For Shiren the Wanderer, every step matters. And in this dungeon crawler, your every step can be a matter of tactical importance. The turn-based movement and battles make for a challenging game that moves at a very deliberate pace. It also adheres too closely to the gameplay design first established in Rogue in the early '80s and is content to competently reuse that solid-but-tired old model without introducing any significant innovations. The end result is a game that genre diehards will find about as absorbing as the other many games that stick so faithfully to this old formula. Anyone else is unlikely to find anything enticing here.
Sting may not be watching every step you take in these dungeons, but the monsters will be.
Shiren the Wanderer's action takes place in a series of randomly generated, abundantly booby-trapped dungeons and is presented from an isometric perspective. You spend most of your time playing as Shiren, and are frequently joined by companions. Unlike most contemporary dungeon crawlers, movement is turn based, both for you and for the many monsters that inhabit these mazes. Your movement takes place on an invisible grid, and the monsters don't move until you move. You won't always be in grave peril, but you need to think carefully about each step you take. And, for the most part, any companions you have with you will do a decent job of fighting or providing support. The biggest issue with your allies is that they often squander useful offensive spells and other items on weak enemies. At any time, you can prevent them from using all items of any given type (all offensive staves, for instance), but it's too bad that you have to forbid them from using these items altogether just to prevent them from wasting them against pushover foes. More nuanced tactical options would be welcome here, given the stiff challenge that awaits.
There are definitely times--particularly during the game's more challenging boss fights--when you will need to plot out your every move. At these times (or at any time you want), you can switch from the standard mode of directly controlling only Shiren to fully controlling all of your characters, taking each step and issuing every action. This is too time consuming to be workable most of the time, but in dangerous moments, you'll want to take complete charge to make sure that your characters are in good positions to attack enemies and support each other. Shiren's female companion Asuka might be able to hit you with a much-needed blast from a recovery staff when your health runs low, for instance, but only if you're positioned directly in one of eight directions from her. Similarly, zapping an enemy with a switch staff will instantly have you trade places with that enemy, which can put you in an advantageous position to flank your foes. The combat is tactical, as well as methodical, and it can be absorbing.
It's also sometimes very difficult, and should you fail, the consequences--at least on the normal difficulty level--are severe. You lose your entire inventory, which can obviously be quite a setback. You can stash items in town that you can grab to help you get back on your feet after such a catastrophe, but you may also find yourself having to spend quite a bit of time replaying easier dungeons you've already completed to rebuild your stock of weapons, scrolls, staves, and herbs. The game never feels unfairly difficult; it's just unforgiving when the time comes to mete out punishment for failure. If taking your lumps by rebuilding your inventory doesn't sound like fun, you can select the easy difficulty, which changes nothing about the game except that it lets you keep your inventory when you die. Even on this setting, you might find yourself trying a dungeon many times before you finally have the gear and the tactical chops to overcome it.