I’ve long been a fan of first person dungeon crawlers like Legend of Grimrock, Etrian Odyssey, and Might and Magic. I’d also heard of the Wizardry series, but I’d never had a chance to play one of them before, so I was excited to give this game a shot.
It should be noted first that this version of Wizardry is not by the original developers at Sir-Tech (who closed up shop in 2003), but rather one of many Japanese spin-offs. The series was insanely popular in Japan, and was highly influential – one only needs to find a copy of Shin Megami Tensei on the SNES (which the Persona series is a spinoff of) or play Etrian Oddysey on DS to see its influence. It’s important to keep this in mind, though, since the passage of time and the fact that it’s a Japanese take on an American title means this definitely isn’t your father’s Wizardry.
Developed by Acquire and published by XSEED Games, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls was released for PC on January 15th, 2020.
Just Point Me to the Monsters
In the beginning, Gods made a race called the Draguun, who went on to make a great empire, but were laid low by their own magics. The empire of Darua united the races leftover before finally collapsing. Three remaining factions became three allied countries and enjoyed an era of peace, until creatures sealed long ago by angels began to appear again. This is the intro plot to the game, and none of this is relevant to the game’s plot in the slightest.
The first thing that struck me is that Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is fairly light on story. The aforementioned intro cutscene details the history of the world. While each quest has context and NPCs to talk to, most of them are almost entirely self-contained.
While there are a few connecting threads concerning Lady Shiin, whom the dungeon you’re exploring is named after, these threads only show up in the start of the dungeon, and the final quest of the base game. In practice, it had negligible impact on the vast majority of my time with the game. The overall impression it left with me is that there’s basically no plot at all, aside from knowing you’re an adventurer, and various people have things they want done in the dungeon.
Pray for Luck
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls still leans heavily on its roots and, for better or worse, it’s full of old RPG staples from the 80s. In addition to the first-person grid-based gameplay, you roll for stats during character creation, you have D&D-style spell levels and slots, you encounter enemy swarms that frequently hit the double digits, and you grapple with RNG. Good lord, do you grapple with RNG.
Now, I’m not one to knock randomness in video games. Used appropriately, it can add tension in not knowing what comes next. However, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls relies on RNG far too much. For starters, rolling for stats in a video game is a relic of 80s RPGs for a reason. It works in tabletop settings, where a human DM can (and should!) adjust the encounters to suit the party’s strength. When it’s a computer that’s the DM, however, the game will throw whatever it wants at you regardless of your strength, and the first part of playing these games is just going back and forth in character creation until you actually get a decent amount of stats. At least this game uses a point buy system, but I still wound up starting up a character, looking at the stats, and backing out until I had at least 20 bonus points.
The randomness issue doesn’t stop there, either. When you level up, your stats are randomly adjusted, and they can go up OR down. Granted, more frequently they’ll go up, but it’s still dreadful to level up and wonder if your character will be worse off afterwards. Speaking of, level also seems to play a fairly big role in encounters outside of what your stats and gear provide, and there’s a fairly narrow range between “This enemy will one-shot party members” and “I will wipe the floor with them.” To make matters worse, enemies also have a range of levels they can be in a specific dungeon level. This meant I either needed to grind enough to ensure I was on the upper range of what could spawn in a level (making all the encounters trivial) or accepting that my thief was just going to get one-shot now and then with little I could do about it.
Now, you could easily look at that last paragraph and think, “Well, maybe you were playing a glass cannon build and need to focus more on defense.” I tried. I had a Lord and a Bishop, both very defensive classes. I used the best armor I could get my hands on. I used shields instead of two-handed weapons. Unfortunately, the only defensive spells are single target, and thus only remotely usable when paired with the Lord’s cover ability. Gear from the shop quickly became irrelevant because it never stocked new items aside from what I sold them, and the end result is I needed to rely on drops from enemies to gear my team. I often found team members falling behind simply because nothing dropped that they could use. This created a very uneven difficulty curve in combat that swung wildly between “trivially simple” and “impossibly hard.”
It hits a lot of the marks for a game of this genre, but when it comes to the details, they feel unpolished and lacking. This is just my take on how they handle RNG elements – I could go more into nitpicking the lack of dungeon details, obfuscation of important details, annoyances of re-exploring for quests…but I don’t imagine folks want to read War and Peace.
I’m a bit torn on the graphics in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. On the one hand, they look great; they’re crisp and detailed. There’s standard anime-style PCs and NPCs, the more western-fantasy style monsters look appropriately menacing, and the 3D dungeon environments look nice. The problem is, they’re all mashed together. Individually, they all look nice, but blended together they clash horribly, coming across like there’s no coherent art direction. It doesn’t help that the UI screams, “I was made to be a mobile game.”
Unfortunately, I have even fewer positive things to say about the sound. The music was ultimately forgettable, and the sound effects were lackluster, mostly due to how the sound blended together in a jumbled mess. I’m not going to wait for my fighter’s full voice clip to play before hitting ‘A’ to go onto the next attack, especially when I have twelve monsters to get through. As a result, my party constantly talked over each other, creating a garbled mess of sound. AoE attacks affecting my party are even worse, because every character played a voice clip simultaneously. I wound up dreading electric traps less for the damage they did to the party, and more for the damage to my ear drums caused by a zap loud enough to distort the audio while six adventurers all loudly complained in Japanese.
On the whole, this game is a case study for how the small details truly make the game. It hits all the broad strokes well, and it has a solid foundation. With more polish, I would genuinely call this a good game. Unfortunately, as it is, it just comes across as a jumbled mess that slingshots between unfair and trivial, without enough fluff to make up for it.
Review copy provided by XSEED Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Featured image courtesy of XSEED Games.