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Shiren the Wanderer: How Very Un-Roguelike of You

Company: Atlus

Last week, I participated in an online demo of Shiren the Wanderer, Atlus's upcoming dungeon-hacking RPG. Though the game shares a lot in common with a typical Roguelike, Atlus was quick to distance the game from the label. According to Aram Jabbari, Atlus's PR manager, the term carries with it a negative connotation. Players hear the word and instantly categorize the game as being something too hard and, therefore, unappealing. Atlus is looking to tackle this misconception head-on, highlighting Shiren's ease of play and emphasis on story.

For those not familiar with the terminology, games in the "Sub-genre That Shall Not Be Named" are a turn-based Diablo-style dungeon-crawling RPG. Dungeons, items and monsters are usually randomly generated and find the player guiding characters through levels one move at a time. Each time your character performs an action, all enemies in the area do the same. The style of play has already made it to the US, such as Poke'mon Mystery Dungeon and Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, though typically challenging difficulty has kept the genre from growing outside a small, dedicated group of players.

For the most part, Shiren retains much of the sub-genre's trademark traits, but with a few alterations. Shiren features two difficulty levels: Easy and Normal. Generally, death in the "Sub-genre That Shall Not Be Named" is devastating. Die, and everything you've worked for goes poof - items, levels... everything goes back to one.

With Shiren, death still comes with a penalty, but toned down. On Easy, you'll retain all of your items and experience from your last save game, while on Normal you'll keep your levels, but lose all of your items. This is a pretty big change from the norm, and something Atlus hopes will draw in a larger group of players. This is a major shift in mechanics, prompting the suggestion "Roguelite" when describing Shiren.

Another highlight is customizable A.I. for Shiren's companions. Every aspect of the A.I. is adjustable, allowing you to apply a number of specialized behaviors for your party. You can set some to follow, use certain items or just follow and pick up items. Additionally, you can place your entire party under your control, giving the game a more Strategy RPG feel. Though you'll probably want to set your party on autopilot during most dungeon crawls, it probably won't be a good idea during boss battles. Or at least that was our experience from the demo.

Massive dungeons are only part of the equation. Shiren also features the Millennium Dungeon, a special 1, 000 story dungeon for intrepid explorers and The Wanderer's Journal, which keeps track of your accomplishments via an achievement system. The second sounds like it may prove to be one of Shiren's more challenging, and interesting aspects. Players will earn brag tags for killing certain bosses, collecting items and clearing areas. There are even achievements for creative deaths. One example involved turning your character into a rice ball then finding a way to toast yourself.

Atlus understands Shiren the Wanderer will still mostly appeal to this select group of masochistic players and are well aware they face an uphill battle with the game. Despite the struggle, Atlus is still trying to make it more accessible to a larger group. Part of that includes making sure players don't immediately pass on the game based on a negative connotation. So far, it looks like they're succeeding.

Look for Shiren the Wanderer this February on Wii.

-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Related Links:

Nintendo DS Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Multiplatform Dante\'s Inferno

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