I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on roguelikes. Far from it, in fact. Shiren the Wanderer on Wii is actually my first roguelike ever, which is why we thought it might be interesting for me to provide the perspective of a newcomer to the genre. For anyone that isn’t interested, there’s still our other playtest.
Shiren the Wanderer starts out with a very likable intro, narrated by Koppa, Shiren’s talking ferret partner. Something I noticed right off the bat was that Atlus USA have done a great job on the localization front. The font chosen to display dialogue is visually appealing, and it fits with the game’s setting. That aside, Shiren is a game with personality. Koppa’s one hell of a funny little ferret, and hearing him and Shiren’s sensei constantly indulge in verbal fencing is hilarious. The game also has a decent helping of funny metaphors that’ll make you smirk when you hear them, along with the usual crazy NPCs you’d expect (a stalker pretending to be on top-secret mission for the shogunate).
It’s a good thing Atlus picked it up, because I’m not sure another publisher would have been able to strike the same balance between localization and preservation. It really helps that they know who their audience is, and so, certain Japanese phrases are retained to appeal to followers of Japanese culture.
The artwork is great, too. The in-game art is about on par with Rune Factory Frontier, so it looks very nice. All of the hand-drawn art, on the other hand, is colourful and reminiscent of Muramasa: The Demon Blade. I found myself loving the music in the village you start out at, too, although, the tunes in some of the dungeons aren’t as lovable. Overall, the presentation is great and I was surprised by the effort put into the game.
Moving onto the actual intricacies of the genre itself, roguelikes are sort of like a half-step between turn-based and hack-and-slash RPGs. While that may sound like fun — hey, Final Fantasy XII was great, right? — I’d be lying if I said that’s an easy trait to come to terms with. It isn’t like Final Fantasy XII in the least, even though it uses similar elements of design.
Once you’re out in the wild in one of the game’s dungeons, you get to walk around and explore. But there’s a catch. Every action — even though it may not seem like it — is turn-based. If you take a step forward, the enemy gets to perform an action, too. If you take five steps forward, well…your enemies perform five actions, too, regardless of whether they’re in your range of view or not. Until you’re in the midst of battle, you probably wouldn’t even be able to tell the game was turn-based. Movement feels like it’s completely in realtime. Just that, for every action you take, the enemy performs a corresponding action as well.
If you aren’t into roguelikes, you might be wondering, "But what’s the point? If you’re moving around and the enemy is performing an action for each move you make, it may as well be real time…right?" Honestly, I’d be inclined to agree, were it not for the battles.
Once you get to an enemy, you get to smack him. Once (or twice, depending on if your partner is within attacking range). Then, he gets to take a shot at you. Following which, you hit him again, and so on, until he’s dead. There’s no battle theme that fades in as you approach an enemy, and nor is there a transition to a separate battle screen. Battles are like Diablo, except turn-based.
Also, once you’re close to an enemy, any moves you make to line yourself up properly in order to hit them count as "actions," too. This means that, while you take small steps to get close enough to a Dagger Bee to club it over the head, it’s going to fire a painful sting at you from a distance all the while, for each step you take.
And thus, I discovered my issue with the roguelike genre, that I doubt will ever go away: playing turn-based Diablo can feel incredibly jarring.
If you haven’t played a roguelike before, chances are, you’ll go in expecting either an action RPG or a turn-based RPG; not something that straddles both, all while seemingly abandoning the elements that make each genre enjoyable individually. Turn-based combat with no battle theme means the battles aren’t very dramatic. Breaking into a short sprint, then having to wait a few seconds before you can move again (while your enemies make moves equaling the number of steps you took) can get annoying. It’s not quite as methodical as a turn-based game, but it isn’t as fast-paced as a hack-and-slash either.
It’s rather ironic how all that separates Shiren from one of the most evolved turn-based RPGs (FFXII) is its presentation. Were a dramatic battle theme to kick in as I approached an enemy and the camera to pan behind my party’s back, it might feel a little more exciting. Were there a speed stat you could max out, so you can make five moves in a row, I might not have grown tired of the experience after a few short hours.
But then, that’s not the point of a roguelike at all, is it? This is a genre that has stuck to its roots over the years, and it shows. The dungeon design (lots of sharp angles; narrow, inter-connected passages early on), the combat, the numerous hidden traps set throughout the environments that could render you immobile or poison you while an enemy beats on you mercilessly. And of course, losing your items upon dying, should you decide to play the game on Normal mode (which I didn’t). While I understand that some people adore the genre, personally, I’ll have to respectfully decline from exploring it any further.
If, after all that, you still think you’re interested in checking roguelikes out, Shiren the Wanderer (this game specifically) is probably the best place to start. It isn’t as easy as Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, and it’s designed for newcomers to the genre, and details like frequent save points and helpful tips are sure to help ease you in. For example, at one point, Shiren got hungry and the game told me I could feed him herbs if I didn’t have any food on me, to stave the hunger off for a bit. I promptly proceeded to stuff a Revival Herb down his throat each time he got hungry after that, until the game told me I would probably want to stop wasting those and save them for when my party members died.