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New Shiren the Wanderer Game Director and Project Manager Talk About Going Back to Basics

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Keisuke Sakurai (left) and Hideyuki Shinozaki (right)

Recently, at a hands-on event in Tokyo, I was able to meet with Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island‘s director and project manager, Keisuke Sakurai and Hideyuki Shinozaki. We talked a bit about the upcoming game and its philosophy of returning to basics.

The Shiren the Wanderer series, a spin-off of the greater Mystery Dungeon franchise, hasn’t seen a new game in over a decade. However, the most recent game in the series, Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate was ported to Nintendo Switch in 2020 and surpassed expectations. This paved the path for a new game in the series—one which is scheduled for release early next year. However, despite The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate‘s success, Sakurai and Shinozaki chose a different path for this new game rather than building upon its immediate predecessor.

When speaking to longtime fans of the series, one important thing quickly became clear. “Many players have said that their most highly rated game was the first one—though that’s not to say the most recent game, [The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate], hasn’t sold well—it’s just these players were very vocal that they preferred the first game,” Sakurai explained. “So for this [new] game, we decided to change directions a bit—away from the fifth game and towards the first.”

It wasn’t a decision based on fan reaction alone. “It had been 13 or 14 years since the release of the last game,” Shinozaki began. “If we had continued building on top of each sequel—building on 3, 4, and 5—the expectations [for what the game should be] would only continue to grow—which would have inevitably led to the game becoming larger and more difficult to understand.”

With more than a decade since the last new game, they had a chance to do a major overhaul. As Shinozaki said, “It felt like the perfect time to reorganize the game’s structure with new players in mind. I don’t know if it’s right to say that we made the game ‘compact,’ but I feel that we made it ‘easy to understand.’”

A big part of starting fresh is figuring out what to cut and what to add to the game. “The weapon level-up system and day/night cycle from [The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate] are missing this time around,” Sakurai told me. “On the other hand, we have added Sacred Items to the game.” These randomly dropped “Sacred Items” are special gear that have more opportunities to level up and get stronger as you play. This forces the player to choose between a stronger normal piece of equipment that will eventually be outclassed or a Sacred Item that will grow with them—in other words to choose between short-term gains and potential long-term ones.

It helps to have members of your staff who worked on the original Shiren games back in the Super Nintendo era. Seiichirō Nagahata, who is the person in charge of game balance, has been working on the series for nearly 30 years—as has the game’s scenario writer Shinichiro Tomie. Also returning is character designer Kaoru Hasegawa who has done the character designs for most of the Shiren games (including the first one) and Shinozaki himself has more than 20 years of experience working on Mystery Dungeon games (not just Shiren specifically).

The team for The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is about 50 people—and about 70% of them have worked on Mystery Dungeon games in the past. The game seems to be in the hands of people who know exactly what kind of retro throwback this game is supposed to be.

Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island is scheduled for release on February 27, 2024, in North America and Europe for the Nintendo Switch.

*Note: The interview was conducted in Japanese with the assistance of an English interpreter.

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