This is a disorganized series of thoughts about various media I've tried, largely to give folks an idea of what I like and what I don't like.
Looking for the Megaten reviews? They're now on their own page.
- Wizardry Gaiden III. The third original ASCII Wizardry game, and it's one that I enjoyed more than Raindare did. Mind you, Raindare played through this one, so there's a spectator bias to this claim. WG3 opens up like a Might of Magic title with an "open world" interconnected dungeon design, and a graveyard region to investigate that requires digging up graves to explore tiny sections of an underground mausoleum. There's lots of neat little twists that take other Wizardry-like ideas into a Wizardry series game, including some hidden lore to suggest that all is not quite what it seems. While the game starts strong there's a section about halfway through right up until the start of the very last dungeon that's ridiculously punishing with Death Angels, Death Knights, "Peacocks" that I'm fairly certain must be Cassowaries, and "Giant Crabs" that are eager to behead party members where every enemy is unusually resistant to magic and very eager to instantly kill your party members. A phys-focused party is highly recommended to get past this one. The final dungeon almost redeems this annoying stretch with some late game twists, reasonably balanced encounters for a change, and an optional "good ending" with a post game and some story scenes playing over the credits. I don't really recommend playing this with the translation patch that's floating around, as there are some obvious flubs like "Giant Club" and the lore and puzzle hints get badly compressed to fit narrow character counts, but it's better than not playing it at all...
- Wizardry Gaiden IV. Our favorite of the ASCII Wizardry titles. This one's set up like a series of D&D modules with three individual adventures to choose from, where wrapping up any one of them has conequences for the other dungeons. There's also not one but two story driven post games that tie in to the overarching plot and previous Wizardry Gaiden titles in a fun way. Its difficulty curve is perhaps too easy for a Wizardry Gaiden title, but I think that comes as a stark relief after Gaiden III's punishing second half. The feudal fantasy Japan setting is loads of fun, the new enemies are balanced well enough, and even the not entirely secret super hard post-post-post game dungeon feels downright reasonable compared to Gaiden III's nonsense. There's a new evil-aligned Psionic class which boasts some unique magic spells to play with, and they are quite fun to use in game. Regrettably there is a save corruption bug that's most likely to happen when casting Zilfe, the curse-breaking spell, though it only applies if you happen to save after it happens. If it wasn't for the one blemish, I would call this the best Wizardry game of its time, even accounting for the very first Wizardry on the Apple II.
- Wizardry Dimguil. Oh no. This game shipped in a state where it's entirely possible for a character to lose stats with every level up. It is abysmally buggy in a way that makes me wonder how it passed certification. Most players seem to get past its problems by taking advantage of equipment glitches to get boosted stats and waltz right through level draining vampires, "kaiju" styled superbosses and enemies, and puzzles with nondescript, identical looking dungeon floors that are generally not that fun. There are some potentially interesting ideas here like roaming parties that you can converse with and follow alongside yours as you descend through the dungeon, though the dialogue is awkward and nothing really flows well enough to give you a sense of story or progression. There's also an optional mystery to solve through decoding glyphs that's unfortunately largely spoiled through one of the FMVs that you can see in the game's bar at the very beginning of the game. Everything that's unique or potentially promising about this title ends up being badly bungled through poor execution. A disappointing end for the ASCII developed Wizardry games.
- BUSIN: Wizardry Alternative. Barely Started. Megaten series executive producer Kouji "Cozy" Okada presents their own take on Wizardry, with development led by the Snowboard Kids studio, Racjin. Hence the very Japanesey title that translates to "War God". Atmospherically this game has about what you would expect from a Megaten spinoff with a moorish look and feel from the artist of Blood: The Last Vampire, putting it tonally in line with Wizardry Gaiden III. It's a higher budget game than the other Japanese Wizardries by far. I am told this game has a depressing storyline and tends to be the standard by which "Japanese Wizardry" is judged in the West. Perhaps that is why wikis and retrospectives often state that Japanese Wizardry games are more serious compared to their western counterparts? An erroneous claim in my opinion, relative to early Wizardry Gaiden, Empire and Xth. Raindare urged us to play BUSIN 0 on account of significant quality of life improvements and a more interesting story, despite a significant amount of asset reuse between them. This will likely stay on hold for a bit.
- BUSIN 0: Wizardry Alternative Neo. Utterly fantastic game with many unlockables, with a good story co-written by the woman who would soon after write the story for Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and produce the Animal Crossing games. Is it my imagination or do the witch Aurora and Midna from Zelda share some aesthetic similarities, with the dominant black and white color scheme embellished with deadly orange scarves? We played this game with a recently completed translation guide pdf to avoid having to translate while playing. A very high quality title hinting at a deeper backstory with elements of visual novel presentation, in a "dark fantasy" setting similar in some ways to Tristram in Diablo. In some ways it's a post-Diablo update of the original Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Overlord with a presumed-mad king and a nefarious wizard, like the original BUSIN was an update of Wizardry Gaiden III, though the dynamic between the two and the player evolves in unexpected ways. The "Allied Actions" combat system is vastly improved to avoid favoring some skills more than others, making it something of a more interesting take on modern turn based combat. Pity that Allied Actions were never followed up in later games, it feels more engaging and allows for much more strategy than 2000s Megaten "Press Turn". Only one floor of the dungeon (the third one) felt a little too samey, which is an accomplishment for a game on a budget that had to stretch its assets some. Possibly the best game in the series, if only for its ambition alone.
- Black Matrix OO. It's a strategy RPG and visual novel hybrid with an extremely high quality storyline and enough Megaten influence with white winged ones in a class and power struggle with black winged ones with humanity in the center. Sold as an enhanced prequel to Black Matrix but that's deceptive; the story is so revised and extended that unlike Black Matrix Zero, none of the five endings can possibly lead to Black Matrix (OG, AD, Cross) as we know it. "Rage against destiny" indeed. Appropriately very dark at times with a sense of humor about the optional quests. Easily one of Raindare's top ten games of all time. Better than any Atlus game on the story and game balance fronts. Following series tradition, the maps do scale such that you're expected to learn lessons from the school of hard knocks. Despite that, it doesn't feel unfair. The only part of the package that really needs work are the completely optional, reward-lacking mini games, which appear to be something of an extended in-joke. Like Majin Tensei, there are endings that are completely dependent on choices the player makes with unclear, immediate consequences, along with the aforementioned optional quests and maps contingent on talking to NPCs that are very easy to miss. A strategy guide is strongly recommended to help navigate one's way to the ideal ending. In that regard, the official SoftBank guide book and the fc2 wiki are pretty solid. We are likely to play this game's unofficial sequel Dragon Shadow Spell soon enough, as it appears to be Final Fantasy Tactics to Black Matrix's Tactics Ogre for better and for worse.
- Wizardry Xth: Academy of Frontier. Michaelsoft, the developers of Wizardry Empire for the Game Boy Color and the PlayStation, attempted to make a Wizardry MMO somewhat styled after Phantasy Star Online with Konami as publisher. Unfortunately they found themselves lacking the budget to follow through, and came up with this product instead. At the time it was new, the game was mocked for being "Moe Wizardry". That's a bit misleading; besides Murphy and a late game story arc with tattooed robot mystery girl Lilith there's not much of that, certainly not compared to Etrian Odyssey. This game has many unusual mechanics such as randomized dungeons acting as "roads" between towns, a meta game to keep encounter rates lower between sites through leaving your characters behind to defend roads from time to time, lore terminals to explain this fantasy-future post apocalypse setting, and a crafting system based around junk dropped during battles that doesn't really pay off. The worst bit about the dungeons/roads is that they tend to lean hard on anti-magic fields to disable your party and sudden death water traps to instantly kill any party member that isn't flying; an all-nephilim party is highly recommended for avoiding the water nonsense. I appreciated the story, though there is a mid-game difficulty spike that's alleged in Aniwota Wiki to be reminiscent of PlayStation Wizardry Empire games which flips the script to make even the easiest enemies into dangerously cruel palette swaps.
- Wizardry Xth 2: Unlimited Students. A massive improvement over the previous title in quality of life, difficulty, and map design, alleged to have come about when the developers ran out of their given budget mid-cycle and elected to pay out of their own pockets to finish the game. The dungeons at large are less randomized, the difficulty level is far more reasonable, the crafting system is less obnoxious, the anti-magic fields and water traps of instant death are less omnipresent. The new story even ties into the previous title in a neat way, with a postgame that follows up with the loose ends of its plot. Less appreciated is a stronger tilt towards Moe Wizardry, with young girls and robot maids that seem somewhat more out of place than the full armored warriors and goth girls and boys of the last game. Can't win them all! Besides being the last Wizardry-branded title Michaelsoft had produced before reforming as Experience Inc, this game's engine was reused largely unchanged for multiple Acquire-produced Wizardry Renaissance games for the PlayStation 3 and iOS. Acquire's PlayStation Portable Class of Heroes games also reused this game's engine, and then some! The first Class of Heroes has become notorious for being exactly the same game as Wizardry Xth 2 with the same quests and most of the same characters with a slightly tweaked plot and more generic art. Moe Wizardry aside, this might be the most influential of the Japanese Wizardry games if only for the number of times its codebase has been reused without credit.
- Wizardry Variants Daphne. A confusing "free to play" title that appears to be long-time mobile developer Drecom's attempt to break out into "triple A" gaming territory with an established property. On the one hand I appreciate that it attempts to follow up on BUSIN 0 in a way that every other game between then and now did not. There's a strong commitment to first person perspective, a backstory that hits similar beats with some Dark Souls spice, a similar walking-shadows-in-the-dungeon approach to encounters, and they even hired the character designer from the BUSIN series to do some of the monster designs. It's the first Wizardry-branded game since 2006's Xth 2 that tries to build on the mechanics of Wizardry itself rather than ship a totally different type of game with the Wizardry brand or keep the Xth 2 codebase mostly intact with new game-breaking designs earning a Kusoge of the Year nomination. On the other hand, failing to adopt "Allied Actions" and switching the spell slot system for standard JRPG mana points really misses the forest for the trees in terms of adapting what made BUSIN 0 so good. I'm also not keen on permadeath being part of a free to play game where the monetization comes from summoning new heroes, this has bad incentives. Though the NPCs have the funniest names I've seen in a JRPG in some time (examples; "Shagtis", "Lulunarde", "Pulgritte"), the voice acting on the Japanese side is extremely top notch. Overall the production values are some of the best I've seen from the series since... well... BUSIN 0. Unfortunately the BUSIN callbacks within the mobile game structure leave Daphne struggling to adapt the identity of a better regarded game, lacking good, unique ideas of its own. Perhaps Drecom would have been better served imitating the postgame rogue-like, randomly generated mega-dungeon in BUSIN 0 for the type of game they intend to sell rather than a slow burn, story driven campaign with permadeath elements.
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