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Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds (NES) artwork

Wizardry: Knight of Diamonds (NES) review

"If you put the first two Wizardry games next to each other, hold a gun to the head of someone who is not an expert on the series, and ask them to correctly distinguish the two before you pull the trigger, they are likely to close their eyes, nervously wet themself, and stammer out a complete guess. Suppose that as an alternative to using the threat of violence as an incentive, you just have your subject play the games instead. Chances are high that the average person will not have the s..."

If you put the first two Wizardry games next to each other, hold a gun to the head of someone who is not an expert on the series, and ask them to correctly distinguish the two before you pull the trigger, they are likely to close their eyes, nervously wet themself, and stammer out a complete guess. Suppose that as an alternative to using the threat of violence as an incentive, you just have your subject play the games instead. Chances are high that the average person will not have the slightest clue what is going on, and will request that you take the controller from them and go back to the whole gun pointing thing, which they found much less traumatic.

I mean “traumatic” here in its most positive sense, as in “I just had a traumatic experience eating a delicious cheese cake” or “I just had a traumatic sexual encounter” – it’s still cheese cake and sex, just more intense. Sadly, there are only normal random encounters, not sexual encounters, in the world of Wizardry, but the lack of reproductivity doesn’t make the experience any less interesting. This is one of the few instances in which the word “hardcore” is genuinely appropriate.

Imagine falling through a hole in the floor of a labyrinth. You are in the pitch dark and without the foggiest idea where you are -- and some rat just ran off with the lunch you packed for this trip. Out of nowhere, a demon appears and slaughters everyone except your weak little mage, whose bleeding in a least ten different places and whose strongest spell recites soothing words that put impressionable enemies to sleep (like that’s going to work on a demonspawn from the gates of Hell). So there you are, in the dark, surrounded by hostile foes, lost, depressed by the loss of your Bugs Bunny lunchbox, and carrying the heavy bodies of your five dead companions – and just when you think that things couldn’t get any worse, you break a finger nail.

What were you thinking when you decided to play this game?

Actually, you’re having a blast. You cast dumapic (real RPGs don't list their spells in English), then draw a few lines on a tablet of graph paper that you brought along. After a few minutes, you’ve managed to make a crude map of your immediate surroundings, and things are starting to feel a little more civilized. So you tie a rope around the bodies of your fallen friends and drag them to and fro, running from any and all enemies and searching haphazardly for a ladder going up. Today is your lucky day, for you have found said ladder and have returned to the previous floor, with the knowledge that you have gained of the depths forever recorded on that graph paper. You’re not out danger yet, but at least you know your way home from here.

So you’re in a dungeon this time trying to find the Staff of Gnilda, which was apparently used to protect the city of Lylgamyn from anything evil. This staff however couldn’t protect against evil persons that were born within the city, and for this reason Davalpus (nice name), a native of Llylgamyn, was able to enter the castle with a troupe of fell monsters and slaughter the royal family, minus the princess and her brother. The two decide to use the Staff of Gnilda to seek some justice, but unfortunately with his dying breath Davalpus muttered what must have been the most vulgar curse in human history, which caused the castle to crumble and ruined the Temple of Gnilda below it. So anyway, that staff was sort of important, and the god Gnilda is a little pissed that the city lost the precious artifact that he entrusted to humanity and wrecked his sanctuary. Someone is going to have to dig that staff out of the rubble, and since you defeated Werdna and saved the city once before (you did play Wizardry: The Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord, right?), the task falls on your shoulders.

You accept, partly because you want to play dress up with the relics of the Knight of Diamonds, but also for the whole fame and wealth thing. The rules are the same as the first adventure: there’s exactly one dungeon and exactly one town, there’s exactly one item in this dungeon that you need to recover, and you’re going to need graph paper to do it. If you can’t accept that last requirement, then you will not enjoy this game – at all. Just like The Proving Grounds, you’ll find doors that disappear behind you, areas of total darkness, rooms that spin, places that teleport you without warning, and so forth. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that half of the Wizardry experience is done on a 20x20 grid sketched in a notebook.

The staff that you’re looking for is on the first floor, which would be easy enough if not for the fact that you must be wearing the complete set of the Knight of Diamonds armor to pick it up. To exasperate this problem further, some jackass scattered that armor around the temple and made it self-aware so that it would attack anyone that tried to use it. So you’ll need to find and subdue these possessed garments, put them on, grab the staff, return to town, and collect your reward of what you can only assume is lavish amounts of money and wenches.

The NES ports of the Wizardry series are actually superior in nearly every aspect to their PC counterparts, minus the ability to transfer parties from one scenario to the next. The dungeons have walls instead of wireframes (don’t act like you’re not impressed), there is background music, and enemy portraits actually look like things instead of indistinct blobs. The NES version of Wizardry IIis different from the other ports in that each floor (and thus the flow of the game) is completely different from the PC version. In the original, the Knight of Diamonds items were in front of the stairs that lead to the next floor – now the armor is hidden on each floor and the stairs are easier to access. Since your party didn’t complete the first scenario (as was intended with the PC game), this new arrangement works much better; you’ll be able to explore and gain some levels before fighting bosses.

The first Wizardry game had some nagging issues, like the lack of anything interesting in the dungeon and the pointlessness of all but three floors. Wizardry II corrects this problem by making each floor necessary to your journey and reducing the total number of floors from ten to six. There are also people hanging out in the dungeon (I assume because the rent is cheaper there than in Llygamyn) that will trade key items, give you hints, and other needful things. The dungeon itself is also in my opinion a hell of a lot easier to map, with a lot less teleports and spinning rooms. You’ll also find more useful items more often, which makes the overall experience a lot less tedious.

Of the three Wizardry games for NES, The Knight of Diamonds is probably the best, least frustrating of the lot. Your success will be measured not by your ability to level grind or ingest a convoluted story, but by your ability to produce an accurate map on a piece of paper, which is generally a skill one does not use when playing a game. In that sense, people that have stuck with RPGs that insult the player by spoon-feeding a travel plan (like Final Fantasy X) are going to be perplexed or dumbfounded as to how anyone could ever find the slightest bit of joy in this type of thing. Still, if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to play a game with a pad of graph paper in your lap and the unshakable feeling that you don’t know how to get home, this would be the best place to start – it isn’t mind-numbingly difficult, it doesn’t go out of its way to kill the player, and it auto-saves after every single battle. When you strip an RPG of things like characterization and obtuse battle mechanics, this is what it looks like – and to be honest, even in this most rudimentary form, the genre is still a lot of fun.

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Featured community review by dagoss (June 29, 2008)

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