"Well I roam from town to town, I go through life without a care,
And I'm as happy as a clown,
With my two fists of iron, but I'm goin' nowhere."
How often do you get to enjoy a dungeon crawler so brazen that it strips you of items and levels upon death, leaving you with only what you managed to store away for safe keeping and the distinction that you made it that much farther in the game? In Japan, there's a whole sub-genre devoted to this concept, the latest of which arrived here as Mystery Dungeon. Even with great weapons and high stats, there's no guarantee of survival. For those who feel games--especially RPGs--have become soft, this is for you. For those who hate death or challenges, you might want to look elsewhere, because here it’s around every corner waiting to take you back to the village of Canyon Hamlet and square one.
For those who feel games--especially RPGs--have become soft, this is for you.
Shiren is trying to get to the Lair of the Golden Condor. With his trusty weasel Koppa, he must traverse forests, rivers, caves, villages, and mountain passes. While the bottom screen displays the action, the top screen can be used to keep tabs on health and hunger, check your route, and more. The goal of the game is simple: make it as far as possible without dying. And then, when you do die, try to make it even farther by learning from the previous journey. Though action guises itself as real-time, it’s actually turn-based. You can attack with an equipped weapon or arrow, or use scrolls and other items gained along the way. If you talk to the right people, you may find yourself with much-needed companions. Besides enemies, there are various traps littering the floors that cause confusion, immobilization, and other fun status ailments.
Every so many screens a village sits, offering weapon upgrades, pubs, shops, and inns. You can chat with the locals and enjoy a little bit of peace before heading off to the next round of randomly generated screens. The challenge with this type of game is that because you may die at any moment, you’re never able to really build your character and equipment to a comfortable level. It keeps you on your toes and forces you to manage items very skillfully. As long as an item is stored in a warehouse before you die, you can use it again, so it pays to use jars (you can send items back in these) and survive on only the necessary items for a given set of floors. I can’t tell you how many times I lost an invaluable item just because I was carrying it around with the intent of using it.
Death actually isn’t as absolute as I made it out to be. In Mystery Dungeon, you can save or be saved by a fellow traveler via Wi-Fi. Just make sure you never try to cheat the system by powering off after you die with the hopes of starting from a previous save. This actually corrupts the data and sends you back to Canyon Hamlet. You have to quit and properly save each and every time you want to stop playing. If you die, it auto saves.
There’s no other way to say it—Mystery Dungeon is a pain in the ass. But for some reason I kept going back for more, because I wanted to try and outdo my previous record, find new items, and see what new companions I could meet along the way. I haven’t made it to the Lair of the Golden Condor yet, but I’ll give it a go every once in a while. It’s a great way to kill some time and enjoy a style of gameplay we don’t often see anymore.