Since its PC relaunch earlier this month, I’ve seen plenty of comments about the “old-school” nature of Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls. Whether that’s said as a point of praise or criticism depends on the individual, but it’s the common refrain: “old-school”.
But to me, though, Labyrinth of Lost Souls doesn’t feel “old-school” at all—and I say this as a relative newcomer to the dungeon crawler genre, who cut his teeth on Etrian Odyssey and Mary Skelter: Nightmares. Rather, it feels like a game that’s working to capture the magic and excitement of classic Wizardry games, but with the benefit of hindsight about what archaisms work and what’s better left in the ’80s. For the most part, that’s a balance that Labyrinth of Lost Souls carries well.
For me, one of the things that makes the real old-school dungeon crawlers tiresome is the lack of an in-game map. I can see the appeal of having to physically draw maps on grid paper, and the ever-present threat of a mapping error leading you astray. But having to keeping track of all those bits of grid paper—or even having grid paper readily available without a special trip to the stationery store—is a nuisance.
Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls has an automapping system akin to most modern dungeon crawlers, where you start with a blank map that fills itself in, square by square, as you explore each dungeon. The catch is that you can only access this map if you hold the right item for the floor you’re exploring, or while you have a mapping spell active. Maps for everything beyond the first couple of floors of each dungeon can only be found through rare drops, usually only from the floors that the maps pertain to. The mapping spell needs someone in your party who can cast it and isn’t dead, and it won’t work in anti-magic zones.
What this means, in practice, is that you have a modern-style auto-map available to you most of the time, but it’s not something you can rely on 100%. Sometimes you’ll have to do without for a few moments as you cross an anti-magic zone, or when the only mage in your party suddenly gets one-hit killed off the back of an unlucky dice roll. It’s the convenience of an auto-map for the majority of the time, occasionally interrupted by brief journeys through the true unknown.
“Unlucky dice rolls” are where Labyrinth of Lost Souls start to feel more genuinely old-school. There are a lot of random elements in the game, affecting everything from stat growth at level up, to encounter rate, to the size and composition of enemy parties, to the chance of a dead character being lost forever when you try to resurrect them. When a battle starts, you might find yourself up against a single foe your party can drop in one turn, or 15-strong horde. An enemy that you’ve killed hundreds of times before might suddenly decide to pop off a spell that wipes out your whole party in one hit. Sometimes you’ll map an entire floor in one delve, other times you’ll get two steps before your party is in tatters and forced to retreat.
While those whims of fate can be exceedingly cruel or kind on an individual basis, there’s an overall balance that stops the random element from becoming excessively frustrating. There are no traditional game overs here—even if your party gets wiped out, your main character always gets revived back in town, with the option then to try and resurrect the rest of your team. That means progress is never truly lost; even if you only get a single step further than you did on a previous dungeon dive, that’s still another chunk of the dungeon you’ve now mapped. Even if you permanently lose a character, you can recruit another, who’ll level up fairly quickly while being carried by a stronger team.
It’s a setup that allows for very high stakes on every delve, with the possibility of setbacks and hindrances around every corner, but without every truly stonewalling your progress in the way that a more traditional, skill-based approach to difficulty can do. Those individual strokes of bad luck can be heartbreaking, but they’re never the end of the game. There’s excitement to be found how you deal with and respond to the consequences when failure doesn’t just mean rewinding to a checkpoint to try again.
Or, if you prefer, you can save scum your way through. Labyrinth of Lost Souls lets you save anywhere except in battle, a system you can freely abuse to keep bad rolls of the dice to a minimum. Some people would suggest this is cheating, but I think it’s a nice touch—it’s a way of letting each player choose how much randomness they want to deal with. You might be someone who saves after every battle so you can always just reset when you get an unlucky turn in combat. You might, like me, just to avoid the permanent death of a party member, while letting every other card fall where it may. Or you might just take everything the game throws at you—it’s really up to you.
Labyrinth of Lost Souls also sports a few other conveniences, at least in comparison to classic Wizardry games. You automatically level up when you earn enough experience points, even mid-dungeon, instead of having to stay a night at the inn. If a dead character’s corpse is left behind in a dungeon, you can choose to pay a fee to retrieve it instead of setting out to do so manually. Each class has a unique combat ability available to it now, like the Thief’s ability to steal gold and the Bishop’s (very useful) party-wide shield. The new Turbo Mode lets you speed up your walking speed, making getting around dungeons much quicker.
A bit more of a tutorial wouldn’t go amiss—as it is, Labyrinth of Lost Souls drops you into the game without so much as going over basic systems. It’s not a complicated game, so most things aren’t difficult to figure out by playing, but there’s still the risk of missing things, like how to use the in-game map.
Presentation leaves something to be desired, too, and not just because this is a port of a 9-year-old game originally made for PlayStation 3. Most aspects of the game are portrayed with non-animated, hand-drawn sprites; they’re nice enough as pieces of artwork, but they can feel lifeless in the context of the game. The visual design of the dungeons are rather bland, too—expect to spend a lot of time surrounded by generic stone walls. This is a game that was made on a limited budget, and it shows.
But anyone who likes a good dungeon crawl shouldn’t be dissuaded by that. Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a throwback to classic Wizardry, but with a few touches to avoid feeling quite as archaic as trying to play the originals today. A lot of people would say this is something that only hardcore Wizardry fans would enjoy, but I disagree—if it’s the more modern crawlers that got you interested in the genre in the first place, Labyrinth of Lost Souls is a great way to get a taste of the “old school” while keeping some of the conveniences that have become standard.