Wizardry I: High-Level Tactics

I knew Wizardry I was grindy, but I had forgotten just how grindy. I’ve said before that the ideal balance in a CRPG is that if you just explore each area thoroughly, the encounters you have along the way give you enough experience (and/or loot) to keep going. The levels here fall miles short of that ideal. You run out of dungeon to explore long before you’re ready to face Werdna. I’ve been orbiting level 9 for a while now, waiting for rare equipment drops like it’s a gacha game. Those goodies are must-haves for the final encounter.

If it weren’t for that, I’m pretty sure that the Murphy’s Ghost back on dungeon level 1 is still a more efficient way to get XP, partly because there’s essentially no delay between encounters, but largely because of the complete lack of risk. The monsters in the lower levels of the dungeon have ways to undo hours of progress instantly: ninjas with decapitation attacks, level-draining undead. Your main counter to these things is to kill them before they can do anything, so high-level battles frequently come down to who goes first. And that’s affected by experience level. So it helps to grind Murphy for a while before you go loot hunting, but putting more time into your characters also raises the stakes.

I haven’t done this yet in the current go-round, but: Part of making an ultra-powerful party is changing everyone’s class at least once. This is an option you don’t see in a lot of CRPGs, even ones modeled on Wizardry. Changing class puts you back at level 1 and resets your stats to their racial defaults and reduces your spell slots to just enough to cast every spell you know once, but leaves your hit points alone. Mages have very low hit points for their level, making them a point of vulnerability for your party, but if you take a fighter with over 100 hit points and convert them into a mage, the result is a mage that can actually take some damage. Or, contrariwise, a high-level mage turned into a fighter becomes a front-row combatant that can do a few powerful spells in an emergency. There are two classes, the Lord and the Ninja, that can only be made by converting a character into their class.

Trying to make a Ninja the by-the-book way is an exercise in frustration, though. It requires a minimum of 17 in every stat, and your stats go up and down at random whenever you gain a level. What the manual doesn’t tell you is that there’s an easier way: with an item called a Thief’s Dagger, you can turn a thief directly into a ninja of the same level, circumventing the usual class-change process. That’s largely why I’m still cycling through dungeon level 9. I’m waiting for a Thief’s Dagger to show up.

Changing class the normal way has one other effect: it ages the character, presumably from the time spent training. Age is one of the basic character stats, albeit one that I don’t pay much attention to most of the time, and it has the peculiar property that different characters can age at different rates: send someone to rest off his injuries at the inn for a few weeks, and he’ll come back weeks older, while everyone else stays the same. (In practice, this never happens, because it’s both cheaper and more efficient to go into the dungeon where you can use healing magic.) Apparently characters will start spontaneously retiring once they hit their fifties, but this isn’t a serious limitation — characters age very slowly as long as you don’t waste time at that inn, and new characters can start as young as 14, which is a little horrible when you think about it. I mean, okay, that’s a pretty common age for a character JRPG, but JRPG characters basically never die. They just have their progress reset a little. Whereas first-level Wizardry characters are basically fed into a meat grinder by the mad overlord in large quantities while they’re still children.

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