User review spotlight: Ultima IV: Quest of the Avatar (DOS)

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord (NES)

...
MobyRank
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
3.2
MobyScore
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  D Michael (221)
Written on  :  Mar 04, 2006
Platform  :  NES
Rating  :  5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars5 Stars

4 out of 5 people found this review helpful

write a review of this game
read more reviews by D Michael
read more reviews for this game

Summary

One of the all time great RPG's

The Good

'Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord' is an RPG game with simple graphics, simple sounds, and a wonderful atmosphere that has stood the test of time and remains an icon in RPG history.

The story behind this first installment is rather simple. It involves a party of adventurers venturing deep into a dungeon to destroy the evil wizard Werdna. The classic good vs. evil big bad guy is enough to get the game going. Getting there is half (if not all) of the fun, and the game is such a delight to play that I'll even go so far as saying that plot means little here. While most great RPG's are founded upon complex and involving storylines, Wizardry delivers a solid game playing experience without the benefit of a fancy story. A truely rare accomplishment, the game is that good.

The player basically begins by creating a party of adventurers to explore the 10 level maze adjacent to the 'town' where party building and maintenance takes place. This 'town' has no graphical interface, rather it is nothing but a text menu where the player is to select upon the establishment that he/she wishes to enter which brings upon another menu for options related to the establishment's services. While a text menu for in-town operations may seem archaic for some, it's good to know that the entirety of the excitement, adventure, and play time involve being in the maze. I prefer the text interface in town because your party only ventures there when they need to rest, buy and sell, or have various other services done. The text interface allows for these operations to be conducted in a very quick and efficient manner, allowing for the speedy return of your party back into what is the meat and potatoes of the game; the maze.

In town there are no quests to take upon, no people to talk to, and no real obligation to fulfill. Going to the surface is only for the purpose of resupply and maintenance of your party. As stated before, the game is focused on that one maze.

And yes, there is only one dungeon. This is part of what makes this game great. Many modern RPG's have multitudes of dungeons or places to explore, so how can one be excited about ONE place to go adventuring?

The answer is quite simple really; the dungeon is extremely complex, and takes quite some time to become familiar with. Once the player is familiar with the dungeon, he/she comes to know the area, and a level of focus begins to emerge. You are at war with this dungeon. It is a living, breathing thing and it's you vs. it. Because there is a lack of other dungeons, towns, or otherwise, Wizardry begins to show that it is a heads-up game, a 1v1 if you will. The maze is one big puzzle, and you must focus all of your energy on just this one place in hopes of coming out ahead. Only playing this game can really give the player this sense of understanding.

There are a variety of character classes and races to choose from, and to make things even better there really is no 'wrong way' to make a party. Players that take all kinds of approaches to party building can have success here. While some educated mixing and matching of classes would produce more powerful parties than going in blindly, just about any type of party you want to build has a chance at success. This freedom bestows a sense of power and control upon the player.

Classes range from Mages, Clerics, and Fighters, to Ninjas, Samurai, Thieves, and so forth. Creating a character involves selecting the race of a character (each races has particular base advantages and disadvantages for each statistic) and then the computer will give you some bonus points to spend on upgrading your new character's attributes. This number is random and can range from 5 to 19. In other words, you may have 5 points to spend upgrading your character's stats, or you may have 19. It is completely random and if you don't get the bonus points you desire, you can remove the character and create another until you are satisfied.

Character class is determined by where you put your bonus points. For example if you add enough points to strength, your character can become a fighter. Add enough points to piety, and your character has the option to become a cleric. Choosing the appropriate race for the type of character you wish to create is helpful as well, as a specific race may have a higher base statistic for the class you wish to create, requiring the player to spend less bonus points in order to select the desired class, and allowing for the remaining bonus points to be put into other statistics.

Once you have created your party, gone to the trading post and have purchased and equipped your wares, it's time to head off to the maze.

Let the excitement begin! A nice touch to the level design here is that once you enter the maze, you have a choice between two tunnels to begin walking through. The maze does have a first person interface, and on the NES the graphics are amazing when compared to the Apple II or C64 versions.

Walking around the maze, monsters cannot be seen until you are faced with the encounter. A message will pop up saying, 'An Encounter!' and at this point you are taken to a combat screen.

Combat is turn based and the player selects the appropriate course of action for each person in the party. Fighting, spell casting, using items, fleeing, parrying are all of the options (clerics get dispel undead as an option). It's important to be able to play each different class in your party to their best abilities. While there is no 'group attack' type thing as in the Final Fantasy games, the combat still takes teamwork and is best executed when there are participating classes that compliment one another's play styles.

Once monsters are dead experience and loot are rewarded. Most loot is delivered in a treasure chest that is usually trapped and requires a thief or ninja to disarm it. Most items are unidentified and require identification in town (usually). Some are cursed and equipping them may harm your character in some way. Once a cursed item is equipped, it is difficult to remove.

When enough experience is gained to level your characters up, you must return to town and rest at the Adventurer's Inn in order to complete the level up.

The maze is packed full of variety. While the maze starts out simple enough, very soon you'll find elevators, trapped rooms, rotating rooms, locked doors, secret doors, the works. It takes a fine balance of determination but also logistical practice to effectively explore the maze. Getting back to town should you be in a crisis is not simple if you're 6 levels down and are lost after being teleported by a trap or something of this nature. Instant travel back to town is a rarity, and the majority of the time going back to town requires walking back, fighting monsters the entire way. This aspect of the game adds a great level of excitement, because as you explore deeper, you get a sense of danger in that you are not likely to be able to instantly go back to town. Knowing when to turn back is key to survival. Waiting till members of your party are poisoned or dead is usually too late.

Wizardry is a very challenging adventure. There really is no save slot, and the game will tend to remember dead party members and such. If you have failure at a certain juncture, it's not as easy as reloading a save file and trying again. If your party wipes, it might be necessary to create new characters to go into the maze to retrieve bodies. The longer you wait, the less likely you are to find them and the bigger the possibility that items or money is missing on your poor adventurers.

I had even tried a quick reset on the NES when I died in order to avoid this problem. When I started the game up again, it remembered that my party is wiped out. This inability to really cheat forces the player to play the game on the designer's terms, which in turn makes the player carefully consider all of their actions. Good stuff.

I would like to discuss the maze more at length as there is so many great innovations to level design, but for fear of creating too many spoilers, it will be up to you to discover these nice touches to a mysterious and exciting dungeon crawler.

The Bad

There wasn't much I disliked about wizardry. I will say however that the biggest annoyance was that all of the spells are in a made up language, resembling some sort of gibberish. For example, a spell that induces sleep is called 'Katino'. The 'Calfo' spell is used inspect treasure chests, and 'Lomilwa' is a light spell that also shows hidden doors. Either documentation of spell effects or trial and error is the only way to learn what these spells do.

WARNING TO NES USERS: The wizardry game pak for the NES saves games by operating on a battery installed within the game pak. These batteries typically last between 3 and 5 years, and being that this game was published for the NES in 1987 (19 years ago at the time of this review), there are no game paks in existence that are capable of saving your game. Emulation with saved states is an option for the tech-savvy that is serious about this game.

The Bottom Line

Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord is a fantastic game, and the series has succeeded all the way to an eighth installment. Give it a chance and you'll be hooked. While technology has produced games that eventually came to outgrow the simplicity of Wizardry, I have to admit that for its time this game was truly remarkable. One of my all time favorites. Now fight, fight, fight, parry, parry, parry!

For more detailed information on Wizardry, visit http://www.lava.net/~jh/wizardry/wizardry.html

This site has EVERYTHING you could possibly want to know, including maps. Be careful if you like surprises though, there are many spoilers at that site.