Classic, influential, and utterly obsolete.
Nobody doubts the tremendous and widespread influence of Wizardry. Unlike Dragon Warrior, it has a legitimate claim to being the first CRPG. Every time you play a modern first-person RPG like Morrowind or Oblivion, you’re playing a spiritual descendant of Wizardry. Maybe that’s enough to earn Wizardry its place in the Gaming Hall of Fame.
The NES conversion looks much better than the original Apple version of the game, replacing wireframe graphics with colored sprites and textures. The soundtrack loops incessantly, but it’s not too bad as these things go.
Playing Wizardry now, it’s hard to believe that anyone was ever impressed with it. I suppose some folks really wanted to play D&D solo, and Wizardry (sort of) delivered. Otherwise, I can only chalk Wizardry’s popularity up to fascination with early home computers. After all, even programming a simple routine in BASIC was exciting back in 1981!
The production values are low by any standard. The NES port improves on the graphics of the original considerably, but it’s still light years behind console contemporaries Dragon Warrior, Final Fantasy, and Phantasy Star in the chrome department.
The user interface is cumbersome even for an NES port. It’s all text menus, which means it takes a long time to do anything, since you have to scroll through a bunch of lists first. After Final Fantasy let us “plug in” equipment into inventory slots, there’s just no good reason why we should need to go back to this tedious stuff. (It’s best not to even mention the spell system, which is downright inscrutable.)
Speaking of tedious…if you think Dragon Warrior is difficult, then don’t even think about playing Wizardry. This is the most sadistic game I have EVER played. Everything in this game kills you. I spent most of my time in Wizardry being trapped, lost, in the dark, poisoned, paralyzed, or just plain dead. Most of the gold you earn in the early going is spent resurrecting dead characters or equipping new replacement characters. This means you have little money left over for upgrading equipment, which means it’s hard to die with less frequency, which means you keep dying. It’s a bizarre mobius-strip approach to game design.
It wouldn’t be so bad if there was some kind of substance beneath all the layers of unfairness and frustration. Personally, I don’t see it. You’re a party of adventurers going down into a dungeon to explore and fight monsters, period. There is no story, no characters, and for all practical purposes, no locations. It’s just one big multi-story “dungeon,” which is nothing but a giant maze of passageways that all look alike. The only source of entertainment besides fighting is hand-mapping the maze on graph paper. But after the blessed invention of the automap, who in their right mind wants to go back to that kind of “fun”?
Wizardry is to CRPGs what the Velvet Underground is to rock music—everybody in the business claims to have been influenced by it, but nobody pays much attention to it anymore. That‘s probably because every RPG since 1985 surpasses it, in every way that matters. A great historical artifact, to be sure, but not much of a game.
The Bottom Line
Worth playing, but only for educational purposes. Feel free to give it a try for history’s sake—just be sure to wear your rose-tinted glasses.