Now THIS is a bit more like it.
Let’s take a tour. The small vertical patch of green in the lower-left is where I started the game. A path leads north from there through a patch of orchids which, Wizard of Oz style, make my party pass out and wake up somewhere else. Going east, that blob is New City; the blob to the far east is a town called Munkharama. North of New City, in a further foresty area, and underground, is the first “real” dungeon that I’ve spent any amount of time in. This is Castle Orkogre, the castle of an orc-like race called the Gorn. As I mentioned, the main quest of the game concerns a treasure hunt for pieces of a map to the game’s Ultimate MacGuffin, and after getting massively stuck on a puzzle in the castle–one of those where I used the right item but facing the wrong direction–I opened a chest to find one of the map pieces…only to find, as the punchline, that another faction had gotten to it already.
I’m beginning to get a handle on how the game works, a bit. There’s a specific moment in Wizardry 6 I’m thinking of–a character offers to give you information in exchange for the location of a treasure, and if you find the treasure later on, the chest is empty except for a thank-you note from that character. That’s essentially what’s going on here–other factions are searching for the same things as you, and while I’m not sure exactly how the mechanics of THEIR search is going–and why they all apparently decided to reset the puzzles and lock all the doors after they were done–it actually really fucking works. We are all kind of in a race against time.
Wizardry 6 has a lot in common with Resident Evil-style survival horror games, at least structurally. You start off in a gigantic castle full of locked doors, and the entire first quarter-to-third of the game is spent slowly opening it up and getting access to more and more of the castle. As you go, you find passages to other surrounding areas–a mine, a mountain, a temple, a forest–which, while not quite as large as the castle are all different sorts of mapping challenges. But there’s a tightness to Wizardry 6–everything centers around this castle and connects to it in at least two different ways. On a plot level, discovering what went on in the castle is your main goal, and so having the game physically centered around it does one of those location-as-character things: You keep on going back to it and learning a little more about it; the castle is such an important that the very world keeps looping back to it.
Lost Guardia is a little more sprawling–the game seems to consist of self-contained dungeons connected by as large, rambling forest overworld. The world map that comes with the game shows the top half to be a bunch of locations connected by a literal road, and in fact there’s been really little off the beaten path so far: Castle Orkogre is the only real thing I’ve discovered that didn’t have a road leading to it. And so the planet itself begins to become a character; what impresses me is how it uses a lot of the same techniques as Wizardry 6 but to a very different effect. Wizardry 7 is a wandering romp through a large planet, and the factional divisions are almost literally represented by the dungeons’ isolation.
Wizardry 7 is literally a game about the decline brought on by separation due to the lust for power. Meeting the Gorn King is almost heartbreaking. The Gorn are, essentially, poetic Orcs; the King sits on his throne and mutters philosophically about how he’s seen his once-proud race go from a mighty empire to a bunch of warring tribes bent on destroying each other; he views the party’s treasure hunt as insult to injury, almost. Not only is he seeing the end of the Gorn Empire, the very land and territory that’s being fought over isn’t even itself important: It’s simply the site for what’s essentially an arms race between alien invaders. I’ve had brief interactions with the Munks and the Danes, two of the other major factions in the game. The Munks are, as you’d imagine, guys in robes, basically karate friars, and the one I’ve had the most interaction with is a drunk who grumbles pathetically about how he wants to get those rotten Dane; the Dane, as represented by the one member I’ve met so far, are a race of tall, blue-skinned people who ramble ad nauseum about repenting and the end of days.
You know, I like a little bit of ambiguity in games, and I think about my party’s motivation for this quest we’re on. Wizardry 6 is almost a pure example of a “because it’s there” game–you’re explicitly billed as a group of adventurers who discovered this long-lost castle and decide to explore it. Our reason for embarking on Wizardry 7–depending on your ending in 6 you begin 7 in one of several places and with certain alignments and paths suggested–is solely because another character picked us up, tols us to find this treasure, and warned us against someone called the Dark Savant, who’s probably legitimately a bad guy because of his name and because his ship is creepy. But this is all an extension of that original adventurer personality: Your party is, quite literally, a bunch of RPG characters looking for something to do. You have no personal connection to the events–other than the small matter of the events in the trilogy apparently affecting everybody in the entire Cosmos, of course–and are just kind of along for the ride. The planet of Guardia doesn’t stand a chance; it doesn’t have an existence for itself; it’s just a location that a bunch of people are going to fight in and then depart when their adventure’s done. The inhabitants, if there are any left, ar ethe ones who’re going to have to stay behind and clean up the mess that everyone left.