Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord PS5 Review

Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord screenshot
Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord screenshot
Wizardry – The Mother of All Roleplayers (Digital Eclipse)

GameCentral discusses the most influential video game you’ve never heard of and the precursor to everything from Final Fantasy to Fallout.

A few months ago there was a brief debate about whether the term JRPG was derogatory. It was initiated by developers trying to promote Final Fantasy 16, so the argument may have had ulterior motives – with most neutral parties in Japan seeming to have no problem with the word. Although it has long been the subject of debate as to whether it describes a specific subgenre of games or simply refers to all role-playing titles made in Japan.

In a sense, however, it doesn’t matter much, because all modern role-playing games have the same origin point, in Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord. Wizardry was the creation of American students Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, who started working on the game as early as 1978, inspired by both Dungeons & Dragons and various prehistoric video games that existed only on computer mainframes at the time.

The first commercial release was in September 1981 on the Apple II computer and subsequently on several other 8-bit formats of the time, both in the West and Japan. Since then there have been many sequels and spin-offs, the most recent of which were made in Japan, where the franchise’s name is better remembered – even if it is largely forgotten in the West.

It’s impossible to overestimate Wizardry’s influence on modern video games, because while there were some other titles around that time with similar features, this one was by far the most refined – partly because developers had to wait several months before having access to a computer who could execute it correctly, giving them time to test and balance it.

The most obvious way Wizardry influenced subsequent games is through its turn-based combat, where enemies politely line up across from your party (shown only as headshots) while you both try to pick chunks apart to get. But the whole concept of controlling a group of people at once, equipping them with new gear and leveling them up was new at the time, even if it was very clearly borrowed from Dungeons & Dragons and other tabletop role-playing games .

In Wizardry you can use pre-made characters or create your own, with five different races (humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits), four class types, and four classes. elite classes. While unusual, each character also has an alignment – ​​of good, neutral and evil – and you can’t combine the two extremes.

Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord screenshot
Wizardry – the battle system that launched a thousand JRPGs (Digital Eclipse)

What will surprise many, considering its age, is that the game is technically a first-person 3D game. The original Apple II version had a small square of the screen dedicated to an incredibly primitive vector graphic representation of the space in front of you. There’s no way the graphics could have been more simplistic, and yet games were still copying the same basic setup a decade or more later, in everything from Atari ST classic Dungeon Master to Shining Force predecessor Shining In The Darkness.

The closest modern decedent, however, is our beloved Etrian Odyssey, and playing this remake we never quite realized how similar the two franchises are. (Although the Wizardry remake draws the map for you as you explore, rather than letting you do that.)

Along with the top-down Ultima 1, which was released just a few months earlier, the JRPGs we consider today were all inspired by Western games, which in turn were heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons. This makes for a very unusual pedigree, especially when you consider games as diverse as Baldur’s Gate 3 and Dark Souls (Wizardry also involves going back to collect the loot from previously killed party members) on the outer edges.

All this finally brings us to this remake of Digital Eclipse, which has been in early access for PC since last year and is… really good. It’s a very literal remake, in that it retains the exact same gameplay and controls, as well as map layouts, but with a host of optional quality-of-life features – partly to streamline the experience and partly to compensate for its rock-solid problems. level and the threat of permadeath.

The graphics aren’t terribly impressive, but this is clearly a low-budget labor of love, as you still move through the grid-based map in discrete steps. You can even choose to place or have a display of the original Apple II graphics appear in the bottom right corner in front of you.

YouTube poster

Digital Eclipse has long specialized in retro emulation and historical recreations and they’ve spared no expense here, with map variations based on many of the different versions of the game and not only a mountain of options – the role-playing equivalent of driving aids – but surprisingly detailed explanations of what they all do and why the developer chose to add them.

This helps deal with some of the more unforgiving elements of the game, such as extremely annoying traps, although the menus and user interface always seem a little too complicated for the very simple gameplay on offer. This includes the village with its various shops and services (which again is like Etrian Odyssey) that you return to between trips or when your entire party dies.

Wizardry is the Citizen Kane of role-playing games and although it is not as old as its cinematic counterpart, it is still perfectly playable thanks to this remake. It’s unfairly difficult, obscure and repetitive and yet there’s still a palpable joy in creating your characters and carefully mapping the dungeon. Even the combat is more complicated than you might expect, as you realize how little has really changed until recently.

Etrian Odyssey is still more fun (number four is the best), but Wizardry is way more fun than you’d ever expect from a 40+ year old video game. It may be brutally difficult and needlessly cruel, but this remake allows you to tame the experience to your own preferences, while still providing a clear picture of a game for which the word classic is an understatement.


Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord PS5 review summary

In brief: One of the oldest and most influential video games of all time remains surprisingly entertaining thanks to this loving, feature-packed remake.

Pros: The core game is still perfectly playable today and the remake is packed with optional quality of life and difficulty settings. Still using the original graphics if exaggerated is a nice touch.

Cons: For a modern remake, the graphics aren’t very good and the price is very high for non-fans, especially since the game is actually quite short. UI is quite intimidating.

Score: 7/10

Formats: PlayStation 5 (reviewed), Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series X/S, and PC
Price: £33.49
Publisher: Digital Eclipse
Developer: Digital Eclipse
Release date: May 23, 2024
Age rating: 16

Wizardry: Proving Grounds Of The Mad Overlord screenshot
Wizardry – you’ll be surprised how little has changed (Digital Eclipse)

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