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Developer: Racdym
Publisher: Atlus USA
Platform: Playstation 2
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)

The venerable Wizardry series of computer RPGs dates back to the Apple ][e, and fans of the genre have kept the franchise alive through numerous platforms and incarnations. While not always as visibly flashy or innovative as their contemporaries, the games have always provided what is essential to CRPG fans -- interesting, deep gameplay. Die-hard CRPG players will be the first to tell you that you can keep your flashy graphics and gimmicks, provided that the dungeons are deep and the character development equally so, so the series has enjoyed good success throughout the years.

Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land continues the franchise's long-running tradition, extending it to the Playstation 2 console. Entering into a brutal market dominated by the likes of Square's Final Fantasy X was a gutsy move for a series long-known for its minimalistic approach to gaming, but Atlus manages to present a game that is fun, long-lasting, and provides the best parallel to desktop computer gaming yet to hit the console world.

The first thing likely to strike console gamers are the graphics and sound of the game. The visuals are, as typical for Wizardry, minimal, using hand-painted watercolor stills for character interaction and backgrounds, switching to 3D polygons only for actual dungeon-crawling. The creature models are quite good, and well-animated throughout, but since the game operates in a first-person mode, players will never get to see their own character, and only occasionally will they see their fellow party members, when they appear as the aforementioned watercolor paintings during party interaction. The sound, perhaps the weakest point of the game, is virtually non-existent. Mediocre music clips and no voices at all make for an instantly forgettable aural experience. The game would be better served by providing important interaction as voice, especially since the graphics are minimal enough that DVD space shouldn't be an issue.

The game shines in its nuts and bolts, however. Character creation provides fairly broad (if fairly standard) options for adventurers, with a second "tier" of classes available only after a certain experience level has been reached. Standard fantasy races are all available (dwarves, elves, gnomes, and hobbits), and the core classes cover the archetypal bases (thief, sorceror, priest, warrior) of the fantasy genre. Once a solitary character has been made, the game begins, and players have the option of acquiring other characters for their party (total of 6 possible). These other characters can either be recruited at the local tavern, or the player can enter the Adventurer's Guild and make more characters, which then become available at the tavern. There are advantages to both methods, and I had my best success with a mixture of pregenerated hirelings and some I had created myself.

Once you descend into the town's local dungeon (the only one you will explore during the game), the game shifts to a first-person 3-D perspective, where the player steps the entire party through the dungeon, one 10'x10' square at a time. Combat is interesting, allowing players to choose from either individual actions for all party members, or the featured "Allied Actions" that combine attacks, defenses, or assistance from multiple characters to achieve a greater effect. Not merely fluff or optional material, mastering the AA system is critical to defeating some of the more impressive enemies in the game, and one's access to the various AA options is limited by how long the party members have been together, and how well their alignments (good, neutral, or evil) match both the leader's alignment and the player's actions. Attack too many friendly creatures, and good-aligned parties will lose access to some Allied Actions. Keep 'em happy, and you steadily gain access to more and more impressive cooperative abilities.

While there is only one town and one dungeon, don't be fooled into thinking the game is short. The "Labyrinth of Duhan" is incredibly deep, and each level is massive. Some are straight-forward mazes, where the only goal is to find the exit. Others involve some fairly intricate puzzle-solving skills in order to reach the next stairwell down into the depths. While replaying the game, with it's preset quests for various townspeople, might get a bit repetitive, the various character and party composition options could make for some quite different experiences the second time around.

If you're a die-hard CRPG player, don't miss this one. Likewise if you've been a fan of Wizardry's previous games. If, however, you're looking for something to curb your junkie-like twitching for the next Final Fantasy game, this one might leave you a bit cold. While it doesn't deliver the pre-rendered and animated thrills of some of the other available titles, Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land is a different approach to console RPGs, reminiscent more of its desktop ancestors than its flashy Japanese contemporaries.

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