For a while, from the 1980’s into the 1990’s, it seemed that the original Wizardry series was destined to last forever. But by 2001 that wasn’t the case as developer of what would be the final game in the series, Sir-Tech Canada went down for the count after the mostly excellent but flawed foray into the fully polygon arena with Wizardry 8. The company still supported the game until they finally vanished in 2003, and was never able to do a proper followup before they left the scene. There have been quite a large amount of games since then that have taken many elements the series pioneered, polished up the visuals and are basically Wizardry games with different titles as the end of the day.
Other titles in the series had danced on the edge with polygonal environments but 8’s was the first with both characters and maps presented this way. In the US, the series was slowly being forgotten despite some excellent ports to the Nintendo and Super Nintendo consoles, but in Japan, the series flourished on PC and consoles as a number of different developers tried their hands at making dozens of Wizardry games from console ports and original games to mobile and online-only titles with mostly good results. Which brings us to the game in question, which is quite good especially if you’re a fan of the classics. It’s got a few issues the keep it squarely in the past, but we’ll get to them below.
That $19.99 gets you the game plus all the DLC content that was on the PS3 version (which I sunk about 300 hours into over a few characters). There’s no proper tutorial here, but the game was initially released back in 2009 in Japan and then localized two years later in English by Xseed Games and Marvelous, so you can easily find information on a number of important things that will start you off on the good foot.“What things?” you ask? Well, here’s a short list:
One save file per created team leader is allowed, so each leader you make has their own file. This is good if multiple people want to play at different times. Re-rolling (press B, than A to cancel and go back, rinse and repeat until you get a high enough roll) will get you much better stats if you want to start with powerful characters. You can also use the free Growth Fruit DLC if you like, but you only get five of them. Having a Bishop in your party (or back at the guild you can swap to) will be a financial lifesaver, as they can appraise the unidentified items you’ll come across in the dungeons as the item shop charges way too much intentionally.
Want more? Okay: From the start, Slings are a MUST for rear line party members, but the item shop only sells one for a premium price until they start dropping as common or identifiable items on higher floors. Using some items is safer that equipping them. Simply attacking everything you see will turn party members from Good to Neutral to Evil, and characters with Good alignment won’t work at all with Evil ones. Once you find maps, there’s a button dedicated to displaying them you’ll be relying on if you get lost easily. Finally, there’s a method for gaining a good amount of gold at the start, but it’s somewhat tedious. There’s a lot more, but you’ll be figuring things out as you go with the flow.
Not much has been added here over the PS3 version other than a speedier movement button, higher resolution support, and you can use any modern controller and change the button layout if you like. You can also access the much harder extra dungeons earlier on, but (surprise!) they’ll kill any unprepared adventurers straight off. This is more or less comfort food in game form, as the dedication to keeping things old-school won’t be for every taste, but those who crave a bite will eat themselves quite a few slices of this particular cake. The game plays wonderfully without a mouse, by the way. All you need to really remember is that any controller layout can be tweaked to your liking.
Granted, some of the elements from the old series are absent here, as the later sci-fi elements and exotic party member types from the beloved trilogy of Wizardry 6 – 8 have been dropped in favor of the usual sword fantasy classes. Character selection is limited to 5 male and 5 female classes and all the heroes are somewhat human-like in proportions, so even the Dwarf, Gnome, and Porklu (which sounds pig-like, but isn’t) don’t look special, while the Elf class is basically pointy ears on a slim human shape. There’s no visual variety in character choice, so if you choose say, a party of human females, you’ll get six eye patch wearing tall busty lovelies even if they have different classes.
Major complaint aside, the game excels at its random nature, as enemy counts, encounter rates and item drops will be chosen as you play, so no two games will ever be exactly alike. Well, save for mandatory encounters and the big boss that closes the main plot line. There are a few encounters with what I call “Mid-bosses”, like the initially tough Banshee on the first floor of the dungeon. Getting to her is a pain at too early a level and you’re warned off by a long hike through danger, a sign on the way and hints that something mean is waiting through a few one-way doors. You even get the chance to escape the fight just by leaving through a door opposite the battle area if you decide you’re not ready. If you choose to fight her and you’re below a certain level, prepare to revive most or all of your party unless she wipes all of them or your survivors don’t make it back to town because it’s a long trek back and you don’t have the teleportation spell yet (oops).
17 plus hours later, while I’m still not done, but as it’s the same as the PS3 version with the changes noted above, I’ve got the biggest smile on my face as I get closer to the end (I know that final battle is quite a doozy, though!). Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls feels like home, but packed with monsters and enemies who want me dead and plenty of traps and surprises. I’m loving it like it was 2011 all over again and I happily went back in time. Will this game be the one that nets the series more recognition in the US? I hope so, but I’m also hoping more people see its lineage and influence on modern titles as well and can appreciate it for that part as well.
Score: B (80%)