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Legacy of the Wizard (NES) artwork

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) review

"What if Metroid were fantasy-based and a really big jerk?"

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) image

Retro adventure titles have a penchant for ambiguous hints. Typically, your quest begins with a village elder, a wizard or a shaman explaining the basics of your mission. It's likely you'll still have questions following this encounter, but chiefs and sorcerers don't have time to babysit you. You're a grown warrior, for Pete's sake! Why can't you gather your own information?

So you scour the land, seeking out chatty townsfolk or cryptic messages providing the valuable intel you require. In either case, you'll eventually stumble upon a juicy tidbit suggesting your next order of business. That's when you pull out your (in-game) map and plot a course whilst examining the goods in your inventory, paying close attention to each item's description. From there, you might surmise your next destination.

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) imageLegacy of the Wizard (NES) image

In a perfect world, this is how every 'Metroidvania' and Zelda-like game begins. Sadly, we dwell in a flawed reality where products like Nihon Falcom's Legacy of the Wizard also exist.

If you've chosen to initiate Legacy's campaign without an instruction manual or walkthrough, then heaven help you. Discerning your goal without either document will present a struggle. For one, in-game atlases are nonexistent, so you'll either have to draft one as you advance or swipe one from a website. In other words, map-free players should be prepared for hours of blind stumbling and trial and error, before finally discovering where the rail lies. Also, perish the thought of conversing with NPCs, as the four or so that the game features have nothing significant to convey. If I'm not mistaken, the innkeeper's offer of ten gold coins is Legacy's most substantial line of dialogue.

Bear in mind that I'm not begging for a deep narrative or a dramatic opening cutscene. All the same, a line or two of dialogue during the character selection screen wouldn't be asking too much. You know, something to give you the skinny on the game's objectives. Maybe Xemn, the father of the household, could say:

"Retrieve the four crowns so we can get the Dragonslayer!"

"We've got the crowns, now let's claim the Dragonslayer!"

"Kill the dragon, Roas. Make us proud!"

Thankfully, FAQs exist to outline those objectives.

Nabbing the aforementioned headdresses isn't a simple task by a long shot. For one thing, Legacy has a hard-on for illusory walls and floors. To make matters worse, there are no indicators (e.g. cracks, discoloration, etc) to differentiate fragile brickwork from solid architecture. Thankfully, most exploitable surfaces crop up in predictable places like dead ends. Unfortunately, numerous weak bricks also pop up in spots you wouldn't think to check. One horrific example is the chamber containing the pet Pochi's crown. At first glance, you might write the room off as a standard treasure trove, but for an out of reach and unadorned chest. However, some tinkering or a gander at a wiki site reveals an intricate network of faux bricks within the left wall that you can use to reach your goal.

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) imageLegacy of the Wizard (NES) image

Other segments require peculiar actions to surmount obstacles. I mean, who would have figured to use a foe as a stepping stone? Yet, there are a few sections that demand such a feat. In particular, the young lady Lyll's pathway features a towering pedestal, an adjacent pitfall and a bouncing creature. On top of that, you also need a special pair of shoes to boost Lyll's already ridiculous jump height. Whilst wearing those, you have to time the monster's ascent just right, bound onto its back, and finally jounce from there up to the pillar's apex. Should you fall into the previously discussed crevice, you'll have to reroute and travel all the way back to the column to begin the process anew.

Puzzling your way through this quest isn't a tremendous flaw, though. Legacy would have at least earned an "average" rating from me, were it not for Xemn and his segment of the voyage.

Xemn is an ox of a man who can shove boulders when donning a certain glove. You accomplish this by holding the A button--the same button that executes a jump--and colliding with said impediments. This moves stones in the direction you're facing. For instance, if you nail a block while facing left (even with your head or feet), then the object will move left.

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) imageLegacy of the Wizard (NES) image

Since Legacy is a sidescroller, most of the movable masses you encounter will be floating. As you might've guessed, this is both terrific and problematic. For starters, I will admit that the campaign provides a few clever midair push-block puzzles. I particularly enjoyed any that allowed you to "ride" the blocks by repeatedly leaping on them. Sadly, there are also a handful that can critically screw you over if you make even the tiniest mistake. One that I recall required you to shift about a dozen columns of boulders to the the side. It is possible to inadvertently block the passage while performing this task, thereby forcing you to either warp back to the cottage or wait for the neighboring goons to kill you.

It doesn't help that it's so easy to screw up along the way. With the A button handling both jumping and block pushing, it's pretty easy to shove stones when you don't mean to, or to smack them into the wrong direction. When this happens, you often have to take on the puzzle one more from the top, while stifling the urge to set your NES on fire. Bear in mind that these challenges comprise most of Xemn's portion of the dungeon, so I recommend having a stress ball handy.

To call Legacy of the Wizard difficult wouldn't be precise. It's tough, yes, but it's also confusing, demanding, frustrating, wonky and padded by a false sense of longevity created by its perplexing design. No, I don't consider these flaws to be elements of challenge. If games like Valdis Story: Abyssal City taught us anything, it's that 'Metroidvania' titles can be tricky without muddling their audience via overly complex structure. Legacy shouldn't have to hold your hand, and it thankfully doesn't. However, it shouldn't leave you stranded, either...

Legacy of the Wizard (NES) image

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Staff review by Joseph Shaffer (April 02, 2016)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Never3ndr posted April 09, 2016:

I've been interested in this game, and I still am to be honest...but your review definitely puts it a bit further down on my already overwhelming "to play" list.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted April 13, 2016:

It took me ages to get up the desire to play this game. I tried at various times since its release to get into it, but only recently did I force myself. I kind of regret that...
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MattL posted September 23, 2017:

I think it's a fair review, though it's important to keep it in context with the NES era. I played this when I was young on the NES, I actually managed to still keep the NES cartridge since then (though no longer have my NES) and though it was confusing and difficult it didn't feel abnormally so compared to a lot of other games I played on the NES. I still have very fond memories of it. The scale of the game and the mysterious puzzles really captured my imagination. I highly recommend it with an open mind.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted September 24, 2017:

I played the game when it was fairly new and I wasn't impressed with it then, either. I found it more tolerable then, because games like this were more of a social experience. They prompted you to get with other gamers to compare notes. It hasn't aged well, though. The review is not meant to be a retrospective, but an indication of whether or not I recommend the game nowadays. Some people do still enjoy the title, and that's good. However, my own experiences with it were not so wonderful.

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