Wizardry is a series that has been on-again-off-again in the history of turn-based role-playing dungeon crawlers. Wizardry 8 was the last game to come out of original developer Sir-Tech in 2001. Tenchu series developers Acquire then picked up the license and made Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for PlayStation 3, Vita, and mobile devices in 2009. With the help of XSEED, the game has now finally come to PC worldwide in 2020. Its unabashedly a Wizardry game, but the time since its original release may have weathered Labyrinth of Souls’ gameplay just a bit too much without enough guidance to bring clarity.
Who needs context? Let’s explore.
It has to be said from the get-go that outside of putting your party together and gathering your necessities, everything but the gameplay feels like non-essential fluff in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Souls. The game’s menu cutscene talks about several countries who formed a peaceful union before monsters and demons started pouring out of the depths of various dungeons, but that seems to hold little to no bearing on you, a random adventurer who rolled into town in one of the countries that is off and on your way to do some questing with little further given for your motives.
You select a race, spend some skill points, pick a class, and head out to explore in Wizardry. There are five races - human, elf, gnome, dwarf, and porklu (essentially hobbits) - and in addition, there are 8 classes to choose from, each with their own specialty. Fighters are frontline battlers, Thieves can detect and disarm traps and pick locks, Priests and Mages handle your supportive and offensive magic respectively, and Bishops, Lords, Samurai, and Ninjas combine the basic classes in one way or another. It’s all pretty standard fare for your dungeon crawling RPG.
That said, once you pick your own particular race and class, it’s important to look to the local guild to pull some party members in that compliment you. Party build and complimentary skills are one of the things Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls does well. We enjoyed getting to know how our team worked together and how crucial any one element could be if lost in a difficult fight. Your characters don’t have personalities or narrative lines outside of your main characters occasional interactions, but we still enjoyed building rapport with our crew as they grew stronger and more synergized through each dungeon crawl.
The grind of an adventurer
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is very centered on the dungeon crawling aspect. It takes up a lion’s share of the game outside of party management. You pick up your crew, get some quests with light context to them, hit the item shop to stock up on necessities, go down into the dungeons, explore as far as you can go while fighting random encounter monsters and charting out the dungeon, or get what you need for a quest, return to the city, appraise gear you found, sell off what you don’t need, equip what you do, rinse, and repeat.
In that way, the game is very grindy. If you have a map or a spell to map a dungeon, then it feels like progress is always being made in increments, but you’ll spend a couple hours on each dungeon floor checking every nook and cranny for chests, switches, and whatever you need to complete a quest. Wizardry passes the time quickly if you’re into the maze-like exploration it offers, but constant random encounters only slightly break up the monotony with a different kind of monotony. The only other thing that breaks up the trek is discovery of secrets or traps which can surprise you or you can circumvent with your party’s magic or skills, but that’s kind of fun.
Combat in Wizardry is your standard turn-based affair with the exception that you often fight mobs of monsters arranged in rows. Your direct attacks can only hit the front row while your spells can target any row, but even then, you can’t target any single monster in a row, which feels like an odd and archaic design choice. Battle with monster mobs of your level feel like luck of the draw sometimes. It only takes one bad swing of fate for your fighter to be hit with something like a KO status, for which the game puts them in the back ranks and brings one of your back rank healers to the frontline automatically for some reason. That in turn can lead to a bunch of bad luck that ends with you either having to revive and heal everyone at the church and inn or reload a save.
That is to say, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is full of repetition in its dungeon crawling and combat that only really breaks up when you get hit with severe bad luck. It’s not awful. It’s just not particularly compelling either.
No hands to be held in dungeon diving
If there’s one thing that also stands out the most in Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, it’s just how little it tells you about anything. You’re shoved into a city and sent off on your way with little direction whatsoever. In a way it awards some exploration, but the game really doesn’t even tell you about its more complex elements, which is sometimes troublesome, and sometimes absolutely disastrous.
For instance, there is a Good/Neutral/Evil alignment system in the game. You can choose your character’s alignment at the start and each recruitable party member has their own alignment. What Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls doesn’t tell you is that alignment has an effect on what characters will work together. Neutral characters can recruit or be recruited by Good or Evil Characters, but Good characters can’t be recruited alongside Evil characters and vice versa. Equally of importance is that sometimes you’ll come across decision points like monster mobs that don’t jump to fight you, and what you choose (fighting anyways or walking away) can change a character’s alignment.
Add this to the fact that when your lead character dies, you have to go re-recruit all your party members back in and we scored ourselves a situation where a character turned Evil, we died, and when we went to go recruit our squad again, a Good character in our longstanding line-up wouldn’t rejoin. That was a big nope and a save reload, because apparently Evil and Good characters won’t break off from your group if they’re already hanging out when the alignment change happens. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is chockfull of these strange and complex mechanics that can sometimes work horribly against one-another, with not nearly enough explanation by the game as to why so you know what to watch out for.
A dusty quest with too few clues
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls on PC is in many ways a relic from a time long passed that hasn’t aged well or done enough to smooth its roughening edges. It’s not without charm. Building our party and getting to become familiar and even protective over our characters was fun, and we lost track of hours in dungeon-crawling and questing even despite gripes. It just feels like a game held back by both wanting to be complex, but also not wanting to explain itself.
It’s a game that feels like it should have had a big manual when it first launched, but without that manual, you only have half the picture, and so you’re stumbling around in the dark trying to make sense of everything. Sometimes that’s fun and mysterious. But a little too often, various parts of the game clash, and Labyrinth of Lost Souls becomes more trouble than it’s worth.
This review is based on a PC Steam key provided by the publisher. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is set to release in the US on PC via Steam on January 15, 2020.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls
- Party building and group synergy is quite fun.
- Character growth and expanded capabilities feel great.
- Dungeons are vast and full of challenges.
- Almost no guidance or tutorials on anything.
- Clashing mechanics can ruin a run or worse.
- Very grindy.
- Little reason to care about story.