In 1984, Sir Tech Inc. released the very first Wizardry game for the PC and an era was born. Wizardry would become a software legend, spawning seven sequels in under a decade that would set the standard for classically styled PC role playing games. 2001 saw the release of two games that would carry that fabled moniker: the laudably hyped and extremely successful Wizardry 8 and the lesser known Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land.
In a surprising departure from the series’ lineage, though not an actual part of the ongoing legacy, Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land (formerly Busin: Wizardry Alternative) would not grace the PC: this side-story would be revamped and retooled for a more console-savvy audience. Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land was built specifically for the PlayStation 2, promising to take its unique style to a very different generation of gamers.
PC-styled RPG's have never been entirely palatable for console RPG fans and Atlus' wave nouveau approach to old cuisine may not be enough to season this particular entree.
While this hybrid may not be a gourmet affair, let's still take a taste.
Though visual accoutrements have never really been an issue with most of the games in the Wizardry series, Tales of the Forsaken Land is an eye pleaser. Mixing real-time polygons with luscious oil-paintings, the PS2 Wizardry is wonderfully eclectic and filled with style.
The overworld and dungeon are rendered respectably, with high polygon counts and non-existent clipping. Some of the areas are so well textured you'll be hard pressed to mistake them for dynamic paintings, though the variety of environs are limited in scope with naught but a single town and multi-level dungeon.
Thankfully, the vistas that are available are quite different. The tattered remains of Duhan are covered in perpetual snow; grey and bleak; the sense of despair is tangible. The catacombs of this cursed city are multi-tiered and artistically diverse. Levels of the dungeon range from a smoky abandoned mine to ruins embraced by moldy overgrowth. Each area is a world onto itself, and the attention to detail on some of the deeper levels is awe inspiring.
Environmental effects are minimal, with Duhan's omnipresent snowfall as the only constant. Lacking? Yes, but it keeps the PS2's particle system humming.
Fiends encountered in combat are lifelike, attractive, and gorgeously animated. Though every creature is polygonal, each is crafted with such delicacy that it emerges as a strikingly organic being of malevolence. The impressive variety of creatures only enhances their already intrinsic beauty: Harpies are brightly colored with visibly soft feathers while Gas Dragons are painted in earthy tones and appear hard as rocks.
Character animation in combat is silky smooth and impressively swift. The feline Laminas attack with cat-like grace, Gargoyles claw and kick with savage aplomb, and Orc bellies jiggle when they pull up their belts.
The spell effects throughout the game are average displays of PS2 lighting and particles. For a game that revolves around spell casting, I would think they would have put a little more effort into this aspect. While the aerial weaving of runes during incantation is novel, it wears thin after a few hours.
Character portraits, cinematics, and storefronts are lavish oil paintings that bear a significant resemblance to those of famed fantasy illustrator/painter Simon Bisley. While all of the characters are anime-styled, there is a certain depth and dimension that the oil paint provides that cannot be grasped using any other medium. Every still illustration is gloriously painted and can be considered a work of art in itself.
The graphics of Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is an impressive display of artistry. Though hindered by an extremely limited environment, the diversity and beauty amongst few areas within the game is remarkable. Spell casting is initially attractive, but eventually falters as severe repetition and recycled effects becomes apparent. The true grandeur lies in the plethora of gorgeously rendered and viciously animated creatures that wander Duhan as well as the lavish oil illustrations that permeate the adventure.
The land of Duhan was once a prosperous kingdom, ruled by its benevolent and beautiful Queen. Then one day, a great Flash appeared in the skies over Duhan, scorching the city, leaving naught but smoldering ash and rubble. The mighty castle was perversely warped into a dimensional dungeon: a plague that would slowly engulf the land, growing like a cancer in the heart of a now fetid metropolis.
The hearts of the people faltered and the proud people of Duhan were reduced to a meager handful of scavengers. Those who survived the cataclysm would live with grief as omnipresent as the eternal snowfall that wept over the land. Soon, adventurers would come to this wasted city in seek of treasure and fame. The Queen who once shone like a sun over her people, filling them with her warmth, was now as frigid as Luna above. She invited brave souls to challenge the Labyrinth in search of great treasures. The rumor of an immense prize beneath those winding catacombs would only further their zeal. Adventurers came by the throng: some would lose their lives in the tempestuous dungeon, while others would lose hope and become a permanent resident of a mourning Duhan.
One day, you stumble into this cold land of bittersweet memories, yet you have none of your own. Amnesiac and cold, you are greeted by the ghost of a swordsman. He charges you to do in life what he could not achieve in death: defeat the evil that lurks within the deepest reaches of the Labyrinth. You are then ushered to the local tavern, where you would learn of the people’s plight and meet stout companions. The swordsman advises you that your success in your tasks will be greatly aided by your allies. You would journey together, building a bond of trust that would grant the entire party the power to smite the darkness.
Thus begins your quest to free the people of Duhan from the aftermath of The Flash, a journey that is fraught with difficult choices and terrible self-discovery. Just what was The Flash? Who is this ethereal swordsman? What happened to the once warm heart of the now frigid Queen? Why does the Reaper walk alongside the undead within Labyrinth? These questions and many more will surface as you and your companions dive deeper into Duhan’s pool of despair.
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land tells a story that is well scripted and masterfully told. The NPC’s that abound are few, but are convincingly characterized with strong motivations. Atlus did an amazing job of translating the game without a single grammatical or pronunciation error. They even threw in some American colloquialisms that give depth to some of the more whimsical characters. Surprisingly, there are bits of profanity to be found throughout the game, but the 4-letter words are kept to a minimum.
Though generally intriguing, Tale of The Forsaken Land isn’t very forthcoming with its plot. The player is doled out stingy portions of dialogue that, while involving, are so far flung from one another that it’s a wonder they even made an attempt at a cohesive tale. I consider myself a patient gamer, but having to wait between 5 minutes and 2 hours for the next scripted dialogue event leaves much to be desired.
The lack of any real storytelling within the town of Duhan is minimal, as the bulk of the tale occurs within the dungeons. This is even more awkward as these events just “pop” up out of nowhere. You’ll be making a mad dash for a door while being chased by an irate mob of monsters when suddenly the screen stops and you get involved in a friendly chat with a linguistically challenged Orc with a twisted fetish for traps and self-mutilation. WEIRD!
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land attempts to tell a tale of grief, discovery and redemption through impeccable dialogue and rich characters. Unfortunately, the storyline’s potential is thwarted by haphazard delivery and piecemeal execution. Though the drama is no less interesting, it is far less moving. Gamers who dare to venture into the land of Duhan should be mindful and bring a great deal of patience with them.
While filled with maudlin melodies aplenty, Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is not without its compelling battle music and touching dramatic score. There is even a token melody called “Smile Again” that, albeit brief, is a very sweet singing ballad. Though the quality of the score is apparent, the lack of variety in disappointing. This handful of tracks can also become maddening after hours of repetition. The entire score is orchestrated and composed masterfully, but most of the tunes are somber, furthering the atmosphere of a decaying Duhan. The acoustics of oppression in Wizardry can be so overbearing that I encourage small does of Ape Escape to lighten your mood.
During most of your traipsing down into darkness, there is an absence of pervasive melody. Forgoing the powerful meter of adventures past, Tale of the Forsaken Land is a lesson in ambiance. The sounds of your footsteps on stone, the dripping of water down the sides of a cavern, or the wind blowing through crumbling catacombs is accentuated with a very low tune that hangs about like a damp fog.
The combat score is full and robust, with brass aplenty, but with the sheer volume of encounters throughout the game, this medley will lure you into numb delirium before too long. The sound of steel-on-steel and the spinning of arcane spells are crisp and full, but follow the same formulae of repetitive drudgery.
For such an ornate tale, I’m surprised that Atlus chose not to add voice-over to the story sequences. The story is told well in text, but a great deal of the passion that the characters exude is lost in static dialogue. I cannot find much fault with this aspect, since it was never originally intended, but it would have added a much more tangible dimension to a very human story.
Overall, the music of Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is admirable. The melodies, while painfully limited, are wondrously composed and performed with ambient flair. The melancholy nature of the acoustics is in keeping with the tone and setting of the tale, though it can become dramatically morose at times. The sound effects are stellar, but fall prey to repetition’s scythe. The lack of voiced dialogue is disappointing, especially in light of such a well scripted tale, but we can’t have everything, now can we?
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land doesn’t attempt to reinvent the wheel, and for the most part, stays true to origin. The entire game is a series of menu navigation and choice selection. There is no Active Time Battle System or dramatic combo craziness, though the adventure is not without its own unique mechanics. Wizardry has always been “old school,” and Tale of the Forsaken Land is no different. There are a few gameplay concepts that may seem alien to console gamers, such as only being able to level up after resting at the Inn and Spell Level requirements, but these are time-tested standards on classic PC RPG’s and most paper & pencil equivalents.
Thankfully, there are no random encounters to be found in Tale of the Forsaken Land, though the approach to physical encounters is bizarre. The enemies that wander the levels of Duhan’s dungeon are portrayed as smoky apparitions, making monster prediction difficult until actual melee ensues. These entities come is several flavors: dog, bat, spider, and humanoid. They give the gamer a vague clue as to the “kinds” of monsters you’ll be encountering, but doesn’t offer much more differentiation than that. For example, I encountered a smoky spider apparition within the level known as the Moldy Fort, only to be accosted by slimes in actual combat… can you see the logic? I don’t.
The color of their smoke also clues you into their mood: blue is calmly wandering, red is indicative of baddies enroute to kick your ass. There are several colors that these entities can cycle through, but none of them seem to be quite as accurate to gauge as the blue/red.
Pivotal to the plot and central to the combat system is the concept of “Trust”. Like any Dungeon & Dragon’s style RPG, characters come in several races (Human, Elf, Dwarf and Halfling), alignments (Good, Neutral and Evil) and classes (Fighter, Mage, Thief, etc.)
Besides choosing a party of similar alignment, some races prefer adventuring with their own kind etc., so this must also be taken into account. The game provides an ample number of pre-generated characters, some of which are directly related to the plot, but you have the option later in the game to generate your own original characters. These automatons won’t have story involvement as the pre-generated adventurers you’ll meet on your journey do, but having the choice to create them is a nice addition.
Depending on how amiable each party member is to the group as a whole, you will have obtained a modicum of “Trust” amongst your allies. As you adventure together, the choices you make in interactive story sequences and general combat tactics will affect the group’s overall “Trust” in you as a leader. For example, attacking monsters of a friendly nature will ignite disdain in your allies of a good nature. Not healing your allies in a timely fashion will also earn their disgust.
As your “Trust” levels build, your party will learn abilities called Allied Actions. These incredibly powerful abilities allow several members of your team to fight together in unison, generating attacks and counterattacks that were impossible to achieve on an individual level. These abilities add a certain tactical element to combat that really makes hostile encounters enjoyable. Later on in the game, your mastery of the Allied Actions will be the difference between easy victory and horrible defeat.
These abilities are awarded based upon the “Trust Level” of the entire party. This may fluctuate at any time, especially if you switch out an old travel companion for a newer adventurer, so be mindful of who you choose to fight alongside. Losing a level of trust will also disable Allied Actions gained at that particular level.
Also of importance are the classes that you and your companions choose, remembering that it’s always a good idea to keep a good balance of muscle and magic. Player-made characters can join any profession and be switched back and forth at the Guild, but story NPC’s are firmly routed in their class. Later in the game you may force a character class on ANY character, assuming they meet the statistical requirement.
As characters obtain skills in a certain profession, some abilities carry over into the next class. Advanced classes like the Bishop and Samurai are difficult to obtain early in the game, but are essential to survival during the last few levels.
What would a game called Wizardry be without magic? In Tale of the Forsaken Land, magic is paramount and like the “Trust” system, is remarkably well designed. Unlike typical RPG’s which grant you spells upon level up, Wizardry’s spells must be manufactured. By finding certain materials, be it a broken sword or a lock of a priest’s hair, you may combine these objects into magic stones at the Vigger’s Store. Using a magic stone on a character, will grant him or her use of that stone’s spell. Multiple stones of the same spell can be used to increase the spell level and power of that incantation.
During your adventure, you may find artifacts known as vellums. These are recipes for extremely rare magic stones. Collecting all the vellums in the game is a challenge indeed, but will grant your party a significant advantage over the evil that has overcome Duhan. Besides using magic stones for spells, you may chose to separate them into their core ingredients. These are fairly random, but if a magic stone is separated on a red moon, rare components can be extracted. Later on in the game, you can sell these baubles to a Materials Shop who will then begin selling them ad infinitum. This allows you to reproduce even the rarest of components late in the game for maximum spell level potential.
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is home to unique and enjoyable gameplay. The integration of party dynamics into combat mechanics is original and rewarding and the magic system is wonderfully engrossing. The enemy encounter methodology is certainly different, if not bizarre, but functional. The scope and breadth of the class system is impressive, as is the inherent capacity to multi-class your characters. Overall, Wizardry’s game mechanics are thoughtfully designed and well executed.
Unfortunately, Tale of the Forsaken Land suffers from club-footed control. In keeping with ancient practice and wholly unnecessary for next generation gaming is the abhorrent concept of tile-to-tile movement. In a move that smells of Agetec, Tale of the Forsaken Land forces the gamer to navigate in digital yet makes it even more painful as you amble one block at a time. The analog sticks are not completely useless though; one allows you a limited camera view of your surroundings, while the other moves the HUD map to any portion of the screen: JOY! What a useful concept.
To make things even more simplistically dull, you may not wander around the town of Duhan. Instead, you chose your destination and watch in awe as you auto-navigate in real-time to the building of your choosing. Maybe I’m just picky, but I hate it when a game insists on holding your hand.
Besides a ham-fisted approach to navigation, Wizardry sports an average and amazingly sparse GUI. The collection of menus is impressively boring with not a single graphical effect or inventory item picture to be found. Picking up baubles along the way will net you a fleeting sketch of what you’ve obtained, but that’s the limit of the GUI’s visual appeal. Classically styled? Certainly. Dull? Most definitely. Manipulation of menu choices isn’t a difficult affair, but the overuse of cursor memory in combat and its complete absence in inventory mode is irritating.
Tale of the Forsaken Land succeeds in so many areas only to be crippled in execution. The wish to remain as true-to-form is admirable, but completely asinine in light of the platform and audience. The game controls as poorly as any superannuated PC RPG: a crime that is anathema for today’s gaming generation.
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is a dramatic game filled with attractive sights and somber sounds. The developers made good use of the PS2’s architecture, as the game is visually pleasing, though bland.
Window dressing aside, Atlus did an impeccable job of bringing the classic PC RPG flavor to the next generation console crowd, but was it really necessary? The gameplay concepts are novel and interesting, but are marred by poor execution and sloppy control. The slipshod delivery of an otherwise sound drama is disheartening and detracts greatly from an ultimately average game.
In the end, I came to enjoy Tale of the Forsaken Land, but it wasn’t without periods of waning interest and insipid boredom. Patient gamers with a taste for classic cuisine may find Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land a dainty dish, but I fear most RPG fans will want something a little more robust.