Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

"...simply trying to navigate each floor in an effort to reach the bottom and maybe get better loot isn't enough."

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If you partake of RPGs, you have likely heard of Wizardry in some way, shape, or form, since it's been around as a series since 1981, laying the groundwork for the genre. The main games ran up to Wizardry 8, the latest title which saw a Steam re-release in 2013. A plethora of spin-off titles have sprung up since 1996, mostly in Japan, and never released elsewhere. Wizardry: Torawareshi Tamashii no Meikyū is one such title. First released in 2009 on the PS3, it eventually made it to North America and the EU in 2011 as Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls (LoLS). Now, another nine years later, XSEED Games has ported this aging entry to Windows and, for better or worse, not much seems to have changed from the originals.

Though the opening cutscene loosely sets up a land with a tumultuous history and rich lore, none of that really seems to touch on your journey. Or if it does, it is hard to find. Starting off your adventure is straightforward as you make a character (choosing gender, race, class, and adjusting stats) then waltz into the city of Aitox with the goal of accumulating wealth and acclaim. After building a party of either pre-built characters or your own creations, you can poke around to find something to do, which usually leads you to the dungeon. The staples are all here: an inn, the item shop, a guild, temple, palace, and the dungeon entrance. Within most are NPCs to talk with and a few other activities, but Aitox serves little purpose to the game outside of utility, as you will visit each place often when characters fall, need to rest, or you spend your hard-earned gold on gear. The guild and the dungeons are the only place that offer some sort of tangible goal, whether it be the quests (largely fetch-related) or bumping into a random NPC in the dungeon who is a part of the sparse story. This release of the game includes the Trial Dungeon and the expansion dungeons as well, each offering little to differentiate one from the other outside a scenery change and some new enemies in the mix. The only benefit to this added content is the injection of a bit more story, but again there's no clear trajectory in completing these tales. Players looking for an engaging story to accompany the nostalgic gameplay will be disappointed.

Menu navigation comprises half the gameplay, while the other portion involves the slow first-person crawl through the labyrinthian floors of the dungeons. Going from location to location in Aitox via menus is straightforward, but definitely makes the game feel dated and limited by budget. Furthermore, certain quality of life elements are sorely missing: the entire party doesn't rest simultaneously at the inn? Right, you have to rest them one at a time. Need to spend money on anything? Then you need to divvy up the gold to each individual who seeks to purchase something. I would argue a few hours of my playtime were largely spent on simply navigating the menus to exchange and equip gear amongst my characters and organize inventories as I needed them, alongside the aforementioned inane activities.

Getting around the dungeons also makes for a clunky process, as the maps are quite large. Often, in order to trigger certain events or find a switch needed to progress, players will need to explore every inch of each floor. It is fun for the first few floors, but I found the lack of variety in the environments and the minimal reward vs. time investment made the whole experience wear thin. Before learning I could purchase and find maps for the dungeons, I began the tried and true process of drawing them by hand on grid paper. Again, it got old fast. The game seems so set on burdening players with its dated UI and mechanics that only those luxuriating in free time could get the most out of fully exploring each location and element LoLS offers. There is a "turbo" mode, but all that does is move you square by square faster, doing little in battle where time really starts to slip away.

Combat, mechanically, is as straightforward as every other part of this game. Each character selects an action, then the battle plays out in its first-person fashion with simple animations and sound effects denoting what happens. However, the enemy party makeup can make each battle a truly mixed bag, adding probably the most excitement in LoLS. Monsters come in all shapes and sizes, their levels varying based on the floor where you encounter them, which can sometimes see your level 1 party in over its head in the first few steps! Getting around early game was frustrating, since combat is extremely unforgiving if luck fails you. However, should you endure the grind, mowing through waves of foes shall become a simple affair as you mash the "Confirm" button for the rest of your gaming experience. Most battles come down to an all or nothing brawl, lacking in any real finesse or strategy. You will either mash through it with Attack or simply blast more threatening foes with the strongest spells you have. The game has an "Auto-Battle" function, but it only makes each character attack or defend, depending on their row in the party. Quite frankly, combat is boring, repetitive, and time consuming, should you need to do more than auto-battle. What I would have given to have auto-battle simply repeat the last set of actions! How nice it would have been to be able to manipulate the positioning of your foes. Or if you could target individuals instead of hoping to hit the one weakened foe in a targeted group.

A varied party is all that serves as a strategy, giving players more options in combat beyond Attack. Plus, as characters level up a given class, they'll get Special Abilities, many of which have combat applications. In more prolonged fights, this variety can make things interesting, but most encounters can be handled with a couple rounds of attacking, so it doesn't help for long. Where party variety really helps is in exploring the dungeons themselves. Secret doors, trapped chests, or loot of unknown origin are all things that a specialized party can deal with. Unfortunately, things like trapped floors cannot be disarmed, nor certain magic effects dispelled, limiting the puzzle solving aspects of the dungeons and, thus, player engagement. All players need is to cast levitate, have a map, and dungeon exploration will prove little issue, as it's really a matter of when — and not how — they will find their way to the exit.

Unfortunately, the look and sound of this game offers little to embellish the experience. Even with the graphical enhancements, the game is visually dated with dungeon textures boasting minimal detail and design. As well, it seems there is a hodgepodge of assets with dated 3D models sticking out like a sore thumb for you to interact with. Each character race has a male and female version, and that is all the variety they get. While they are well-drawn, the lack of variety leaves much to be desired, especially if you have two characters of the same race/gender but as different classes and you cannot tell them apart in the heat of combat. The monster sprites are well-drawn pieces, but don't look quite right against the three-dimensional backdrop as the static menaces growl and flash different colours to denote action. NPCs have also received a crisp artistic update, with well-detailed designs helping to bring each character to life. However, the art style of both the enemies and some NPCs seems inconsistent at times, as if assets were borrowed from another source or a different art team was commissioned. I am amused to no end by the look of the stuffed rabbit Vorpal Bunnies, but the lousy anti-aliasing looks rough on them and many other sprites. Similarly, the simple library of sound effects runs the standard gamut, but now and again foes will die losing the cry of starship lasers and spaceflight...? I don't even know. The music suits the ambiance of the world, but there is so little of it that it gets repetitive. Since most of your time will be spent in the dungeon hearing the same combat music, it gets to the point where silence is better for most of the adventure.

After the many hours I put into the title, I finally recognized that this just isn't for me, that simply trying to navigate each floor in an effort to reach the bottom and maybe get better loot isn't enough. For some players, there may be a certain satisfaction with the rudimentary appeal LoLS offers. You can focus on the minimal manipulation of stat growth in your characters to unlock the more challenging classes like Ninja or Lord, which are really the only you two you cannot start as; there isn't some twisting, turning plot to unravel and retain; you aren't trying to build a castle full of allies or improve your base town. For those that just want a hack and slash dungeon crawl, then look no further than this entry in the series that has thrived as such. While the adage "it's not about the destination, but the journey" may hold true for much of life, some players may find that isn't enough here. LoLS at its core seems like a solid final project for a game design student, with a random collection of elements crammed into a barebones experience to show the summary of their acquired programming knowledge. But as a full-priced title, it doesn't shine as brightly.


This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.



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