Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls review

It’s funny, in a way, that Japan manages to keep one of the longest-running Western RPG series going strong. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a fully Japanese-developed entry in the series, and it stays true to many of the franchise’s hallmarks: letting the player craft a party of adventurers, sending them into a massive, winding first-person dungeon maze, and being excruciatingly hard. It might sound interesting, sure. But that’s the thing: you can’t just think you might enjoy Wizardry and buy it to give it a shot, you have to absolutely, positively know you will enjoy it going in. Otherwise, you are going to be completely lost and overwhelmed.

Unlike most modern RPGs, Wizardry isn’t a game that spends a lot of time talking at you or wowing you with any sort of spectacle. In fact, the story is mostly confined to a couple of paragraphs introducing your chosen lead character’s motivation to coming to the big city and deciding to dungeon-romp for fun and profit. The real goal of Wizardry isn’t to save the world or even the city, it’s to overcome the sprawling, challenging dungeon. To do this, you’ll need to create characters, assign them one of many possible class roles – the possibilities of which vary based on race, alignments, and your chosen distribution of their skill points – and then decide their role as either frontline fighters or backup. In true old-school fashion, you can keep on attempting to re-roll characters until you get a large pool of stat points to divvy up (thus making better starting fighters and opening more class opportunities off the bat), but expect this to take quite some time.

Actually, expect everything in Wizardry to take quite some time. Did we mention that this game is hard? Because holy crap is this game brutal. Your gaming ego will be left raw, bruised, and broken after just a few hours of play. Every single little experience point and gold coin you will earn in Wizardry is the end result of blood, sweat, and copious tears as you navigate the first-person dungeon mazes, fight hordes of monsters (that will demolish you if you make a single poorly-thought-out mistake) in turn-based menu-driven combat, and attempt to survive booby-trapped environments and treasure containers.

Even if you play well and make smart, well-informed choices, a bit of bad random luck can totally spoil your day. Your real enemy in Wizardry is the random number generator, and it hates you as though it’s convinced that you stole away its wife and kids and left it to die in a ditch. You’ll be seeing your party members get killed a lot, which can be a major setback if you aren’t prepared – each character has their own cash stash, so don’t leave the guy most likely to get mauled holding the bulk of the purse. And if you’re not keeping careful tabs on things like inventory, cash, stats, and levels, you might just completely screw yourself over with an ill-informed save file overwrite (keep multiple files, folks!). You’re going to need plenty of grinding, questing, and trial-and-error to get anywhere. But when you do manage to emerge from the dungeon with loot in tow, stronger than before, and discover that those unidentified items you found are insanely valuable, the amount of warm satisfaction you feel while licking your wounds (and raising your dead teammates) is immense.

We’re sure this description is enough to send most players screaming for the hills, but no doubt there are some of you who read those paragraphs up there and cackled with masochistic glee. Congratulations! You are the very people for whom this game was made – go out and download it. The rest of us are probably better off playing a game like Etrian Odyssey, which takes a lot of Wizardry-style elements and make them more accessible and palatable to a modern gaming audience. Labyrinth of Lost Souls, for better or for worse, just puts a new coat of paint over its old-fashioned trappings. Whether or not that’s something you actually want to play is entirely dependent on your personal taste.

Jun 27, 2011

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