Ever since Military Madness on the old Turbografx 16 Iíve loved strategy games. Whether they be turn based like Military Madness and Panzer General or real time like Command and Conquer and Starcraft Iíll go right for it. When it comes to turn-based, however, Dark Wizard on the long dead Sega CD is my favorite of all time.
Few have ever heard of this masterpiece of a strategy game. My guess would be it had very little promotion when it was released and no hype at all. Add that to the fact there were a lot of anti-Sega people out there that wouldn't give it a shot.
Dark Wizard was not your typical run of the mill turn-based strategy game. First off, it is one of the first turn-based strategy titles to incorporate Role Playing Game elements into it.
The story takes place in the land of Cheshire. An evil wizard has summoned 4 demons and is ravaging the land, destroying everything in his path. Quentin is the last stronghold standing and needs a successor to help raise an army to force back the enemy and destroy the dark wizard. The story goes much deeper then this, but I don't want to ruin it for anyone.
You begin the game by choosing 1 character out of 4. Each has his or her own unique twist on the general storyline and commands different sets of troops, beast, and special characters. Depending on whom you choose, the story and outcome will differ throughout the game.
First up is a young Prince named Armer. Out of all the characters in the game, I found Armer to be the least fun to play though as. The types of troops he has seem somewhat weaker and more boring then the other 3 characters. I recommend using Armer last out of all 4. Next up was my favorite character in the game, the female warrior Robin. I, by far had the most fun playing with Robin. She's very powerful and commands some really great troop types. Third is the sorceress Krystal. Krystal like Armer wasn't really too fun to play through as. She's weak alone and her troops are fairly boring. Not recommended as a character to use your first time though. Finally is the evil vampire Amon. Amon was a really fun character to play though as, and he also has one of the coolest endings ever in a game.
Gameplay wise, Dark Wizard is very deep and tactical. You start out with a set number of troops and creatures. You can also recruit and summon new ones from castles. The more characters fight, the stronger they become as they go up levels. Once they reach a certain level, characters can be promoted into a different class. The class they become after promotions all depends on their alignment (good, neutral, or evil) as well. For example, if you wanted to recruit a human character and have them eventually become a Paladin then you would need to recruit a character with an alignment of good. Another factor with alignment is that some weapons can only be equipped by a character of a certain alignment.
Battles are fought out on a huge hexagon map covered with forest, mountains, desert, and other terrain. There are also villages scattered about the map as well which can be entered to gather info or buy equipment. Some maps also contain hidden weapons, towns and even characters.
One hidden character is the ninja from Segaís own Revenge of Shinobi. Some of these secrets are well hidden and youíll really have to search well for them.
Now, things arenít going to be so easy for your army as the enemy has a massive force as well and is hell-bent on killing you. If you think youíre just going to rush all your troops in at once in a small area, think again. Try that and youíll be wiped out before you know it. Like in a chess match, itís all about strategy and you must carefully plan each move. Move a soldier carelessly, and that soldier is gone. Battles can also take well over an hour or 2 a piece to beat depending on the size of the map and number of enemies. There are a lot of different maps as well so plan on spending some serious time on this one.
Now I know Iíve been spoiled by games on the PS2 and the Dreamcast. These are ancient 16-bit graphics, so Iím rating them compared to the standard at the time on this type of game. Youíll find no 3D polygons or rendered graphics. Just plain and simple low tech stuff here. Now strategy games arenít really know for their spectacular graphics, but for the hardware this gameís running on it looks great. Color is decent and everything looks as it should.
The battles however take a little bit of a hit. When you attack another unit or get attacked the screen changes to a close up side view of the 2 characters squaring off. Animation is a little choppy, but what bugs me here is that thereís no background. Itís just black. Maybe itís a RAM issue, but I canít help thinking something could have been added here.
This is perhaps one of my favorite soundtracks ever. Itís sort of an epic sounding medieval theme that fits the game perfectly. Iím not sure who did the soundtrack, but they did some fine work. Sound like something from John Williams who composed the music to Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Itís that good. Thankfully you can just pop the game into any CD player and listen to this wonder. Just make sure you skip over track 1 as that is the game data and can ruin your CD player.
Another surprise to the amazing sound is the voice acting. Unlike most games produced on consoles, the acting here is superb. Just love the vampire Amonís voice.
Well, thankfully control is never much of an issue in this type of game. Not much to say here. It's mostly, ďclick a unit then place it were you want it to goĒ and scrolling through menus. It may take a little bit to get used to things, but after a battle or two youíll pretty much have things down.
Overall Dark Wizard is one of the finest titles ever produced, in my opinion. With the exception of Iron Storm (my second favorite turn based strategy game ever) on the Saturn and the Shining Force series, no other turn-based strategy game comes close. Not even the ultra hyped Final Fantasy Tactics with its micro sized maps.
If you happen to be one of the few who still own a Sega CD and are into this type of game then I highly recommend tracking a copy of this game down. This game is simply a must play for all fans of the genre. I can only dream that this title will someday be redone on a newer platform. Why not? Master of Monsters and Military Madness were both translated to the PS. Unfortunately I donít foresee this ever happening as, like I said, most people never heard of this game.