Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island Game Preview – Going Back to Basics

©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Licensed to and Published by Spike Chunsoft, Inc. (Screenshot taken on Nintendo Switch OLED by Daryl Harding)

After 14 years, Shiren the Wanderer is strolling into a brand new adventure and climbing Serpentcoil Island – or at least doing their best to, that aspect wholly depends on the player. Spike Chunsoft invited us out to their Tokyo offices to preview the upcoming Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island game, giving us a few hours with the game as well as the opportunity to talk with Director Keisuke Sakurai, Project Manager Hideyuki Shinozaki and Sub-Producer Ryo Nishimura in a round-table conversation that was held in Japanese with an interpreter provided by Spike Chunsoft.

Much like its more well-known sibling series, Pokémon Mystery Dungeon, Shiren the Wanderer is, as described by the creators, a “roguelike” game with procedurally generated dungeons. In its latest iteration, The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, which is scheduled to be released outside of Japan on February 27, 2024, for the Nintendo Switch, the titular Shiren and his ferret friend Koppa head to the island to explore and find the mysterious treasure.

©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Licensed to and Published by Spike Chunsoft, Inc. (Screenshot taken on Nintendo Switch by Daryl Harding)

In my couple hours of play, I explored up to the 11th floor of the Underwater Passage, a little less than the allowed number of floors in this preview session. While getting to that moment doesn’t take very long in terms of distance traveled on the map, it’s the skill of the player that determines how far you get and my skill level was too low and unprepared for how punishing the dungeons are. 

Director Sakurai explained in the Q&A that he felt like fans wanted a more back-to-basics Shiren 1 (called Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer internationally when it finally released internationally in 2008 through its Nintendo DS remake of the original 1995 Super Famicom game) experience rather than the newer elements of Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, such as removing the night time system and removing weapon upgrades. Shinozaki said it was a good idea to strip down the elements that have made the other games “over-complicated.”

©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Licensed to and Published by Spike Chunsoft, Inc. (Screenshot taken on Nintendo Switch by Daryl Harding)

With so long between the release of The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate and The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, the roguelike genre of games has evolved to include the likes of Hades and even the now classic The Binding of Issac. The team wanted to strip back all the elements for the “hardcore” audience and wanted to show people what the “original” roguelike game was like, an “authentic” experience compared to other games in the Mystery Dungeon series.

And it’s wholly punishing. Once you are defeated, you lose everything – loot, upgrades and more – and start back at the first village on the island. While I didn’t count the number I times I collapsed in the preview, I once died in the first level in under five seconds. Another in under 10 seconds. I originally said this was a skill issue but bad spawns are just bad spawns. I couldn’t help going down those stairs for the first time and being mobbed with nothing but an underpowered fist to help me.

The gameplay is addictive and enjoyable, hours past while playing in the office without me even noticing. While it was frustrating collapsing so quickly over and over again –thankfully with very quick respawning, a much-loved aspect of the game director–, the strength of the game comes from entering the villages over and over again and getting to meet new characters each time, receiving more of the plot in the meantime. 

Shoutout to the localizers for adapting these sweet characters into English, the script brings out all the characters well with adorable lines and personalities. It helps ease the pain when you’re constantly restarting over and over again after you discover (and subsequently lose) one of the new Sacred Items.

©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Licensed to and Published by Spike Chunsoft, Inc. (Screenshot taken on Nintendo Switch by Daryl Harding)

Before the preview, I became familiar with the series by playing the Switch remaster of The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate, giving me a base for what The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island may entail. Thankfully, the controls of Serpentcoil Island are just as intuitive as the previous game with only one new inclusion, the use of the joystick for diagonal movement. This felt a little weird to use on a grid but there are some generation that forces the use of the stick rather than the D-pad.

The graphics also got a major upgrade over the previous entry and is now in 3D. The staff were worried that this graphical update would cause the gameplay to become “heavy,” especially on the Nintendo Switch, which Shinozaki said was “challenging … hardware.” None of that could be felt while playing. The game plays very well and is visually super charming.

There’s a depth of field effect added to the top and bottom of the screen to give the game a tilt-shift look to give it depth, much like on Octopath Traveller. Though the game is on the Nintendo Switch, meaning that the graphics aren’t as clean as they would be on the PlayStation 5, charm oozes out of  the towns, interiors, and dungeons with some vistas littered throughout some of the dungeons that made me go “woah!”

©Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Licensed to and Published by Spike Chunsoft, Inc. (Screenshot taken on Nintendo Switch by Daryl Harding)

With the few hours I got to play Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, I couldn’t help but get frustrated by the gameplay loop but as I kept playing, learning the mechanics and discovering more of the sweet story as the preview time ended, I was kind of sad that I couldn’t keep playing. Those who have been waiting for the next Shiren experience are surely to be pleased, but one has to remember, this is a “roguelike” not the more popular (and nicer to the player) “roguelite.”

G'day! Daryl Harding is a Japan-based award-winning anime journalist and video-maker who absorbs all the anime news, spends way too much time telling people that Nakano is better than Akihabara for anime goods, and completing his living dex.
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