With Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer shipping out to stores tomorrow (March 31st for Europe), we called up Sega of America to chat with producer Keith Dwyer about the roguelike. We spent a good half-hour exchanging thoughts on the genre's appeal and the game's pitiless difficulty before we both wondered out loud, "Wouldn't it be cool if we posted our conversation on DS Fanboy?"
Rather than spend the rest of our lives asking ourselves what might have been, we decided to post the Q & A session for you to enjoy, dear reader. After all, this will be the first time the Shiren series sees an official release outside of Japan, and the game is considered by many to be the finest console roguelike in existence, putting all other challengers and clones to shame. Pack a rice ball in your lunch box and venture past the break for our Shiren the Wanderer interview!
What do you feel is the appeal of roguelikes or dungeon-crawl games like the Mystery Dungeon series?
Roguelikes offer a unique kind of challenge you can't find in action games, RPGs, or strategy games, though they incorporate elements of each. While the action is turn-based, you move along at your own pace and things can become heated very quickly. You have to manage your resources and plan carefully to survive, but that is just your own personal equipment and not dozens or hundreds of units as you might find in an RTS.
Mostly though, they work on a personal level, and it is a personal challenge to succeed. You need to use your wits and know when to take risks, and I think that is the biggest hook.
There are at least three roguelike DS games released in North America -- Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, Tao's Adventure: Curse of the Demon Seal, and Pokémon Mysery Dungeon (another entry in the Mystery Dungeon series). What staple elements of Shiren the Wanderer will gamers find that aren't in those other titles?
I think I would say that one main element that sets Shiren apart is the ability to combine items with the Melding Jar. Work hard enough at it, and you could create a sword with the special abilities of all the other swords rolled into one. Shiren also has the Rescue feature that is new to the DS version of the game that works over Nintendo Wi-Fi. It takes the sting out of dying by letting you keep your equipment, and also adds to the sense of community by letting players rescue each other and even trade items.
The mechanics for Shiren are vastly different from what most expect from an RPG-ish game. Because of that, as well as its "old-school graphics" and old-school difficulty, many see a hardcore game like Shiren the Wanderer as catering to a very limited audience. What sort of potential did Sega of America see when considering whether to publish the game in the states?
There definitely is a core audience for such a game. There aren't a lot of roguelikes out there, so this one should be a great addition to the genre for American fans. While the game has a lot of depth, it is fairly easy to pick up and play when you want to because you can go at your own pace and you can stop in the middle of whatever you're doing and pick back up later.
The game's eponymous protagonist, Shiren, a masterless samurai, is on a quest that has him braving "ferocious monsters, hidden traps, and thieves," all for the sake of finding the Lair of the Golden Condor. What's so great about the Lair of the Golden Condor?
It is a place of legend that no warrior has ever found, or at least returned to tell the tale. In the world of Shiren, it is the El Dorado, the Shangri-La, the Holy Grail, and finding the Lair would make Shiren the ultimate warrior. The journey Shiren takes in search of this ultimate goal is challenging enough that players feel the pride of accomplishment for completing the quest; on top of that, there is great replay value, as there are new quests and puzzle dungeons to find and do after surpassing this goal.
We understand that Shiren's image was toughened up for the game's North American and European packaging to give the character some "edge" and convey the hardships he faces in journey ahead. But why was Koppa, Shiren's talking white weasel, colored brown for the NA/EU box?
Actually, Koppa is still white; he is just shaded by Shiren's cape.
Players will often find themselves in situations where surviving a horde of approaching monsters seems impossible. What sort of back-up plans do you suggest players should prepare to extend their life expectancy in these challenging dungeons?
Every player has their own style which will dictate just how difficult these situations might become, but I would recommend learning the layout of the dungeons; get a feel for what kinds of monsters appear where and which ones you have to kill before they become a problem. For specifics, Blastwave, Confusion, or Sleep Scrolls affect everything in the room so it's a good idea to keep these handy for when you're badly outnumbered.
Your favorite new monster in the game?
Of the new monsters, I like the Tiger Uho. It has the ability to pick up other monsters and throw them at you (or pick you up and throw you at them). This is a neat dynamic for the game and has the added danger of putting more monsters into melee range of you quickly. The best thing though is that these attacks can cause the Tiger Uho to level up meaning more experience points for you.
Could you tell us a little about the companions in the game?
Each of the companions has their individual storyline which, if followed through, will result in them joining your party. Each has their own abilities, but more importantly, each has their own personality. For example, Pekeji is a strong fighter, but he eats a lot and will go through your food quickly if you're not careful.
Is there a chance we'll see Shiren Wii localized?
At this time, there are no plans to bring Shiren Wii over to North America.
Can we have the Koppa Wii remote stand even if the game doesn't come over?
We don't have any current plans for this, but I can let the licensing guys know that you like it!
Lastly, are handhelds and roguelikes a good match? And, do you see any specific qualities in roguelikes that make that genre most appropriate for handhelds?
I think roguelikes are well suited to handhelds because they're both inherently single-player oriented. Sure, Shiren has interconnectivity through the rescue and ranking features, but it and other roguelikes are very much a single-player challenge. And sure, there are plenty of multiplayer DS games, but handhelds have small screens designed for just one person.
See also: 2008's Biggest Blips: Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer