Atlus' upcoming Wii RPG Shiren the Wanderer has all the trappings of a roguelike dungeon crawler, but Atlus notes key differences that set it apart from other roguelike games. For instance, it's much easier.
I participated in an online demo for Shiren the Wanderer yesterday, with Atlus playing through the game while the company's PR manager Aram Jabbari talked us through some of the game's features. Features like Shiren's ferret companion, Koppa, who does the talking for the legendary hero and was so adorable I requested the screenshot up top, pulled from the game's opening cinematic.
As Aram described gameplay in Shiren, however, the term roguelike popped up in my head immediately. A roguelike is a sort of turn-based RPG in which the player moves his or her character through (generally) randomly generated dungeons, with each step and action acting as a turn for the creatures inhabiting said dungeons. Take a step, the monsters get closer. Attack a creature, they attack back and other enemies in the dungeon can take a step. Think Pokemon Mysterious Dungeon, Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, or Atlus titles like Izuna and Baroque.
Another unifying theme of roguelike games is their difficulty. Players delve deep into these mysterious dungeons, only to die, losing all of the levels they gained, the items they've collected, and basically starting over at square one. This is where Shiren strays from the classic roguelike formula.
Shiren the Wanderer has two difficulty levels. In Easy mode, when you die you keep all the experience you've gained since your last save and all of your items. On normal, you lose your inventory, but keep your levels. It's a huge difference, and Atlus is keen on making sure it keeps the term roguelike from being applied to Shiren.
"We're not referring to it like a roguelike because a lot of people have a negative association with the term," Aram Jabbari explains. "They are seen as extremely punishing. We don't want people to think of this game as falling into a certain category and then dismissing it."
Despite the lack of experience loss, colourful cutscenes, and adorable sidekicks, Atlus is keenly aware of the struggle it's in for bringing Shiren the Wanderer to the states. "We're excited to bring a very unique game to North America, but we know we're going to have an uphill climb with the platform and the niche market."
The game does have a lot going for it. It features in-depth behaviour settings for your NPC companions, allowing you to select how they will behave, what items they will use in battle, and even the order in which they will use select item sets. The game also feature a Travel Log that acts as an in-game achievement system, unlocking kudos as you defeat certain bosses, clear areas and discover treasures. They've even got achievements for special ways to die. Step on a trap that transforms you into a rice ball, then get set on fire, and boom, achievement unlocked.
The cutscenes are pretty, and the story plays a huge part in the game, steeped in Japanese myth and history. Technically the third game in the series, Atlus opted to launch the Wii title in America simply as Shiren the Wanderer, in order to introduce new players to the rich world of the legendary warrior.
Towards the end of our demonstration, one of the other participants asks if the focus on how much easier the game is than other similar titles was a way of playing to the Wii owning demographic. Aram's response?
"We're not trying to cater to the Wii Fit audience. We're just trying to make sure that traditional RPG fans don't pass on the game after hearing the term roguelike."
So yes, I've typed it around 20 times during the course of this story, but just put it completely out of your mind. Nothing roguelike to see here!
Shiren the Wanderer is due for release on the Nintendo Wii in February.