Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island Review

Shiren the Wanderer – Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island header

I owe you an apology, mister Shiren the Wanderer, because I wasn’t really familiar with your game before now. Sure, I’ve played a few mystery dungeon games in my time – your Pokémon Mystery Dungeons, and your Chocobo’s Mystery Dungeon Every Buddy!, but while I liked them, they never really got their claws into me. Even with my growing urges to play roguelikes, I never found myself a good enough reason to dip into the franchise that started it all until now, with Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. I’m so happy I did, because it’s my new roguelike obsession, and the game that finally made mystery dungeons click for me.

It wasn’t just about me, though, because a lot of Shiren the Wanderer games haven’t had official English localised releases. We’ve had plenty of the Pokémon Mystery Dungeon spinoffs outside of Japan, but Shiren the Wanderer has been absent for almost a decade (without counting ports and remasters). Thankfully, despite some very loose callbacks and continuity, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is a standalone game.

Silent adventurer Shiren and his talking ferret companion Koppa travel to Serpentcoil Island on rumors of ancient pirate treasure, but they soon learn about a devastating drought affecting the land, and a mysterious woman trapped inside a monster that lives at the top of the Serpent mountain.

Getting to that mountain requires navigating 30 floors of randomised mystery dungeons – each one full of unpredictable paths, friends, foes, gear, and items. Runs in Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island won’t take too much time, especially when you’re just learning the ropes. A slip-up and accidental death on floor 5 could take barely 6 minutes, and even wiping out near the middle of the 30 floor gauntlet can happen in barely half an hour. The quickness of these runs is what makes them so addictive, though – in defeat, all I wanted to do was run it back immediately and learn from my mistakes. Losing my gear and levels sucked, but I had accumulated it all so quickly that I knew I could make that magic happen again on another run. And that’s where the game really sinks it’s claws into you.

Shiren the Wanderer – Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island gameplay screenshot

Of course, it hurt a little too much when I got an extremely lucky item find, only to have an extremely unlucky death. In moments like that, the Online Rescue feature in Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island was a godsend. If you die, you can request help from other online players, and wait at the Rescue menu until someone accepts your request. They then dive into the same dungeon seed you did to get to the location where you died and extract you safely. On a few occasions with early-floor deaths, I was saved within a few minutes. Deaths on deeper floors, though, took a long time to get saved from. Thankfully, you can kill the time by rescuing other people, or even attempting to rescue yourself. Successful rescues give you points you can spend to activate buffs during a rescue attempt,, so if you’re in deep you can dig your way out by helping others to help yourself.

So much of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is about discovery and experimentation, about finding new rules, and then learning how to break those rules. You might pick up an onigiri, which can fill your hunger meter as it depletes, but it can also increase your maximum hunger if you eat it when you’re already full, and doing that enough can turn you into a giant sumo with boosted stats. If you wait too long to eat your onigiri, though, it can go rotten – you could prevent that by putting it into a pot, but you could also throw the rotten onigiri at enemies to inflict status ailments on them. Or, maybe you’ll get hit by a fireball that turns all the onigiri in your pocket, even rotten ones, into edible Grilled Onigiri. The layers of interaction across every item and mechanic run as deep as they do in immersive sims like Hitman or a game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

Shiren the Wanderer – Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island UI

Some items, like pots and bracelets, can have a variety of effects but will be unidentified when you pick them up. Do you experiment with an item to discover what it does, or do you wait to find an Identifier Scroll so you can have its potential revealed to you? Once you do, you carry that knowledge inside of you to future runsm and the wrinkles your brain forms as you learn every item and ability and creature in the game are a big part of what makes it so hard to put down.

Plus, there’s a surprising amount of narrative reward in-between runs. Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island has a delightful cast of beautifully designed characters who each have their own smaller stories unfolding every time you meet them at the various villages and rest points in the dungeon. It gave me even more goals to work toward on each run, knowing that if I made it to floor 12 again I could see what’s new with the pirate chief or the ninja princess.

There’s so much to those 30 floors of Serpentcoil Island, and my first time clearing it all felt incredible. There’s so much more to the game than that one dungeon, though – you’ll eventually unlock bonus dungeons, alternate routes, new mechanics, and even new item types. The only thing you don’t unlock was any kind of customisation of your own character. You can’t play as other heroes or get any meaningful cosmetics for Shiren besides three Achievement-locked colour swaps, which was really disappointing. It’s a minor blemish on an otherwise unforgettable experience, though. I was enthralled by Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, and I’m already desperate to dive back in as soon as I finish writing this review!

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is the gold standard for mystery dungeon games. Every system, item, and mechanic come together in endlessly dynamic ways, reaching levels of emergent and exciting gameplay that I've never experienced in the world of roguelikes.
  • Dynamic and unpredictable systems and mechanics
  • Quick, rewarding, addictive runs
  • Fun characters with engaging side-stories
  • A wealth of unlockable dungeons, secrets, and systems
  • Lack of character variety or cosmetics
Written by
I'm a writer, voice actor, and 3D artist living la vida loca in New York City. I'm into a pretty wide variety of games, and shows, and films, and music, and comics and anime. Anime and video games are my biggest vice, though, so feel free to talk to me about those. Bury me with my money.