Welcome to this week’s, “Sequel, Spin Off, Start Over or Stay Dead?”Â Each week we’re going to look at a dormant franchise that was once pretty popular, but for some reason has disappeared into the sands of time. Diehard GameFAN staffers will have four options for what they want to have happen to the series and you can see them in the title of this piece. For a little more detailed description see below:
Sequel – A direct sequel to the franchise. This means if it used sprites and was in 2-D, that’s how you want the next game to be as well. This might involve putting the game on a handheld system instead of a console, but it keeps the nostalgia and classic feel alive.
Spin Off – This is where you take the characters or a specific character is a totally different direction from the established franchise. Examples include Luigi’s Mansion, Hey You, Pikachu!, Shadow Hearts (From Koudelka), and so on.
Start Over – This is a reimagining of the series from the ground up. Perhaps it’s time to bring the series into 3-D. Perhaps you want a totally different control scheme or to throw away the old continuity. In a nutshell, this is taking the brand name from the old series and that’s about it. Everything else is new and re-envisioned.
Stay Dead – This is pretty obvious. This is a toxic franchise that you don’t want to see return in any way shape or form. Let the dead rest.
This week we are looking at a series that is not only the originator of the video game version of role-playing games, but whose gameplay conventions are still used in nearly every Turn-Based, Roguelike, Dungeon Crawl or other RPG subgenre to this day. Along with Ultima, and The Bard’s Tale, the first game in this series brought tens of millions of people the world over into PC gaming. In fact for many years, these three games were considered the “Holy Trinity” of video game RPG’s. This particular franchise had the most success of the three worldwide and although it began as a North American game developed by a company called Sir-Tech, the Japanese would embrace this series like no other, using its core to become what we known define as “JRPG’s.” It is widely held this series is one of the most influential in all of gaming as everyone from Yuji Horii (Creator of Dragon Quest to Hironobu Sakaguchi (Creator of Final Fantasy) has listed this series as the most important in the history of gaming and especially for making them want to make games. Sadly this series has been primarily dormant since 2001 when Sir-Tech shut their doors after the release of the critically acclaimed Wizardry 8. This week four Diehard GameFAN staffers sit down to discuss what should happen to Wizardry.
Alex Lucard – Sequel
I have to admit that Wizardry began my love of role-playing games and fantasy products in general. Before I ever picked up a Ravenloft source book, saw the Slayers anime or touched The Bard’s Tale or Dragon Quest video games, there was Wizardry. I still remember the joys of making character after character and the first person dungeon crawl experience. In the early 80’s, this made the game feel as if you were seeing things unfold from the eyes of the character’s themselves. Sure nothing was really animated, but the monsters, the combat and the story all were incredible for its day and age and it would go on to be the chief inspiration for those aforementioned series along with Might and Magic, Final Fantasy and even modern games like Etrian Odyssey and The Dark Spire. It would almost be an understatement to say that the Wizardry is the most influential gaming franchise ever as the feel and basic conventions of the series are still used in the vast majority of RPG’s published even to this day.
Even though Sir-Tech closed in 2001, the legacy of Wizardry lives on. Oddly enough this Western RPG series is still alive and thriving in Japan, and is considered one of the “Big Five” RPG franchises, along with Pokemon, Final Fantasy, Dragon Quest, and Megaten. This is amusing because the original Wizardry games were full of humour and Western pop culture references, but when translated, the Japanese did so with total seriousness and so the humour was lost. Hell, the Japanese couldn’t even play the greatest game in the series, Wizardry IV due to how immersed you had to be in Western culture…but they still loved it. The Japanese have created nearly TWO DOZEN Wizardry spin-offs, of which we have received one in English, the very awesome: Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land, which is amongst my favourite games for the Playstation 2. It’s a crime that the West hasn’t received any of these spin-offs, even though Wizardry is arguably the heart and soul of Western RPG gaming.
I want a sequel to Wizardry. We’ve seen that the Japanese can make some awesome Wizardry games, as well as some titles that are blatant homages to the franchise. What I really want specifically is a sequel to Wizardry IV: The Return of Werdna. For those of you who don’t know this game instantly by name (and shame on you if you don’t), it is pretty much universally considered the HARDEST VIDEO GAME EVER MADE. This is not hyperbole. This is not exaggeration. The vast majority of people that have played this game were unable to even leave the VERY FIRST ROOM. This, my friends, is mean. The game actively eschewed grinding, constantly put you as the underdog in every battle you had, gave you an arch enemy with a 100% accuracy attack that caused one hit KO’s and you had a limited number of keystrokes to get through the game. There is no other video game in existence that comes close to how smart, witty, and skilled you have to be to beat this game. There is nothing that even begins to come close. Don’t even try to suggest something because video game historians the world over will point a finger at you and laugh.
This is why I want a sequel. I want a second Wizardry IV. Not just because I am one of the few hundred people (I’m listed in the old Computer Gaming World as one of the select few to have done so.) to ever beat the game back during a time when this game sold millions of copies without even trying, but because it was so original. I WANT to play as the evil antagonist/end boss. I want that level of turning the genre on its head. I want the difficult challenge of repelling team after team of good aligned character that exist to save the world from my malevolence. I want a game that challenges my intelligence and overall knowledge in addition to my skills as a gamer. I want something that will is that balls to the walls hard, manages to be almost completely different from 99% of RPG’s out there and yet has conventional trappings so people can learn to play it. Most of all I want a game that outright shows that today’s level of would-be hard games are nothing, NOTHING compared to the challenge of titles that were put out in the 80’s, especially by Sir-Tech. I know I won’t get it, but it’s what I want. Even though expecting a product like this to hit the market these days is akin to total insanity, I still want another Wizardry game. Sure The Dark Spire is wonderful, but I want the continuity, characters, classes, and style of the real thing. Give it to me, god damn it. I want that combined feeling of awe, frustration, determination and love that I had for RPG’s when I was a small boy – something I haven’t had in a long time. More importantly, I want this new generation of gamers to experience it. Not just for the challenge or the style, but to see the roots of this genre and give it the respect it is due.
Any RPG gamer worth their salt should have been hollering for this series to return to the West, or at least pick up a copy of Tale of the Forsaken Land. Wizardry is what made literally tens of millions of people fall in love with video games. It’s a disgrace that Western gamers have forgotten about this series and let it die while the Japanese have embraced the very heart and soul of American gaming itself. It’s about time we had one more shot at redeeming ourselves and stepping back into the proving grounds of the mad overlord.
Mark B. – Sequel
I miss the old dungeon crawling games of the 80’s and 90’s. Lands of Lore, Shining in the Darkness andWizardry were all good times if you enjoyed working for your rewards. A lot of RPG’s in this day and age essentially hand you everything in the name of advancing the story, and games most people consider “hard” are only so until you learn the mechanics or because the developers mistook “cheap” for “challenge”. Wizardry, to a limited extent, understood that. Grinding was something of a requirement in many of the games, and you’d often have to send one warrior into the dungeon and see how far he got before being killed to know how bad the first few hours would be. Despite this, and perhaps because of it, the sorts of challenges they presented to the player were highly rewarding. Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land was one of the best games of its type ever, simply because it understood the balance between grinding and exploration needed to keep the game interesting and knew just how to punish the player for screwing up. The possibility of a character being lost forever because of some bad resurrection rolls or the whole party being wiped out by Death kept the player on their toes, and the game was challenging without being frustrating, something a lot of similar games lack.
While it’s true that there are games that present a similar experience, they aren’t really the same sort of experience Tale of the Forsaken Land was. Etrian Odyssey is Wizardry for pussies, frankly, and Etrian Odyssey 2 doubly so. While they ape the concept well enough, and you can enjoy them if you like these kinds of games, there’s no real risk/reward scenario in place when you can sleep for two weeks, murder a boss, level everyone up, and repeat the process to grind your way through things. Especially since the grind is, more often than not, all you have to keep you going. The FOE’s were a nice touch in the first game when killing them meant something, but the second game made them worthless to fight unless you needed vendor trash from them, which also seems counter-intuitive to the grind itself. The Dark Spire, conversely, is as hardcore as it gets, but it’s really for the gamer who LOVED the old-school hardcore games of the 80’s. It doesn’t take any of the lessons Wizardry learned to heart on game balance, making the grind all you have to keep you going for entirely different reasons. It’s nice that death is not only a realistic possibility, but something to actively FEAR, but spending four hours on the first floor for fear that you’ll die if you go any further isn’t going to appeal to many players.
Wizardry, in both the American and Japanese versions, grew to understand these things, in different ways. The grind, though important, is not the only thing to the game. The games evolved in a way that retained the challenge of the 80’s games while incorporating new and different elements that pleased the fans, if no one else. Hell, neither of the two games I mentioned above would even exist in the forms they’re in if not for Wizardry. That other, lesser games have occupied the space this franchise occupied doesn’t mean the franchise doesn’t deserve to come back and show them how it’s done, be it through another port of a Japanese release or a revitalization of SirTech. Either way, I’d be happy to buy and play the hell out of either product.
Dave Olvera: Stay Dead
I enjoyed the first two Wizardry games I played, despite my terrible mapping skills and numerous foul ups. That being said, a Wizardry game is probably too hard for today’s game market. I never played beyond the second game and really, I was more of a classic Bard’s Tale fan more than those Wizardry disks my brother had lying around. Still, I appreciated the straight dungeon crawl genre like many of my generation.
Without a massive graphical upgrade, more story and various modern amenities, would it really be a Wizardry game? The one Japanese version of Wizardry I remember messing around with was pretty faithful to the original Sir-Tech games but the cultural divide meant the game was taken more seriously in Japan. What am I getting at with these comments? That Wizardry‘s cultural cache is either lost in translation or not as culturally relevant to the general game audience.
The last Wizardry games were fantasy in space and from what I know about them, I can say I am glad I missed out on all of them. The creation pen, all the anamorphic races and space theme just seemed too odd with the Wizardry origins. I don’t know if you can suddenly make a new Wizardry game without explaining just what the franchise means. The divide between the remaining US/Western-Japanese fan base, going from fantasy to sci-fantasy, then trying to revive the series after it has laid fallow for some time just does not seem like a recipe for disappointment. The game’s roots just do not seem strong enough to excite anyone without a very strong recollection or fascination with old CRPG.
People do not seem like flock to new IPs but how can they if the game grave robbing continues?
Chris Bowen – Stay Dead
In a way, they’ve kind of already redone Wizardry. They just put in anime characters, allowed for map drawing in the game, and called it Etrian Odyssey. No, it’s not as hardcore as Wizardry was, but consider that EO is an exceptionally niche game as it is. It’s so small that EO essentially fills the niche just fine.
I realize I’m going to have a couple of people strongly disagree with me, but I don’t really see a need to bring back Wizardry unless it’s reinventing its own wheel, which defeats the purpose. Etrian Odyssey does just fine for me.
Stay Dead: 2
Start Over: 0
Another tie this week. This time it’s between leaving the series to rest and piece and between giving the series one trust Sir-Tech worthy sequel. It all comes down to love of one of the oldest and most respected franchises in gaming and what we feel would happen to it with modern day developers and gamers. At the very least, we’re all in agreement that anyone passionate about gaming needs to experience the first game in this classic series.
Next week we’ll be looking as a classic Sega franchise featuring hip hop aliens. See you then!