Greek myths tell of a character named Sisyphus, forever doomed to roll a boulder up a hill, only to have it inevitably get away from him and hit rock bottom again. Sega's Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer might just give you some insight into poor Sisyphus' plight. This Nintendo DS role-playing game--an enhanced version of an old Super Famicom game--tasks you with trudging through 30 dungeon floors, collecting a plethora of items, managing your paltry inventory space, and surviving turn-based encounters with relentless monsters. You do this all while knowing that death will send you to back to the start of the game, stripped of all your progress. If you're something of a masochist, then this might not be a bad game for you.
You play as titular adventurer Shiren, who is on a quest to find El Dorado and the Golden Condor, a legendary bird who some say can grant wishes. Your journey takes you across forests, mountain creeks, villages, and eventually into the heart of Table Mountain, where your search is expected to come to a successful close. All of these areas are analogous to the floors of a dungeon, and for the most part their layouts are randomly generated.
If you're not ready for this game's brutal difficulty, you might actually go crazy trying to beat it.
Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer is presented in a top-down view, and at first glance could be mistaken for an action-adventure game. However, the gameplay is entirely turn-based. Every single action you take--whether it be moving, attacking, or picking up or equipping an item--takes up a turn, after which any enemies and non-player characters respond accordingly. You also have to manage Shiren's hunger, which is governed by a fullness counter that decreases with every turn. The turn-based nature can result in some awkward moments full of quick pauses as you wait for other onscreen characters to act.
You'll learn a number of tricks that you can use to overcome difficult situations as you progress, many of which involve using certain items to take advantage of the game's turn-based nature. For example, if a troupe of monsters is following you down a corridor and another creature cuts off your avenue of escape, you can hit it with a paralysis staff and then switch places with it using a switching staff, which leaves it to block your assailants' path for a few turns. Consequently, your best chance for success is to stockpile items and sort out a balanced inventory. In every area you'll feel the urge to just find the exit. However, even if the exit presents itself right in front of you, you'll do better if you take the time to scour the entire area for the numerous herbs, scrolls, staffs, swords, and shields that you can pick up.
Building up this inventory is difficult. Aside from your inability to carry enough items at a time, many of the enemies you encounter do quite a bit of damage. Even early on, a single encounter can potentially cost you most of your hit points. You recover health just by walking, but sooner or later another enemy will spawn and try to spoil the party. The real kicker is the game's permanent deaths. You can't save your progress; you can only suspend it. When you die, it's like being mugged and then having a pie thrown in your face: You lose all of your experience levels, your possessions, and a little bit of dignity as you're thrown back to the very first village. These risks stifle the desire to explore, given that you might stumble across an insanely powerful monster. Trial and error is often the only way you'll eventually learn how to survive these encounters, which isn't much fun given the aforementioned permanent death system.