Wizardry I: What Changes and What Doesn’t

Now, there are many versions of Wizardry I, and the one I’m playing today is not the same one I played in my youth. They’re both PC versions, but the standalone box I had back then had a very different UI from the one in the Ultimate Wizardry Archives CD-ROM anthology, the former displaying the first-person view of the dungeon in one corner and filling the rest of the screen with stats and messages, the latter keeping the dungeon view full-screen and overlaying temporary windows on top of it. I understand the full-screen approach to have been originally created for Wizardry III. And neither is completely identical to the Apple II version that preceded it, or the console versions that followed it. Some versions change the content, too. There are entire maps that are completely different on Nintendo. I don’t know why. Names of items vary wildly by platform, as if they had been translated by different localization teams, except that they were originally written in English. (Maybe they got translated into Japanese and back? It’s not as wild a supposition as it sounds; somehow, the series has long been most popular in Japan.)

Still, the Ultimate Wizardry Archive port is completely faithful the original maps, even when they seem like they must be wrong. There are portions of the maze that are inaccessible without teleporting, including part of the tunnels forming Andrew Greenberg’s initials on level 9, as if they left out a door and didn’t notice. There’s a sort of quest chain on levels 1 and 2 where you find keys to access other keys, culminating in a gold key that has no use. Apparently in the Nintendo port, the gold key gives you access to the elevator from level 1 to 4, just as the blue ribbon lets you ride from 4 to 9. Maybe that was the intention all along. As a child, I always thought of Wizardry as a class act, with its sleek and elegant black boxes and its substance-over-style design. It tarnishes this impression somewhat to notice not just such slapdash QA, but that the apparent mistakes went without correction in a port made 17 years later.

The version I’m playing now makes one change that I find really significant: in porting to the Wizardry III engine, it inherited Wizardry III‘s alignment mechanics. In the original version, you chose each character to be Good, Evil, or Neutral on creation, and that was pretty much it for them — I’ve seen claims that picking fights with friendly monsters provided a miniscule chance of turning Good characters Evil, but it never happened to me. A character’s alignment limits both what classes they can be and who they can adventure with, so this effectively meant you couldn’t have a party containing both a Lord (Good only) and a Ninja (Evil only). 1Except by giving a Thief’s Dagger to a Neutral Thief, anyway. But Wizardry III made it so easy to switch alignments through your treatment of friendly monsters that the distinction became almost meaningless: anyone can adventure with anyone else, given enough time to arrange it. But at the same time, shifting alignment is randomized enough that it also became easy to split your party’s alignment, rendering them temporarily incapable of getting together again if they’re split up, either voluntarily, by quitting the game, or involuntarily, by getting someone killed and resurrecting them in town. This creates a pressure to keep acting your alignment all the time to avoid splitting the party. If you’re playing a Good party, you have reason to leave all friendly monsters alone, which is simple enough, but makes the Murphy-grinding slower; if Evil, you have reason to attack all friendlies, even the ones that are liable to cause problems. Wizardry I as originally released lacked such considerations.

1 Except by giving a Thief’s Dagger to a Neutral Thief, anyway.

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