Monday, June 16, 2008

The Legacy of the Wizard

Legacy of the Wizard was released in 1987 for the MSX and Famicom in Japan. Two years later it was ported to the NES in America. Unknown to many American gamers, this game was actually the 4th in the Dragon Slayer series (most of which are Metroidvanias). Hence its Japanese name: Dragon Slayer IV: Drasle Family.

Who are the Drasle family? Well, let's meet them! Xemn is the head of the family, a brave woodcutter who lobs axes at his enemies. His wife, Mayna, is a wicked wizard and can fly (provided you have the right item). They have two children: a daughter, Lyll, and a son, Roas. Lyll looks like a Native American, and Roas is clearly an alien. Lyll is capable of incredible jumps, and Roas knows how to use a sword. Jiela and Douel are the children's grandparents, and can assist the player in saving at any time. Last but not least, Pochi, the family pet is actually a sentient monster (and as a result he is immune to monster attacks).

Legacy is a side-scrolling adventure action-rpg... in other words: a Metroidvania. The goal of the game is to guide the family deep into an underground maze, where you must recover 4 crowns. Each character (except Roas) has a crown to find, and Roas must find the legendary sword, DragonSlayer.

The key aspect to understanding Legacy of the Wizard is an appreciation for its massive scope. The maze is comprised of 16x16 screens... effectively doubling the overworld in Legend of Zelda. It sounds less impressive than it actually is, to get a good understand of the scale, just look at the full map. To continue the comparison: Zelda's map is very open, though there are some twisted passages and secrets, the player can move around the screens easily. In Legacy of the Wizard, however, the rooms are devilishly designed, and players will spend hours trying to navigate a single room (obviously, this only applies to the most difficult of the rooms). Puzzles are everywhere. Hidden blocks and blocks that disintegrate are plentiful, and monsters run loose and regenerate.

When you kill a monster it will drop either food (which increases your life), a potion (which refills your magic), a key, some gold, or poison. Every regular attack drains your magic, so you'll have to rely on more than brute strength to get you through the game.

I found the game at a Flea Market sometime around 2000, and had never heard of the game. It had a decent title, and cool cover, so I figured, "What the hell?" and bought it. Immediately I understood how incredible this game was. The graphics were simple, as all NES games are, but crisp and inspired. The monsters were block-sized, the characters where block-sized, and all the blocks were block-sized... it was such a unique little world begging to be explored. Exploring was definitely the only thing I could do with the game, because I couldn't figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do.

But it didn't matter. I could play as several characters, each with distinct powers, and explore underground castles, mazes, puzzles, huge expansive chambers, towers, ladders... and every area has a rich, bright, and wonderful color palate. The game has some pretty catchy tunes, which is always a plus. I hope the pure intensity of the game is apparent in the screenshots I've taken.

This went on for years, every now and again I'd pop the game in (with a little blowing and cart-wiggling) and see if I had magically gotten better at the game, or if I would solve its mysteries. No dice. A few months ago I decided to beat this game, once and for all, and, as of the writing of this article, about 80% finished with Legacy of the Wizard. Yes, I caved and started using a walkthrough, but it increased the fun ten-fold. In thirty minutes I was able to accomplish more than I had in 8 years of stumbling around the dungeon. Believe me when I say items are hidden... and that items are hidden very well.

Also of note is that Faxanadu, which has been previously covered, is something of a side story. Both games are excellent. Hopefully this game won't elude me for much longer, I've got nowhere to go and it's getting dark outside. Time to turn the music up, print out some maps, and finish off that motherfucking dragon, once and for all.


Anonymous said...

Exploring was definitely the only thing I could do with the game, because I couldn't figure out what the fuck I was supposed to do.

Hahaha, good one.

I can't believe I was able to win this back in the day. I think it may have taken me 3 weeks to a month of solid playing it, every day, for hours and hours on end (ah, youth = lots of time on your hands).

Good thing you have the cart, as I hear it's impossible to beat LotW on an emulator (something about Keela being on a different layer than Raos so he can't damage the dragon.)

Unknown said...

I followed this via GameSpot's forum for the game. Known there as 'ChampionOfLight' Reposted what I said there for your readers cleaned up of errors, and added a little at the end.

My experience with this game was exactly like yours, only difference being that I bought the game new back in December 1989...on my 10th B-day. In fact it was the first video game I ever bought with my own cash...allowance and Christmas money put together....but anyways... I had rented it a couple times prior to buying it, but didn't know what the heck I was doing either.

A lost little puppy you could say, within that massive underground maze.

In fact, this went on for a good year (pretty much all of 1990)......spent that whole year just trying to figure out what to do, while exploring all the various rooms I could find hidden away, along with any items they held. Some parts of the map are VERY well hidden blocks to move or no doors to open with a key...nada.

For the longest time the only crown I could find was Pochi's.

Then another part that got me frustrated was in Xemn's area. I could never get one of the blocks in this one room to move even when pushing the button's the right way.

I'll never forget how ecstatic I felt when I -FINALLY- got that un-movable block to finally give way into the deeper areas of Xemn's section. Happened around this time....some 18 years ago.

For me, the hardest crown to get to is Meyna's. Part of it is because the last couple rooms leading to it have very strong monsters that can knock up to 10 or more life bars each hit. Trust me, you need as full of a life meter you can attain when going after the main boss in her section that holds the crown.

Xemn's is second-hardest, since you have to learn how to move blocks around into 'stairs' and a technique I can only describe as 'block riding' is needed in some parts.

My beef with his area is that room with those long vertical columns of moveable blocks. HIGHLY annoying. Worse yet it's in ALL versions of this game.

The music is by the famed composer of Ys' earlier games (at least the first two, maybe the third), Yuzo Koshirou. What I like about LotW's pieces ...and really all his game compositions in general (since I also played some of the Ys series) is that they're not boring or somber like many 'exploration' tunes can be in many adventure / RPGs. The music adds this element of urgency, and the drive to partake in deep exploration. The MSX and NES ports have a few different tracks between them.....mainly the item screen, Pochi's section, and some other pieces (Meyna's section comes to mind) have extended intros that were left off the NES port. The NES version seems to also have one track that isn't used in the game at all.

All i can say is if it weren't for each section having its own unique musical theme, that large map would have been 10x harder to go through than it already was.

Anyhow, good blog. You summed it up pretty well. Keep at this game......with persistance you'll turn that 80% into 100% - completed.

Now for a few more things I couldn't put forth in the GS forum, due to their "no emulator talk' policy.

Ditto on finding this in cart form. Forget'll just freeze up when you beat Keela. That whole 'dragon room' actually is a different layer and palette (blocks, backgrounds, etc) than the rest of the games areas use. Something in the code seems to cause the game in emulation to just give out when you beat him.

If you want to try any of the Japanese versions, look for the MSX-2 version of Dragon Slayer IV: Draslefamily. It's the closest to the Famicom/NES port. Find an emulator that can play MSX-2 games, and then hunt down the game file itself. Be warned though....if you thought our version was hard, DS IV:Draslefamily is moreso. Harder sections on the map, more warp points, for examples.

I wouldn't bother with the others. The original MSX version is limited in its color palette and makes sprites difficult to see. The Famicom version put out by Namco/Bandai was exactly the same as our version, only differences being the title screen, the end credits being in Japanese, and the passwords being in Japanese.

I noticed you put an entry on Faxanadu. A game I thought was equally as tough as Legacy was. No big maze to speak of, but a sprawling map littered with large interior areas none-the-less. That game is actually a Famicom/NES-exclusive spin-off of the second Dragon Slayer game, Xanadu. Falcom, I don't think, had any hand in its's all HudsonSoft with that one, but still falls into the Dragon Slayer canon someway.

James Dziezynski said...

I was one of the "lucky ones" who got Legacy of the Wizard when it first came out. I was blown away. I remember pining for the game thanks to the Track and Field II Issue of Nintendo Power (Issue 3 I believe which also featured another favorite game of mine, Ultima: Exodus).

The music is fantastic and I believe was composed by Yuzo Koshiro, who later made my favorite gamescore for Y's Books 1 and 2 on the TG-CD. He also did the music for the Streets of Rage series.

I STILL have a whole notebook of hand drawn maps and passwords for LOTW. Good times man.

(PS- mind if I add you to my blog roll?)

8bitcity said...

I've added your blog to my site's and I'd be awesome if you linked back!

Man, I attempted a LotW map but it was terrible and I abandoned the effort, lol.

has anyone played Sorcerian or Romancia?

Benjamin Fennell said...

We had this when I was a kid, but unfortunately, it's one of our many NES games that ended up being sold further down the line. I could never figure it out, but I loved sitting down with it and trying to figure out where I needed to go and what I needed to go. A definite classic, for sure.