This article originally appeared in Pyramid #8

Pyramid Pick


Produced by Sega
Designed by Kenji Terada
Retail Cost: $49.99

This being the Electronic Gaming isssue of Pyramid, we thought we'd bring you the cutting edge, as far as we're concerned, in roleplaying games for the home entertainment platforms. As far as we're concerned, the best thing we've seen so far for the serious campaign-head is a prerelease version of Dark Wizard, a CD-ROM game that Sega was kind enough to supply us with.

Graphically, the game itself holds very little that's new. Gamers spoiled by the fantastic rendering and animation on Mac and PC games may even turn their noses up at the sometimes-crude icons and the simple select-driven interface. However, beneath the framework of a hack-and-slash campaign push is a fairly sophisticated engine and a very intelligent adversary with a personality and a style all its own. First, back to the graphics.

The opening sequence is by far the most interesting of the animation included on the disc. It's very long, composed of mostly unnecessary background on the world, the characters and their relations to one another -- while this doesn't serve a practical game purpose, it does give you the feel of being placed squarely in the middle of a high-budget anime film. If you happen to not like anime, or you don't want to spend five minutes hearing things you already knew, you can cancel it.

Condensed, the background is as follows: 300 years ago, there was a fantastic battle between the forces of the goddess of light and the god of darkness, instigated by an evil magician. The magician (and the god of darkness incarnate) were defeated by the forces of good, and the diabolical diety was trapped inside a gem, owned by a good wizard who helped the forces of light in their darkest moment.

Later, the good wizard had an evil apprentice who was caught practicing forbidden magic. To kill two birds with one stone, he decides to exile his apprentice to a secret island and seal him up there with the stone. Then the good wizard makes his evil student immortal, so he will have all of eternity to get over being bad.

"So let me get this straight," we said to ourselves. "The good wizard gives the evil guy an evil god in the form of a gem, makes him immortal and locks him up on an island." You might think that wizard isn't particularly bright.

Anyway, it took 300 years but the apprentice, now a dark wizard (after whom the game is named) managed to break the seals which bound him, and his demon army quickly overran the world. As the game begins, you play one of four characters, fun but stereotypically-anime leads, heading up a party of other characters, out to retake your world.

This story is told in the form of animated storyboards, drawn in classical anime style, with a great soundtrack. In fact, the most refined aspect of Dark Wizard is the soundtrack, which follows you from story to game seamlessly. The fine quality of the music (which sounded as good as any adventure movie in a theater!) is one of the two things that make this CD-ROM game worth the time, effort and money in getting it.

The other is the size and scope of the game. While I've been pleasantly surprised in the past at how much programmers can cram on a cartridge, it's rarely enough for me to rationalize the relatively high cost of a cart game. But in Dark Wizard, as you retake the world from the forces of evil for about the same cost of a cartridge-based game, your map of play is enormous. Few computer games that I've seen, even on personal computers, are of so broad a scope. The designers at Sega also avoided the temptation to make it too big merely because they had the room. It felt large enough to awe me (and my low-level characters) but I could hold the whole thing in my mind -- and although it looked difficult, it certainly felt possible to conquer the world.

As far as the game itself, there isn't all that much to say. It consists of moving your human and non-human PCs through the land, battling hordes of monsters and retaking villages, cities and castles from the forces of evil. As time goes on, your characters get more sophisticated, learn new spells, develop more hit ponts. You can buy better armor and weapons for them, hire even more party members, and increase the size of your coffers as you increase the number of castles and cities loyal to your regime. The ultimate goal is to defeat the evil wizard, but there's plenty of adventure on the way, picked up in clues from inns and the like all across the countryside.

This paradigm -- interesting though it may be -- has been seen in countless other adventures/wargames, dating back to when our ancesters played on big boards with paper chits. It's how this game works that impressed me so much, and the very intelligent handling of the bad guys, even on the easy level, that if nothing else makes Dark Wizard worth paying the late-fees to keep it another day from the local rental barn.

This is the first game that by itself is a strong enough reason to blow $200+ on a Sega CD-ROM, and imagine what games will be out for the Sega CD in a few months, by the time you claw your way to the end of Dark Wizard . . .

-- Derek Pearcy

Article publication date: August 1, 1994

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