Review: Wizardry – Tale of the Forsaken Land

This is a review that I’ve wanted to write for a long time. I know I’ve said that a lot lately, but that doesn’t make it any less true. It’s just that the era of games that I’m currently undertaking is one that’s very special to me. I’ve reached the point in my backlog where I’m finally grinding through games that have been sitting on my shelf for almost twenty years. That’s certainly the case with this title, Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land.

After getting married and settling into a daily routine, my wife and I purchased a GameCube and a Playstation 2. I’ve told this story before, so I won’t repeat it in full. But, after acquiring those two consoles, I went on a mission purchase games and build up my library. During one of the visits to my local game store I came upon a title that stopped me in my tracks. There, on the shelf in front me, was a new Wizardry game. I was shocked because I had no idea that this game even existed. Now, in case you are unaware, I’ve had a lifelong obsession with Wizardry. I was introduced to the original Wizardry when I was around thirteen years old. It kindled a passion that followed me the rest of my life. As a young teen, I played the early Wizardry titles countless times. Then, a few years later, I discovered the sixth and seventh entries in the series and the obsession began anew. By the time the eighth (and seemingly final) entry in the series was released, I was hosting one of the largest Wizardry fan pages on the internet. But at the time, my knowledge was restricted to the original Wizardry franchise by Sir-Tech Software.

So, where did this mysterious new Wizardry game come from? Well, it’s complicated. The history of Wizardry games is one that’s become convoluted and difficult to understand. After the release of Wizardry 8, Sir-Tech, the company that developed the series, went bankrupt. Their assets were sold off and Wizardry became the sole-property of an obscure Japanese developer. By this point, Japan had already become fully enthralled with the Wizardry brand. All of the original games had been translated to Japanese and a faithful spin-off series had even been developed for the Game Boy. But, it seems that the fate of Sir-Tech in the west sparked a renewed interest. Now that Sir-Tech was gone, the Wizardry IP existed only in Japan. It seems that the Japanese developers took this opportunity to create a soft relaunch of the franchise with a game for the Playstation 2 called Busin: Wizardry Alternative. Somehow, thanks to the blessing of nameless gaming gods, this title was translated to English and released in west as Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land – the game I stumbled across in my local store. As you might expect, I snatched it up immediately and brought it home.

The next part of the story is a bit embarrassing. I did indeed fire this game up almost immediately, but due to one distraction or the other, I just didn’t have the chance to sit down and give it the attention it deserved. By the time I finally had a chance to play, I had become aware that this game already had a sequel in Japan. I put it back on the shelf with hopes that the sequel would also receive a western release. I wanted to be able to experience the full story. But as time went by, it became obvious that no official release was going to see the light of day. That’s when I started hoping for some sort of fan translation. Well, over twenty years have passed and I’m still waiting. Now I find myself playing through PS2-era games and this game was still sitting there, waiting for me. It’s beyond time that I see what has become of my favorite RPG series.

I could write pages and pages about the game mechanics behind Wizardry. But for the sake of time, I’m not going to rehash old information. I’ll be drawing comparisons, yes. But, if you’re curious about the specific game mechanics of those older games, type the word “Wizardry” into the search box at the top of this site. You find reviews for the original games that detail the presentation and mechanics of those titles. For this review, I’m going to focus on what’s new and how aspects of this game compare to those legacy titles.

Being a soft reboot of the Wizardry franchise, Tale of the Forsaken Land introduces us to an entirely new world. This game takes place in the Kingdom of Duhan. A city-state that is emerging from an apocalyptic event known as “The Flash”. One day, in the skies above the kingdom, a brilliant flash of light appeared. Thousands of people perished in this event and the kingdom became beset by an endless winter. Cut-off from the outside world, the people of Duhan are trying to rebuild their society and continue with their lives. The game begins with the player creating a custom character. The character creation follows the classic Wizardry formula. The player is able to choose a name and pick a race. Bonus points are randomly generated (again, just like classic Wizardry games) and players are able to assign these points to the stats of their choice, thus determining what classes are available. It’s important to note that all of the classic Wizardry races and classes are represented in this game. After creating a character, a brief cutscene occurs that introduces the player to Duhan and points them in the direction of the local tavern. It quickly becomes obvious that the player character is suffering from some sort of memory loss. After a little more exposition about the state of the game world, the players are introduced to the core mechanics of the game and the storyline begins to slowly unfold. Two playable NPCs are introduced and the player can choose to add them to their party if they wish. After this introduction, the game essentially opens up completely. All areas of the town are available to explore. The first time each area of interest is visited, a brief cutscene appears to introduce the player to options available in that area. For example, there’s a shop to buy and sell weapons and armor, a guild where new skills can be learned and new characters can be created, a temple where players can go for healing, etc. All of this will immediately feel familiar to veteran Wizardry players.

In fact, a surprisingly large portion of this game is exactly like Wizardry of the old days. Players can create up to six characters for their party. These characters then enter a labyrinth that’s filled with traps, monsters, and treasure. The goal is to locate the stairs leading down to the next level of the dungeon. This pattern is repeated until players have to return to the surface to level up, sell their loot, or recover from some terrible fate at the temple. All of the classic tropes and mechanics are present; most items that are found are mysterious and must be identified before being used, lest the player accidentally equip a cursed item with negative effects. Some monsters in the maze are friendly, attacking them will cause your party to turn evil. When characters suffer death, they must be brought to town to be resurrected, but a failed attempt will reduce their body to ashes. I was honestly amazed and just how much this game followed the classic formula. THIS IS WIZARDRY!

But for everything that’s the same, there’s also plenty that’s new. For starters, There’s a number of playable characters that are unlocked as part of the game’s story – and they are not bad characters either! In fact, I found it pretty beneficial to recruit and use them. It’s easy enough to swap out party members as new ones are unlocked, but eventually you’ll want to form a core group and stick with it. One of the new mechanics in this game is the “trust mechanic”. As you adventure and level up with your party of companions, the trust-meter in the lower-left corner of the game increases. Actions that you take in the game can also affect this meter. For example, if you find a group of monsters attacking an innocent bystander in the maze, choosing to help them will increase your favor with good-natured party members. The higher the trust meter goes, the more “allied actions” will become unlocked.

Allied Actions is another new element to this entry in the Wizardry series. Normally, when engaged in combat, you choose an individual action for each member of the party. That option always exists, but as you play through the game you will also learned a set of Allied Action. These are like party-based tactics that can be used during combat. For example, the front line party members can band together and form an impenetrable shield that will protect against nearly any attack. The downside to this is, only your rear-row party members are able to attack for that around. Another favorite action of mine is the “restrict shot”. When used, two front-row party members are flagged as protected and two rear-row members are the “restrictors”. If either of the protected members are attacked, the restrictors launch a ranged attack that halts the monster – preventing the attack from taking place. Learning when and how to use Allied Actions is a big key to game.

Another new addition to this game that’s likely surprise veteran players is; The Reaper. This is a mysterious monsters that appears at seemingly random intervals. Once spawned, The Reaper will pursue players. If it catches up with the party, one of the players will become possessed. Being possessed is a mixed bag. Characters that are possessed are able to damage undead monsters even if their weapons are not enchanted. Having multiple possessed characters also unlocks a handful of special allied actions. On the downside, characters that are possessed often become more interesting to The Reaper. Being possessed a second time can result in death or worse… Characters that become possessed can be cleansed at the temple.

Aside from these new mechanics, the rest of the changes are minor in comparison. This game features an auto-map that makes having to drag out a pad of graph paper a thing of past. Disarming traps has also become a button-mashing mini game. Also, the spells have been renamed and there’s a whole new crafting system that goes along with unlocking spells (this is probably the one new feature that had me scratching my head).

The majority of the game takes place in the labyrinth. Being a much more graphical game than many of the earliest Wizardry titles, it’s neat to see how the aesthetics changes with each level. For example, the first level is a very standard looking dungeon, whereas the sixth level is a mold-filled maze with spores floating around the air. There’s a total of eleven floors in the main game, with three of those being randomly generated. Upon completing the main scenario, an optional endless dungeon is unlocked. This level is known as “The Abyss”. It serves no purpose other than to test the grit of veteran players.

The one thing that tends to draw the biggest complaint from legacy Wizardry fans about this game is the amount of dialog and the anime-like art direction. The original Wizardry games were pretty light on in-game storytelling. Sure there were a few short scenes here and there. But the majority of the games’ story was found in the manual or pieced together by players over the course of their gameplay experience. In this title, each character has a pretty detailed backstory that ties in to the already epic game storyline. I fail to see the problem here… The art direction, I can sort of understand. The original games, while admittedly short on graphics, had a very western design quality to them. This game on the other hand looks like it was ripped straight from the pages of some epic manga. Personally, I have no issue with the artwork. In fact, being a Japanophile, I rather like it. But I can understand those that feel it is out of place.

Looking at the big picture, I can’t say enough good things about this game. It is without a doubt, classic Wizardry. But it is also classic Wizardry evolved. When I look at the original Wizardry series, I divide it into two eras. The classic era, which is Wizardry I-V. And the second era, which is represented by Wizardry VI-VIII. This game has its roots in that classic era. And it’s very much an evolution of those legacy ideas. I know this is not what we would have been given if Sir-Tech lived to make a “Wizardry 9”. Instead, it’s an homage by group of developers who idolized the classic games and wanted to modernize the genre. It’s not a game that most players today would enjoy. But for those of us that do like these kinds of games. It’s everything we could have hoped for.

Version Reviewed: PS2

Difficulty: Hard –  This entry keeps with the Wizardry series longstanding tradition of being difficult, yet not impossible. Compared to many modern games, most players would probably find this title to be overly challenging. However, when compared with other CRPG-style dungeon crawlers, this game is actually a tad more forgiving than some players may be expecting. In the event of a party wipe, it’s certainly possible to restore a saved game – something that wasn’t an option with the original games. Still, players who are careless and don’t save their game often do run the risk to losing everything if they get too reckless.

Multiplayer: No.

Story: Games like this traditionally have a weak storyline that is given a small paragraph somewhere in an instruction manual. This game actually receives an artfully rendered introduction and the story continues to unfold as the player explores the game. This is a step forward for the genre.

Originality: This is a game rooted heavily in mechanics that many gamers would consider ancient. But it’s important to remember that this is very much by design. This game is a nostalgia piece. But it’s also a nostalgia piece that isn’t afraid to add new ideas to the mix. Many of the additions introduced to the classic CRPG formula in this game are both refreshing and welcome.

Soundtrack: This is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the music in this game is absolutely amazing. For example, the little ditty that plays in the tavern is catchy and appropriate (as is most of the town music). Yet, the game is also littered with odd bits of jazz and sometimes even jarring metal. Then, for some mindbending reason, a sappy JPop tune takes center stage about halfway through the game. Very odd choices, but also not entirely terrible.

Fun: This type of game is very much aimed at niche audiences. But players in that audience are bound to fall in love with everything this game has to offer. The generic public on the other hand is likely to have a very hard time digesting a game of this type.

Graphics: Let’s put aside the debate on the anime-style artwork for a moment. Wizardry has never looked better. The PS2 is not a system that’s been remembered for it’s graphical prowess, but still the dungeons in this game are masterfully rendered and the lighting is atmospheric. I admit to cocking my brow a time or two over some of the monster renders. But overall, the game looks amazing.

Playcontrol: Having played every other game in the series on a keyboard, I didn’t know what to think about playing this type of game on a controller. But let me tell you, it’s fantastic. Being a turn-based game, there’s not really a lot to worry about when it comes to playcontrol. But still, the controls are well thought out and everything works as smooth as silk.

Downloadable Content: No.

Mature Content: Fantasy violence, mild language, crude humor.

Value: This game has never been released digitally and still only available on physical media. Finding an unopened copy at this point in time is virtually unheard of. Used copies can often be found on eBay starting at around $40 for the disc only. Boxed copies can often run $60-$80. At these prices it’s difficult to recommend to anyone but a rabid Wizardry fan.

Overall score (1-100): 90 – Most people are not going to understand this game. It’s a game from an aging genre and even then, it’s designed around some pretty archaic rules. Still, for those players who enjoy this type of thing, this game is an example of everything we know and love. On top of that, there’s even a few new twists and surprises in store. I judge this game solely on the experience that I had with it and the masterful way it is presented. In its class, it’s an absolute shining star.

Original System: PS2

Available today on:  Currently Unavailable   – (Updated as of Spring 2022)

Best Experience: PS2 – (Updated as of Spring 2022)

 

Other Reviews In This Series:

Classic Series:

I – II – III – IV – V – VII – VII– VIII

Japanese Era:

Gaiden I   –   Gaiden II   –   Gaiden III   – Gaiden IV

Wizardry Empire   –   Wizardry: Dimguil   –   Wizardry Chronicle   – Wizardry Summoner

Tale of the Forsaken Land –   Tale of the Forsaken Land 0

Prisoners of the Battles    –   Absence of Misericordia   –   Five Ordeals

Wizardry Asterisk   –   Wizardry Xth

Prisoners of the Lost City   –   Labyrinth of Lost Souls 

Pledge of Life    –    Heritage of Oblivion

Wizardry Online

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