. You can attempt this as many times as you want, but each run will only allow to be successfully rescued up to 5 times. The updated live streaming UI returns from the previous entry, and can be toggled on and off easily. While a very niche addition, I can see this function pairing well with the heavy focus on online cooperation and rescues, and having people share their rescue codes with experienced players and streamers.

The music in Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is memorable, as is to be expected by AI: The Somnium Files and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night composer Keisuke Ito. With how often and for how long you get to hear these songs, it is a treat the the soundtrack has been given such care. The transition from 2D sprites to 3D models works well. While it is difficult to compare it to the stunning pixel art in the previous entry, The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island does a good job at keeping character and enemy models visually appealing and expressive. Due to the procedural nature of the maps, the scenarios are simple yet charming and very distinct from each other. Towns are the standout, being small enough to be detailed and visually interesting, like the Ninja Village, or Icewall Village. However, the choice of very bold and beautiful Japanese-style illustration and art direction is the real responsible behind the successful transition from 2D to 3D art.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is packed to the brim with challenging dungeons. The amount of content available is staggering and will keep returning fans and newcomers alike busy for hours. While the steep learning curve of the series can turn away those jumping in for the first time, the game does a good job at keeping the difficulty intact and welcome newcomers alike. Features like the online rescue systems, Monster Dojo, and plenty of in-game manuals explain the mechanics clearly without subtracting from the experience. I fear that the series might still struggle to connect with new audiences, but if you’ve ever been curious about it, this might be the best time to jump into the Mystery Dungeon train.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island will come to the Nintendo Switch on on February 27, 2024.

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Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island

Rise, and rise again. Take Shiren to new heights. Shiren the Wanderer and Koppa, his talking ferret partner, received a vision of a distant land and a girl in distress. It led them to the mysterious Serpentcoil Island. But they're not alone. Rumors speak of lost pirate gold hidden away within the depths of Serpentcoil Island, and a powerful monster at its highest mountain peak, said to hold an exquisite treasure in its belly. Switch version reviewed. Review copy provided by company for testing purposes.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island maintains the series' challenge and adds plenty of dungeons.

Food For Thought
  • The first Dungeon available is lengthy and difficult. Failing will happen far too often, but focusing on new side-stories will help on the short and long run.
  • Learning the mechanics of each new block of floors can help immensely. Each block is visually distinct from each other, and its enemies and mechanics are pretty consistent.
  • Use items constantly! They are plentiful in the dungeon. Sleep Scrolls and Confusion Scrolls in particular are a lifesaver.

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Author
Daniel Bueno
Daniel is a staff writer and translator from the Spaghetti Western land of Andalusia, Spain. He got his start writing for Xbox Outsider in 2022. His favorite genres are RPGs, survival horrors, and immersive sims. In truth, he is a Dragon Quest slime in a human suit.