Clutching The Sword

Stuff. Acquisition of things, and skills, is the driving force behind many games. Whether the Pavlovian chime of gold dropping to the ground or the triumphant music as Link holds aloft his new shield, so may games reinforce the desirability of fighting for awesome new stuff and abilities. We rely on the familiar play of wanting and getting to drive us through some games as surely as we sometimes find ourselves living life from one big purchase to the next.

What happens when the levels and the stuff are still in a game, but I'm forced to sweep my avatar away like a Mandala sand painting every time I fail? I’ve been discovering this as I make my first real plunge into the world of Roguelikes with Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer.

I rarely replay games. By the time I’m done, the sense of discovery and newness that drives me has faded, so there's really no point. Maybe some random new items or some small story tidbit will crop up again, but that’s never been enough of a draw for me to relive an experience. After I’ve run the track once, I’d rather hit the showers and start fresh on something else the next day than keep going round and round the same course. At least, that’s usually how it works.

Shiren The Wanderer on the Nintendo DS has put my own assumptions of how I play to the test. Not only do I lose everything when I die, the game boots me back to level one, and dumps me back to the starting village every time. If this wasn't punishment enough, the lady at the Inn - an evil NPC in good NPC clothing - mocks me as I drag my naked, half-starved avatar back out into the world to start anew.

“I should quit.” I think this every time I’m forced to start over and reacquaint myself with the first randomly generated forest. The archetypal woods-of-beginning.

But I don’t quit; I keep playing. I fight and claw my way up to level 12 with a Katana +5, a sweet golden shield and enough magic scrolls to build a fort, only to die when a monster randomly warps me into a cluster of baby dragons. Back to level one, all items but for whatever I may have stored in a warehouse eight levels ago are gone. Bereft of everything but my wits and my pet weasel, I try again. And again. And again.

There are a few reasons I’m willing to forgo my usual play style. For one, the dungeon areas themselves are randomly generated every time with new NPCs, items and level layouts; so each new adventure is actually a reasonably new experience. The developers have also created a world where there is at least some persistence to the NPC stories, even if my own personal journey is a never-ending cycle of "Crap, here I go again." A party member I managed to recruit through questing in one life will be willing to join up with me if I run into them in a dungeon on the next attempt.

Considering I’m back to a blank slate every time I die, the only real persistence is my own skill as a player and my understanding of the game world. The rules of engagement demand the strategic use of consumables: a liberal application of magic scrolls, a near fanatical hording of rice balls. I may lose everything when I die, but I retain the lessons learned from my countless deaths. That progress, outside the confines of new items and in-game abilities, transcends the old ruts in my thinking and gives me some insight into why some people can play the same game half a dozen times, or max out multiple characters in WoW. That kind of achievement being unlocked won't ever register on the screen, but it's there.

Like the Tibetan Buddhist monks who spend days painstakingly creating works of art before sweeping them away in a beautiful display of non-attachment, I too try to see the journey as the most important part of the experience.

After all, there will always be another sword.

Comments

I love it. Now I really have to go get this game.

When I was reading that I thought about the game Steel Battalion, which not only sent you back to zero when you died, it deleted your entire save game. Your new incarnation really had to start from scratch.

All you had to do to avoid this much more complete idea of death was to not be an overclocked ninny and punch out when you lost. But it added a level of urgency to battle decisions that would not be there if you knew you were just going to be spawned back at the last checkpoint when you went out in your blaze of glory.

I've never been into Rogue-likes myself, either...until Rogue Touch for my iPod touch. It doesn't have any of the graphic flair that Shiren may possess, but it's got the same addictive quality...each time I start over. It's like you said, the lessons I learn become more valuable than the shiny new sword I just found.

Wow. This is definitely something new - I'm always clamoring for something new, then hiding under a rock when it confuses me. I'm interested in additional takes on this game. Anyone else out there had some time with it?

I played it for a while. I was absolutely fascinated with it for a while, but eventually moved on to other things. Bill Harris loved it as well, and you should be able to find his thoughts somewhere in his Dubious Quality blog.

One of my favorite games on the Sega Genesis was Faery Tale Adventure. It told the story of three brothers out for revenge or adventure or something. It was the first game I had played that actually killed your character permanently. The cool part was the next youngest brother would realize his brother had died fighting the forces of evil and set out to avenge him and try to complete the quest. If you could find the older brother's corpse, you could even salvage some of the equipment left behind. It made character death a little more meaningful to me than just 'oh, go back to the last save.' It may be the masochist in me, but I like when there are consequences for being careless. Now I have to pick up Mystery Dungeon. And I haven't even finished Chrono Trigger yet.

*Legion* wrote:
Certis wrote:

I make my first real plunge into the world of Roguelikes with Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer.

Isn't that like saying, "I'm making my first real plunge into the world of sports games with Backyard Football!"?

"I'm taking my first real plunge into the NFL by being a Jaguars fan!"

My one and only Roguelike was ADOM. I dumped a lot of hours into it but the "chaos effect," which essentially put a time limit on you, made it very tricky to balance conservative death-avoidance with the need to forge ever onward. I just wasn't cut out for it.

Trying to release such a brutal style of game commercially is very bold.

Certis wrote:

I make my first real plunge into the world of Roguelikes with Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer.

Isn't that like saying, "I'm making my first real plunge into the world of sports games with Backyard Football!"?

Though the topic of Roguelikes has brought up in the various podcasts I listen to, including GWJ, I was never once successfully persuaded to check one out. But this piece really captured what fans of Roguelikes must be experiencing and has really got me considering Shiren The Wanderer, though I'll probably hold off until I can find it for $20 or so.

Certis wrote:

"I'm taking my first real plunge into the NFL by being a Jaguars fan!"

You lash out in vain at that which you cannot refute!

Ragnarok also did the no-saves thing, except that when you died your dead character became a ghost that your new character could encounter. As you played and died repeatedly, ghosts would accumulate.

Hans

nukacola23 wrote:

Though the topic of Roguelikes has brought up in the various podcasts I listen to, including GWJ, I was never once successfully persuaded to check one out. But this piece really captured what fans of Roguelikes must be experiencing and has really got me considering Shiren The Wanderer, though I'll probably hold off until I can find it for $20 or so.

Well whaddaya know.

I played calcrogue on my calculator a whole bunch back in high school, which was my introduction to the world of roguelikes. Got Shiren through goozex a couple months ago and I have been loving it, so much so that it took the place of Space Invaders Extreme as my "standby" portable game.

Coincidentally, I'm going through my yearly Roguelike phase right now too. It'll last a couple weeks usually before I get tired of the dying, but I always look back upon the experiences fondly.

Right now I'm playing a variant of Angband called Unangband. Highly recommended if you're looking for some much needed flavor and character on top of the deep tactical mechanics Angband has to offer.

Previously I've dabbled in ToME, FAAngband, vanilla Angband, and a bit of Nethack. All of the (free) variety out there to try is a big part of why its so much fun to keep coming back.

I just had to go look up what Rougelikes were and I have to say, I hate those things. It probably has to do with wanting a story presented to me, especially in a game that's a big time sink. I can sorta see the appeal of them, and I've may have even spent quite a few hours with some. In the end I'm never satisfied with any of it and I feel I'm just a zombie among ghosts.

You can do it Certis, you CAN do it!

someday

when the stars are in alignment

I really enjoyed Chunsoft's Torneko's Mysterious Dungeon and the Shiren the Wanderer Series (its successor).

So harsh, yet addictive. Solid mechanics and Toriyama inspired graphics to boot. (at least for Torneko).

Great fun.

Certis wrote:
*Legion* wrote:
Certis wrote:

I make my first real plunge into the world of Roguelikes with Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer.

Isn't that like saying, "I'm making my first real plunge into the world of sports games with Backyard Football!"?

"I'm taking my first real plunge into the NFL by being a Jaguars fan!"

That's just nonsense. Backyard Football has the general trappings of a football game, but in a watered-down state. Not only are the Jaguars still an expansion team in my mind -- and thus no closer to being in the NFL than Rod Blagojevich is a member of the heavenly choir when walking past a church -- but the term "Jaguars fan" is clearly a well-known euphemism for redneck substance abuse.

*Legion* wrote:
Certis wrote:

I make my first real plunge into the world of Roguelikes with Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer.

Isn't that like saying, "I'm making my first real plunge into the world of sports games with Backyard Football!"?

Not necessarily. Shiren the Wanderer is supposed to be a very true-to-form roguelike.

Edit:

Here's an interesting quote from the article I linked above:

The first thing you should know about Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer, and something that I wish each of the above reviewers had been told before they wrote their pieces, is that it is a game.

That may seem like an obvious statement, but it's not as simple a declaration as it may first appear. While the G in RPG stands for Game, many are not games in the strictest sense: they care more about storytelling than play, and there is no real way to lose.

mrtomaytohead wrote:

I just had to go look up what Rougelikes were and I have to say, I hate those things.

You hated Diablo 2? Really?

I ended up replacing Shiren for one of the Pokemon roguelike games. They're easier and have somewhat more story persistence. Haven't finished, but I do have a nice little stable of monsters.

For further reading, I highly recommend the @ Play column over at GameSetWatch. It's a biweekly column devoted to roguelikes that started in 2006. Which means, by now, it's a veritable book of essays on the subject:

http://www.gamesetwatch.com/column_a...

Usually as you progress in a Chunsoft game, you graduate from a simpler form of the dungeon (ilimited dungeon depth, items are revealed, you can grow equipment and store it) to an ultimate form of the dungeon where item characteristics must be figured out, the ability to store and grow items is taken away etc.

So Legion, unfortunately in this case, you are wrong.

Isn't there a sequel out already?

Oh, there's an earlier three part series on Shiren the Wanderer at @Play as well. My previous link was to a follow-up article.

Irongut wrote:

So Legion, unfortunately in this case, you are wrong. :P

My only goal was to insult Certis. Facts cannot get in the way of what was an achievement of the primary objective.

Ironbot!

wordsmythe wrote:

Not only are the Jaguars still an expansion team in my mind -- and thus no closer to being in the NFL than Rod Blagojevich is a member of the heavenly choir when walking past a church -- but the term "Jaguars fan" is clearly a well-known euphemism for redneck substance abuse.

Franchises that employed Dave Wannstedt as head coach for six years have absolutely zero NFL high ground to look down from.

IMAGE(http://www.bearshistory.com/images/wanny250.jpg)

Especially when they followed it up by hiring their next head coach off of that non-NFL expansion team's coaching staff.

IMAGE(http://news.bbc.co.uk/olmedia/1695000/images/_1698914_jauron150.jpg)

complexmath wrote:
mrtomaytohead wrote:

I just had to go look up what Rougelikes were and I have to say, I hate those things.

You hated Diablo 2? Really?

Never played Diablo 2. I did play the original Diablo before I stopped playing RPG's (I've looked at a few here and there since, but still hold to that still) and actually liked that one. That may be the one notable exception. Then again, playing with a few of my high school friends made that a much better experience. Blizzard's hand in the the game probably helped it a lot, too.

It was my first rogue-like that I finished; deadly consequences certainly make defeating (or escaping) encounters more exhilarating.

I enjoy a good dungeon romp, especially one that has replayability, but I don't get on too well with games that punish you harshly as part of the process of learning to play, and exploring the dungeon. I've heard all the arguments about the death penalty being so harsh actually enhancing the game and putting real tension in the game, but if a game beats me down too hard, my enjoyment of the game is seriously impaired. I haven't been able to explore and progress, conflict becomes more a battle about cautiously staying alive and hording equipment that keeps me alive, than customising my hero and his tactics to the fight. I have to play a supposedly heroic game, as a risk assesor.

I guess the roguelike community has been built upon games which force you to play them again and again, and their lesson is not to teach you by the carrot, but to teach you by the stick. The big stick of doom and loss. My precious gaming time shouldn't be shrouded in frustration and nervous caution, it should bask in glorious heriocs, because I'm primarily playing these explore, train up and conquer to enjoy the ride.

The difficulty level should be built in to the encounters you face, and the variations upon the foes you come up again, rather than punish any mistake or bad decision you make. This to me, stifles adventuring and creativity and rewards cautious plodding and hording. I guess most roguelike players would point and accuse me of not having the right stuff to play these games properly..

I just wish roguelike developers would make their games to cover the breadth of players expectations from the herioc wanna-bes who enjoy a good adventure and want to make it through to the end, to the die-hard roguelike fanatics who like the challenge of perma-death play and want to fight their way through to as high as they cautiously can.

*Legion* wrote:

Ironbot!

I saw that, *Lesion*!

spelk wrote:

I just wish roguelike developers would make their games to cover the breadth of players expectations from the herioc wanna-bes who enjoy a good adventure and want to make it through to the end, to the die-hard roguelike fanatics who like the challenge of perma-death play and want to fight their way through to as high as they cautiously can.

I think this misses the point of the rouguelike games.

I'm a nethack addict and have been for years. ("Hi Nathaniel.") Although I play almost daily, I have only 2 or 3 acendencies to my name. I follow the advice of all the spoiler sites: polypiling, all the sneaky ways of identifying objects, using wishes, etc. My only self-restriction is that I only like to play Wizards, which aren't the easiest to survive with.

I still love it. When I get a good game going, it's a serious thrill that lasts a few days. TF2 and my 360 go unplayed; instead, I have my little white-on-black text window in a corner of the screen that completely absorbs me.

When I lose.. well, that's ok. Even if I lost due to stupidity, I can shrug and say 'easy come, easy go', and resolve not to make the same dumb mistake next time. Slowly my chops improve.

It's a game in the real sense of game - I can win, I can lose. This is not true with most single-player games anymore: losing is not an option. And even in multiplayer games, you don't have to be good to win, you just have to be less bad than your competition. It's like golf - I'm playing the course, not the opponent.

Not everyone likes golf. That's OK too.