Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is one of those games where it’s easy to overlook the finer things. We’re all just trying to stay alive, after all, in a world where everything in the dungeon wants to kill you and ruin your good time. Focus can end up shifting to more important things, like survival. When really, we should be soaking up everything Spike Chunsoft did to make this installment special.
Pixelated games are hardly a rarity, but they aren’t often at the same level as Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate. This is an extraordinarily beautiful title, and I’m thankful I have the original, OLED PlayStation Vita every time I play. The ornate opening screen depicting the towers surrounded by cherry blossoms sets the stage, and the game keeps topping itself. Towns have fluttering banners, glistening ponds, and detailed NPCs living in them. Homes are intricately furnished with all the things needed for everyday life. When Shiren runs in town or stops to eat an onigiri, Koppa scurries and pops up with his own detailed animations. Every brick in the tower is inlaid. Shadows are accurately depicted in areas. In dungeons where there’s a gap in the floor, you can “see” the level below.
Even better, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate doesn’t skimp on lavish event screens. When we meet Shiren and Koppa for the first time, it’s on a cliff before a huge forest. When they first come upon the towers, Spike Chunsoft takes a moment to pan up and allow us to see them on the back of a giant stone turtle. The intricate sprite work and lavish color palette are everywhere. It is one of the most gorgeous games I’ve played this year. You can see the dedication and love for the series in each enemy and NPC.
This ambiance isn’t limited to the pretty face Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate puts forward. It extends to Aksys’ localization as well. The primary story is a tragic one, where a young man attempts to change the fate of his beloved friend suffering from a childhood illness. It’s interesting enough, but let’s be honest. It isn’t the main reason anyone is playing this roguelike. It’s there to entertain us and offer a little extra incentive to keep going forward. What’s really wonderful are the parts of the game you may not see – the item and monster descriptions.
Aksys and Spike Chunsoft went all out to make these appealing. Take the one for the Pit Mamel, one of the first creatures you’ll find in your wanderings. It says, “It’s level 2, but it’s a Pit Mamel so it still dies oh, so easily. This news comes as a shocking revelation to it.” It’s silly, descriptive, and never fails to make me smile. Certainly, some descriptions offer helpful insights. The Sweet Nut’s reminds you to toss an item into it to possibly make it explode or get more experience. But the majority feel like a happy reward for taking the time to actually learn more about them. Item descriptions are equally detailed and lighthearted, but are more often informative than entertaining. The weapons and shields in particular are more flavorful, since some of the other staves, seals, scrolls, and other pieces require actual explanations and the improving equipment allowed for a little more levity.
In short, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of a Fate is the sort of game you should savor. The nature of its dungeon crawling allows you to move more deliberately, since enemies only take action when you do. Towns are safe spaces where enemies can’t invade. There’s plenty of time to stop, look around, read about the things you’re encountering, and enjoy the effort Spike Chunsoft and Aksys put into it. Every time I play, I can’t help but think this was a true labor of love and wonder if other people are noticing and appreciating the artistry and wordplay.
Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is immediately available for the PlayStation Vita.