XSEED recently launched an official English website for Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, and while it contains the usual information about the storyline, characters, and monsters in the forthcoming PSN-exclusive RPG, what I find most interesting is that it also features a lengthy retrospective for the core Wizardry series. Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord was the game that originally kicked off my love for CRPGs, so I can't help but quote the article in its entirety:
The best way to learn where we are now is to study where we've been and Wizardry is a series with quite a long and illustrious history. Although now living on in the hands of Japanese developers like Acquire, the original creators of this venerable franchise designed eight numbered entries before the torch was passed, and these eight games served as an inspiration to countless game designers throughout the 80s, 90s, 00s and 10s, ultimately shaping the series and the gaming landscape as a whole in countless ways. In addition, each game served almost as a mirror, reflecting (and in many cases satirizing) the general state of fantasy sci-fi and tabletop gaming in the western world at the time of its creation. I invite you to learn more about these first eight games, in preparation for the Labyrinth of Lost Souls that awaits you...
Wizardry 1 - Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord
Platforms: (U.S.) Apple ][, Commodore 64, NES, MSX-2, TurboGrafx-CD, Super Famicom
Date Released: 1981
It all started in the city of Llylgamyn. See, there were these two people who weren't fond of each other, Trebor (the Overlord - kinda like a president, but elected by a group of sages) and Werdna (evil wizard). Werdna stole Trebor's magical amulet-thing and made a big underground maze, hiding said amulet at the bottom. Trebor tried to get it, but could only secure four floors. Having done that much, however, he put some traps of his own in those top four floors and offered up the underground maze as a proving ground. Find the hidden item, and Trebor'll tell you about his shiny amulet and offer you a job as his personal guard.
Of course, it should come as no surprise to avid gamers who was still guarding the amulet at the bottom...
Wizardry 2 - The Knight of Diamonds
Platforms: Apple ][, Commodore 64, NES, NEC PC-9801
Date Released: 1982
After your team of intrepid adventurers laid out a proper beating and got the amulet, Trebor sent in the rest of his army to clean house, and set up guards to make sure Werdna would never, ever come back again. Unfortunately, by this time, Trebor had gone a bit over the edge (quite literally!), and took a long leap off a short spire. Things got pretty quiet after that.
Time passed, and there was this staff in the city that would keep away evil: If you wanted to be bad in the town, you literally couldn't get in. But if you were born bad, there wasn't much that could be done, now, was there? And Davalpus was that kind of guy. He learned all the bad stuff Werdna learned, got better at it, charged into the royal family's castle and gave a demonstration as to why he was the main villain of this part of the tale.
Quick and easy solution to that, though: The prince of the royal family charged at Davalpus, there was a big flash of light, and boom - no prince, no Davalpus, but most notably, no staff. The god who claimed it, Gnilda, left a note saying she was quite fed up with all the hubbub, and that her protective staff had been placed, strangely enough, in a deep labyrinth under the temple. And so, it was time for your intrepid group of adventurers to get the staff and bring Llylgamyn back to safety.
And so it went. Always a crazy maze, always an item to find at the bottom, and always an evil to vanquish...
Wizardry 3 - Legacy of Llylgamyn
Platforms: Apple ][, Commodore 64, NES, NEC PC-9801
Date released: 1983
Though Llylgamyn prospered, that peace was eventually broken not by man, but by nature itself. Earthquakes, changes in climate, thundering storms... Things got turbulent, but people were able to ignore it until it started hitting Llylgamyn proper. A quake cracked Gnilda's temple, and nearby volcanoes started belching ash and fire. The sages and wizards and soothsayers consulted their magic, and the signs were clear: the end of the world was at hand. While some panicked, others knew that there was one artifact that could reveal the source of all this craziness: a magic orb owned by the dragon, L'kbreth. This dragon was pretty smart, and hid it in a place that was guarded by the powers of both good and evil. And since quite a bit of time had passed since the last dungeon quest, it was left up to the descendents of our previous heroes to step up and save Llylgamyn.
Wizardry 4 - The Return of Werdna
Platforms: Apple ][, DOS, NEC PC-9801
Date Released: 1987
Meanwhile, remember our old buddy Werdna? Yeah, he came back - or so they said. Clawed his way all the way up the ten levels of his dungeon and everything. But of course, that was all just rumor... or was it?
Wizardry 5 - Heart of the Maelstrom
Platforms: Apple ][, Commodore 64, SNES, Satellaview, PC, NEC PC-9801
Date Released: 1988
With L'kbreth's orb safely in hand, the kingdom's sages and wizards learned quite a bit about life and magic, and Llylgamyn returned to its former peace... for a time. Like all things, though, this magically-augmented tranquility eventually broke down as well. Some grand creator must've really had it in for the place, too, as this time it seemed like the very fabric of reality itself had been torn asunder. Chaos was literally leaking out, most prominently in a series of maze-like caverns (the Maelstrom) under the temple of the sages (called the Brotherhood). This was all pretty grim, but the sages knew what to do or rather, they knew who would know what to do: a demigod called the Gatekeeper, who was well-versed in this sort of stuff. After some scrying, they found out that he had been captured, and was being held in the heart of the Maelstrom.
Further investigation also revealed a mysterious lady known as (The Sorn) -- a renegade from the Brotherhood who wanted to end all order in the universe. And she'd had a three-year head start on achieving this goal, so time was short! Some heroes had to step up fast, talk to the high priest of the Brotherhood to find out what to do, then charge into the Maelstrom, save the Gatekeeper, and stop The Sorn.
Wizardry 6 - Bane of the Cosmic Forge
Platforms: Amiga, DOS, SNES, Macintosh
Date Released: 1990
More time passed. After the Maelstrom had been conquered, a new king was born in the royal family. Everyone liked him, so eventually he was given control over all of Llylgamyn. Unsurprisingly, however, this turned out to be a bad idea.
It was said that the queen was fond of torturing the helpless, and the king's advisor was a shady wizard who started warring on other planes of existence. During one of his excursions, he found a powerful artifact called the (Cosmic Forge.) It was a pen that would bring into reality whatever it wrote. This turned the king and the wizard against each other in a climactic battle that nobody got to see (as it took place entirely in the royal castle). Neither were ever seen again, and as you might imagine, this didn't help Llylgamyn at all - with the king gone, the local government crumbled and everyone simply abandoned the land. Stories of the Cosmic Forge persisted, however, and some adventurers decided to try their luck finding this mighty pen.
Wizardry 7 - Crusaders of the Dark Savant/Wizardry Gold
Platforms: MS-DOS, Windows 95, PlayStation, Macintosh
Date Released: 1992
The pen was held by the Cosmic Lords, who were helpless to work their magic on the worlds without it. They had lost it when a king and wizard picked it up and promptly disappeared. However, a spot of luck managed to reveal a previously unknown planet which was rumored to contain the secret to create (or destroy) worlds. With this secret presenting far too much of a temptation, it was only a matter of time before various groups (including otherworldly beings) began seeking it out, in hopes of attaining ultimate power. Among these interstellar visitors were the Dark Savant (one of the most powerful beings there ever was), the Umpani (reliable, fair traders), the T'Rang (spider-like creatures who would do anything whatsoever for money) and a fierce woman warrior named Vi Domina (a descendant of the man who made the new world). Of course, a group of intrepid adventurers would also be joining this unlikely cast of characters, and a deadly game of extraterrestrial cat and mouse would begin.
Platforms: Windows PC
Date Released: 2001
Ah, but nothing is ever quite so easy. The chase sent the adventurers to another planet where the final stand took place. Prophecies were fulfilled, the fate of worlds was resolved, and the planets just kept on turnin'...
* * *
Of course, there's a lot more to each of these games than just these few paragraphs (including massive amounts of tongue-in-cheek humor), but in the interest of trying to be as spoiler-free as possible, these brief summaries should suffice to give you a taste of the rich lore for which this series is celebrated.
In short, the original Wizardry games developed by Sir-Tech are very special - both for their content and for their historical significance. Unlike most other RPGs of the era, the initial series received seven proper sequels, all of which were translated to Japanese. Having found unprecedented success in the east, Japan was eventually passed the torch, and the series continued under the guiding hands of countless enthusiastic developers.
One of the things that made the Wizardry series so magical was its sheer depth. In its earlier days, Wizardry had a lot in common with its more famous cousin, The Bard's Tale. Grid-based dungeons, first-person viewpoint, player-generated party... That was the bread and butter of those games.
Wizardry also followed some of its tabletop gaming compatriots in having advanced classes that required higher stats, and these advanced classes blended eastern and western flavor in careful balance.
Alignment was always a major focal point, as well - good and evil characters simply never worked well together; and although later games adopted other systems in place of alignment (karma in Wizardry 7, for example), the simple elegance of good, neutral and evil alignment became a recognizable trait of the series, and served as an inspiration for countless other game developers.
Game mechanics also became more intense with time. The player could customize specific characters with stats and skills from specific classes to make that character hit 6+ times per round, or kill an enemy with one hit from the shadows. Magic, too, became more complex with each outing, with status effects ranging from petrification to "itching."
Even a concept as basic as skill usage was given some additional depth, particularly in the later games - once a character's stats were at max (along with other criteria, depending on the game), special skills would unlock to further enhance his/her abilities.
While the story of the Wizardry series was never its primary focus, each game featured a mystery to unravel and numerous well-written character interactions that afforded the player a chance to really connect with his/her characters and become immersed within the game world. Later games even featured multiple endings depending on the faction to which you'd fostered the closest ties, and each of these factions always had its own flavor and character.
Bringing one of the new-wave Japanese Wizardry games to North America offers old fans an opportunity to see how the same seeds sprouted different fruit, and gives new fans a chance to discover this long and storied series for the first time.
This is the Wizardry Renaissance. And for as much as the series has changed over the years... it's still largely the same as it always has been.
Just as it should be.