One of the earliest computer role-playing games, Wizardry has the distinction of being one of the unusually successful Western titles to hit Japanese markets. While the Wizardry franchise has languished in the West, with Wizardry 8 released in 2001, it remains a rather popular franchise in Japan. New Wizardry games are released on a fairly regular basis for almost all systems in Japan, many of which never make their way overseas. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is one of the more recent titles and an exclusive PSN release. That doesn't mean it's a big change from the older Wizardry titles, and to many gamers, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls may seem terribly archaic.
You begin the game by selecting one of a handful of races: Dwarf, Elf, Gnome, Human or Porklu. They're your generic group of fantasy races, with the oddly named Porklu basically being Hobbits or Halflings with a slightly different name. Dwarves tend to be strong and beefy, Elves tend to have solid magic stats, Gnomes are built to be healers and Porklu are quick and agile. Humans are the jack of all trades but master of none. After a race, you pick an alignment — evil, good or neutral — and you can allocate bonus points to stats: agility, intelligence, luck, piety, strength and vitality. Depending on your character's stats and alignment, he can become one of a few classes, ranging from fighter and priest to more unusual ones, like ninja or lord. Each of the starting characters has a default name and a minor backstory, but disappointingly, each race has only two portrait options, one for each gender. Having a few more options would have been extremely nice, especially if you find yourself disliking the design of a race you really want to play. You can have a party of six characters by either recruiting pre-made characters or creating your own from the same template as the main character. They even have the same basic design, except with a slightly different color palette.
This brings us to what is probably going to be the biggest sticking point for most players. Wizardry's biggest barrier to entry is a complete lack of information, and it's there from the moment you start. At no point does Wizardry provide you with any real grounding in mechanics or setting. The game's stats are left unexplained. Even when creating your first character, you don't have a rough idea of what to invest in. This is silly, as certain classes require bare minimum stats before you can create them, but you don't even know what those stats are without experimentation. Some of the stats are easy to figure out, but if you're new to RPGs, you probably have no idea what the heck piety does. If you're an RPG fan (or a Wizardry faithful), you can probably puzzle them out rather easily. If you're a novice, it might be overwhelming, and it doesn't get any easier from there. Once you've created your first character, you're thrown into the world without so much as a tutorial. Even seemingly basic things, like getting a map to guide you around the dungeon, can be easily overlooked by novices. Forget to buy one, and you could find yourself wandering nearly identical corridors without a hint of where to go, and the game certainly won't warn you before you head into the dungeon. This is not a game for newcomers or those with low thresholds for frustration.
Dungeon exploration is straightforward. Your team of adventurers heads into a grid-based dungeon, advancing one grid for every step it takes. The game is presented in a first-person view, so each step advances you into danger or riches. There are occasional traps or hidden things, but they're most presented through text. The dungeons are large and mazelike, and you can venture into the dungeons to explore or take on quests to slay monsters and find needed items. Wizardry's a pure, old-fashioned dungeon crawler at heart, and you won't find much deviation from the standard.
As you'd probably expect, combat is completely by the book. Characters take turns attacking or being attacked, and the winner is whichever team has living characters at the end of the fight. Even in combat, Wizardry is extremely old-school. You have two rows of fighters, a front row and a back row. Generally, you put your beefy guys in the front row and your squishy magic users in the back row. Combat boils down to attacking or occasionally casting magic until you or the bad guys fall. There's some variety as you gain access to more magic spells or special abilities, but generally, combat is less about individual challenge and more about resource conservation. You have to balance how much magic you use or HP damage you take to make sure that you've either got enough to progress into the dungeon or enough to get out. Individual battles are designed more to wear you down than to be direct challenges. There are certainly tough enemies, but you're more likely to die because you pushed too far than because of a powerful foe.
Despite all this, Wizardry is fun. It's both addictive and exciting to head into the dungeon, explore, build up your characters and adventure. To some people, the lack of handholding may be a benefit. When you discover something or advance in the game, you'll know it was all you and not the game being kind. It's designed for a very specific mindset, but if you're of that mindset, Wizardry has a lot to enjoy. It relies more on imagination and the nostalgia for older games to really shine, but there's plenty of fun to be had if you have that. It's exhilarating to create your own group of adventurers and take on a deep and dangerous dungeon. The game's also well balanced, and there are rarely moments when I felt like I'd made a bad choice with my character lineup. Magic users are a little weaker than I'd like in the later sections, but never to the point where I regret using magic over brute force.
Unfortunately for a game so based around dungeon crawling, Wizardry is visually a bore. The character designs are anime-inspired, but they're rather bland. While there are a wide variety of races to choose from, they're indistinguishable from humans except the pointy-eared Elves. I couldn't tell the difference between a Human or a Gnome, aside from Gnomes looking a little thinner and younger. Perhaps the most egregious example of silly character design involves the Dwarves. The male Dwarf character is actually the tallest character in the game and is basically a giant slab of huge muscle. The female dwarf, on the other hand, looks like a 10-year-old. Neither is remotely dwarfish and don't make sense as two sides of the same species.
The dungeon design is similarly uninspired. It's full of basically interchangeable corridors with almost no distinctive landmarks or noteworthy locations. This isn't so bad if you have a map, but if you're ding things the "hard way," e prepared to be bored stiff by the level design. Combat animations are simplistic, and enemies are mostly represented by simple pictures, which make them dull to watch after a while, although they're relatively quick.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is certainly fun, but it's fun for a specific group of people. Those who love the old school of RPGs before they became more about the cinematics and fast-paced action will find a lot to like. It's a classic Wizardry game through and through, almost unchanged from the older titles. In some ways, it feels even more archaic than titles like Etrian Odyssey or other dungeon-crawler titles. Archaic doesn't mean bad, though. If you don't enjoy the idea of wandering lost in a dungeon or spending hours puzzling over every bit of gameplay, then you'll end up more frustrated than anything else. On the other hand, if a plot-light and exploration-heavy, old-school RPG tickles your fancy, then Wizardry is exactly the right game for you.
Editor's Note: Want to score a FREE copy of Wizardy? Then head on over to Twitter and follow @WorthPlaying. We're giving away FIVE PSN copies of the game today (8/5/2011).
More articles about Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls