It shouldn't be this hard to play the best version of one of Japan's great roguelikes today

Shiren the Wanderer: Monster of Moonlight Village roguelike
(Image credit: Chunsoft)

Pasokon Retro is our regular look back at the early years of Japanese PC gaming, encompassing everything from specialist '80s computers to the happy days of Windows XP.

Shiren box art

Developer: Aquamarine/Chunsoft Released: 2002 Japanese PCs: Windows 98 and newer (Image credit: Chunsoft)

I didn't so much buy this game as I did desperately fight the universe to get it into my home. The purchase process, as primitive as it was back in Ye Olde Days of the internet, involved a trusted friend on one side of the world, a Japanese auction site on the other, a sort-of proxy friend-of-a-friend between the two, and a whole lot of emails tying it all together. For a short while, everything went smoothly. I, via this international tangle of people, won the auction. I sent money to everyone I owed money to. And then the game vanished into thin air.

I assumed my copy of Shiren the Wanderer: Monster of Moonlight Village had been lost somewhere between Japan and my door, but the truth was even more mundane than that: the normally reliable seller had put it to one side and then simply forgot all about it. For a year.

I'm not even mad about it. How could I be, when even if I take that extreme delay in mind, I can honestly say that that accommodating (if slightly forgetful) soul still put more thought and effort into getting the game to my door, and onto my PC, than anyone at the game's publisher Chunsoft ever did?

Thinking about Shiren's poor treatment makes my soul itch. This 2002 roguelike is not just a wonderful game, it's an important one too: the perfect remake of one of the earliest entries in a genre-defining series of roguelikes, only one of which is available on Steam in English. The original's so old that just adding any sort of colour would have been a huge step up all by itself. Instead this remake goes all-out, with new sprites that exceed the depth and detail of Shiren the Wanderer's expertly pixelled SNES era. 

It's also an unexpected masterclass in how to lightly change a game to better suit a new format. The keyboard controls are well thought out, and the optional mouse controls are so well integrated I can not only directly click on items sitting in my inventory, there's even a comprehensive command menu a simple right mouse button away. It's like it was never made for the humble Game Boy at all. Monster of Moonlight Village is happy to behave itself even on a modern Windows 11 machine, and that means I can leave its little resizable window open all day long, the endlessly entertaining randomised dungeon layouts never more than an Alt+Tab away.

Shiren just keeps on going with the thoughtful PC-first extras. Built-in LAN file sharing's available if I want to give my dungeon diving a lightly customised communal touch (such as sharing personalised item names with friends), and the same goes for replay recordings (saved as game-interpreted movements, rather than video files—the game is over two decades old, after all). There's even a separate puzzle creator, allowing me to make, save, and pass on my own handmade "Fay's Problems" puzzle dungeons.

But for all that's good in here, and for as much as the CD lets me do, it'll never be complete.

Years ago I didn't have to make my own Fay's Problems to pass the time: I could download sets of them from the official website, as well as some rather cute wallpapers and patches too. I could see how I compared to other fans on the game's various online leaderboards, or tried to outdo other people's scores in the special weekly dungeon. That's all gone forever, even if I try to access the defunct website via the Wayback Machine. Whatever downloads were available were locked away behind a simple login system, so short of actual time travel I'm pretty much stuck.

It's so sad that this game, like too many others, can only be experienced as a pared-back version of its former self. This is Shiren, for goodness' sake, the Mystery Dungeon series that launched a thousand roguelikes. Its own sequels (I'm hoping the latest, The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, will appear on PC), the more obvious inspired modern takes, even the likes of Hades owe this series at least a respectful nod. It stings to see the internet's general awareness of a remake as good as this one manifest as nothing more than a brief bit of trivia on a Wikipedia page about an old Nintendo cart. This is the best version of a fantastic game from a historically significant series—it deserves to be played today, and sold on Steam, with all the extras and community features it was always supposed to have.

Is that really so unreasonable an ask? I don't think so. Imagine a PC landscape where legendary games with creative fan communities like Quake, Thief, or System Shock weren't available for pocket change on Steam, because "Yeah they were good but who wants to play those old games who doesn't own them already?" Imagine never being able to play Neverwinter Nights with a friend again, ever, because "Why does it matter? The singleplayer campaign's still there." PC gaming is a richer place for giving us the chance to play our way through our own history, to give us new experiences with old classics. Yet the classics that survive on Steam and GOG still represent only a sliver of the important PC games that should be just a click away.

This Shiren isn't completely lost to time, but that's only because it happens to be on a CD and by sheer luck it runs on modern PCs without a fuss. But I'm tired of watching games like this fade into nothingness before most people ever knew they existed. Shiren can, should, and without a doubt deserves better.

Kerry Brunskill
Contributing Writer

When baby Kerry was brought home from the hospital her hand was placed on the space bar of the family Atari 400, a small act of parental nerdery that has snowballed into a lifelong passion for gaming and the sort of freelance job her school careers advisor told her she couldn't do. She's now PC Gamer's word game expert, taking on the daily Wordle puzzle to give readers a hint each and every day. Her Wordle streak is truly mighty.

Somehow Kerry managed to get away with writing regular features on old Japanese PC games, telling today's PC gamers about some of the most fascinating and influential games of the '80s and '90s.