"I get knocked down, but I get up again."

I am ready to admit my mistake. Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island isn’t the first Shiren game I’ve played. I tried Shiren the Wanderer on the Wii, didn’t get it, and quickly moved on.

The same might’ve happened here if I weren’t reviewing this game. I didn’t get the roguelike approach. I wasn’t willing to accept death as a learning experience. But then it all clicked, and I’m now such a fan that I’ve been hitting up eBay for that Wii game I stupidly traded in.

Series fans already understand this, of course. This review is for the rest of you. Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery of Serpentcoil Island is tremendous fun; you just need to give it multiple sessions to understand why.

The game begins with Shiren and his talking ferret friend, Koppa, receiving a vision of a land in distress, a kidnapped girl, and a promise of riches. Attracted by all three, Shiren and Koppa quickly find themselves battling a fierce monster…who kills them. But death is never the end in a Shiren game. Our heroes awaken the next morning back in the starting village, all items gone, all experience lost. Time to face the day.

Shiren’s goal is to traverse the main story’s 31 levels to return to that monster, solve the mystery of the kidnapped girl, and receive his treasure. He does this by entering randomly generated “dungeons” that are populated with enemies and traps.

Thankfully, helpful items will also be randomly scattered about: weapons, shields, staves, scrolls, and more, including (hopefully) a plethora of onigiri. Shiren gets hungry, you see, and needs to quell that hunger in order to continue.

Of course, the player has to worry about health, too. If that drops to 0, Shiren dies, and is returned to the village with nothing: items lost, gold gone, levels reset. But he’s smarter. New monsters are added to the game’s encyclopedia with information on how to beat them. OK, fine. But what’s better is the weapons you had to reach, say, level 10 to obtain can now start showing up in level 1. So, the deeper you get, the easier it is to get back there. That’s what I didn’t understand.

And getting back there remains fun because of the new elements that pop up. You’ll get access to secret routes. You’ll meet fellow adventurers (NPCs) who can join and aid you.

You’ll get new staves to utilize in clever, life-saving ways. And since the levels are randomly generated, you’re never taking the same path from entry point to stairs. Although, admittedly, some layouts will become familiar.

Other elements help you on your way. The controls of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island are streamlined and intuitive. Steps are turn-based (for every step you take, the approaching enemies take theirs), but you control the pacing; run when there’s no one around, take cautious steps when surrounded by enemies or wandering darkened mines that allow you to see only one grid square ahead of you. The UI allows you to set up your favorite items for quick access. When you find some needed onigiri or a shield enhancement, but your inventory is full, you can utilize that item without having to first add it to your inventory. There are many streamlined features like this to keep you moving.

There are also key decisions to make as you progress. If you find the stairs early on the map, do you move ahead or risk exploring to find more treasure? If you meet the fellow who can transport one of your items back to the village for safekeeping, do you send back your prized weapon for later attempts or risk using it on this attempt? Do you try battling through a monster room to reap its rewards or flee knowing your chances of survival are small? Should you put on that bracelet before you use an Identify Scroll to determine what it’ll do? Every adventure is a gamble, and you’re not likely to reach the end without taking numerous risks.

Thankfully, you can be rescued. If you die, you’re able to call out for an online rescue up to three times per run. Other players can accept your request. If they’re successful, you will start back up right where you went down. You can’t progress in the game until you’re rescued, you abandon the request, or you rescue yourself. So, what to do in the meantime? Rescue others for various rewards. There’s always something to do, even when you’re lying prone on a mountain, surrounded by monsters.

In fact, there’s plenty to do even after you’ve completed the initial story and the credits roll. I did so after about 35 hours with the game. That run consumed just under three of those hours and was completely unexpected; it started as an attempt to simply advance a particular sidequest progression. But thanks to an outstanding shield, a lot of revival grass, a trio of companions, and a heavy dose of luck, I was able to wrap everything up. Or so I thought. Completing the main run opens up a lot of challenging new areas. Even better, you get to keep everything you had with you, and you’re actually given places to store it. Now, all of that money and all of those items can be used as you seek out treasure in new places. Until you die in those, of course, so be careful what you take with you when exploring someplace new.

No matter where Shiren and Koppa find themselves, the visuals remain fun and lively. The music is even better—amongst the best I’ve heard in a Switch game. I also never got tired of the rousing level-up chant. Nearly every aspect of the game has something to delight players as they deal with their frustration.

And you will get frustrated, as the game will often bully you. You’ll die on level two because you simply missed a punch. You’ll die on level 28 because of a badly timed trap. An enemy will spoil your onigiri just before you were about to eat it. Rescues can alleviate that frustration, but they won’t take away that feeling of having the rug pulled out from under you.

Accepting this, though, is liberating. Playing a game where death is a requirement is almost cathartic, and I’m now addicted to the experience. I greatly enjoyed Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island and will continue to do so. More importantly, I’ve added it to my short list of IPs where I want to own each game. I see that this is the 6th in the series, so it looks like I’m set for an even more frustrating adventure. Better stock up on onigiri.