Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Game 13: Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (NES) - Final Rating

Combatant - Has anyone beaten the game without grinding on Murphy's Ghost?
Combat is the central focus of Wizardry. There isn't much to the game outside of overcoming the next battle, and then the next, and the next, until Werdna. There are a few exceptions, but most fights beyond the second floor can quickly overwhelm the party if not kept in check. I felt dread at each encounter, which may have been what the developers wanted, but I found it absurd. Playing Wizardry is like attempting a high wire act without a safety net, over a pit... with spikes (and snakes).

The best strategy I found was to take out (or silence) enemy spellcasters as soon as possible, and immobilize all others with hold spells. Poison, a minor annoyance in most games, is a major pain during the early stages. Paralysis completely removes a character from combat and exposes delicate spell casters to physical attacks. Level draining often takes more HP than actually gained in a level. Healing spells are limited to one character (no party heals). Once I had the most powerful spells I relied on those completely; once exhausted I didn't bother continuing to explore until I recharged.

The rewards for successful combat are so skewed that I found it best to fight a set battle on floor one against Murphy's Ghost until I was high enough to face off with Werdna. I saw no reason to explore floors 5 - 9 once I found the route to the tenth (especially after I encountered the first null magic area). On the tenth floor I still faced near instant death, but reaped impressive items from successfully disarmed chests. All chests containing items are trapped, and thieves are the best at disarming. In the end I used the spell CALFO to identify and my ninja only attempted to disarm traps that wouldn't wipe out or severely hinder the party.
Rating: 4
I was at full health before these monsters surprised me, and this is a small group
Admirer - Has anyone completed the game with any special party arrangements? (All clerics?)
Graphics are sparse; the only representation of the party are character sheets. I noticed there wasn't a division between the sexes, so whether or not you had a male or female is up to your imagination.

When creating a character you get to choose a race, which determines base stats, and assign random bonus points, which seem to range 5 - 9, 15 - 19, and 25 - 29. Then based on these values you can select a class. Classes have minimum requirements (the ninja requires 17 in every stat), and there are some elite classes not available in the beginning. Those classes aren't all they're cracked up to be though, I had a ninja, and he mostly sucked.

A character can change classes at any time so long as they meet the minimum stats for their new class. Doing so ages the character 4 - 6 years, and drops their stats to their racial minimum (no bonus points this time). Crawling back up is quite an effort, and the characters always seemed weaker than before. The manual suggests aging past 50 is detrimental to stats and introduces the potential of dying due to old age. I took a fairly extreme approach and had all characters with some kind of spell casting ability (3 had mage and cleric spells, and were not Wizards/Bishops).

There are a number of what I'd call useless spells, where there's an obvious best spell to save at each level, and the other options seem frivolous. I had a hard time becoming attached to the characters as I cycled through them very quickly.
Rating: 3
Useless or completely overpowered? I can't decide
Puzzler - Has anyone beaten the game without using the elevators?
No puzzles, move along now, nothing to see here. As I said above, combat overwhelms the experience. There is what I consider a single side quest, but the game seems to consider it part of the main.

Really though, it's all combat.
Rating: 1

Instigator - Does anyone know why the story elements just fall off after a certain point?
Who needs a story? Well, there's Trebor, the mad overlord, who had his amulet stolen by Werdna. Trebor offers a reward to retrieve the amulet that amounts to a pittance of what the party hauls back with them once the adventure is finally complete.

About halfway through the game, all possible story elements drop off, and it's combat all the way through to the end. I believe they correct this in future games, but it seems strange to have all these little secret areas through the first half while the second is devoid of any points of interest. There's no interaction with NPCs and descriptions for items leave me with nothing but questions.
Rating: 1
Wait, I thought this was Trebor's Amulet
Collector - What are some of the best pieces of equipment you've found?
There are some really cool sounding weapons and armor in this game: Epee of Excellence, Sword of Slicing, Blade of Biting (someone really likes their alliteration), Sword of Dragonslaying, Shield of Nothing (most likely cursed), Blade Cuisinart, Sword of Evil, and so on. I just really wish I knew what all it did, and how useful they were. I can guess that dragon slaying sword is good against dragons, but how does it compare to the Sword of Slicing or Cuisinart? Damage is so variable, and fighting the same enemy is so rare (unless you count Murphy) that trying to determine damage range, hit chance, and special effects seems as likely as guessing based off the name.

There's a limited inventory and no storage, unless you count the character roster... I envision characters named swords, armor, and cursed (to test for cursed items). One thing I really liked, and would love to see in other games, is the store would display and sell back items you've sold to it (at a mark-up of course). This way you're not complete throwing an item away.
Rating: 2
According to this strategy wiki, I made the right decision, except I should have kept the Sword of Evil... oh well
Explorer - Did I miss out on anything by not even touching floors 6, 7, and 8?
The graphics are dated, but the music is well done with a different score for each option in town and dungeon and combat music that didn't make me sick. The game keeps up the harsh environment by punishing the curious. Pit traps that look like points of interest found earlier, not to mention spinners, darkness, and anti-magic all conspire to make you regret looking any further than for the next floor. There are secret doors that are seen randomly or are completely visible with a 'light' spell.

I enjoyed the solid walls, but there is also an option for lined walls that replicates the original game. There's very little of the area that's blocked off to a starting party, and if you truly wanted to, you could take the stairs down quite far with a level 1 party. Actually, some set encounters might have something to say about that.
Rating: 3
Press 'start' to remove the party info
Final Rating: 14 (23%)

Overall, I don't really understand why I stuck this one out. I just can't stand to leave a game unfinished I guess. I hope I never run into a game that is actually impossible to win. I wonder if I'll ever find a CRPG worse than this one on console. If I do, you'll hear (read) me say (write), I'd rather be playing Wizardry.

I can see why it did well back when it was released. A lot of this is revolutionary for the time, but the game design decisions wouldn't fly very far in today's market. Mostly I hated them because the game purposefully wastes my time. Have difficult combat. Have one turn kills. Have mysterious items. But have the decency to be fair about it. I just don't think there's enough feedback provided to make challenging decisions in this game. If we could pick our luck, how fast do think you could beat Wizardry? Under a minute?

Out of curiosity, I've read through a few FAQs that claim AC for the party is bugged. Also, the time when characters are saved is directly after a battle, so if I was inclined to, I could have reset after most of my party was wiped to get another shot at a battle. Once I saw the tombstones though it truly was game over. I thought about using this if the second fight against Werdna went as well as the first. Luckily I didn't have to resort to such tactics, but the majority opinion I've read have no qualms over resetting. The only questionable actions I took were overuse of Murphy's Ghost to gain all my levels. Well, that and abused class changes.

I'm moving on to Super Hydlide next, which I know almost nothing about (I've glanced over the manual and tested that the game works), but I've heard it's just as bad as Hydlide for the NES. I did my best to denounce that one as not enough RPG for me, but I can't seem to do that with this one.


  1. Hey, did you have a copy of the manual? Most games of that era would tell you what items did on the back cover or something like that. Might and Magic did, I think.

    You seem to have read a FAQ or wiki: Did that answer any of those questions?

    1. I read a FAQ and looked up the relative weapon strengths afterwards. There's no list of items in the manual unfortunately.

  2. You hit on all the flaws of the first Wizardry pretty well. Really, it's a game I've replayed enough times (yes, I'm a glutton for punishment, why'd you ask?) to have more or less memorized like the back of my hand, and I can pretty much play the whole thing by rote:

    1) Get the two keys on the first floor.
    2) Grind off Murphy's Ghost to level 9.
    3) Get the statues and gold key on the second floor.
    4) Elevator to fourth floor, kill guards, get blue ribbon.
    5) Elevator to ninth floor, jump in chute, grind encounters on tenth floor to level 11 or 12. (Will-o-wisps and frost giants are the preferred targets - the latter are unfailingly slain by one casting of Makanito, and the former just need a shot or two of Morlis/Dilto to shred, they're basically a tougher Murphy.)
    6) Go kill Werdna. He's actually susceptible to both Montino (as you used) and whatever the instant death spell was called (I forget the name of it offhand).

    And yes, I do reset to avoid full party wipes shamelessly, heh.

    So you called it right: in most versions of the game, there's no reason at all to visit the third or any of the fifth through eighth floors. (For that matter, it's actually impossible to reach the ninth floor WITHOUT using the elevator). The PC-Engine CD port of the game added switches on floors 5-8 you had to hit before the elevator would work; this adds a good deal more bulk to the latter half of the game, and also makes it significantly harder as you might guess.

    I've read about the AC bug in the NES version too. I'd believe it, although I've never tested it exhaustively or anything. It does make me wonder if the same bug exists in the other NES Wizardry ports (the second and third games); I have yet to play through any version of the third game, and am on the fence as to whether I should play it on NES or SNES or even the original Apple version with all the having to replay the first two games again. Choices~

    1. I'm glad they skipped a Wizardry IV version on console, and I don't have to restart from the first Wizardry in order to play through the second. The console versions of the second and third are going to be easier just based on that.

      I'm curious to see how they handled the next Wizardry, but at the same time I'm not looking forward to another slog. Many games to help wipe away the bad memories in between though. I hope you'll come back to comment once I reach that point, it's the most positive aspect of keeping this blog up: knowing people are reading and enjoying.

    2. I'm looking forward to it :)

      The dungeons in Wizardry 2 is, from my recollection, smaller than the first game's, but there's a lot more to do in it, so the actual game probably turns out to be of roughly similar length. As for Wizardry 3, I won't spoil you on its twist of gameplay, but it similarly (from my reading of spoilers, anyway) has a lot more raw content than the first game despite having a nominally smaller dungeon.

      I'm stuck right at the end of Wizardry 5 right now; the final boss fight in it makes Werdna look like a freaking cakewalk. It's frustrating T_T

    3. Seeing as how Wizardry 3 wasn't released on console in the US, I don't think I'll be spoiled even if you start talking about it. I don't have any plans to play that or IV. I browsed Chet's playthrough of Wizardry 5 and I think he had a lot of trouble as well. Good luck with that one. I only hope the SNES version is a bit easier.

    4. @Reiska the best ways to play Wizardry 1-3 are either the PS1/SS versions (JP only, but enough of the games are in English that they're totally playable) or the SNES Wizardry 1-2-3 (JP only, what isn't available in English in the original is fan-translated.) This, naturally, includes Wizardry 3. Both of them are balanced so you don't have to play Wizardry 1-2 first.

  3. "Admirer - Has anyone completed the game with any special party arrangements? (All clerics?)"

    A FAQ on GameFAQs describes how people did multiple solo character challenges with different classes (abusing the Reset button, of course).

    "Instigator - Does anyone know why the story elements just fall off after a certain point?"

    I assumed the game creators were cheap and didn't care. One of the later Wizardry games (Wizardry IV?) is a direct story sequel; the game has you play as Werdna clawing his way out of the dungeon after his ignominious defeat. I believe this is the Wizardry that the CRPG Addict struggled with the most (so far).

    1. Thanks for your thoughts. I attempted to have questions, but no one answered, so I didn't bother continuing with other games. After reading through Chet's posts on Wizardry IV, I'm glad I won't have to bother with it.