Commentary: Why We ALL Need Wizardry Back!

Sometimes, I just hate Japan, but in a decidedly more “grrrr… how come they get THAT game?” manner (and not anything more overly dramatic than that, mind you). While the Wizardry franchise hasn’t seen a new Western-developed PC game in the states since the ill-fated, (but mostly well-rated) Wizardry 8 (back in 2001!), since the late 80’s, Japanese gamers have had nearly 40 ports or completely original Wizardry games and side-stories created by an assortment of developers for a number of consoles, portables and even cellphones.

More recently (as in a big, fat “what the what?!”), the Nintendo DS in Japan has gotten their own original Wizardry games in the form of three titles that will probably never, ever see the light of day in English unless they get fan-patched translations (*grrrr!*). You can keep your Angry Birds, and other “casual” games, folks – I’d rather play something with real meat on its bones.

Sure, Atlus USA threw us oldsters a bone back in 2002 by localizing the excellent Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land on the PS2, but after that… nothing. Zip. Nada. No one has picked up the torch and passed any of the import games in the series along and we certainly haven’t seen anything NEW here with that familiar name. Other games such as the Etrian Odyssey series, The Dark Spire, Mazes of Fate and Fighting Fantasy: The Warlock of Firetop Mountain are quite well-made, well intentioned homage-paying titles that have many hours of gameplay and features heavily reminiscent of Wizardry. And yes, there have been a number of PC games since that have upped the ante in terms of graphics, more action-based gameplay and even better (and more fleshed-out) characters and character creation systems. Nevertheless, there’s just something about Wizardry’s paradox-heavy combination of simplicity and complexity that’s brilliantly addictive as well as high on the immersion scale.

While the PS2 game wasn’t a “true” Wizardry game to some die-hards, it still managed to capture the essence of what made the PC games so darn great. This is WIZARDRY we’re talking about here, a franchise that helped get the core PC RPG genre off the ground from the early 80’s and conversely, one that’s had next to ZERO luck being ported over to US game consoles after the NES and SNES era. However, In Japan it’s been raining games like confetti on New Year’s Day. Less than a year after the original PlayStation was released in Japan, there was a port of Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant that featured improved graphics over the PC original and speedier movement (even with the old PS One controller). The game was even heavily advertised with a few hilarious commercials where a normal guy watching TV gets a knock at his door and is greeted by a bunch of characters from the game who hand him a sword and add him to their party as an adventurer! It should have been a no-brainer for the US market, but nope – it remained an import-only release.

Not too long afterward, five of the six PC games were reworked with new 3D graphics and presented as two single disc collections, Llylgamyn Saga and New Age of Llylgamyn. Interestingly enough, these collections had partial English translations (and a full English version of Wizardry IV) accessible through the options screen, yet none of these games made it (back) to the US. Even stranger, the PlayStation never got part 6 (Bane of the Cosmic Forge) while the Sega Saturn got ports of both Llylgamyn collections, then Wizardry VI and VII (on a single disc from an entirely different publisher). Without getting into the entire history of the remaining imports, let’s just say US gamers have missed out on many hundreds of hours of quality dungeon delving that went far beyond the original Llylgaymn Saga.

Wizardry Set Incomplete 2011

As you can see above, I only own a handful of these imports (I didn’t dig out the three PC-engine games I have for the pic, sorry!), but I’m absolutely interested in as many of the games as I can get my grubby little paws on simply for historical value as well as the hope that they’re localized at some point in the Bizarro World of today’s game market where a bit more tolerance in certain genre tastes is creeping back in. Hell, I’d bet if someone made Wizardry with popular Internet memes as monsters, servers around the globe would collapse. Then again, maybe not – that beautiful cover shot above calls out to me and speaks tomes about adventure, nice loot and plenty of deep dungeons to explore packed with creatures and traps of wickedly nasty design.

Call me crazily optimistic, but that sort of sunny outlook is derived from THIS news, which initially made my head explode (but gently). Memo to SCEA… Look, guys – you have a bunch of potential BUYERS for this one on the PlayStation Network boards and a Gamer Advisory Panel (hell, I’m even a longtime member even though I don’t hang out on there much). Take a poll amongst ALL your membership in the US and Canada and ask them if they’d like to see Wizardry return at some point on the PS3, PSP or PS-whatever you’re cooking up to show us at E3 2011. I say there are more than enough folks out there that don’t always want the big, fancy 3D experiences with state of the tomorrow graphics and every map bumped neatly into place.

Wizardry is not only a CLASSIC franchise that deserves better, it demands proper respect from gamers who’ve never played any of the games in the series and could use the history lesson (and hell, it also deserves actual respect from gamers who think they’re “hardcore” just because they play shooters all the time).Someone needs to step up to the publishing plate, invest the time and money into a “Wizardry Project” and start either localizing these new imports and/or reworking some of the older titles into English. I’m all about keeping developers working, and this could be a long-term assignment for the right team of dedicated folks. Think about it for a minute: classic franchise, dedicated niche fan base ready to snap up each new game as it’s released and the potential for plenty of new gamers to get aboard once they see how cool it all is.

That and hell, can you imagine how spectacular an all new PS3 or 360 version of Wizardry 8 would be, especially if gamers were thrilled at the older games? Granted, I’m sure a ton of money will need to change hands as rights to the IP get bounced around (and yes, completely redoing Wiz 8 will be a tremendous task). But if there’s a solid, steady stream of product with the Wizardry name coming out of some lucky US publisher that’s faithful to the originals while expanding the universe, it’s nothing short of a great idea (if I do say so myself). Presented in order and progressing gradually into current-gen visuals over time, it would be a pretty huge deal for those gamers who crave something a bit different yet familiar and reliably well-crafted.

I say it’s a win-win for everyone involved, but hey – what do I know? I’ve only been playing electronic games since 1972…

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2 thoughts on “Commentary: Why We ALL Need Wizardry Back!

  1. I know tons of people that would love to have Wizardry over here in America. Before I played Wizardry V, I thought I was a hardcore gamer. That game wiped the floor with my ass. Any game that makes me whip out sheets of paper to draw my own maps or do research on effective party leveling is as hardcore as it gets. I would very much love to have a new English Wizardry game sitting on my shelf as I play it in my “I entered the heart of the maelstrom and all I got was this t-shirt” t-shirt.

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  2. Funny thing is it's Wizardry IV that probably drove Japanese gamers crazy, as it was packed full of in-jokes and references you'd only get as a native English speaker. Sort of like some imports I've played where the humor is purely Japanese. Anyway, I kept my SNES just for Wizardry V and a few other games I didn't sell off, so one day, I'll hop back into those dungeons.

    The closest things to a Wizardry experience have been The Dark Spire (which is excellent and if you didn't know better would almost be a clone) and the three Etrian Odyssey games (which add a bunch of features and allow you to draw maps as you go).

    Not sure what sort of financial or legal issues are keeping the series out of the US for about ten years, but every time I see a Japanese gaming site or an official game site for a new installment we aren't getting, it just annoys me all the more. I'm hoping some publisher here decides it's time to look into getting a few of those titles out here at some point…

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