One of the hottest games being shown at B3 here at my house in Decatur, Georgia this year is Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. It’s the first Wizardry game released in the US since 2001. It’s old school to the max, even though it has that newfangled anime art instead of cool s#!t like red foil embossed dragons and Apple IIe graphics that made you squint to recognize a goblin. But hey, they kept the logo at least. Read on to see what I thought after my hands-on. I ate a lemon bar while playing the game. I’m not kidding. It’s just like E3. Wanna come over and play some Super Mario Bros.?
Kate didn’t make it.
She was a young priest, and even though I had her on the back row of the party, she bit it when the eye-patched samurai woman misjudged a trapped chest and it blew up. We dragged her dead body back to the temple and I made a donation to the church to hedge our bets. The resurrection attempt turned her to ashes, and then when I tried again I guess the ashes blew away or something because she was “lost forever”.
And so goes the saga of life and death in Wizardary: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, a new game in the long-running dungeon crawling franchise. Originally developed by Sir-Tech back in 1981, the games were challenging, unforgiving, and they had a certain mystique that games today just don’t have anymore. I don’t think there’s been a Western Wizardry game in ten years, but it’s always been, strangely, big in Japan. It’s turn-based gameplay and emphasis on developing individual characters is an obvious influence on the way JRPGs developed. It isn’t hard to see the series’ hardcore ethos and demanding gameplay in Demon’s Souls or King’s Field.
The new one, available for $15 thanks to Xseed and Acquire on PSN, is definitely a niche, super old-school title that will appeal only to a small number of players. Definitely try the demo to see if it’s your kind of thing. However, if you’ve read this far in to an article about a Wizardry game, it probably is your kind of thing. It’s not Diablo, it’s not Elder Scrolls, and it’s not Final Fantasy. You’ve got a party of six characters- which you can build out yourself or pick from preset ones. There’s a front row of three characters that typically you want to be your melee/close combat fighters. In the back row you want to stick your ranged attackers and spellcasters. Everything is turn-based. Oh, and this isn’t a game where you can guzzle mana potions and spam healing spells all day long. Early in the game, you’re lucky to get to cast two spells each trip into the dungeon. Resources are tight, and careless play will get you killed by a pack of kobolds. Or simply lost.
There is a menu-based hub town where you conduct business, get quests, rest, listen for rumours, and all that good stuff. You’d better buy torches and a map before you go down into the dungeon, because it’s dark and easy to get lost. There’s a guild where you can create and swap out party members, which is something worth doing often so that you can level up several different characters across different classes. Just in case. The game’s mapping system isn’t nearly as cool as the one in the Etrian Odyssey games, but at least you don’t have to break out graph paper.
Combat is slow, menu driven, and definitely old fashioned but it also calls for tough choices and strategy. This is not a high-action, cinematic game at all. There aren’t even any animations. I don’t like the anime artwork because I think it ruins the potentially cool, 1980s D&D atmosphere the game could have, but I guess it’s got to have something to bring the kids in the door. Boy, will they be disappointed.
This is definitely an old folks game, and it’s one we’d likely never see in the West without a download service such as PSN to make its localization a much smaller financial risk. Despite the anime crap and Japanese voiceovers (“Wizahdoowee”) I’d definitely recommend it for fans of the classic Wizardy games. Or anyone who might get interested if I said the phrase “party-based first-person non-random Roguelike with brutal difficulty”. There’s not really much of a story to speak of, it’s really more about completing simple quests, grinding, and getting to where you can afford the outrageously expensive equipment to keep your people from dying. I’m enjoying it, and I’m surprised at how tightly it clings to traditional Wizardry gameplay.
One final note- if you’re rolling up a new character and want to be a cheat, you can keep trying to get better bonuses. The random bonus it gives you to assign to stats ranges from 6 to 40. That’s a little ridiculous because a character with 40 extra stat points is obviously going to be stronger, but so it goes. You’re going to need all the help you can get anyway. Besides, you don’t want your newly created priest to wind up like poor Kate.