Publisher: Broderbund (Designed by Falcom)
Genre: Adventure
Year of Release: 1990

Date Reviewed: 4-8-99

For all the novelties that characterize it -- ranging from a logo suggestive of either Johnny Five’s head or, more likely, three crowns to the boxes intentionally comprised of one-half cover art and one-half negative space -- Broderbund Software lacks the repute of even the more moderately known NES game producers. An unrecognized, unrewarded organization content to live in obscurity while its stock fluctuates in the domain of “who gives a rodent’s behind?”, this particular company can blame a majority of its life in the shadows on the fact that, at least for the NES, it never entered into the arena of creation. Yet, aspiring to be cognizant of the uncelebrated, I have vague memories of this group’s products. Mention of Broderbund, in my case, brings to mind three specific works -- The Guardian Legend (which had more companies involved in its creation than an average business consolidation), a useless disk-based word processor for the Apple IIe, and the focus of this review -- Legacy of the Wizard. However, while TGL remains almost inexorably among my favorite games and Bank Street Writer never really received a fair evaluation (by the time I acquired it, half of my Apple’s keyboard was totally nonfunctional, and everything I wrote printed with the margins of an epic poem), Legacy has been both the victim and beneficiary of a more volatile history of perception. For a few days after purchasing the game, I played it almost religiously, though only because new NES games were less monetarily accessible at the time (January 1, 1990). However, after exhausting the potential enjoyment in listlessly ambling about the labyrinth, getting lost, trapped, slowly beaten senseless, and not even coming within a canal’s breadth of ONE BLINKIN' CROWN, I sobered up and demoted the cartridge to the status of “paperweight.” Then, in late ‘92, amid the upsurge of the SNES, I received a complementary “Top-Secret Passwords” guide from the magnanimous, if by then Howard-less folks at Nintendo Power. Drawing from this volume (in other words, “cheating like a knavish fourth-grader,”) I managed to cast ol’ Keela against the turf in a smoldering pile of dragon brisket, and satisfied myself, in an effort commanding the utmost fervor of my laziness, that I had “beaten the game.” This keyed a glacial resurgence in my consideration of the product (which had before only existed at the level of “shiny new thing enthrallment”) -- as a result of which I state that Legacy of the Wizard narrowly avoids being inundated by the wave of perception through the merits of one, and only one, redeeming quality.

But I’ll get to that later, knowing as I do that bitching is significantly more fun than lauding. Plus, I want to give you a reason to read the whole review.

Had the medieval era been peopled by a “suburban class”, the Worzens would come close to exemplifying it. Nuclear, moderately comfortable, and possessing the pink cousin of one of those dinosaurs in Bubble Bobble as a pet, this clan seems a microcosm of every other family on the planet -- save for two things (the first being their rather occult animal.) As it happens, the Worzen lot descends directly from a legendary wizard (hence the title of the game), who, aside from bearing more than a passing resemblance to Rutherford B. Hayes, is famed for having sealed Keela, the insidious “Dragon King”, deep underground.

The Worzen family passes its days thus -- leading a pleasant, everyday existence that is not at all hindered by their magical capabilities. However, one day, their pet returns home with the scale of a dragon in his mouth, and in so doing turns their pedestrian existence on its ear. The family immediately concludes that this scale portends the immanent revival of Keela, and recognizes the need to unleash the full extent of its super powers and return to the maze wherein said scourge is confined. Their strategy is to recover four magical crowns which will grant them access to “Dragonslayer” -- the only sword in the world capable of destroying Keela (and it just happens to be in the same labyrinth -- why are adventure games always so truistic?)

Maybe I am a tad persnickety, but the fact that this storyline is mentioned nowhere outside of the instruction booklet knocks its rating down a few rungs, as far as I’m concerned. How painstaking would it possibly have been to program a written synopsis of the situation into the game? Hell, it would probably have saved the programmers the work of coding those little demos that succeed the title screen.

At the beginning of the game, the player chooses a Worzen to control -- at which instigation the character changes, in a flash of light, from their familial garb to some sort of “heroic” regalia. There are five family members available, each with his/her respective specialties and shortcomings. Xemn (the father), being a burly man, is able to use “the glove”, which enables him to move certain textured blocks, but is also rather sluggish and immobile (couldn’t have thought of that one, could ya?) Meyna (the mother), possesses the most powerful magic, but, like Xemn, is not particularly fast. Lyll (the daughter) is lithe, and thus can jump the highest, but (take a guess) is more vulnerable to harm than any of her lot. Pochi (the pet), as he is a monster, sustains no harm upon touching other monsters, but is devoid of any other impressive capability. Roas (the son) is average in all traditional capacities, but is the only member of the family capable of wielding the Dragonslayer (fitting, since his “morphed” form looks something like a knight.)

This diversity of skill is one of the many RPG-like qualities evident in the game. Each character comes equipped with a limited “magic meter”, so as to forbid perpetual firing. Also, there are several keys which allow one to open various treasure chests, most of which contain either a magic-refill or bread (aka “life”.) Gold is used as currency (surprise surprise), expendable in any of the game’s shops (which vend myriad “accessories” -- only a few of them, such as the Elixir and the Glove, appear useful; the rest all have to be combined in some strange way) and inns (if you don’t know what these are for, stop reading this review and go play with the Really Big Button that Doesn’t Do Anything).

With all of this in mind (or not -- very little of it figures into the actual game in any positive way), the player sets out from the Worzen home, traveling first through a forest with a view of a semi-majestic, albeit unimportant white castle (uninvolved in the business of making hamburgers with holes, contrary to popular belief), and then down a ladder into the vast maze itself. A superficial examination of either area reveals that Falcom’s graphic artists will not have exhibits in any galleries in the foreseeable future. All the grounds (and once you get into the maze, “ground” comprises floor, ceiling, and every surface in between) consist of self-repeating stamps, and, save in certain places, the game lacks an apt balance of foreground and background. The characters do not get lost in the backgrounds, per se (though some sprite-outlining would have improved matters exponentially), but every single inaccessible surrounding is so bright as to make one yearn for the parts of the labyrinth with no background at all. Overridingly, the artists do not seem to have been trying. I will say this, though: the enemy sprites make excellent use of the little space they are allotted, conveying distinguishable creatures that would be pleasant to view were there not so blasted many of them perpetually crawling all over everything.

Overkill in regard to the enemy population, though, is only one of the problems plaguing the haunts of this game, and by no means the worst of them. Sure, the adverse sprites are all over the place, mauling one’s character ad nauseam, and activating the pain-in-the-rump damage detection sound (sort of like static followed by a very poor simulation of metal clanging against itself). However, the heroes’ life meters are quite expansive, and the maze is blanketed with inns and shops (side comment: how much business could these places possibly expect to turn while they’re located forty feet underground?), thereby rendering death by onslaught a virtual impossibility. The real problem stems from the statistical diversification of each character. In the case of every character’s skills, the cons outweigh the pros (excluding the pet, possibly -- climbing on enemies is an uncommon luxury). Moreover, the path forks, very early on, in four possible directions -- one per crown and character capable of reaching said crown. Since every Worzen can access any of these four paths, but only one can complete each, there is no way to be certain of which way to go. This is problematic for three reasons -- first, every path has some point that is difficult to surpass, and the player might be wrongly led to conjecture, in this situation, that he/she is not in control of the correct character for the given path, turn around, and efface all the work exerted in getting to that point; secondly, all of the paths are quite lengthy, and thus one might set off in one direction, remaining on that path for some time before realizing that it is not the proper route for the controlled character; finally, erroneous path selection can literally trap the hero. That is, though the player will be able to access a certain part of the maze, he/she may not be able to depart from it because the hero in use cannot reach the exit. The only choice, in these cases, is to let the character die and begin again. However, due to the aforementioned substantial life meters, that process takes an excessive amount of time, adding further frustration to the already repugnant brew.

The singular positive comment I can securely make in regard to the control or challenge of this game can be stated in two words: “no recoil.” Half of the falls incurred are from heights that force damage upon the hero. In many situations, advancing into the next corridor is such an exacting process that it mandates a “try, try again” attitude (not at all supported by Legacy’s failure to engross, I might add). Much of the time, the only way to return to one’s previous location involves suicide (whether the player’s or the hero’s can be left to a coin toss, in some cases -- this game has probably been known to elicit both actions). However, at least the heroes do not fly feet backwards upon contact with enemies. I suppose the programmers figured that advancing forward was problematic enough without that factor thrown into the mix -- or, more likely, it just didn’t fit the interface to which they aspired.

So, what is it that saves this game? What is that factor to which I alluded nine long paragraphs ago? After going through the game’s slag heap of faults in mediums both mental and written, I am at pains to speak well of any facet of Legacy -- but this one does demand due notation. Those of you who have read the abridged review are already aware of it, but to complete the picture in this writing, here goes:

It took me fully eight years’ ownership of Legacy of the Wizard to even observe its soundtrack in earnest. Having experienced the actual game in all its problematic, inconceivably rigorous anti-splendor, I assumed that I had seen the full picture. After all, the “bad game with a good soundtrack” is an anomaly. For a variety of reasons -- chief among them the fact that few people in their right minds would purchase a game solely for music -- the inverse of that statement is far more common. However, had I known when I first played this game what I know now about Falcom -- namely, that they were involved with the Ys series -- I would have been quicker to toss aside all the generalities detailed above. Flatly, the music of Legacy of the Wizard upholds the standard that has come to characterize the company -- predictable, tailored to each case, not in any way artistically daring, but absolutely masterful as far as composition is concerned. From the inspiration trumpeted on the title screen to the thrilling, urgent epilogue of the “Credits” tune, the soundtrack draws the game’s world into its own atmosphere, and releases it as an augmented environment. If only it could fix the messed-up design, or reveal plainly where and how one finds those damn crowns in that “augmentation” process, Legacy might have turned out better. Even as things stand, the soundtrack does redeem the game, in some small way.

To anyone who might endeavor to play this game and successfully complete it, I offer these words of advice: “C4TB RSSH 6RXC 1TJH CUTK 3NFT YWMC WJVU”. Repeat these words to Grandpa Worzen, and you will start out having already acquired every crown and the Dragonslayer. Do not actually endeavor to complete this game -- or pursue any of the crowns (I’m convinced that they don’t really exist.) One probably could locate all of said headpieces through a lengthy self-imposed effort to find them, but the game is neither fun nor enthralling enough to compel anybody to do so. What could have helped Legacy of the Wizard? Well, bearing in mind the way it is laid out... it should probably have been marketed as a sound test.

Plot: 7
Graphics: 5
Sound: 9
Play Control: 3.5
Challenge: 1.5

Analytic Score: 5.2

Personal Score: 5.5

Okay, now if this wizard was such an adroit evil-sealer, how did those running things get in there?

As I'm a cat lover, this scene might take my pacifism to new extremes.

To preclude any potential schtick on this matter, I'd like to draw your attention to its total lack of a drive-thru window.

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