Wizardry 6 might have been one of the most significant gaming experiences I’ve ever had. I do not exaggerate. Yes: It was a great game, but it was also a Symbolic game. 2013 is the year of Bioshock Infinite and Bioshock Infinite was the game of me finally deciding it was time to tell console videogames to fuck off and die; 2013 is the year I began to become a PC gamer. Declaring this intention is all well and good but it takes a trial in order to join a brotherhood and I have decided that my trial will be the successful completion of the Cosmic Forge Trilogy.
I’m not quite ready for Wizardry 7, but the “grindy game where you make your own maps” itch still needs scratching, and to this end I dug out Etrian Odyssey II which I bought four years ago but have never played for more than an hour or two, finding it a little too grindy. This time I’m more or less loving the grind–I’m a little past the halfway mark right now, and I’m sloooooowly running out of steam. I’m still going strong, but the end is still nowhere in sight, and that’s not even beginning to count the post-game content, so I don’t know how far my stamina will hold up.
It’s pretty good. Much more of a Videogame than Wizardry 6 is, particularly with the levels: EOII is just a series of mazes. You’re explicitly exploring a Labyrinth, and while there’s more visual diversity to the levels–you completely change environments every few floors or so–there’s never any pretense that you’re doing anything more than simply exploring a maze that’s there for the sake of being a maze. Wizardry 6 takes you through temples and castles and forests and mines, and every single level is navigated differently, and the entire thing holds together in a architecturally logical and consistent way.
But EOII is much less interested in giving a world to explore; it’s much more of a firehose, a series of levels and a ton of battles in between them and very, very little bullshit. In some respects, it’s even more bare-bones than W6. Its story is certainly less interesting–and to its credit, its story is never treated as anything more than set dressing. There’s a maze; there’s a bunch of people interested in exploring the maze; there’s a few quests designed to pace exploration and a few lines of text giving context for each; and then it’s just you, the maze, and a shitload of monsters. Wizardry 6 had more of a backstory than an actual plot, and its era led to some extremely skeletal writing, but its altogether more meaningful.
It’s all forward motion–you have no home base but trudge forward, crossing and recrossing occasional areas as needed. You rest where you can. Wizardry 6 is the long, epic, arduous journey of six people that you can have up to two more adventures with and probably end up getting fairly close to. Etrian Odyssey II is more cyclical–you trudge a bit through the dungeon until you have too much loot or not enough mana and then you warp back to the town where you stock up on supplies and flirt with the cute shopkeeper and bullshit with the bartender and get some quests and sleep at the inn and go to the Duke’s Palace in the morning to report the stuff you found the day before and then it’s back to more trudging. It’s altogether more comfortable–it allows you to set up a routine in the game.
And an unexpected bit of emotion: I named my characters after my Wizardry 6 party–unfortunately unable to take Urghula because EOII only allows parties of five characters–because I figured, okay, even though I don’t want to take them into Wizardry 7 quite yet it would be fun to take them on another adventure. But In Etrian Odyssey, the focus isn’t on creating a party–it gives the conceit of managing a guild of adventurers. And to force that, the level cap is at 70–as I said, I’m about the halfway point and my characters are in their 60s. After I think level 30, you can let a character retire–they’re gone forever, but a new recruit steps in their place at half their level, with higher-than-natural stats and a higher level cap. Retiring characters becomes the key to letting your characters grind further and it becomes necessary after a while. And the last few levels before retirement suddenly become strikingly sad. The skills you pick for them become even more meaningful; you begin to regret skill trees you didn’t go down; you begin to wonder if you should create a character of the same class.
And you miss them. I just parted with Frunk the Ronin in return for Hank the Beast, and I don’t trust Hank. I miss Frunk. Fucker did like 300 damage every hit.
Look, it’s not a philosophically deep game. Its various systems work with each other well; it’s sophisticated in its way, but it’s also a grindfest. Long as you can mark up a graph and persist in doing random encounters, you can beat the game. But the character development is nice–there are a lot of possible party combinations and I appreciate that the game forces you to try out a lot of them–and it is a Rewarding game.
Still. I don’t doubt that Wizardry 7 will be the more Meaningful experience.