Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land
Wizardry games have always been extra special to me.
It was the original title from Sir Tech, Proving Grounds of the
Mad Overlord, that first got me interested in RPGs, not to mention
gaming in general. All
through the 80s and much of the 90s I plugged away on the various
incarnations of the series to be released on this side of the Pacific by
the series creators. Unfortunately
it hasnít been until this PS2 title came along that I have had a
chance to give the Japanese take on the series a try, as Wizardry is one
of the few Western RPGs to take off over there.
What I found in this game were a few fresh ideas, but
unfortunately theyíre buried under a lot of old, archaic pieces of
gameplay that really should have been fazed out a long time ago all
crammed into a slow plodding package.
The game takes place in one city with one lone dungeon. Thatís it. No merry trekking through the mountains or across the sea to unknown lands. This is pure, old-fashioned dungeon crawling like the Wizardry series has been for much of its life. The city in question is called Duhan, and up until recently it was a reasonably nice place to stay. Unfortunately it was laid to waste by a mysterious energy blast labeled the Flash by survivors, leaving the city in shambles and its remaining residents trying to scrape together what they can. This also left the labyrinth where much of the surrounding landmarks and such got piled one on top of the other, making for a fine den of monsters to battle while unearthing all sorts of handy dandy treasure. As you progress you learn more about the Flash, about your main character, and your purpose becomes increasingly clear as you gain entry into the deeper levels of the dungeons. Itís actually nice that you arenít so aggressively spoon fed the plot as in other console RPGs where you have a far clearer, drawn out idea of what you are supposed to do. In Wizardry youíre left relatively in the dark as to your ultimate goal. There are also some nice side quests with surprisingly grim tales attached to them as your party takes mercenary jobs from the bulletin board in the local tavern. Everything from seeking the satisfaction of an enemyís death, to finding oneís courage, embracing dark, forbidden magic, not the usual mix of ďGo Team!Ē blind optimism and clichťd pap that is so often seen in the genre.
Now this level of story telling is all well and good, but itís the dungeon crawling that is the focus of this game, and with it comes a host of problems. First and foremost is the overall slow pacing of the game. While a dungeon crawl is not supposed to be a mile-a-minute thrill ride, some speed, so to allow a good sense of progression, is definitely in order. The battles themselves are the ultimate culprit here. Like most RPGs the groups of enemies come in some fairly set configurations, ie. 3 orcs,
and a couple of
bushwackers, with a pixie
thrown in for flavor. After
dealing with these different groups a few times youíll have found a
set strategy that can be used to clear them in short order without
taking to much damage on your side, or at least being able to easily
handle the beatings they hand out.
Because of this, the battles get very monotonous in a short time
as the constant battles with the all too familiar monster groups get
that ďsame olí, same olíĒ feel to them.
As such, tedium and a sense of molasses-esque progression sets in
quickly. Smarter enemies
and more randomization in the creature types found in groups would have
gone a long way to combat this.
to salvage Wizardryís battles somewhat is what has been coined the
Allied Assault. What these
attacks involve are multiple members of the party teaming up for group
attacks, defenses, and auxiliary combat roles.
These can range from the front row melee fighters going in for a
heavy assault, or the back row using their ranged weapons to defend
members in the front, or having magic users fortifying a melee attack to
name a few of the options. These
attacks really help keep the fighting from becoming utterly,
other element included in the game is that the level of loyalty your
party members have towards you effects how many Allied Assaults you have
at your disposal. Loyalty
is determined by party membersí ethical alignment (good, neutral, or
evil) as well as different character traits related to their race
(human, elf, dwarf, gnome, or hobbit).
Act in a way that coincides with a memberís values and their
loyalty will increase, go against it and the loyalty drops.
actual navigation of the dungeon is incredibly slow going.
The reason for this lies primarily in the game clinging onto an
old Wizardry tradition, long since abandoned by the series proper
developed by Sir Tech. In
order to level up characters you must have them rest at the inn for the
level up to occur, they wonít level up while in the labyrinth.
So, if youíre down on the sixth or seventh level, if you want
to level up your party members who have met the required experience
points youíll need to leave for the inn, get your level up, then
trudge all the way back down to those deeper recesses of the dungeons.
To help counter some of the redundancy this entails, players can
use an item that allows them to teleport back to Duhan, and as they
progress through the dungeonís levels they can open up shortcuts to
reduce travel time while venturing to the nether regions in the future.
However, this doesnít do enough to speed things up and youíll
likely still need to fight some monsters, further slowing you down as
you get back to where you were before all of this happened.
an aesthetic standpoint the game actually looks pretty good.
Itís not astounding, but there is a certain charm to the hand
drawn portraits for many of the characters and NPCs youíll encounter
in your journeys. A
bit of a disappointment, though, is that there is some stock designs in
the mix that have their colors changed to represent different people, or
different heads on different bodies.
This also happens for the monsters in the labyrinth, but their
designs are still crisp and look quite good.
The frame rate holds up well, but the way the party walks through
the dungeon is a little halted as they obviously have their footsteps
divided into blocks on a grid on the dungeon as opposed to fluid, smooth
navigation through the tunnels and passageways.
Also, donít expect anything fancy in terms of spell effects
here. No drawn out,
grandiose FMV sequences in this game, just some glowing runes and a
brief animation specific to the spell, and thatís it.
audio half of the equation is more subdued with hardly anything in the
way of bright happy music, instead staying dark as if some of the life
and joy has been sucked right out of it, not unlike the town of Duhan.
Sound effects are crisp, the audio people for the game really did
some nice work on Wizardry.
Wizardry just doesnít escape its detrimentally slow pace though.
The tedium of the battles and the constant need to return to town
cripple the enjoyment of the game.
Even long time fans of Wizardry should approach with caution.
The nostalgia will come fast and hard when you first fire up the
game, but after a few hours those feelings will turn to rationalization,
then frustration, followed by anger, and finished off with returning the
game to the store.
- Mr. Nash
(May 6, 2002)
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