Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Episode 13: Mystery Dungeon 2: Shiren the Wander

This week's episode of Roguelike Radio covers a classic commercial game relatively unknown in the U.S., Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Furaai no Shiren, a.k.a. Mystery Dungeon 2: Shiren the Wanderer.  Although part of a long-running Japanese series that's still fairly obscure (in its non-Pokemon forms) in the West, this did receive a recent U.S. release as Mystery Dungeon.  The participants this time are John Harris and Keith Burgun.  They had a blast covering this one -- although it's just two people this time they talked for an hour and a half, and could easily have gone on another hour.  The two of panelists are devoted Shiren fanatics, and John argues particularly think it's one of the best games of the 16-bit era.  Note -- this is not the recent Wii release, which is an inferior game in our opinion.

The mp3 of the podcast can be downloaded at here, played in the embedded player below, or you can follow us on iTunes.

Topics covered this week include:
- Monsters and items in Shiren
- Different ways of making a game complex
- An alternative approach to plot in roguelikes
- How great the game is

Additional links:
- Amazon page for the U.S. Nintendo DS re-release
- aeon genesis' translation patch for the Japanese ROM

John Harris has written extensively about this game in the past, for @Play, including most of a playthrough:
- Part 1
- Part 2


  1. I agree with what you say about story, I really like how they do it.

    But hey do you guys know where I can get the later shiren ds games translated? they look like a lot of fun.

  2. Great episode about probably my favorite video game of all time and one that inspired me to make a humble homage roguelike game - "Voyage to Farland".

    One of Shiren's many strong points is the item "orthogonality" (probably not the best description), e.g. the Rice Changer family of monsters turn an item into a riceball, but all levels of them can be insta-killed by a thrown riceball! Also, the monster meats are an amazing and fun game mechanic - turning into a high level dragon and blasting other monsters through walls is a... "blast" :)

    I read that Koichi Nakamura started Chunsoft after winning an Enix programming contest:
    wikipedia page

    I'd guess that Chunsoft has moved away from hardcore games like Shiren toward Pokemon-ish roguelikes due to market forces, unfortunately - something I'm seeing in the Android game market.

  3. Unfortunately, the only complete translations I know of of later Shiren games are the official one of Shiren for the Wii, which suffers from the same kind of problem as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon -- it has a lengthy, more traditional game sequence before the interesting dungeons become available. It offends me by forcing me to play through many hours of a frankly stupid junk fantasy story before I get to what I consider to be the real attraction. I have other things to do, Chunsoft.

  4. There is a project to translate the DS remake of the second Shiren game, which was originally made for Gameboy, but I think it's stalled.

    Patrick, I might have to have a look at Voyage to Farland.

    The Mystery Dungeon series is a prime example of the principle that, while listening to the market is important of course, to some degree people don't really know what they'll like, and a lot of worthy games have been diluted into idiocy because a mass market doesn't initially "get" them, eventually turning them into something that neither the devoted or the mass market will like.

  5. Going to charge up my DS this weekend and get this game - thanks for this one.

  6. Is there a reason why you try to limit the podcast to around one hour? If there is more to tell I think there is no problem if it is longer.

  7. It's really mostly a convention I think. Most podcasts I listen to (Tank Riot, The Bugle, H.P. Podcraft, Bronyville) aim for the 45-to-90 minute range. We're a bit long for that. Actually, I think Andrew (who's the closest any of us come to being in charge of this I think) aims for shorter episodes.

    RobotAcid, it is definitely a hidden gem. I was hugely disappointed that the DS version somewhat tanked in the market, especially while Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, which I can't stand, did so well. (Yeah, I know why it sold, that doesn't help things anyway.)

  8. The big reason I prefer shorter episodes is that the longer ones take correspondingly longer to edit...

  9. You guys do a great job with these shows. I've had a passion for playing rogue-like games for a long time, and its great to listen to other people talk about them. Even as a gamer with many gamer friends, its hard to find other people that also play rogue-likes.

    Keep up the good work, you're making it easy for me to find more (quality) games to fuel my addiction.

  10. Overall, I've always thought that Shiren the Wanderer is a great, but it has a few drawbacks that you glossed over a bit.

    The original's control scheme was pretty weak, especially with a Super Famicom controller due to the hack they implemented to ensure diagonal movement.

    Also, the game (especially the late game) is replete with 50/50 moments unless you grind or abuse the mechanics. What I mean is that there are lots of points where you are exploring and advancing normally and suddenly you notice that you are in an imminently lethal situation due to a leveled up monster standing between you and the exit or low HP and a heavy hitter near by. You check your inventory and nothing looks like it will help so you cross your fingers and attack or run for it and hope the RNG is on your side. An occasionally 50/50 situation is fine in a RL, but Shiren seems to have them floor after floor in the later dungeons unless you have gone out of your way to break some aspect of the game.

  11. Hey Burzmali,

    When you write "late game" are you talking floors near Table Mountain or, say, floors 60-99 in Fey's Final Puzzle?

  12. Late main dungeon, last 5-10 floors. I never really tried the extra dungeons.

  13. Hey guys, this was a really interesting episode. It might have suffered a little bit from only having two commentators (I think the dynamics of the conversations work best with three of you) but I really appreciate the enthusiasm and depth of knowledge that you guys brought. In terms of a lesson in monster and item mechanics this game is has been quite valuable and a great lesson to us aspiring game designers -- it really got my creative juices flowing.

    Somewhat unrelated, but I'd love to see you guys get together a few of the regular roguelike designers who are on the show and have them discuss the nuts and bolts of their PROCESS from design through publishing. This comes up in bits and pieces in many episodes, but it would be useful to hear a focused discussion as I know there are a wide variety of approaches among the people you have had on the show.

  14. Moredread: personally, while listening to the episodes that I didn't participate in, after about an hour a start to lose my patience.

    But maybe that's mostly because I rarely have more than an hour at a time when I'm not at home & have other things to do (I can't really concentrate on something else while listening to the podcast in the background).

  15. Yeah, I agree that longer than an hour is too long. Originally I said the podcasts should be no longer than 30 minutes, but that's just impossible to stick to. Most people don't have long spaces of time to dedicate to one thing, and it's far too easy to get distracted in the middle and move on to something else instead.

  16. Bottomless jars aren't useless! Throwing a bottomless jar creates a pitfall trap. This can be used to escape, or even better, you can use one in a shop to leave with the entire store's inventory.

    It's also one of the game's many "bad" items for identification. They have the same price ID as storehouse jars.

  17. Darn it guys, my to-play list is getting way too long after listening to this podcast. I'd heard of Shiren the Wanderer before, but not given it much attention since the limited display in graphical console roguelikes always bugged me and the game didn't seem to have any particular hook I hadn't seen before. You'll probably hate me for this but not only have I enjoyed the 'softcore' Pokemon variant, but I've even tried out the Legend of Izuna once before this, lol. (It was bleh.)

    I gotta say though, instant death by randomly chain paralyze does not sound like fun endgame design. And though perhaps not as stylishly done as it sounds in Shiren the Wanderer, monster houses are pretty much standard fair in most major roguelikes in the form of randomly appearing monster/loot packed vaults.

    True story, I was playing DCSS while listening to this episode and may I point out that being able to fire in any direction still allows for considerable tactics. It's a little trickier, but you can still duck behind other creatures for cover from arrows or line up enemies at odd angles to hit more of them at once. The whole 'only shoot in 8 directions' thing always annoyed the heck out of me because it made ranged weapons overly fidgety and unenjoyable to use even against underpowered critters that should by rights be windshield kills.

  18. To respond to someone's note about 50/50 situations in the late game, those are usually cases where, if you get into that situation, you probably did something wrong earlier. For example, whenever an enemy advances into a higher form you're told what kind of enemy it was regardless of whether you can see it or not, and there's a special sound effect. That's usually your cue to either step up your game (maybe use some of the long-term boost items) or get the hell off the floor, unless you figure you can take him. And if you CAN take him then that's actually a really good thing, since it's a wonderful way to get extra experience and advance in level beyond the floor difficulty.

    (Grinding for experience, in the sense of killing many lesser enemies, in roguelikes is often a bad idea, BTW, because it'll run out the food clock.)

  19. Time for some late appreciation. :)

    Thank you so much for this episode! I've been wanting to play this game ever since I listened to the episode (which was shortly after its release). Now I finally got to play the game for several weeks and I have to say it's amazing. It didn't get less exciting to start anew at all. I honestly think this could become one of my favourite games (not only roguelikes) ever. It takes the complex roguelike concept and combines it with brilliant and focused design, ease of use and a very nice presentation. That's pretty much unmatched!

    I think it's a shame that all the newer Shiren titles on the DS are exclusively released in Japan and will most probably never be playable for non-Japanese-speaking players. Nevertheless I'll keep playing this one gem that thankfully got translated over and over again.

  20. I'm jumping on behind Nachtfischer's belated appreciation. I really enjoyed the episode, guys, and now my DS is chugging out random dungeons almost every day. Shiren is a fantastic console roguelike. Thanks for giving it a good look.