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Monday, March 21, 2011

Review (Japanese): Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls

In some genuinely awesome news for PS3 owners, it looks like Wizardry is finally making its way out of its modern homeland of Japan, with XSEED to publish Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls for the PS3 in the US.

We're not sure whether it will be available in both retail and through digital distribution for the western release, but it's definately available for download in Japan, which is where this review is coming from.

It's been a long hiatus for Wizardry games out west - although the series has remained strong in Japan thanks to publisher, Aspire, the ultra-hard and ultra-slow style of dungeon hack that had people glued to their TVs in the earlier eras of gaming has fallen out of favour with a western audience more interested in action experiences now. With the exception of smaller, more experimental titles such as The Dark Spire on the Nintendo DS, or more modern takes on the genre such as Etrian Odyssey, it's been difficult to find games of this style in English.

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We'll take what she's offering

So for those new to the party, or those who haven't played a Wizardry game in years, what can you expect from Labyrinth of Lost Souls?

First up - and this will be a relief to most - the difficulty is still there. Wizardry remains a game of mathematics, of careful party construction, and of unforgiving deaths. The mazes remain long, winding, and sprout random encounters like weeds. If you through the likes of Dragon Age was challenging, or if the optional hunts of Final Fantasy XIII had you tearing your hair out, you're probably not going to enjoy this game.

Rock hard, but easy on the eyes

But in other ways, Wizardry has evolved into a gorgeous creature. The character portraits and enemy design, for instance, have no equal in the world of gaming. They are beautifully drawn, wonderfully detailed, and hugely effective in engaging the player and drawing him or her into the game world. There isn't a huge deal of animation in the game - Wizardry's static battle images and limited visual effects deliberately draw comparisons with table-top RPG gaming. Even after all these years Wizardry continues to try and capture the essence of a group of friends sitting around a table and rolling a whole heap of dices.

The dungeons are wonderfully atmospheric. Also drawn at an exceedingly high quality, they are hugely effective at creating an impression of vast emptiness - of making you feel like your footsteps are echoing off the dark, dank walls, and of making you dread the next encounter, knowing it's not long away and your resources are limited.

Dungeon crawling doesn't get better than this

Although very light on plot, Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is not the kind of game you can play in Japanese - there are simply too many items, effects and textual must-understands for those not fluent in Japanese to understand, much less enjoy. Which is why it's so great that XSEED is taking a risk with this game - it might not resonate for everyone, but those who enjoyed the relatively light-hearted Etrian Odyssey, and the retro-themed The Dark Spire, will enjoy seeing the first person dungeon crawler pulled onto HD consoles with Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls.

Review (Japanese): Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls
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