Review: Wizardry V – Heart of the Maelstrom

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Moving right along, we are brought to the fifth scenario. Like Wizardry 1-3, you can import characters from the previous games into Wizardry V. However, this time around it is not a requirement. You do have the option to start this game with a fresh set of characters. As a result, this game was marketed as a “stand-alone scenario”.

In this title, our heroes are asked to plunge into the depths below the holy temple to seek out a rogue priestess named “The Sorn”. It seems that her foul magicks have opened a dimensional rift deep underground that threaten to consume the entire kingdom. Hopefully the heroes will be able to find her and stop her before it is too late.

In many ways Wizardry V is very much like the previous games. But in just as many, it is also very different. Gone are the days of 20×20 grid-dungeons. Yes, the maps are still gird-based in design. But, they are much larger this time around. The game now also features NPCs within the dungeon that can be interacted with (albeit, in a very rudimentary way). It is no surprise that along with these changes, came the introduction of  a new main programmer for the series; D.W. Bradley.

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Keeping with the flair of the “magic word” spell system found in the original games, several new spells have been added to the roster. Also, slight modifications have been made to the battle system as well. For example, Ninjas now have the ability to “Hide in the Shadows” for a chance to improve striking damage.

Graphically, the game is slightly improved from the previous entries. The new fonts and minimal use of color are certainly a welcome addition but they do seem to fall a bit short. Wizardry V was released in 1990, and by this time the original engine was starting to show it’s age.

One of the bigger selling points of this title in particular is the in-depth level of game play. With bigger dungeons, interactive NPCs, and tons and tons of riddles and puzzles, Maelstrom became the largest game the series had seen. It’s popularity even led to a great looking port to the SNES.

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Difficulty: Difficult – This title reverted back to the difficulty level of the previous titles. For the experienced Wizardry player, a large portion of the game may seem to be a bit too easy. However, the larger dungeons and “change to the rules” still manage to keep players on their toes.

Story: The story behind the game seems to be a bit weak at first. However, it does manage to progress fairly nicely as you plunge into the depths of the dungeon.

Originality: Considering the restraints of the game engine, it seems that Bradley did the best he could to add new twists and turns to the world of Wizardry. While keeping with many of the traditional elements of the series, he also managed to successfully add a new layer of gameplay that a new sense of wonder to the series.

Soundtrack: The original Apple and PC version of the game has no soundtrack or sound effects (other then the occasional click or blip).

Fun: For many players, Wizardry V was actually their first look into the world of Wizardry. For those players, this game offers an experience unlike any other. For veteran players, many of us were starting to tire a bit of what was becoming a rather repetitive experience. Despite this complaint, there’s still a lot of fun to be had exploring the Maelstrom.

Graphics: The graphics in this game are again, a small step up from the other scenarios. There’s a slight increase to the use of color within the game and the menus, but nothing too spectacular.

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): 3 – The improvements to the engine are very much noted in the title. However, for me at least, the game still failed to capture that feeling of wonder that the original title did. That being said, the experience delivered in the title is still incredible and it takes it’s place as one of the classic RPGs for the home computer.

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Other Reviews In This Series:

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Forsaken Land – Labyrinth of Lost Souls – Wizardry Online

Review: Xenoblade Chronicles

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Taking a break from the retro reviews for a moment, I’m going to share my thoughts on a title a little more modern. Back in April, I purchased the long awaited RPG, Xenoblade Chronicles. And I am so glad I did. This game has been a breath of air.

For the last five or six years, I’ve really neglected my single-player console games and focused more on online multiplayer titles. It’s been a while since a single-player game has hooked me the way Xenoblade has. This is a classic JRPG is every sense of the word. The storyline is deep and filled with twists and turns. The characters are memorable, the locales are exotic and beautiful. The music is simply top notch. The soundtrack is one of my favorites of all time. This game has all the elements that a true RPG should strive for.

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The game takes place largely on a world known as Bionis. You see, Bionis is actually an enormous organic sleeping titan upon which people live out their daily lives. For eons, Bionis was engaged in an eternal struggle with another titanic entity, the mechanical Mechonis.

While the two titans themselves has long been dormant, the people of Bionis are constantly on defense from invasions by the robotic forces of Mechonis. It is in this world, that the game begins. The lead character, Shulk becomes entrusted with a legendary sword (The Monado). This blade is the only known weapon actually capable of harming the Mechon attackers. As the game progresses, Shulk and his friends learn more about the reason for the Mechon invasions and discover some real earth-shattering secrets behind the struggle between the two world-titans.

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This game features a vast world filled with what seems like endless content. Aside from the main storyline, there are more sidequests and optional storylines than you can shake a stick at. On top of that, your in-game actions have a real effect on the relationships between non-player characters. These “affinity levels” end up having a major impact on the game as time goes on.

I’ve never played this type of game on the Wii before. At first, I was a bit confused by the control scheme and by all the options that Xenoblade had to offer. However, after a while things started to click and when they did, I found myself in a world so immersive that I was truly impressed by the sheer masterpiece that the developers were able to put together. This is truly one of the greatest games I have ever played.

Xenoblade was one of the games responsible for the Operation Rainfall campaign. If it is any indicator of the types of games we are missing out on here in the west then for goodness sake, we have truly missed some exquisite gaming. In my opinion, part of the wonder of this title is discovering it for yourself. That being said, I shall say no more and leave this review with the following breakdown.

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Difficulty: Hard Most of the base game is fairly straightforward. However, towards the end there are a handful of boss fights that can be extremely brutal unless you take some time to really think out your strategy. Many of these fights will require shuffling around your party members and making sure they are geared to match the situation at hand. A lot of the optional content in the game, requires A LOT of patience and the will to go above and beyond the normal grind.

Story: One of the greatest stories I have experienced through a video game. The basic set up is fascinating as it is, but just wait, you will be amazed at how the plot unfolds

Originality: This is not your standard RPG. Everything about this title seems to be re-imagined from the ground up. The combat system is designed specifically for the Wii, regardless of what controller you choose to use. The affinity system provides a new take on interactions between your characters and the “fluff” NPCs that typically populate a game world.

Soundtrack: This soundtrack is a must have. It rivals anything from the Final Fantasy series. The song selection seems appropriate for the various areas in the game. Often, the music will change depending on the time of day. Songs fade in and out as you switch zones, making everything seem to fit into place. Listening back to the theme from Makna Village on my iPod, triggers memories of the exotic little Nopon village. I can almost feel the warmth of the little city in the trees 🙂

Fun: This game is a great way to pass the time. The only drawbacks are that a few of the boss fights seem to be much more difficult than called for. This will lead to some frustration for some. Also, the game is EXTREMELY big. I fear that some players will grow impatient.

Graphics: By Wii standards, this is a work of visual art. Even when compared to other consoles with more graphical power, it’s not too shabby. Despite being a bit pixelated, the developers have managed to create some truly beautiful scenes.

Playcontrol: Overall, the playcontrol is pretty much spot on. There are some frustrations with the camera, so I can’t give it a perfect score, but overall this is not a really big problem.

Overall rating (out of four stars):  4 Stars – If you like RPGs and own a Wii, this title is a must have. This is probably one of the top three RPGs I’ve played in my lifetime. Definately the best in the last 10 years or so.

Available today on: Wii