One fateful summer night in 1989, my friend James suggested we play a computer game on his dad’s old black-and-white Macintosh computer. After a few rounds of Chess, I spotted an interesting looking icon in the games folder and pointed it out to James, asking what it was. “Oh. That’s Wizardry,” he said. “It’s not very good. It’s too hard. I don’t think you’d like it.”
Despite his protests, I kept bugging him and eventually he relented and let me play it. What I discovered was a mysterious labyrinth filled with dangerous monsters at every turn, cryptic messages scrawled on the walls left by less fortunate adventurers, traps, hidden doors and dead-ends. I was enamored.
“Hurry! Cast a healing spell!” I screamed as a band of Kobolds nearly killed the Fighter leading our party.
“I don’t know which spell is what!” James screamed. “They are all written in Latin or something!”
Moments later, the entire party was defeated.
“Oh no! My dad is going to kill me. This was his group, and I’m not supposed to play with it. He’ll be so mad!” James gasped.
There was only one thing to do. I had to save James from what was sure to be a WHOLE WEEKEND of lawn mowing and car washing. We had to find a way to bring his Dad’s characters back to life. To accomplish that, we needed to create our own characters, send them into the dungeon to find and return the corpses of his father’s fallen party to the city where they could be resurrected.
This adventure led to slumber party of epic proportions.
As I mentioned above, the game was Wizardry, and at the time it was the most fantastic thing I had ever played. It was the first game that really opened my eyes to world of swords and sorcery. If it wasn’t for Wizardry, I would have probably never taken an interest in other fantasy role playing games or even tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons. In Wizardry, you create and control a party of six characters. Their mission is travel to the bottom of a ten-level maze to recover a magical amulet stolen by a powerful wizard. There is no in-game map, so it’s wise to chart every step you take on graph paper. If you fail to do this, you WILL get lost – and that was bad. Very bad.
For a time, I could only enjoy the game whenever I’ve visited James. But a year or so later, I was able to get my hands on a copy of Wizardry for the Nintendo. The NES version was an upgrade of sorts, instead of being monochrome, the maze was colored a muddy orange. And there was actual music that played in town and on the title screen. Thanks to this port of the original classic, I was finally able to complete my quest to recover the amulet, thus completing the game.
When the sequel was ported to the NES, I purchased it and loved it just as much.
I knew that three more games existed in the series, but until the release of Wizardry V for the Super Nintendo, I was left out of the loop (my parents did not own a personal computer at the time).
Eventually, the information age hit my household and with the purchase of an IBM compatible PC by my mother, I saved my allowance and ran to the software store at the local mall. Sadly, too much time has passed and the older Wizardry titles were nowhere to be found. But the latest entry; Wizardry VI -Bane of the Cosmic Forge, sat shrink-wrapped on the shelf ready for me to take home. Even though it was now over a year old, this game was still a hot seller.
This was first title in a new direction for the Wizardry series. Released in 1990, the game features detailed graphics and outdoor environments. Bane was actually that start of a three game trilogy that wouldn’t come to a conclusion until 2001, with the release of Wizardry 8.
With the release of Wizardry 8 on the horizon, there was a enough renewed buzz around the series that a compilation was released of the first seven titles. The Ultimate Wizardry Archives. Finally, I was able to sit down and play all the games of the series that I had missed. It was delightful to watch the games progress in quality from title to title. Plus, finally being able to get my hands on the PC versions, I now had the ability to import characters from game to game.
As I dove into the series, I was surprised by the lack of information on the Internet available for Wizardry at the time, so I decided to create my own Wizardry fanpage. From 2001 to 2003, Kyler’s Wizardry Den was the largest source of Wizardry information on the net. I can boastfully say that my contributions to the Wizardry community live on this day. Even though the Wizardry Den site is no more, the exclusive maps that I created can still be found floating around the web. But my contributions to the series didn’t stop there! At one point, I even boldly elaborated on the original background plot for Wizardry I, adding some colorful commentary and ideas to the scant three-line background found in the original manual. Before going bankrupt, Sir-Tech software actually included my rendition of the Wizardry story on their website, officially making my ideas canon. I was honored beyond words.
Since the release of Wizardry 8 and the bankruptcy of the founding company, things here in the west have been quiet. Many young gamers have never even heard of the series. This, however, is not true for Japan.
Once Wizardry was released on the NES, the Japanese audience went wild. The first seven games were made available on the Famicom, Super Famicom, and Sony Playstation (Japan only of course). At some point, a Japanese publisher bought the rights to the franchise and number of Japanese-exclusive games were made for handheld systems as well. To date, most of these Wizardry: Gaiden and Wizardry Empire titles have yet to see release in the US.
One exception was the release of Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land. This title, known as Busin: Wizardry Alternative in Japan, did see a North American release on the PS2. While it did not sell very well at the time, it is long sought after by gamers like myself, and I highly recommended it. I have to admit, the Japanese “get it”. They understand what Wizardry is really about. If I may be so bold as to suggest, Tales of the Forsaken Land actually makes a better sequel to Wizardry V than Bane does. To me, it seems to be more of a natural progression. Sadly, the direct sequel to Tales of the Forsaken Land never saw the light of day outside of Japan.
Wiz 6, 7, and 8, while great games, often times feel like RPGs from some other franchise. The Japanese-only titles actually stayed very true to the roots of the series.
For years, Tales of the Forsaken Land, was the our last taste of the Japanese Wizardry series. This finally changed with the recent release of Wizardy: Labyrinth of Lost Souls on the Playstation Network.
And what a surprise that game was! I am in love with this title. It is classic Wizardry with a nice modern polish to it. All of the original elements that made Wizardry unique are there. Yes, the Japanese have certainly put their own spin on the art-direction of the series. But, being a fan of Japanese art and culture, you will not hear any complaints from me.
I’m taking my time with this title, not wanting to finish it too fast because, believe it or not, the next chapter in the history of Wizardry is about to manifest here in the US with the release of Wizardry Online.
Yes! You read that right. Imagine, an MMO with the look and feel of the classic Wizardry… A maze crawler that features permanent character death, friendly fire, and always-on pvp. Brutal! The mere idea of it is an instant turn off for most western players. In games these days, if you die, no big deal. Just run out to your body in spirit form and resurrect with little to no penalty. Not with Wizardry Online. No sir! And we’re actually going to see a release here in the US. I still can’t believe it.
Just thinking about it, I am reminded of that night in ’89. Crawling through the uncharted dungeon trying to find Jame’s father’s characters… I can’t wait to relive that magic moment again.