Happily, villages appear every few areas, and most of them let you unload items into storage facilities where they'll be safe even if you die. Village blacksmiths will also upgrade weapons for you, and though they're supposedly limited to a single use, it's possible to visit them multiple times by exploiting the storage system and deliberately dying a few times. You drop items that you're carrying when you die, so even if you manage to lose a favorite weapon, there's a very small chance that it'll turn up again somewhere.
Non-player characters in the game are aware of what you've done previously, whether it was on an earlier attempt to complete a level or if you beat that same level the first time you played through the game. For example, one character you encounter likes to blind you the first couple of times you encounter her, but when you revisit the same level you have an opportunity to assist her and gain a formidable ally.
The quality of Shiren the Wanderer's presentation goes some way toward making the repeated deaths a little easier to bear. The graphics are of a simple but colorful Super NES-era quality, and though levels would have benefited from greater visual variety, the overall effect is pleasing. The music uses some nice samples inspired by Asian instruments, and the compositions do a nice job of incorporating the game's two common themes to fit the mood of the area you're in. Another factor that makes your demise somewhat tolerable is the chance to be rescued from death via an outdated 34-character password system, DS Wireless play, or the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection.
When you send a rescue request via the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, you have to rely on a Good Samaritan to start the game and specifically choose to rescue someone. If you've got a friend with the game, then DS Wireless play is the most convenient bet. In either case, you'll be waiting quite a while: The rescuer needs to have reached the level of the dungeon you died on, at which point he or she must accept the rescue mission and then start it from level 1. If your rescuer succeeds, then you'll be able to pick up right where you left off, with your items and experience levels intact.
All told, Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is a largely frustrating experience because of its randomness and permanent deaths. With perseverance you might find that the game's robust item system and unreasonable challenge are reason enough to continue playing, but even those itches would be better scratched elsewhere. With side quests and several postending dungeons to explore, not to mention the 20-plus hours you might spend simply trying to beat the main game, Shiren the Wanderer will last you for as long as you'll tolerate it. If you enjoyed and understand how to approach games such as Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or last year's Izuna: The Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, this game will be right up your alley. Otherwise, this is a quest you should avoid taking on.