Title Screen With Tabletop Mountain['Parallax Memories' is a regular weekly column by Matthew Williamson, profiling classic '16-bit' games from the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo, and other seminal '90s systems. This week's column profiles Chunsoft’s roguelike: Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren]

What-like? Roguelike.

Wandering around in a world of hash marks, peroids, and number symbols may be familiar to the longtime gamers here. Entering a room and encountering the letter "D" could cause you to sweat after running though ASCII hell for days. This game would either have been Rogue itself, or a roguelike. When Enix commissioned a spinoff of the Dragon Quest series from Chunsoft, the result was a strange Super Famicom roguelike based on Torneko, the chubby shop keeper of Dragon Quest IV.

Chunsoft is a small development company - so small that they don't even have a Wikipedia entry (remedy this!). Their first game, that commission for Enix, was Torneko no Daibouken: Fushigi no Dungeon (Torneko's Great Adventure: Mysterious Dungeon ), but this article is not about the tubby salesman. This is about their first non-commissioned creation: Fushigi no Dungeon 2: Fuurai no Shiren (Mysterious Dungeon 2: Shirin the Wanderer). Released December 1995 in Japan only, Shiren uses a roguelike structure to create a hellishly difficult action role-playing hybrid.

Dungeon QuoteThe Impasse Valley

Shiren the Wanderer is firmly entrenched in Japanese culture and mythology. In a rain hat and cloak made of grass, Shiren attempts to reach the dwelling place of the Golden Condor at the summit of Tabletop Mountain, beyond Impasse Valley. He isn't the first to attempt this, and the designation “Wanderer” refers to “the men endlessly seeking this place.”

Death is a major theme of the game. Traversing the dungeons (and forests, towns, mountains, etc.) will lead to death in a multitude of manners which are all recorded on the high score chart. The game teaches you how to deal with this, or rather you slowly learn how to approach and survive the multitude of ways to die. It's notable and initially frustrating that when you die, you lose everything: money, equipment, and even your levels of experience.

There are cushions in place to dull the pain these hundreds of deaths. At certain points you can relinquish your equipment to have it return to warehouses throughout the game. There are towns where you can continuously upgrade your equipment in preparation for a run-through in the future. You can also enlist certain characters to aid you in your Wandering. And perhaps most importantly, the levels are randomly generated every time you enter them, without any of the problems that have plagued random levels from other developers (i.e. unreachable areas, impassable walls, blocked exits).

On the Bridge
A Talking Weasel

To keep playing to reach the eventual end is only the original goal. The people in the towns through which you pass remember what you did when you were there previously. While you may die and restart and die and restart, the towns keep going, and visiting them will uncover new surprises about them and their progressing stories. Eventually, you begin look forward to your returns to these towns and start to live for the journey, and not just the destination.

Unfortunately the few Chunsoft games that have made it outside of Japan have been unsuccessful. The company's games are like climbing a mountain: unless you're strong enough and smart enough, you'll fall. Picking yourself up and starting again from the bottom, and maybe reaching that next ledge, are what these games are about. The concept seems foreign to most gamers these days, who are used to having their hands held by game designers, and for whom losing all their “progress” (sad, superficial, numerical progress) is like a slap in the face.

This fall, though, Chunsoft’s Pokemon Rescue Team games are coming out in Europe and the US for both the GBA and DS. I am greatly anticipating these Chunsoft roguelikes, and recommend that you don't let their “children's game” trappings steer you away or lull you into a false sense of security.

[Matthew Williamson is the creator of The Gamer’s Quarter, an independent videogame magazine focusing on first person writing. His work has been featured on MTV.com, 1up.com, Chatterbox Radio, and the Fatpixels Radio Podcast.]