Wizardry III: Legacy of Llylgamyn

Wizardry is one of the foundational CRPGs. There was a time when CRPGs were commonly described as either Ultima-style or Wizardry-style, the former referring to ones with a tile-based movement on a large map (such as Final Fantasy and The Magic Candle), the latter to ones with first-person navigation through grid-based dungeons (such as The Bard’s Tale and Dungeon Master). I myself played the original Wizardry as a child. I remember it took a very long time to complete, and seemed a monumental achievement. (I still have my official certificate of completion tucked away somewhere. I can’t imagine sending off for something like that today.) Of course, back then, the very basics of the genre were yet unfamiliar. Common practices like creating a balanced party and putting the mages in the back row had to be discovered by trial and error.

I didn’t play the immediate sequels when they were new, however. I wound up skipping ahead to Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna, which is more of a direct sequel to Wizardry I than Wizardry II or III is, and didn’t get to trying the others until they were anthologized in 1998. I made an attempt to play through the entire series in order, but got stuck in the middle of Wizardry III when I seemed to run out of dungeon to explore. (I later learned what my problem was; I’ll go into detail later.)

Wizardry II, it turned out, is more like an expansion pack to I than like what we’d recognize as a sequel today — a symptom of the infant games industry still struggling to figure things out. III altered the mechanics and UI quite a bit, but still can’t be run as a completely standalone game, as it provides no way to create characters. They have to be created in Wizardry I and imported, a process that apparently involved swapping multiple floppy disks in and out. Even just playing Wizardry I involved a fair amount of swapping on a single-floppy system, what with its separate diskettes for character and scenario data. The anthology edition was thoughtfully altered to use disk images on the hard drive instead, and to carry out the swapping automatically.

Now, I still have some of the characters that I used to play Wizardry III ten years ago. But I don’t intend to use them, except as emergency support. To get the full experience, I’m creating a brand new party, with brand new characters. And I’m getting them killed a lot. This is part of the experience. Level 1 characters stand little chance of surviving their first encounter, and it takes at least three or so encounters before they get to level 2. And getting killed doesn’t mean resetting to a save point or anything nicely forgiving like that. If your entire party gets killed, you roll up a new party. You do have the ability to recover bodies from where they fell — this is what I mean by “emergency support” — and you can can take them back to town to resurrect them for an exhorbitant fee, but even the resurrection spell has a significant chance of failing and rendering them lost forever. (And you don’t get a refund when this happens.) Understand that characters are reduced to level 1 when imported; losing a certain number of your characters is simply part of the plan. So, in contrast to most RPGs today, it’s best not to get too attached to them. I gave up long ago on the idea of giving everyone a distinctive and memorable name; I name my guys in batches like “Fitt”, “Mitt”, “Pitt”, etc. (The initial letter indicates the character class, for greater ease in building a party out of the survivors.)

I really haven’t played much yet, though. Most of today’s game time was spent making preparations: digging out the graph paper, printing up a crib sheet with all the spell descriptions on it, deciding where and how to play it — the game uses a CGA graphics mode that my usual gaming rig doesn’t even support, which forced me to use DOSBox, which made me realize that I might as well be playing it on my Macbook. And of course there was the time spent rolling up all the characters, which can take a while if you’re fussy. So there’s a lot of anticipation going into this. It’s a grand thing, and also a memory of a simpler time, with simpler computer systems.

4 Comments so far

  1. Knurek on 4 Jan 2010

    Hmm, why don’t you try the SNES remake?
    It has some enhanced graphics and a great soundtrack, and contrary to PSX remake it’s completely in English (there’s a translation patch for it on agtp.romhack.net).

  2. malkav11 on 4 Jan 2010

    Wizardry, especially the early ones, seems to have caught on in Japan to a degree it didn’t Stateside. One need only play, say, Etrian Odyssey on the DS, to see exactly how directly it inspired later games.

  3. Knurek on 5 Jan 2010

    Speaking of Etrian Odyssey, I’d highly recommend that one for you.
    Gobs and gobs of fun. Hard and demanding but at the same time very streamlined compared to the older games and made with some new mentality.
    Plus, DS was really just made with making maps in mind. No graph paper needed. :)

  4. Carl Muckenhoupt on 7 Jan 2010

    A Wizardry-style game for a portable system seems like a good idea to me. The whole style of play is really well-suited for relieving boredom on a bus ride: arbitrarily-extensible sessions consisting of quick dungeon raids with minimal context and no time-critical parts.

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