One fateful summer night in 1989, my friend James suggested we play a computer game on his dad’s old black and white Macintosh. After a few rounds of Chess, I spotted an interesting looking icon in the games folder. “Oh no. That’s Wizardry.” He said. “It’s not very good. It’s too hard.”
Despite his protests, I kept bugging him and eventually he relented. What I discovered was mysterious labyrinth filled dangerous monsters at every turn, trapped treasure chests, and cryptic messages scrawled on the walls of the dungeon. I was enamored.
“Hurry! Cast a healing spell!” I screamed as a band of Kobolds nearly killed the Fighter leading our party.
“I don’t know which spell will cure! They are all written in Latin or something!” He cried.
Moments later, the entire party was defeated.
“Oh no! My dad is going to kill me. This was his group, and I’m not supposed to play it. He’ll be so mad!” James exclaimed…
There as only one thing to do to save James from what was sure to be a WHOLE WEEKEND of lawn mowing and car washing. We had to sbring them back to life. To accomplish that, we needed to create new characters. Their mission: return the corpses of dad’s fallen party to the city where they could be resurrected.
It was truly a slumber party of epic proportions.
The game was Wizardry, and at the time it was the most fantastic thing I had ever played. It was the first game that really opened my eyes to world of swords and sorcery. If it wasn’t for Wizardry, I would have probably never taken an interest in other fantasy role playing games, or even tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. In Wizardry, you create and control a party of six characters. Their mission is travel to the bottom of a ten-level maze to recover a magical amulet stolen by a powerful wizard. There is no in-game map, so it’s wise to chart every step you take on graph paper. If you don’t, eventually, you WILL get lost.
It was another year or so before I was able to get my hands on a copy of Wizardry for the Nintendo. The NES version was an upgrade of sorts, the maze was colored a muddy orange, and there was actually music that played in town and on the title screen. It was thanks to this port of the original classic, I was finally able to complete my quest to recover the amulet.
The sequel was also ported to the NES. I purchased it and loved it just as much.
I knew that three more games existed in the series, but until the release of Wizardry V for the Super Nintendo, I was left out of the loop (my parents did not own a personal computer at the time).
Eventually, the information age hit my household and with the purchase of an IBM compatible PC by my mother, I saved my allowance and ran to the software store at the local mall. Sadly, it seems time had passed by the older Wizardry titles, but the latest entry; Wizardry VI -Bane of the Cosmic Forge, sat shrink-wrapped on the shelf ready for me to take home. Even though it was now over a year old, this title was still a hot seller.
This was first title in a new direction for the Wizardry series. Released in 1990, the game features detailed graphics and outdoor environments. Bane was actually that start of a three game trilogy that wouldn’t come to a conclusion until 2001, with the release of Wizardry 8.
Around the time that Wizardry 8 was released, people’s interest was sparked enough that a compilation was released of the first seven titles. The Ultimate Wizardry Archives. Finally, I was able to sit down and play the first five games in order. It was delightful to watch the games progress in quality from title to title. Another satisfying feature of the PC versions was the ability to import your characters from previous chapter.
I was surprised by the lack of information on the Internet available for wizardry at the time, so I decided to create my own Wizardry fanpage. From 2001 to 2003, Kyler’s Wizardry Den was the largest source of Wizardry information on the net. I can boastfully say that my contributions to the Wizardry community live on this day. Even though my website is no more, the exclusive maps that I created can still be found floating around the web. At one point, I even boldly elaborated on the original background plot for Wizardry I, adding some colorful commentary and ideas to the scant three-line background found in the original manual. Before going bankrupt, Sir-Tech soft included my rendition of the Wizardry story on their website, officially making my ideas canon. I was honored.
Since the release of Wizardry 8, and the bankruptcy of the founding company, things here in the west have been quiet. Many young gamers have never even heard of the series. This, however, is not true for Japan.
Once Wizardry was released on the NES, the Japanese audience went wild. The first 7 games were made available on the Famicom, Super Famicom, and Sony Playstation (Japan only of course). At some point, a Japanese publisher bought the rights to the franchise and number of Japanese-exclusive games were made for handheld systems. To date, most of these Wizardry: Gaiden and Wizardy Empire titles have yet to see release in the US.
One exception was the release of Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land. This title, known as Busin: Wizardry Alternative in Japan, was released on the PS2 shortly after the release of Wiz 8 here in the US. It is highly recommended, if you can find a copy. I have to admit, the Japanese “get it”. They understand what Wizardry is really about. If I may be so bold as to suggest, this title makes a better sequel to Wizardry V than Bane does. It seems to be more of a natural progression. Sadly, it’s sequel has not seen a release here.
Wiz 6, 7, and 8 have more of a PC RPG feel to them that an actual “Wizardry” feel. The Japanese titles, seem to stay very true to the roots of the originals.
Tales, was the our last taste of the Japanese Wizardry series until the recent release of Wizardy: Labyrinth of Lost Souls on the Playstation Network.
I am in love with this title. Again, it seems to be a natural progression of the original Wizardry series. All of the original quiet, but hardcore elements are there. Yes, the Japanese have certainly put their own spin on the art direction of the series. But, being a fan of Japanese art and culture, you will not hear any complaints from me.
I’m taking my time with this title, not wanted to finish it too fast because the next chapter in the history of Wizardry is about to manifest here in the US with the release of Wizardry Online.
Imagine, an MMO that features permanent character death, friendly fire, and always on pvp. The mere idea of it is an instant turn off for most western players. In games these days, if you die, no big deal. Just run out to your body in spirit form and resurrect with little to no penalty. Not with Wiz Online. No sir.
Just thinking about it, I am reminded of that night in ’89. Crawling through the uncharted dungeon trying to find to bodies of the characters Jame’s dad created…
I can’t wait to relive that magic moment again.