Sunday, January 22, 2017

Wizardry VII: Crusaders of the Dark Savant/Wizardry Gold (1992)

Way back when I was in high school, my cousin introduced me to a game.  He had played it and offered me a chance to play it myself.  The game was Wizardry’s Crusaders of the Dark Savant.  Back then, it was playable on DOS, meaning I had to exit Windows to play it.  I never quite beat the game.  I eventually upgraded Windows to a version where I couldn’t figure out how to get to DOS, so my crusading days were over  That is until I found the Windows version.  In 1996, the game was re-released as Wizardry Gold.  Here, it was on a single CD-ROM instead of two floppies.  I could play the game once again.

For purposes of this review, the actual game doesn’t vary much from the DOS version to the Windows version.  Almost all of it, from what I recall, is cosmetic.  The controls are different.  The graphics are better.  However, the storyline and whatnot are the same.  If you’re looking to buy the game, you’ll probably have to look for the Windows version anyway.

The game is actually the middle part of a trilogy.  It began with Wizardry VI, which I never had a chance to play.  Those that have can import their saved games.  If you haven’t, either, don’t worry.  You can start a new game as if you’re entering the game universe for the first time.  You’ll have to create a party of up to six characters, selecting race and class.

The object is to find something called the Astral Dominae.  It has the power to control the universe.  If it falls in to the wrong hands, it could be bad news.  There are several other parties, like the Umpani and the T’Rang, that are interested in it.  You can form alliances (or not) as the game progresses.  There are side missions you can go on (or not) to pass the time.

The game is similar to many of the RPGs of the time.  Movement is tile based, meaning you move from one square to the next.  If you explore the area you wake up in before entering the city, you’ll find a map kit.  In the Windows version, there’s a square that stays open showing your immediate area.  (If you don’t find it, you’ll be able to buy one much later in the game.)  Combat is turn based, meaning you’ll choose what you want to do, then everyone attacks in a random order.

I’ve almost always played with the sound off for several reasons.  First, the sound slows down the combat significantly.  Second, the sound isn’t that great.  (Think grunts and MIDI files.)  Third, I like to listen to music or watch TV while playing.  The only down side is that I have to turn off the sound each time I start the game.

Each character has three bars.  Each can be restored by fountains, potions, sleeping or magic.  Red indicates hit points. If the character runs out of hit points, they die.  (You can get around this by resurrecting the character or reloading the game.)  Yellow indicates stamina.  When the yellow bar runs out, they fall asleep.  If the character is swimming at the time, this also means death.  You can restore stamina easily by sleeping.  Blue indicates magic ability, which is divided into six categories for those who use it.  If you run out of points for a category, you can’t cast in that category any more.

Each class has a different set of spells.  Mages can get nuclear blast, which is good for attacking several groups of enemies at once.  They also get astral gate, which is good for demons and the like.  Priests, on the other hand, can heal wounds and identify items, both of which are useful.  Fighters and thieves can’t cast spells, but also have their uses.  You’ll want at least one thief in your party to disarm traps and pick locks.  You’ll also want at least one mage and one priest.  I’ve beaten the game with no fighters, but I had to pass on a lot of useful items.

Most magic users will start with two spells when you create the character.  You’ll be able to level up as you progress in the game.  When you do so, you’ll be able to spend points on various abilities.  For all characters, start with swimming until you get to 10, then add to climbing until you reach 10.  Every 10 points you assign to swimming allow you to swim one space at a time.  You earn points by swimming for each space you swim, so you can practice along a shoreline to build up to 100.  (Having 100 points allows you to get about 6-8 spaces, depending on various factors.)  You’ll also want to add points to mapping for whoever carries the map.  Getting to ten allows you to see walls.  I think when you get to about 20, you get to see doors.  After this, more points don’t really do much more.  Getting to around 70 lets you see stairs and stuff, which isn’t that important.  For magic users, you’ll need to add points to their magic stat.  This is what allows you to get better spells later on.

One thing to consider is that different classes can’t use certain items.  It seems that only fighters can use the good armor and weapons.  When in New City, which is the first town you’ll come across, you’ll find three places that sell stuff:  Paluke’s, Belcanzor’s Magic Emporium and Arms of Argus.  Paluke’s sold crappy clothing that may be cursed.  I’ve gotten a few good caps and hats in the beginning of the game, but that’s it.  Arms of Argus had proven useful.  Rossarian will occasionally have good stuff like bows and arrows, although not always.  (If you need arrows on a reliable basis, you’ll have to wait until you find the Rattkin Ruins.)  Everyone should be able to find something to fight with.  Belcanzor’s sold mostly magic stuff.  You may find some useful stuff there, but he’s only in New City at night.

The biggest drawback I found to having to buy stuff was that those NPCs that were in a fixed location would only sell you one item (or batch of items) at a time.   Willow arrows, for instance, come in packs of 100.  If Rossarian has one quiver available, you have to buy that one, then exit and come back in to buy another.  It tends to get a bit tedious if you’re trying to equip four of your characters with arrows.  If you want to buy a dozen of a potion, but the guy sells it one at a time, you have to go in a dozen times to get them all, then merge them all together.  It would have been much easier to be able to buy in multiples.

When you fight, you have to equip the stuff you’re using.  Some swords require one while others require two.  If you’re using a bow, both the bow and arrows have to be equipped.  There are other items, like whips, that can be used single handed.  Not everyone can use every weapon. Also, character position determines if they can fight.  Your party is arranged in two columns, three on each side of the main screen.   The top left is position 1, top right is position 2 and so on.  The first three positions can fight, if armed, regardless of what they’re using.  If your character is using certain weapons, like bows or whips, they can fight from any position.  Also, thieves can attack while hiding, potentially allowing them to attack every other turn.

You’re not going to see people attack you until they occupy the same square as you.  This is also true of NPCs.  You’ll be walking along and suddenly find yourself in battle.  Some squares will always have a battle the first time you enter that square.  A few squares will always have a battle for you.  Most of your battles, though, will be random.  If you don’t want to do battle at the moment, you can quit and reload the game at your last save point.

On that note, you can save at any point in the game.  This allows you to save right before a major required battle or trapped chest.  If someone dies, you can reload.  I do recommend keeping one means of resurrection, at least until two of your characters get the spell.  Some battles are tough.  You may have a character die at the very last round of a battle.  I’ve also had cases where a character was turned to stone or I saved before checking if everyone was alive.  It pays to have options.

Beating the game is somewhat difficult.  There are several parchments, called maps, which usually give vital clues to solving the puzzle.  One is meant to mislead you and one is part of a physical puzzle.  The game seems to start with the maps scattered around the game world.  You’ll be able to find some during the game while others will be taken by NPCs.  You’ll have to find them by talking to NPCs,  but luck will factor into it.

One interesting thing about the maps I should mention is that all but one can be bought and sold  for 10,000 GP.  There are a few characters that you have to kill during the game and one that can be killed without any apparent consequences.  This means that if you have any of these maps and find yourself in a position to kill one of those characters, your last interaction with them (before killing them) could be to sell them the maps for 10,000 GP each.  When you kill them, you can take the maps back and get a nice amount of money in the process.  (For some reason, NPCs have unlimited funds to buy stuff.)

Back when I was playing the DOS version, there was a toll number you could call for hints.  I never used this, as it cost more than I was willing to spend, but I was able to make good progress in the game regardless.  Upon finding the Windows version, I needed a little help recalling some of the solutions, so I referred to a walkthrough.  If you need help, they are available.  There’s even an interactive map.  For those that don’t want the walkthrough, someone managed to stitch together a map of the full world.  You can use it for reference with minimal spoilers.  (You’ll mostly be getting the location of treasure chests and whatnot.)  I am in awe of the effort that this must have taken.

I imagine that most of the people that would play the game would do so for the nostalgia.  (The same is probably true of anyone reading this review.)  People that grew up in the age of MMORPGs might find this game laughable, but it had a solid storyline and game play.  If you visit the aforementioned map, you’ll see that there’s a lot to explore.  It fascinated me that someone actually took the time to put a somewhat-circular path in the Myrmideon Forest.  From what I’ve read, there was actually supposed to be a Devil Falls, but time constraints forced it’s removal.  It would be interesting to see what the original programmers and writers would have come up with if they had the time and money to do everything they wanted.

Now that I’ve beaten the game, I’ll probably be revisiting it every few months.  It’s always fun to revisit an old game like this.  It’s a shame that the company that made it went out of business.  It does make finding new copies somewhat difficult.  I checked Amazon recently and there did appear to be a few copies.  You may be able to find a few copies on eBay.  I’d like to try Wizardry VIII, but I don’t know how easy that will be to find.

For those of you that are visiting this review for the nostalgia, please feel free to leave a comment and share it with your friends.  I’m always looking for other people who have played and enjoyed the game.  We can still remember all the good times.  Right?

Wikipedia page

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