It’s no secret by now that I’m a big mark for Wizardry, and games very similar to Wizardry. The concept of creating a cast of characters, then sending them into this dark, cold endurance test of fighting monsters and navigating traps is a winning one. Even when the world has come to an end, and we’re all fighting over basic necessities via motorsport deathmatches, driving around in really sick Rat Fink style hot rods, I’ll still be ending my days hunched over a computer, navigating a fictional dungeon. At least until I’m bludgeoned to death by some leather fetishist when he finds out that I have the last Snickers bar in North America.
Dungeon Crawlers are addicting. For me, anyway. I would imagine that the hours I pour into these games is similar to those with an addiction to MMOs, only I don’t have the excuse of being in a social environment, sticking with the solo, lonely nature of looking at numbers and taking notes. But let’s not psychoanalyze my mindset based only on my taste in games
Elminage Original is one of these attention-grabbing Dungeon Crawlers. Elminage as a series is something that “gets” the magic of Wizardry far better than a lot of similar games. This makes sense, given that the developers, Starfish, actually made a bunch of post Sir-Tech Wizardry games, most notably Wizardry Empire on the Game Boy Color. Unfortunately, this is only one of the two Elminage titles that left Japan; Elminage Gothic being the other one.
EO is very much in line with Wizardry 1 through 3: make characters, go into dungeons, fight monsters, find magical artifacts, repeat. And like the old-school games it’s influenced by, it does all of this with very little story behind it. You finish the first floor, go back to the king, he tells you to go find some magic rings, and then suddenly the world is now open to you. The world, of course, being more dungeons. Regular dungeons. Forest dungeons. Underwater dungeons. Each of these dungeons with multiple floors. Multiple floors made up of maze-like corridors and traps. Lots of cold, dangerous hell holes full of cool-looking monsters hell-bent on killing the blank slates you’ve created. This may sound repetitive, and it probably is if you’re like, normal or something. But if you’re like me, a complete freak, this kind of shit is right up your alley.
Yes, crawling through dungeons is awesome, and I love doing it. But what makes this, and really, what makes a lot of dungeon crawlers so appealing to me is the fact that this is a genre that encourages you to make your experience your own. You are given a barebones template, and told to fill in the blanks. True Role Playing. You make your characters, but it doesn’t have to stop at a name and some attribute settings. Elminage gives you a start and an end, and allows you to mentally draw the line linking them. Why is your knight risking his life? Is your evil-alignment thief only in it for the money? Why is there a maid on your team (yes, one of the selectable classes is “Maid.” That’s awesome.), and who, if anyone, does she serve? What made your magician want to start learning alchemy? Later Elminage games gave you a spot to write out entire character bios if you so chose. Your imagination is as integral to the game as much as Starfish’s design is. Even the graphics presented in-game don’t actually animate; they are merely still sprite images. Two features that are included, that I intentionally did not use, are the ability to import your own images for character portraits, as well as import your own music to replace the game’s soundtrack. I chose not to use custom faces, opting to use their respective class icons, because I wanted to illustrate to you, the reader, how important it is to imagine things. Yes, I am certainly more than capable of making my own art assets, but isn’t it better if I tell you about my Werebeast who fights with her bare hands? Isn’t it better for you to hear about a Fairy Maid and a middle-aged Hobbit Ninja-in-Training, than to see it? Let you build up your own image and idea of my adventures, the way I did for others when I would read about their playthroughs of Wizardry way back when. I feel like this is something that’s been missing from games for a very, very long time, and I would love to see a return to it.
Elminage Original has its issues: difficulty can be uneven, causing you to go from a pushover battle with some slimes and rats, to getting murdered by three rows of magicians hitting you with status effects and lightning. The localization is a bit fucked in parts, such as the original unpatched release mislabeling four different races, which made character creation a pain, and what text is left can be weird. Dwon stairs, for example.
Oh, and the wall textures for forested areas look like absolute shit.
Other than that, Elminage is fantastic. It would get better sequels, but if you want to sit down with your PSP and enjoy a classic-style RPG with an even more classic 20×20 map layout that demands you to get good immediately, and you can’t read Japanese, this is where it’s at. Load up Elminage Original, and make that experience your own. Tell your own story.