Review by Tobalman
"How sad when an action-RPG doesn't live up to its predecessor"
Wizard Fire was never seen in my arcade back in the day. However, I am familiar with the original game, Gate of Doom, or Dark Seal in Japan. Both of these games would fall under the arcade action-RPG category. The RPG elements include: ailments (poisoning, paralysis, etc.), equipping items (armor, gauntlets, etc.), using magic (from the spell book) and there is a bit of secret exposing (treasure chests) too. All the fighting is done in real time, hence the action element. I am a huge fan of these types of games. Gate of Doom is a great game with some rough edges that could've seen improvement. A couple awesome aspects of the '90 original is the fantasy setting has a gloomy mood fitting of the story, and the workable fighting system. So, when I heard about the sequel, I was happily expecting more of the same Date East goodness or even a genuine improvement. Sadly, my hopes were in vain. In some ways, Wizard Fire has been gutted solely to make the game more appealing to children in '92, and less appealing to fans of the core concept.
Due to their design, the characters in the cut scenes seem to be begging to be put into a Saturday morning cartoon. This can be a good thing or bad thing; yes, the designs are good, but lack any interesting features to make them stand out. Clearly, introducing a revamped art style during the cut scenes wasn't entirely thought through. I miss the cut scenes of the original game. They were more game-ish. The gameplay graphics are similar to those of the original game. If my reader enjoyed those, then he/she will enjoy these graphics. The only complaint I have is the backgrounds. Some of the backgrounds blend into the paths. In other words, the stages give the impression that there is much to explore, but they are actually very linear. This is a little disappointing; why did the designers go to such lengths to make the stages seem so spacious, yet limit the freedom of the paths? Otherwise, everything is colorful, even the stages with the dungeons. This colorfulness is contradictory of the original game though. The game was darker, not just in a visual sense, and this was an indivisible ingredient of the original, overall presentation.
Sound is a mixed bag, literally. The music is overdramatic. The music, overall, seems too simple to be in the game, like it is unfinished. I believe there are only two full tracks: one for the stages and another for the bosses. The effects are nothing special at all: clangs and bangs. In fact, they are rather mediocre and can become repetitive. My main gripe with the sound is that everything seems to be coming out of the same channel. This means when too many sounds are going on at the same time, some of the sounds will get drowned out by others. Sometimes this means the music will suddenly drown out the effects or visa versa (or some effects will drown out other effects). The sound seems to do whatever it wants! The voice acting during the cut scenes are unspeakably bad. It's like the voice actors had never acted in their lives and are naturally bad at it! One would be hard pressed to find any worse, flat voice acting in video games.
The controls would be good if the camera view wasn't capturing the action from an angle. These sorts of views always bungle the controls of a game, no matter how great the game concept is. Wizard Fire is no exception. Progressing through the game requires moving in a diagonal direction, which is awkward. If this wasn't weird enough, engaging enemies is more so. Enemies will move along the angle of the camera (diagonally), and will require the player to move either diagonally up or down (whichever way the enemy moved), and realign with the enemy. Basically, the four main directions are upward-left, upward-right, downward-left and downward-right (although up, down, left and right are also present) feats difficult to consistently pull off with a joystick. Video games simply weren't meant to be played at such an angle. The two buttons are functional. The basic attack varies between each character. I don't know why they even included a magic attack, since it is rarely used, which brings me to the shortcoming of the gameplay: imbalance.
As mentioned, the game concept is great: arcade style action-RPG in a fantasy setting. There are a couple new characters, and an equipping system. Imbalance, however, can be seen both in the equipping and the fighting systems. For example, the basic attack a character has varies in range, but they all seem to do hardly any damage to even the most basic enemies. In other words, Wizard Fire is a button masher, but unnecessarily so. Basic enemies shouldn't take as many hits as they to do be defeated. In turn, the overpowered enemies become a hassle to deal with. The boss battles are torture. The bosses just have one or two attacks, but they are very powerful. All the while, the player has to feverishly mash away with his or her modest little attack. It's like bringing a knife to a gun fight. Magic, in theory, is supposed to balance out the fighting system. The way the magic works is after so many successfully landed basic attacks, a magic spell is gained. The magic that is used will be taken at random from the turning pages of the spell book at the bottom of the screen (like in the first game).
I believe there are a couple new spells to use, but they don't even seem worth the effort. There are three big problems with the magic: 1. it takes forever to build up the meter for a magic spell more so than in the first game. 2. When used, the magic seems to last shorter than it did in the first game, and it even seems less powerful. 3. Once a character loses a life, an unused magic spell will be lost and/or the meter will be reset. Problem three was apparent in the original, although I recall the magic being more abundant in Gate of Doom. What's the problem with the equipping system? The items that can be equipped are useful, no doubt, but, like magic, once the player loses a life, the items are lost. Unlike magic, though, they are scattered where the character was last, so to be available for pick up (but only for a moment). Items found in chests and by beating enemies, therefore, are lost in a whim, and become frustrating to keep track of.
The enemies are so cheap, and the player will be losing so many lives per minute that it will make one shrug and say, "What's the point?" Really, what is the point of saving up for magic and equipping items? I ask my reader to try and consistently save up for magic spells and keep items to see how quickly it can become frustrating. These systems clearly are broken, but not in favor of the player. Basically, the player battles a sleuth of overpowered enemies through a linear, medieval-themed stage, then faces an overpowered boss at the end. Magic will be non-existent and many items will be lost. The player will go through coins like water to sustain this. Repeat five times for the ending. Many RPG elements go well with the hack 'n' slash/beat 'em up genre, but it is a shame that the concept didn't translate well in Wizard Fire. It seems like the developers were trying to make this game too commercial and, in turn, lost sight of what made Gate of Doom so enjoyable.
The action-RPG genre has been sorely overlooked both by developers and players for far too long. If it weren't for the broken fighting and equipping systems, and awkward camera angle, Wizard Fire would've helped further situate the genre in a favorable light to others. What we get, unfortunately, is a troubled attempt at executing a great idea. Furthermore, this game seems too ambitious, and, in the process of trying to make it better than the original, the developers actually left out what made the first game so enjoyable: the powerful, more abundant magic spells, the gloomy setting and the straight forward, game-like story. Therefore, Wizard Fire is a noticeable second to Gate of Doom. Still, though, Wizard Fire is more enjoyable than many of the arcade adventure games of the time. Wizard Fire could've been so much better, if only Data East had stuck with what made the original game so enjoyable for me. Retro action-RPGs are scarce enough as it is, and it is a disappointment when the few games we have to choose from are riddled with such noticeable flaws. The original Dark Seal or Valkyrie no Densetsu outclass this game in every way.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 01/03/11, Updated 01/03/11
Game Release: Wizard Fire (US, 1992)
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