|This early version title screen animation was removed from later revisions.
Entering 1984, and my first game played out in the sticks of MetroWest, we go from Wizardry III to one of the very first Wizardry clones.
Developed initially for the NEC PC-8801 by expatriot Henk Rogers, The Black Onyx was, according to Wikipedia, the first successful JRPG, and introduced RPG conventions to the Japanese market almost two years before Wizardry was localized by ASCII Corporation. Black Onyx is credited as a direct influence on Hydlide, a maligned but historically important action/RPG hybrid, and Rogers' company Bulletproof Software would later go on to introduce Tetris to Japan, and be partially responsible for its the seminal Gameboy version.
A game with this kind of significance makes for a fast-track candidate as a discretionary whale, and as luck would have it, I can actually play The Black Onyx thanks to a translation patch by a LordKarnov42, who notes that the game was coded in BASIC, making it trivial to replace the games' text strings. This patch is based on a later revision dubbed "v5.0" which runs on the 1985-era PC-8801mkII and uses its FM audio chip for music and sound effects, which were not available to the previous PC-8801 hardware revisions.
Reportedly, there were features in very early builds that had to be removed due to memory limitations, including a magic system, wilderness exploration, and arena battles. Rogers intended to add these back in via expansions, but only followed through on the cut magic system with sequel/expansion The Fire Crystal, which has not been translated. Vestiges of these features remain in the game in the forms of an inaccessible temple, impassable city gates, and an off-limits arena.
I used the emulator M88r2, and found the required configuration to be simple once I had the requisite ROMs - the game disk must be in drive 1, the user disk must be in drive 2 (the game may not boot until you insert the user disk), and emulation mode should be N88-V2.
|A Wizardry-like utilities menu
|Character generation is short on stats but long on hair styles.
|PREPARE TO DIE, I am warned.
As the manual isn't translated, I don't have a lot of context for why we're here or what we're trying to do here, but LordKarnov at least provides some instructions on controls and hints. We're in Utsuro, the game's "town" level, which is a level in itself, and a gateway to two dungeons, only one of which is necessary to explore in order to win the game. The concept of an explorable town level was done before in Oubliette, which Wizardry condensed into a series of menus.
Encounters with townspeople are handled as random encounters, in which the outcome is usually peaceful, but are frequent enough to be irritating nonetheless. In a system I find anticipates Shin Megami Tensei and its successors, you can talk to them (and the occasional zombie), and they usually just run away, but if they don't, you can try to extort them for money, or even try to recruit them into your party.
|A friendly party dispenses some advice.
|A less friendly one doesn't. Combat, without any magic, isn't very tactical.
The similarities to Oubliette's town grew as I explored it. Features I discovered included:
- The town gates, which for now only prompt you to save and quit.
- The bank, where individual characters may deposit their gold and withdraw later.
- A yellow door marked Arnold's Pub, in which some rowdy NPC's attacked and then fled.
- Another yellow door marked "Grub," with nothing of interest behind it.
- A small citadel north of the gates marked DO NOT ENTER, complete with gargoyles. I entered anyway, finding nothing inside at first, but later discovered a secret door leading to stairs going down.
- A well north of the citadel.
- A floating wall section near the well with the words "The Wall" written on both sides of it.
- Utsuro Inn, with four empty bedrooms.
- "Tom's Grog," with nothing functional here.
- A cemetery area, where a hole in the ground can be seen in the northern region.
- The temple, closed.
- A jail with four empty cells. Not so different from the inn, in practice.
The east side of town held a market with multiple shops. My party had a combined $516 to spend there.
- A shield merchant, offering shields of incrementing size for $30, $270, and $2,430 each.
- An armorer with five classes of armor ranging from $40 leather to a $10,240 tabard.
- Arn arms dealer, selling nine weapons from $10 knives to $2,560 battle axes.
- "Niels Hjelmersson," who makes $40 chain coifs, $320 winged helms, and $2,560 horned helms.
- A bankrupt tailor.
To the southeast, a hospital offers some services.
- A surgeon heals wounds cheaply at $2 per hit point.
- An examination room reveals players' stats for $14 per character, which include level, HP, strength, and dexterity.
- A pharmacy that sells mysterious bottles for $35 each, and drugs for $55 each.
- Empty bedrooms in the back.
Further south, lightning crackled around the ominous dark tower seen in the title screen.
|I found no way in, but a door found nearby teleported me to the citadel.
The town as fully explored as I could, I healed up at the hospital and bought weapons for my party, leaving nothing left for armor. There doesn't seem to be any way to pool your party's gold - everyone just has their own gold supply, though you can have one party member buy a weapon for someone else. Weapons are equipped immediately when purchased, and reflected in the player sprite.
I headed down to the cemetery to explore the hole, and got promptly set upon by a pack of wolves.
The wolves tore us apart, killing everyone but Harry and Betty, and didn't even leave behind any gold to help pay for the hospital bills. And unlike in Wizardry, dead means dead here.
My map of town: