Review – Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls (PC)

Once upon a time, Wizardry was one of the biggest names in gaming. It and Ultima shaped the genre and provided the inspiration for everything from Final Fantasy to Elder Scrolls. The turn-based combat systems, complex dungeon designs, and in-depth character creation literally changed the game. Nowadays, however, few people know these franchises ever even existed, and Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is not about to change that. A port of a PS3/Vita title, where it would have been just as outdated, it combines the worst of CRPGs with the worst of dungeon crawlers for a truly underwhelming experience.

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This is a very tall “dwarf”.

The issues become evident early on, before you’ve even finished building your first character. Character creation is a sacred tradition within the genre, with hours spent perfecting the avatar you’ll be adventuring with. As with any complex system like this, clarity is crucial. You need to know what each stat means, how they effect your character, and the pros/cons versus your other options.

Unless you’re playing Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, that is. Then you’ll never even be told what the three-letter acronyms for each attribute stand for, let alone what they do. Nor are you told the unlock requirements for any of the 8 classes, which in itself wouldn’t be a problem. Unlockable classes aren’t a new thing for the franchise, and trying to figure out the attribute combinations to play them is part of the fun. However when you don’t even know what each attribute is, and all you’re doing is hitting the Auto button again and again hoping something happens, the system has failed.

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Clearly the winning strategy is to max out your PIE stat.

The game proper is split between town exploration and dungeon crawling. I use the words “town exploration” loosely, because all you’re really doing is navigating a menu set against a static background. Though this isn’t totally alien to the genre, most games do try to do more with it. Maybe multiple districts to move between, different shops to browse, or at least a dynamic background. Still, it does its job and you’ll eventually figure out what everything does. Unimaginative, but functional. The main problem here is that the menu systems were originally made with a controller in mind, and very little was done to make them feel at home with a keyboard and mouse. Given the number of menu levels you’ll be jumping between, the clunkiness will quickly become annoying.

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I don’t know why they labeled this area “Plaza” instead of the blink and you’ll miss it name of the town. It’s not like you can go anywhere else…

The actual dungeon crawling is this game’s strongest point, which isn’t saying much, given this is the franchise that gave us the concept of party-based dungeon crawling to begin with. As per tradition, you move along a grid in first-person, fight enemies in turn-based battles, while either manually mapping your way along or using a map you bought from the Item Shop. There is no auto-mapping feature, an exclusion which would no doubt make purists happy. Still, this was the closest I had to actually having fun with the game, although it didn’t last for long.

The actual dungeon design is drab and featureless, and everything quickly starts to look exactly the same, because it is exactly the same. The most complicated puzzle I encountered was solved by bringing a torch, an absolute far cry from the gauntlets of traps and nonsense puzzles that this franchise was built on. Actual combat is the worst kind of turn-based system you can think of, where even the lowest level battles against useless opponents take forever. There’s not much in the way of strategy either, with basically every battle ending in spamming your front line’s attack and your rear’s defenses. Enemies, just being 2D pieces of artwork with minimal animation and sound effects, certainly don’t help making combat more lively either.

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You have to manually click through every single one of these text boxes. Every enemy attack, every one of your attacks, it’s so much clicking…

There’s technically a story, but you’d be forgiven for forgetting it existed. Outside of an exposition-heavy introduction and random bits of lore you’ll run into while exploring the dungeon or talking to the few NPC’s available, its presence is very light. Which is probably for the best given how poorly written and uninteresting it is. Take a handful of your basic JRPG and fantasy tropes, and you get this game’s plot and characters. In a better game this wouldn’t be that much of an issue, but here it’s just the icing on the rotten cake.

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This is the kind of quality character development you can expect.

I don’t entirely understand why this is a thing. It’s a brand that’s largely unknown by today’s audience, in a genre that’s relatively niche, and a game that’s hilariously outclassed in every way by the competition. Even though it can’t have been that much trouble to port a Vita game of all things to PC, especially given the overall shoddy job of the actual porting, I still wonder if it is worth even that much? Especially given the caliber of competition, from the fantastic Bard’s Tale IV to the surprise hit that was Vaporum. At the end of the day, I just think this franchise deserves better than a bad port of a bad game.

Graphics: 3.0

The original games from decades ago had higher quality animations and textures. While the artwork used in place of character models is nice, they’re also static and lifeless.

Gameplay: 2.5

Character building is obfuscated nonsense, level design visually repetitive, and combat an endless slog. It is mechanically sound, for what that’s worth.

Sound: 2.5

The music’s not bad, but the handful of tracks get annoying very fast. There’s no VA outside random moans/groans, and sound effects are generic to poor.

Fun Factor: 1.0

Nothing about this game is fun. Given the number of other games that do everything better (and prettier), I see no reason anyone should play this.

Final Verdict: 2.0

Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is available now on PS3, PS Vita and PC.

Reviewed on PC.

A copy of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls was provided by the publisher.

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