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Death Becomes Me (Or, I Become Dead)

February 17, 2010

So it happened. I died.

Or, rather, Asuka died, ending my game of Shiren the Wanderer. Luckily, I had spent quite a lot of time putting items into storage, depositing money in the bank, and leveling up Shiren, Sensei, and Asuka, to the point where I barely felt the impact of the death. My weapons weren’t quite as strong, my pockets not quite as full, but I was still in pretty good shape. One run through one of the easier labyrinths, and I was ready to start again, right where I left off. I could even set off with the added knowledge that tanks with explosive ammo, no matter how puny looking and slow they are, are not to be trifled with.

For a while, it worked, too. Rather than getting killed off on the second floor of Tengu’s hideout, I made it all the way to a faceoff with the big-nosed, red-faced, winged guardian of Karakuri Mansion. I’d dispatched his bretheren with ease, and despite his bravado and his apparent status as leader of the guardians, I didn’t think he’d be all that much more difficult.

And then he killed me. In hindsight, taking him on without a shield may not have been the best idea.

Going by sheer looks, I'd have thought the Centipede would be *way* tougher than Tengu.

Now, here I am, left with little more than my wits and a whole pile of HP. My weapons are gone. My precious herbs are gone. I have no stones, no spells, and, perhaps most harsh of all, not a penny’s worth of gold. I may punch harder than I used to, but setting out into Tengu’s hideout with little more than my wits and my fists will be a sure way to get killed in short order.

The first time I died, the penalty felt minimal. Now, it feels real. And yet, I’ll return.

Having finally faced the steepest penalty that the Wii’s version of Shiren the Wanderer has to offer, my stance may be softening. This still hurts — it sets me back hours, as I try to build up enough of a cache of weapons, healing items, and food to make another go at Tengu’s hideout. Still, I haven’t lost everything. Maybe I won’t have to go through all of the dungeons and mazes that led up to Tengu’s hideout; maybe half of them will be enough. The loss is palpable, but not impossible to recover from. Once I have my goodies, I won’t have to grind.

It hurts enough to make me want to be more careful, but not enough to keep me from returning.

The severity and gravity of my own experience still isn’t enough to make me forgive easy mode, which still feels like an invitation to keep bashing your head against the wall until you make a hole. Eventually, your level will be high enough to surpass whatever obstacle you’re trying to overcome, and you will have lost nothing along the way aside from, perhaps, a little pride. Still, Chunsoft might be onto something with their easier take on normal mode. It’s still hard to believe that there is no way to play the game as a pure Roguelike; perhaps a hard mode would be in order for next time…or, even better, replace “easy” mode with what is here “normal”, for this “normal” mode feels like a proper easing into the world of Roguelikes, while “easy” is little more than a JRPG that looks like a Roguelike.

Because, really, a Roguelike should take more than sheer time — it should take care, and it should take skill. Both of these modes available on the Wii eventually reduce to time spent, which is unfortunate.

The fact that even after dying twice I still want to play it, however, might be just what Chunsoft was going for.

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