Episode 3 of BS Shiren the Wanderer Recovered

The Mystery Dungeon series of Japanese roguelikes, which includes the Shiren the Wanderer games, has a fair number of obscure entries. There’s “The Rainbow Labyrinth,” a mobile entry that toyed with adding F2P features and never made it out of beta. There’s a few other mobile remakes of early titles that can’t be obtained or played now due to their platforms being discontinued. And back on Super Famicom, one of the very first Mystery Dungeon games, a spinoff and modification of Furai no Shiren, was released for Nintendo’s Satellaview add-on.

Most Satellaview titles are extremely obscure now, with their only remaining remnants that aren’t languishing in a vault somewhere inside Nintendo (if they even exist there) being saved data files on aging flash memory cartridges in the possession of diehard Nintendo players and collectors in Japan. Satellaview was treated as a way of distributing disposable software, games and other programs that were tied to a specific date or time, so there are a good number of lost items for it, and many will probably never be recovered.

Entropy and bitrot are huge problems with computer software of all types, and it’s shocking how little most companies, even Nintendo themselves sometimes, seem to think about recording essential parts of their past. So any successful reclaiming of old data from the land of howling hungry ghosts is good.

Image from Satellablog

That’s why I’m remarking here that Satellablog, dedicated to recovering and making playable as much old Satellaview software as they can, has managed to obtain a copy of Episode 3, of the Satellaview version of Shiren the Wanderer, “Save Surara” or “Save Surala” depending on the tastes of the person romanizing the title. That means episodes 2, 3 and 4 have been found, leaving only the first episode.

Save Surara was a Soundlink title, like the releases of BS Legend of Zelda. That means they were intended to be played at the same time as a special audio broadcast, and contained events that were timesynced with that broadcast. Without the broadcast (which are usually lost now), Soundlink games can’t be entirely played as originally intended, but it’s still better than nothing.

Here is video of Episode 3 in action. It’s about 49 minutes long. It’ll have to be modified to get it into a state where people who aren’t into romhacking will be able to play it themselves:

With three episodes recovered, there’s still hope that someone in Japan saved a copy of Episode 1 on a forgotten flashcart resting in a closet somewhere. Frog bless all of you awesome hardware horders over there!

Shiren 6: What Happens When You Finish The Final Dungeon

I’ve been playing a lot of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island lately. Partly in preparation to add a chapter on it to my Mystery Dungeon book, partly because I like Mystery Dungeon games. I streamed my playthrough of finishing the main dungeon (on my first attempt!) here.

Here is the title screen (which is a spoiler for after finishing the main dungeon, although that is really only a short way into the game):

After you finish every other task in the game, including finishing the final 99 Floor “megadungeon” where most items are unidentified, the title screen changes to add a nice rainbow:

I forgot to get a picture with the title in place. I can’t go back and get it now because of what followed….

There is one more thing to do at that point though. That is to play through the megadungeon again, but finding 12 “Celestial Stones” that severely restrict your inventory by the end.

Well, I’m not sure if they really counted on anyone doing that? There doesn’t seem to be much reward for it. It doesn’t go remarked upon by anyone in the game. But it does change one thing: the title screen. Here it is:

I like the red “IN SPACE” stamp! Sadly, all the graphics in the actual game still show an island floating in the atmosphere, and not in orbit. I wonder if they plan on doing something with this in an update? That seems like a lot of extra work for the benefit of not a lot of people.

Looking through my screenshots, I found this illustration that can be unlocked for behind the main menu, showing Shiren stumbling upon a Monster House:

There’s a lot more to say about Shiren 6, after I gather up my thoughts about it….

@Play: Glorious Adventure in the Mystery Dungeon

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

It’s the shortest @Play column ever!

What is happening here? This is the newest Mystery Dungeon game, Shiren the Wander: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. It’s actually a great deal of fun, a sharply-designed entry in the long-running classic roguelike series.

This isn’t “roguelike” like half the games on Steam. This is a true roguelike, even if it doesn’t have ASCII graphics: a turn-based RPG with substantial randomized elements, that demands that you live (or not) by your tactics, strategy and wits. I don’t begrudge others appropriation of the term, but it does mean I have to now use the qualifier classic when I want to discuss the old style. Really, it’s better to call games not in the original style roguelite.

The dungeon depicted is Heart of Serpentcoil Island, the traditional end megadungeon that most Mystery Dungeon games have. After finishing the “main” dungeon, and playing a lot of extra bonus dungeons that each show off a specific element of the game’s engine, there’s the megadungeon: a 99-level gauntlet of terror where you enter at level 1. None of the items you’ve collected throughout the rest of the game will help you here. You must start from scratch with just a riceball. You don’t even have a weapon or a shield to begin with: everything you have, you must find along the way.

The game doesn’t pull many punches in this dungeon, as you can see. At experience level 1, every space in a room (other than the entrances: that’s a secret tip for you!) could contain a game-ending trap. The only consolation is that they’re really quite rare! I was exceptionally unlucky in this run.

Additionally, the uses of many of the items, the scrolls, grasses, pots, bracelets and incense found in the dungeon, are unknown: their effects must be discovered, through means both blatant and subtle, for yourself. Some of them will be essential to your survival, let alone success; others, like the Ill-fated Seed, you really want to avoid using.

It’s a ludicrous test of knowledge and skill, and a fitting capstone to the game. If the experience shown in the video seems like it might put you off, at least it shows conclusively that the game isn’t taking it easy on you. If you win, and it can be won, it’s a great accomplishment. I’m still working on this one myself; I’ll let you know how it goes.

Shiren 6 Main Dungeon Completion

Whew! At around 3:30 AM last night, I finally was able to play Shiren the Wanderer 6: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. Five hours later I finished it on my first attempt, with no deaths. I had six Revival Herbs in inventory at the end. (There is a story battle against the boss at the beginning that you’re supposed to lose. I don’t know, maybe there’s a tricky way to finish it? I gave it a good try.)

I did this on my rarely-used Twitch channel. I’ve put the recordings of the play in a video collection, which you can see here.

I’m not going to say this means the game is easy. I can finish Super Famicom Shiren on one try too. I’ve been playing roguelikes for, oooh, over 30 years now? Shiren 6 falls a lot closer to the first Shiren games than Shiren 4 and 5, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I plan on written a full review later, after I’ve recovered from staying up all night playing this game.

I’m sorry that this isn’t more generally interesting, but I’m pretty jazzed!

Shiren the Wander 6 is Out in February!

Chunsoft has announced a new Shiren the Wanderer game, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, for Nintendo Switch, due out on February the 27th! Some of the most popular columns from @Play on GameSetWatch were the screenshotted play I demonstrated of the fan translation of Super Famicom Shiren, and if the comments on the trailer are something to be trusted, there’s still a diehard group of fans out there.

Interestingly, the theme of this one is “back to basics,” suggesting that some of the greater mutations of the more recent games, like the Night rules, equipment experience and such, will be pared back. Some of those rules I like and some I don’t, but I have said that more recent Shiren games, while fun, feel like they’re lacking something. Some of the series enhancements starting from around Shiren 4 (which never got an official English release) I have issues with, particularly, monsters always going straight through blind intersections if they have no knowledge of Shiren’s location, allowing the player to take advantage of the AI to avoid conflict; and that Shiren’s healing rate actually decreases, not just relative to maximum HP but in absolute terms, as he gains experience levels. These are relatively minor qualms though, and most players won’t even notice them.

Here is that trailer:

Some noteworthy elements are the return of Shiren’s lady friend Asuka (who despite appearances is several years older than him), and of giant-sized boss battles, possibly using some of the engine enhancements done to facilitate large Pokemon in Rescue Team DX. I also appreciate that the story appears to be a naked grab for loot! It’s always felt to me that a wanderer’s life is, or should be, a hard-scrabble existence, and while our rogueish characters may affect the fate of the world, they’re still usually in it for themselves. That way, if they fail (and they fail often), you can laugh at them more than feel sorry for them.

I keep trying to do more @Play columns but other work continues to get in the way. I have a fair number of subjects to write about now though, not the least of which being my ill-advised decision to buy the super-skeevy Omega Labyrinth Life on Switch. I feel like paying money for that might have gotten my name on a list somewhere, so I might as well get some column inches out of it!

@Play Extra: Inner Details of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are interesting offshoots of the mainline Mystery Dungeon titles. They make clear a stark difference between primacy and popularity: if you only care about sales, then there is no question that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are the main games, because their sales vastly outweigh the other games. The games in the second generation, Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, are the best-selling Mystery Dungeon games of all. You have to know that there’s around 30 other games, many much older than the Pokemon flavor, in fact older than Pokemon itself by three years, to know the whole story.

Yet the PMD games are still Mystery Dungeon titles, and they play very similarly. They’re graphical roguelike dungeon-crawl games, just, you, your teammates, and your opponents are not generic fantasy creatures, but Pokemon. That is, specific fantasy creatures. Trademarked ones, in fact.

Because PMD’s fairly popular, you’re more likely to find investigations into its internals than the Shiren or other Mystery Dungeon games, just from the number of people who exist in its audience with both the will and skill to investigate. Yet, those internals are close enough to the MD standard that they even provide insight into how classic Mystery Dungeon operates.

YouPotato TheZZAZGlitch’s usualy video stomping grounds in Pokemon, but they have a fondness for PMD, so they’ve made a video on how the first generation (Red/Blue Rescue Team) generates its dungeons, and what do you know, many of these floor types are also very familiar to me from my time exploring the Shiren games, and it doesn’t seem a stretch at all to presume they’re run by the same, or at least a very similar, algorithm.

And YouTuber Some Body (who has a low number of subscribers, maybe folk should send them some love?) has two videos explaining how the AI in those games works. The first is of more general (well, less niche) interest (the one above), while the second is more about covering exceptions and edge cases.