Thursday, September 3, 2020

Game 377: Wizardry: Suffering Of The Queen (1991)

Titles online often include Gaiden after Wizardry or include "Episode 1." Neither is present on the title screen. I believe even the original Japanese title screen was in English.
Wizardry: Suffering of the Queen
ASCII (developer and publisher)
Released 1991 for Game Boy
Date Started: 18 August 2020
Date Ended: 21 August 2020
Total Hours: 9
Difficulty: Moderate-Hard (3.5/5)
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at time of posting: (to come later)
The eight games in the Wizardry series are well known to western CRPG players. It is arguably the most influential series of all time (although it was itself heavily influenced by the early PLATO titles), spawning The Bard's Tale, Might and Magic, and Dungeon Master lines, and even influencing Exodus: Ultima III. I still find the original Wizardry (1981) remarkable for its combat tactics and the exquisite tension that it builds as you explore each level and cope with the specter of permadeath.
Combat in this game is identical to the western Wizardry titles.
What most western players probably don't realize is that the series has a life in Japan that, at least quantitatively, exceeds its legacy in the United States. In addition to the influential translations of the original games, Japan saw more than ten original titles and remakes for the Game Boy, PlayStation, NES, SNES, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 between 1991 and 2013, plus a 2013 MMORPG called Wizardry Online (2013). These games weren't just unauthorized knockoffs seeking to capitalize on the Wizardry name. As we'll soon see, you're more likely to untangle Jarndyce v. Jarndyce than figure out who actually owns the rights to the series, but the earliest Japanese titles, at least, were developed under license from Sir-Tech, and they take thematic elements from the western games.
The party explores the dungeon. The interface elements go away until you call for them.
Commenter Alex has written a guest entry on the Japanese Wizardry series, which I'll publish soon, but to put it in context, I wanted to take a look at the first of the series, Suffering of the Queen, after having first familiarized myself with the Game Boy by playing its first RPG offering. Suffering is the first of a pair of Game Boy titles published by ASCII; the second, Curse of the Ancient Emperor, would follow in 1992. Suffering is something of a sequel to Wizardry II and III in that it takes place in Llylgamyn and references the Staff of Gnlida. I'm playing a fan translation from about 2013.
Credits for the translation.
I was surprised to see that aside from some minor graphical and mechanical differences, Suffering plays almost exactly like an early-1980s Wizardry scenario. You create a party of six characters from the same races and classes; you have a menu town on top of a multi-leveled dungeon. The shop names are the same; combat works the same; spells are not only the same but have the same nonsense names (mercifully "translated" in the English patch). The navigational obstacles that you face, traps, item identification, and character leveling systems all work the same. So much is the same that a veteran Wizardry player would only have to be told about a few minor differences. The authors were clearly trying to bring the Wizardry I-III console experience directly to a handled device.
As Suffering opens, the player is dropped without comment into the menu town of Llylgamyn, presented graphically instead of textually. Icons correspond to the major service locations: Boltac's (shop), Gilgamesh's Tavern, the temple, the inn, the guild, and the dungeon entrance.
Llylgamyn is a graphical menu town.
One difference from the earlier series is that the castle is a visitable location, and it's here that you get rare updates to the game's plot. When you visit the first time, you learn: "The traitor Taros is pursuing forbidden research in the dungeon. Disaster struck insistently in the past year. The power protecting Llylgamyn weakens. Now the people are murmuring about Princess Sorx. She vanished mysteriously at midnight." External sites clarify that Sorx is the queen's sister, but they give her name as Sokusu and the villain's name as, amusingly, Thailand Rossum. I don't know if the shorter versions are just a way to abbreviate them for the screen or if they're choices made by the English translators.
The titular queen doesn't show up until the endgame.
Characters are created from humans, elves, dwarves, gnomes, and hobbits and good, neutral, and evil alignments. Then a pool of "bonus" points is distributed among strength, intelligence, piety, vitality, speed, and luck, with the base values having been determined by race. The attribute allocation determines what classes are available: fighter, mage, thief, priest, samurai, lord, bishop, and ninja. As in the original game, the bonus pool is usually 7-10 points but then occasionally rockets up to 18-20.  You need such luck to start as any of the prestige classes; even then, some of the classes are out of the reach of a starting character. You cannot mix good and evil characters in the same party.
Creating a new character.
After character creation, I was thrown when I found that Boltac's shop was "SOLD OUT" of most of the basic starter equipment, but it turns out in this version, characters start with a basic set of weapons and armor in their possession. As you find better stuff in the dungeon, it's not "+1" or "+2," but rather an escalating set of synonyms for the base weapon. For instance, swords progress along the line of sword, rapier, epee, katana, and cutlass. Ultra high-level items are given special names like "Saber of Evil" and "Mjollnir." The same weird "invoke" system is present where you can sacrifice some pieces of equipment for permanent attribute changes.
The dungeon beneath the castle is six or twelve (see below) levels of 16 x 16, slightly smaller than the original games, likely to make the automap fit on the smaller screen. The game has a competent automap, called by the DUMAPIC spell (in the original, it just gave coordinates and facing direction), but I mapped the first six levels myself just so I'd have something to do. (Later, the "Teleport" spell, MALOR, also makes use of the automap.) Also, the multiple interconnected stairways, chutes, and teleporters are hard to understand unless you experience and annotate them yourself.
My maps of the first six levels. Darkened squares are literally dark squares (no light works), not indications that you can't go there.
The features of the first three games are all here: random and fixed encounters, messages, traps, chutes, teleporters, spinners, dark squares, locked doors, hidden doors, one-way doors. There's even an elevator. The major changes that I see are:
  • None of the levels wrap east-west or north-south.
The automap works extremely well in this game, but it doesn't annotate teleporters.
  • The bestiary is a mix of enemies from the early Wizardry games and some invented for this game. As far as I can tell, the artwork is original even when a creature's name is re-used from an earlier Wizardry.
"Nocorns" were in Wizardry II or III, but this is a new graphic.
  • You select spell and trap names from a list instead of typing them. In the case of spells, the English patch translators put the spell effects in the list rather than the original names (e.g., MAHALITO, MOLTO), which is a big bonus.
The mage's available spells for each slot appear as a list.
  • The thief character is a lot more successful in disarming traps than in my experiences with the DOS versions of Wizardry I-III.
  • Spellcasters have to rest to restore spell slots; they don't replenish automatically upon leaving the dungeon.
  • Instead of encountering "friendly" monsters occasionally, you oddly get the option to "hunt" some monsters if you want to be evil or leave them alone if you want to be good.
The only way to show virtue in the game.
  • You can't just walk through walls to find secret doors; you have to "Search" for them. Once found, the door remains visible for the rest of the game.
This difference is explained in a message square.
  • The early game is notably easier than in the originals. Full-party death is rare.
  • You can manually save the game while in the middle of a dungeon and restore from that point.
I'm sure there are other differences--it's been a long time since I've played any of the early Wizardry titles--but most of the ones I listed are positive. (And for all I know, some or all of them were present in the Japanese console ports of the original games.) Everything else, the authors imported faithfully, even the stuff that didn't make a lot of sense, such as the bishop getting struck with fear while trying to identify equipment or characters sometimes losing attributes when leveling up. Murphy's Ghost even appears as a repeating fixed encounter on Level 2, although he's not worth quite as much experience.
My thief's inventory late in the game.
Suffering even mimics the first games' approach to saving and permadeath. Everything that happens in the town gets automatically saved, and you can manually save in dungeons for later play. But character deaths and full-party deaths get immediately written to the file, so you can't reload to cheat them. (You can still sort-of cheat by "taking out the batteries" the moment it's clear death is imminent.) If the full party dies, you can have another party find their bodies and bring them back to town for resurrection. In general, character state is independent from, and more important than, game state, as most places that are gated are gated by inventory. Still, I'm not entirely sure how the game determines that a particular character (especially if he's assembled into a new party) has already unlocked a particular door or seen a particular message.
Gideon levels up and gains intelligence.
Combat is easier, but there's sill a lot of variability, and you have to make your decision carefully about when you're ready to descend to the next level. You also have to be careful about saving spell slots for the return journey and keeping an eye on exactly how you'll get back home. I love the tension--the palpable fear--that the first game manages as you constantly decide whether to push forward or play it safe. Some of the most delicious moments are those when you get teleported, or sent down a chute, and you don't know how to get home.
The party surprises an enemy party.
I also always enjoy the early Wizardry attention to combat tactics, with its magic system exquisitely balanced so you never have quite enough spell slots to feel comfortable. Do I blast this enemy party with a LAHALITO and a BARIKO just to be sure, or do I spread out the damage to two parties and hope that the dice go my way? Do I spend this Level 5 cleric slot on a DIALMA (healing) for my main character, or do I save it for a BADI (death) against my next high-level foe? My opinion is that the original authors got the spell system exactly right back in 1981, and every attempt to change it has ruined the balance. Suffering doesn't really change it.
My bishop casts a mass-damage spell.
Most of the game is fighting combats, leveling the characters, and exploring the next square. Eventually, you do hit some plot developments. A fixed combat on Level 3 leads to a teleporter that takes you to a hidden area on Level 2, where a woman gives you a silver key and a message to pass on to the queen: "Nemesis is drawing near. Doom will devour Llylgamyn." If you go back to the castle after this encounter, you meet with some "wise men" who give you a little more information about the main plot, including the fact that the missing Sorx is the queen's sister. The key, meanwhile, opens the way to an elevator on Level 1, making visits to the first five levels much faster.
Hence, the title.


On Level 5, you have to assemble a time bomb out of a clock and a chest of explosives (purchased from an "old man" in a separate encounter) to blast the way down to the sixth level.

If it weren't for this sign, we probably wouldn't have even thought of it.
The sixth level has numerous teleporters connecting its various sections and lots of squares that automatically warp the party back to the town. Eventually, you find your way to the ultimate encounter with Taros, who attacks with a high-level fighter named "Flack." Flack is capable of poisoning and stoning with his weapon, and Taros can cast the TILTOWAIT ("nuke") spell, so this is the time to unleash everything you have. I stupidly played with a mage, a cleric, and a bishop in my back three (I always fall for the idea that the bishop will be useful) instead of two mages or two clerics, so it took me a few tries to beat Taros.
My cleric damages Taros in the big battle.
You get an orb when you beat him--it wouldn't be a Japanese game without an orb--and a teleporter in the chamber beyond warps you back to the town. If you visit the castle at this point, you see the queen herself and get a series of screens that together seem like an endgame message:
The queen sits on the throne. A tinge of grief is on her face. "Llylgamyn and I applaud you for your courage and wisdom." You are awarded a title. "I will go on fighting for my people alone." The queen smiles faintly. "Thank you. Now go and rest." However, everyone knows it's just the beginning. Peace is finally restored to Llylgamyn. However, secrets still lurk elsewhere . . .
Doesn't this seem like a winning screen?
I thought that was a pretty definitive endgame message, if a bit enigmatic in translation and obviously setting up a sequel, so imagine my surprise when I was visiting some web sites post-game and found that there are actually six more levels! There's another teleporter in the room beyond Taros that takes you to a new dungeon of six more levels. Apparently, the big boss in the second half is Sorx, although none of the walkthroughs I consulted really explained how she turned into a villain.
I thought I'd won, but the game offers to take me to even more adventures.
The game apparently wraps up on five levels of the second dungeon, but there's a sixth level that features even tougher monsters in case you want to continue building your party. According to the sites I consulted, if you could find one of every item in the game and sell it to Boltac, you'll be rewarded with The Book of Nature, a special item containing the passwords necessary to transfer your characters into other Wizardry games.
I started playing the second half, even getting my characters to a high enough level that my mage could cast the MALOR spell, but I ran out of steam. As much as I was enjoying this return to basic Wizardry, it was taking time away from my main list, and I don't think I was really discovering anything new. In fact, the fun drops significantly for me once the characters are capable of casting every spell in the game; there's much less to look forward to with each level-up (which occur at more distant intervals anyway). I don't know if I "won" the game or not. The messages I got suggested that I completed the main quest and that the rest of the game is a kind of bonus challenge, much like the "second round" of The Legend of Zelda or the "Phase 2" of Dragon Slayer.
The box made use of the traditional Wizardry font and logo.
Suffering was directed by Hiroshi Mita, who had directed the Japanese NES conversions of the first three Wizardry titles between 1987 and 1990, so it makes sense that this adaptation hewed so closely to their formula. He would later go on to direct the conversion of Wizardry V in 1992 and Bane of the Cosmic Forge in 1995. Although he wasn't involved, ASCII's follow-up, Curse of the Ancient Emperor (1992), seems to use the same engine, although telling a more original and expansive story. A third handheld Wizardry, Summoner, was published in 2001 by Media Rings for the Game Boy Advance, but even it uses the traditional mechanics (with significant graphical upgrades).
I was surprised to find a game that followed the original Wizardry template so closely, and thus had a better time than expected. It is markedly different than The Final Fantasy Legend in tone, but I suspect its strengths and weaknesses would balance, and it would score on the GIMLET somewhat close to Adventure's 38 (which would make sense, since I put the original Wizardry at 37). For the second time, I'm surprised to find a far more tactically-oriented game than I would have expected for a handheld device.


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