Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island review

While the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon series has always been the most well known of Spike Chunsoft’s dungeon crawlers, Shiren the Wanderer is where they’ve really been able to go all out when it comes to difficulty and mechanics. Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is the first completely new Shiren game in nearly 10 years — everything in between has either been a port or for franchises like Etrian Odyssey — and it brings a new set of punishing dungeons to conquer.

Taking on a new mystery dungeon

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island takes place on the titular island, with Shiren lead there by a mysterious vision. Supposedly, Serpentcoil Island is home to a stash of hidden treasure, and only those that can make it to the top will be able to claim it. Shiren is instead more interested in figuring out the vision he saw, which seems to be tied to a girl being held captive by an unknown evil.

Shiren the Wanderer The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island story

Not to be confused with some other Mystery Dungeon titles, the plot in The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island mostly takes a backseat to dungeon crawling. You’ll get story scenes as you make progress through the island and unlock new things, but these dry up fairly quickly. What’s there is fine, and it can be nice to discover more about some of the new characters, but it’s never the focus.

The general setup for dungeon crawling should be familiar to those that have played Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, or roguelikes in general. Serpentcoil Island is a dungeon made up of over 30 floors, each randomly generated during every attempt. As with previous Shiren the Wanderer games, every run starts you at level 1, and you’re limited on what you’ll be able to take with you. Death also removes your items and kicks you back to the starting area, unless you’re rescued (more on this later).

Shiren himself has a very basic set of moves. He can attack and throw projectiles or items… and that’s it. Instead, you’ll have to rely on the items you pick up in the dungeon. These range from simple things like food to keep your hunger up, to staves that can cast a variety of magic. Learning how items interact with enemies and the dungeon itself is key to making progress.

Shiren the Wanderer The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island gameplay

And make no mistake, progress in The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island can be incredibly slow at times. While the layouts of each floor are randomised, they have set themes based on how far in they are. An early example of this is Suzanari Pass, starting at floor 3. While this is pretty much the start of your run, it’s actually harder than some of the areas that come after due to hard hitting ghost enemies that can kill you in 2 blows.

Things like that feel extremely unfair early on, when you encounter new threats that destroy you without much effort. But it doesn’t take too long before you start to figure out strategies to deal with them. Those ghost enemies might hit hard, but they have no ranged attacks. They also have a habit of running away after taking enough damage, giving you time to heal up.

It’s a lot to learn, especially for those new to the genre. While you can sometimes store items at towns early on, or send them back to the starting hub area if you find a specific NPC, you’re basically on your own. But the feeling of making it to new floors of the dungeon is satisfying — even if you do end up getting taken out by a trap or enemy straight after. A handy in-game glossary and unlockable training room also make it easy to brush up your knowledge on items and enemies that you’ve encountered previously.

Shiren the Wanderer The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island rescuing another player.

One returning mechanic that does help out a little is the rescue system. After you die, you can request a rescue either via a shareable code or online. Players can then start a run in the same dungeon and find your body, giving you another chance to keep going. Rescuing players gives points, which can then be spent to offer temporary bonuses like more attack when going on further rescues.

It’s a cool system, acting as extra lives (you can be rescued 3 times in a single run) and balanced out by requiring other players to actually make it that far to rescue you. Rescuing players that died on early floors also makes for a nice break from full dungeon runs, since it feels like you’ve accomplished something even if you only have to go through 5 floors.

Despite being the main focus of the story, Serpentcoil Island isn’t actually the only dungeon available. You’ll occasionally unlock new side routes through the main dungeon, offering new floor types, enemies, and potential rewards. Even harder dungeons also become available upon completion of Serpentcoil Island, if you’re after a greater challenge.

The only real weak side of The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island (outside of the difficulty potentially being too much for some players) is its presentation. Gone are the clean sprites of previous entries, instead replace with 3D models and environments. Some monster designs are cute, but it’s definitely a downgrade overall. The simplicity of the 3D does at least mean that the game runs flawlessly even in handheld mode, which is how I chose to play.

Shiren the Wanderer The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island mountaintop.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island Review | Conclusion

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is another solid entry in the genre, and a decent starting point for newcomers (though I’d argue The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate is better for this due to its cheap price point). It’s not for the faint of heart, but for those that do brave Serpentcoil Island, you’ll find a rewarding roguelike experience to sink your teeth into.

Our review of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island on Nintendo Switch was made using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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Isaac Todd
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