I have a soft spot for dungeon crawlers. I cannot really explain it. I think it has to do with my personality: I’m very curious and, if it isn’t in a drawer or nailed down, chances are I’ll pick it up and riffle through it for a bit. Oh yes, this typically isn’t a good idea as people do not want their private spaces violated and I’m no different. Thankfully, the genre allows me to express this trait without the legal or interpersonal issues becoming apparent. Welcome to one of my favorite games from college: Wizardry 8.
Wizardry 8 follows a group of adventures of your creation. They begin their “illustrious” careers as body guards on a mook ship headed towards the planet of Arnika. As they are about to begin their decent to the planet’s surface, a mysterious being known only as “The Dark Savant” has his ship shoot the party’s ship down. They crash land in the backyard of a forgotten monastery, visibly shaken yet alive. Quickly, they learn that they are a part of a prophecy to become Cosmic Lords. So will they complete their destiny? Will the Dark Savant conquer all? Or is it all a hoax…?
What is so fascinating about the game is its unrelenting mixture of die-hard science fiction and the supernatural. It would be easy to classify it as a form of “steampunk.” In that genre, as I understand it, the two values of science and magic are at odds; this is not the case here. They intermingle with unseen grace, each complementing the other in an aiding manner. On the down side, the plot is rather thin. You’ll learn bits and pieces of it as you advance the plot.
The emphasis here is on party creation and exploration, and the latter is available in loads. The environments are large and sprawling. Items are found in almost every nook and cranny. Treasure chests, regardless of “faction,” are ripe for lock picking. Gameplay is intuitive as the game is set up in a simple manner. The arrow keys are used for movement and the shift key is for running while you choose your decisions with the mouse. Skills increase not only as a party member uses them, it also slowly increases upon use.
And here’s where the game gets interesting: Different party configurations affect the game in different ways. Rangers are experts with ranged weapons and can easily spot hidden objects/monsters, fighters are weapon experts, Valkyries can cheat death plus “stick it” to the enemy with their superior spear skills, gageteers can invent useful items and modify their gun, alchemists can mix potions together for greater effects (and profit), psionics are experts in mind magic (and are, literally, fearless due to their immunity to mind magic), bards use instruments to buff the party and damage enemies (plus, they increase camp regeneration to boot), lords can dual wield while do a bit of healing, priests can heal and pray and dispel the undead, ninjas are experts in fast and heavy hitting, samurais are sword experts who can hit enemies multiple times and cast a little bit of combat magic, monks attack with their fists and mental magic, mages are spell experts and bishops are open to all of the different fields of magic yet they have a difficult time mastering them all due to having all the different magic schools available to them.
If the decision making wasn’t hard enough, there are different races which bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table. While certain races are more “naturally” inclined to certain classes than others, no race is locked out from a class. Yes, a character may lose some stat points in the beginning yet end up as a superior character in the end. And if you deem it necessary, you can even change a character’s class if they meet the requirements.
As such, let me be clear folks: This game is HARD. Even on easy mode. Monsters have different resistances and the game matches the monsters to your characters’ skill level. So while you might fight lots of slimes in the beginning, you’ll eventually be hounded by monsters that are not explicitly “native” to the area. Add into the mix that the monsters are ACTIVELY hunting your party down makes this game a real challenge. Saving often and wondering where a safe spot to rest adds to the tension. And did I mention that the monsters are relentlessly hunting your party? I often found myself wondering at various times “is my party going to make it out alive? And how am I going to be able to revive those who might die…?”
Graphic wise, the game is downright ugly. This doesn’t look like an early 2002 release; it looks like an early PS1 game that’s stuck in the mid-90s. The world is highly polygonal and it lacks polish. While the world looks somewhat lived in, the character models look weird proportionally. Thankfully, the game’s more monstrous beings are more frightful than the NPCs along with the character portraits look much better. I love how their faces will move as they talk. Yet they’ll never show much emotion. In other words, this is an engine from yesteryear and it shows on every graphical level.
Sound wise, the game has a solid foundation. Besides the usual fantasy RPG sounds, it has a solid soundtrack. The combat music is suitably intense, with drums pounding out the rhythm. There’s haunting drums heard in the distance as you explore certain areas (such as the monastery that the game begins). And here’s a cool tidbit for you: all of the dialogue is voiced and you can choose two variations of different personality traits. And it’s pretty solid too as your party members have their own opinions on specific events as well. I feel that this element feeds into the imagination that your party is its own organic group.
And in conclusion, this review in no way totally explains my almost 10 year love affair with Wizardry 8. There’s something magical about this game that I have no problem creating a new party and characters every time I touch it. I may never get near the end, though it still entertains me for the next 15 or so hours before something else distracts me. Ultimately I think it’s because each time I play I learn something new about the game. How many games can make that claim? Not many, I’m afraid.
I picked this game up my freshman year in college for $20 before Media Play went out of business. Today, used copies go for nearly $100 on Amazon. Will this game ever be available on GOG.com? I do not know. All I know is that this game has earned its keep over the years and then some. If you are fortunate enough to find a copy at a reasonable price, grab it. This is one of the best dungeon crawlers ever made. End of story.