Review: Wizardry – Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord

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With the North American release of Wizardry Online only a few days away, and my playthrough of legacy Nintendo titles at an end, I recently decided to revisit one of my favorite RPG game series of all time: Wizardry.

I mentioned early on this blog that Wizardry was one of the first PC games I had ever spent any real time with. My family didn’t own a PC until I was in my early teens, so originally I played Wizardry on my friend’s old black and white Macintosh. A few years later, Wizardry  and Wizardry II were released for the NES. I spent a lot of time with the NES ports as a teen. However, the NES versions lacked one critical feature that really made these games unique: the ability to transfer characters between the games.

Many years later, a collection known as the Ultimate Wizardry Archives was released. For the first time, the first seven games in the series were bundled into one package and I was able to play through them all again (including Wizardry III and IV – which I missed the first time around).

The story of Wizardry 1 is quite simple, the evil wizard Werdna has stolen a magical amulet from the kingdom’s overlord, Trebor. Desperate to retrieve it, Trebor is recruiting any adventurers brave enough to accept the challenge. To play, you must create a variety of characters and assemble them into a party of no more than six members. Once a party is formed, they venture down into the depths of Werdna’s great underground labyrinth. The maze is filled with monsters, traps and treasure. The challenge is not to be taken lightly, one wrong move and you might find your whole team obliterated.

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The PC version of Wizardry  is actually one of the most inferior versions of the game. The controls are not intuitive. They are actually a bit clunky. But, you do manage to get used to them with time. Also, on the graphics front, the PC games leave a lot to be desired. This version of Wizardry is nothing but a black screen with white wire-frame lines to represent the maze. The only color graphics in the title are used for monsters and treasure chests. It’s important to note that several enhanced versions of the game exist in Japan, but only the NES version has seen the light of day in the US. This is a shame too, as I would absolutely LOVE to experience this game with modern day visuals and ambient sounds.

To play the game these days, a DOS emulator such as DOSBox is required. Luckily, this program is available for free online and a simple Google search for “Dosbox” should bring up plenty of options.

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Wizardry has the reputation for being an extremely hardcore game. The maze has no distinctive features and everything looks the same. There are traps and tricks to confuse the player, so following a map is a must. Actually, back in my day, I would map my progress on a piece of graph paper. To survive, players must be extremely patient. Progress can be slow at the beginning. Running back to town to rest after every other encounter is almost a requirement. That’s right, aside from healing spells, the only way to restore your HP is to go back to town and rest at the inn. That’s also the only way to actually level up your character. So, there is a lot of backtracking in this game.

If one of your characters does die, you have two chances to bring them back to life. If the first attempt fails, the character’s body is reduced to ash. If the next attempt fails, the character’s soul is lost forever and you must replace them. In the event that your entire party is wiped out at one time, you can send a new group of characters into the maze to retrieve the corpses. However, your new party will need to be strong enough to survive the journey.

While many aspects of the game may seem simplistic, there’s actually a lot here to digest. There are advanced classes for your characters to achieve, legendary treasures to uncover, and of course Werdna himself. Once your party has defeated the evil wizard, they are awarded with a Chevron that appears on their character profile.  ( ”   >   ”  )  – Characters that have earned this honor can still explore the maze in search of better treasure, but they can also be imported into the next scenario.

I spent countless hours with Wizardry as a kid. Despite looking crude and basic, it was one of the most mind-blowing games I had experienced. It left a huge impact that stays with me to this very day. It’s no wonder that it is still considered the Grandfather of all RPG Games.

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Difficulty: Difficult – The game is certainly difficult. There’s no doubt about it. However, due to today’s technology it’s quite easy to cheat. Avoiding death is a simple as sneakily restoring a previously saved character file. But you wouldn’t do that…. would you?

Story: The storyline seems quite basic, but the observant and imaginative player can actually glean a few interesting pieces of lore from certain events that occur while exploring the maze. Admittedly, it does seem that the storyline for this scenario is quite weak and serves only the basic purpose of giving players are reason to set foot in the maze in the first place.

Originality: For many, this game was the first taste of an RPG. The first person view of the maze was something pretty new at the time. It’s obvious that the game was heavily influenced by the tabletop version of Dungeons & Dragons.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip). The NES version of the game was the first to include music and was filled with quirky catchy tunes. The Wizardry Theme included in the NES version is legendary.

Fun: This game can still be fun today, if you have a good understanding what you’re getting into when you play it. Patience is a must, and you have to be willing to shed the skin of modern games and let yourself go back to a simpler time.

Graphics: The PC version graphics were pretty bad. Compared to the Macintosh and Apple versions of the game, the PC makes out the worst. That being said, there’s really not much that could be done at the time. This game was released during a time when PC gaming was in it’s infancy.

Playcontrol: Navigation of the maze it handled with the arrow keys. Other commands are executed either using the number keys or various hot keys. All options are displayed on the screen at all times, so you’ll never forget. It’s definitely archaic by today’s standards. Luckily, the game is not fast-paced and you have plenty of time to make your decisions and figure things out.

Overall rating (out of four stars): 4 – Despite it’s age and many of it’s shortcomings. This is a classic game and probably my favorite of the original Wizardry scenarios. This is the game that started it all. Without Wizardry, there would be no Final Fantasy or Elder Scrolls. The game hooked me a kid, and still enthralls me to this day. Unlike most games today, Wizardry gives you the foundation, your imagination takes over the rest of the way. That is something that is sorely missed these days.

Not currently available.

Other Reviews In This Series:

III IIIIVVVIIVIIVIII

Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

  1. Have you played the Etrian Odyssey games? I’m not too familiar with the series but from what little I’ve played they seem like the modern day equivalent of Wizardy. There’s a few of other first person dungeon crawlers on the DS, 3DS, PSP and Vita but the Etrian series seems to be the most popular/successful one in the West.

  2. I do own the original Etrian Obyssey, but i have not dedicated any time to it yet. I’m very curious about it, and plan to dive into it eventually.

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