The do-over has long been a fixture in video games. Extra lives, check points, and the ability to save at will give us many opportunities to get things right. Mystery Dungeon: Shiren The Wanderer takes a fairly stingy approach to second chances. Death in this role-playing game means starting back at square one—pockets empty, gear lost, and experience erased. Shiren is a ronin living in a monster-fraught feudal Japan. His goal is to scale a towering mountain and confront the legendary golden condor that lurks atop the deadly vertical dungeon. Such tasks shouldn't be a piece of cake.
The consequences of failure aren't entirely dire. Weapons, spells, and other goodies can be stashed in warehouses for future use. Continued questing changes the game world, making once-harrowing areas easier to overcome. Assist stranded travelers, and they may open a shop in town, or even tag along with Shiren as he methodically slashes a path across the countryside. Even the most careful runs can end in tears, especially if Shiren bites the dust with a particularly sweet katana in hand. A nifty online feature offers the potential to take the sting out of even these moments. By hooking up to the Internet or a nearby friend, a fallen Shiren can call for help. If another player hears his plea and pulls off the rescue mission, Shiren is revived, goodies intact. But the gods of Shiren The Wanderer are only so lenient. After three of these interventions, the piper must be paid.
Beyond the game: Shiren first saw release in 1995 on the Super Famicom. Other entries in the venerable Mystery Dungeon series take place in the Pokémon, Final Fantasy, and Dragon Quest universes.
Worth playing for: Death may be inevitable and frequent, but it's rarely run-of-the-mill. Shiren can starve to death, succumb to monsters, trip a fatal trap, or even fall to friendly fire. Before long, you're likely to get over the pain of failure and learn a Zen-like appreciation of each pitfall.
Frustration sets in when: The wait for an anonymous online rescue feels like riding the bench during the big game. It's often tempting to swallow a serious loss just to get back in the action.
Final judgment: The kind of punishment that feels good.