When I was younger I had this CD collection that was really diverse and hip. I had put energy into trying to educate myself to the great music that existed: Bitches Brew, Electric Ladyland, Headhunters, and more. As I got a bit older my taste is more utilitarian: I can listen to anything but I go where the mood takes me. Granted I already have taste, but still....I'm not going to give somebody shit for not having heard the Mahavishnu Orchestra Birds of Fire album. I like what I like and just accept it.
Games can be the same way with some caveats. It seems like games being released now need so much to draw in an audience-look at Destiny. Game's probably going to be great, probably not actually for everybody, but the people who should like it will. Yet that isn't ever good enough, is it? There has to be a major media push, preorders sold, and DLC planned. What's great about dungeoncrawlers is that sort of stuff doesn't matter. A game is either good or it isn't and word of mouth matters.
Like Sorcery Saga "...Curry God" which is decent but thoroughly boring and too easy to completely break. I can't advise anyone play that Vita title, but what I can wholeheartedly endorse is a game localized for the PS2 and released in the American market by Atlus.
Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land is one of the many Wizardry titles to come out of Japan. Very few of these titles have seen any sort of international release so the game is an oddity on that front.
But first: what is Wizardry?
Well, if you're reading a post on dungeon crawlers you probably already know, but...
Long story short long, long ago there were a few mythic RPG games that created the heritage all RPGs have today, the titans. Ultima, Wizardry, Megaten, etc. Wizardry was a very hard game for a number of reasons but basically it set the rules in order for dungeon crawlers. Though most important to Wizardry itself was the first person perspective, character alignments and advanced classes, and the fact that every spell is useful.
So, Wizardry: TotFL....
TotFL is a great game released for the PS2. The game rewards patience and exploration in equal measure but demands you practice both. The mood is generally tense but subverted expertly from time to time. The art is beautiful and adds to the somber feeling. If this game had to be described in one word it would be Winter.
The game takes place in Duhan which, after a "flash" has had a massive dungeon open up in the middle of town. The Queen is allowing adventurers to go in and take whatever treasure they find in return for lending a hand. There's this atmosphere that the game creates where with every layer you peel away you are somehow completely surprised yet expecting of what you find.
From a gameplay perspective we see a constant push into the dungeon until the party's pockets are full of un-appraised items and monster guts, then escaping back to town making the usual rounds. There's the tavern where we take on quests which not only make the dungeon crawling a bit more eventful but provide some great narrative moments. The shop to appraise and sell items, or lift curses from items when you let your curiosity get the better of you. But also the shop is where you'll enhance your magical abilities.
Magic is really useful in the game, but it's very slow going. Every level up gives you a few more charges of spells to use, based on levels (level one spells are just not as useful as their level 5 counterparts) but you don't automatically get new spells. After defeating enemies there is always a chance that they'll drop items which can be combined to teach characters spells-and then to rank these same spells up. It's an interesting way to make the dungeon crawling feel useful early on. Also these monster parts can be used like items for spell effects, in a pinch.
However about half way through the game a shop opens up that allows you to basically get infinite numbers of items once you've presold one to the shop. Trust me, you need this shop. Most of the offensive spells don't have that many ranks, 10 or 20 at most, but the healing spells all have loads of ranks to level up, often around 40. So at some point you're going to decide to bite the bullet and make some trips to the dungeon to level up your spells.
I like that the game gives you this system, before the materials shop opens up every new spell rank feels hard earned and new spells more so, but later in the game the process just takes time away from the dungeon crawling in a way that doesn't feel rewarding.
Still it's a good system all in all and I just wish I would have created some blank "slave" characters earlier to upgrade my buffs and magic.
This game stands up like all Wizardry games as a constant query of risk versus reward. Enemy encounters can be tough, a wrong turn can lead to a boss fight without any indication, and from a certain point on back attacks from enemies are basically party wipes. But the game somehow always leaves your characters feeling weak and like there is likely another piece of gear or another item just a little deeper in that might solve that problem.
Like I said earlier you get into this routine. You jump in the dungeon for a bit, then go back to town to sell unneeded items and level up. You run to the tavern and pick up a new quest or maybe run into the guild to make a new character/re-class an existing one and then back to the dungeon. When you're in the dungeon you think about what you're going to do when you get back to town, and when you're in town your wish you were in the dungeon. There's a monotony to the game, but not really tedium just an addicting rhythm.
What sets the game apart is the sense of the characters you can get. Though you can make your own characters the game will provide some great NPCs to fill out your party and without really saying too much on this subject they help provide a bit of balance in the dungeons. But also they're your party and by about the middle of the game I couldn't imagine ditching any of them. Part of why that works is the trust system.
Trust develops between your party over time and allows you to use Allied Attacks, or AAs. At first I thought that the AAs were a shoehorned idea. They change up your normal turn based combat by giving you options that work out to basically setting up a few of your characters to forfeit their usual turn to either attack together or counter attack together, etc. These techniques aren't shoehorned in at all. They're integral and they're great.
About half way through the game I finally started experimenting with them more and found they opened up combat so much. You can use them to cover your defensive bases while everyone else is attacking or use them to run offense and defense with any extra characters buffing or healing. There are lots of encounters that gave me trouble until I figured out the right AA combination and it's those moments that make the combat really stand out in this game.
But trust takes a long time to develop. At this moment I'm holding off on the final boss because I want to unlock the final level of trust. This game isn't particularly grindy, but it definitely has a pace that stands out in the modern landscape. Though events are littered around each level of the dungeon which provide story context and world building the meat of the game are the prolonged stretches of isolation with just dungeoncrawling.
Though the game is great I could imagine this pace not working for everyone. There is a wonderful shrine for the game on the RPG shrines site, but still even with info on stats and spells and items the game is what it is. Labyrinthine mazing through puzzling levels with demanding combat.
Take the fifth floor: the waterfall. The dungeon didn't just spring up out of nowhere but pulled different areas of the world together-the fifth floor being a part of the elves forest. Or something like that. Maybe that's the sixth floor. Anyways, the fifth floor is the waterfall level, it's after the graveyard level, and it's when the game finally pulls off the training wheels. Though the graveyard was tough the waterfall is actually hard. The game starts throwing monsters at you in just laughable numbers, they all seem to love causing status effects, and there are guys here who steal levels from you with their physical attacks.
Actually from stage 4 on the game has enemies that steal levels from you with physical attacks. So yeah, good luck with that.
Anyways, stage 5 is where you have to get good. You need to figure out if your characters are progressing the way you hoped, as in whether your party is a good party, and you need to do it quick. But the level isn't tough for no reason - from here on you really have to know what you're doing. You need a team that works, that can experiment with enemies and figure out what a good strategy is because the encounters are quite well designed. Balance is key, but because so many tactics are based on having AAs the game demands you really begin planning long term.
Basically the game wants you to be planning for the end game way earlier than normal. You really have to have a balanced and fluid team. While this might not seem so important in the early stages of the game, the alignment and trust stuff might seem a bit artificial or old school, the reality is wizardry is a party-based game through and through.
So, while a game like Wizardry: Tale of the Forsaken Land won't be getting the sort of treatment a game like Destiny or the Last of Us will receive, with media pushes to make sure everyone knows they're phenomenal, this is an actual great game. People play it because of word of mouth, because it's earned a reputation.