Saturday, 25 August 2012

PS2 Review: Wizardry Tale of the Forsaken Land

Many gamers don't know that, since the early 90s, Japanese developers have been creating their own Wizardry series of video games. Based upon the oldest western Wizardry titles, the Japanese Wizardry series has grown homogeneously, offering a serious and dedicated experience without the levity of its western kin. Over the years, only a handful of Japanese Wizardry games have been commercially released to the western audience; one of these is Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land(W:TotFL) for the PS2.

W:TotFL takes place in the cursed and winter-locked kingdom of Duhan. An event called "The Flash" has destroyed most of the kingdom and plunged the survivors into depression. The player's mission is to explore the broken labyrinth under Duhan, uncover information surrounding "The Flash" and recover your, conveniently, lost memories. Duhan is a sad place, cut off from the world by a snow covered wasteland, charging into a monster filled dungeon for wealth, fame and answers seems like a good thing to do.

Players start the game with character creation, choosing a race, class and distributing stat points. After the first level "tutorial" of the game, players are given access to six slots for player-made and NPC characters. One of W:TotFL's best features are its NPCs, most have their own quirks, story and personal goals. On the other hand, specific player created parties can be tailored for a preferred play-style or class discrimination. Wizardry contain both basic (Warrior, Priest, Thief and Sorcerer) and advanced (Bishop, Samurai, Ninja, Knight) classes. As with all RPGs, a good mix of fighters and casters is the best recipe for success.

Queen's Guard - Kulgan

Duhan's village and labyrinth dungeon are the game's main settings. The small village features an inn(Missions and NPCs), a temple(Healing and Resurrection), lodgings (Level-Up), a store(Equipment and Spells) and guild(Party Customisation). Village interaction typically involves accepting quests at the inn, selling excess items at the store, resting at the lodgings and then trying to travel further into the labyrinth. Duhan's labyrinth is the business end of the game, filled with monsters, traps and treasure; players must traverse the labyrinth without succumbing to its belligerent fauna.

The labyrinth is traversed in a tile-based, 3D first person mode; players also have access to a sprint mechanic, useful over medium distances. Hostile encounters take place inside a 3D battle system, taking players out of first person view; very reminiscent of the Final Fantasy battle systems. Unfortunately, going into a battle system for minor battles really slows the game down; traversing the first "economic/tutorial" level of the labyrinth quickly becomes a chore. Luckily, other sections of the labyrinth aren't so poorly utilized, every few levels offers a quick-return access point to the upper levels. Town services should be used liberally during the adventure, as character death and status effects are a common occurrence.

W:TotFL isn't a casual stroll. Players, especially newbies, shouldn't run through the dungeon and expect to survive the next floor, as monster difficulty is more logarithmic than linear. I advise players to take their time, level-up, equip characters, discover class abilities and test party endurance. Once a player is used to the monster scaling, certain sections of the dungeon can be safely skipped.

To curb the difficulty slightly, W:TotFL introduces a party based mechanic called Allied Actions(AA); based on party "Trust", AA can quickly turn the tide during difficult battles. AA features both offensive and defensive abilities, involving a few members or the whole party. AA allows players to breeze through weaker hordes and severely cripple boss monsters.

Sadly, W:TotFL's magic system is probably its greatest flaw. The magic-stone system involves mixing monster organs to create and advanced existing spells. Magic is strong, but en masse magic-stone creation is poorly implemented and party magic power duly suffers. In contrast to the magic system, W:TotFL's NPC characterisation is well crafted and genuinely sells the setting and story.

Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land pulls no punches and rewards tenacity with a pretty decent story. If you are a hardcore gamer, and have a dungeon crawling itch, then W:TotFL is definitely worth blowing off the dust on the PS2.


*Warning: It's possible to have characters completely destroyed, when playing - no resurrection.

 Note: There is a Japanese-only sequel called Busin 0:Wizardry Alternative NEO.

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