The Game Archaeologist: Wizardry Online, the short-lived permadeath MMO

While the Witchcraft the series may not have the cultural cache that Ultimate Where Final Fantasy ended up, nonetheless, the dungeon-crawling RPG series cultivated a sizable fan base. The first title from studio Sir-Tech was released in 1981, and seven more have arrived to challenge gamers over the next two decades.

As I said, it was an extremely modest success in the West, but for some reason, Witchcraft exploded in popularity when transferred to Japan. The series has become so beloved, in fact, that dozens of spin-offs have been created for various platforms, including GameBoy, PlayStation, and SNES. There’s even a new mobile entry planned for early 2023 called Daphne Magic Variantswhich I guess has to do with Scooby Doo.

With an established player base in Japan, various studios picked up the mantle from the then disbanded Sir-Tech to work on a “ Witchcraft Rebirth” in 2009. This resulted in the release of 10 titles over the next five years, one of which was an MMORPG.

magic online was created by Japanese MMO developer Gamepot (along with Headlock Inc), also known for CABAL Online, Trickster Onlineand Mebius online. In 2008, it merged with the owner of Witchcraft franchise, allowing him to seize the opportunity to make an online title in the series.

It shouldn’t have been surprising that magic online would debut in the country it was developed in and had the largest built-in fan base. A Japanese open beta began in October 2011 with 100,000 players, giving the country a year and a half to take ownership before Sony Online Entertainment announced it was adding magic online at its library from January 2013.

With toned down, ugly visuals and a focus on exploring puzzle-laden dungeons, magic online was already not your typical colorful JRPG game. But what sets it apart, both in marketing and in practice, is the inclusion of a permadeath system for its characters. Player characters who kicked the bucket had a chance of never waking up from the grim afterlife, giving each encounter more danger and significance.

The permadeath system wasn’t as rudimentary as “one death = start over”, it’s worth mentioning. Players have had the option to reserve it in a rez shrine to respawn, although this isn’t guaranteed. If successful, you came back, but if not…you really had to reroll. To improve the chances of a rez, you can drop loot or even pay real money to SOE for the privilege.

“Hardcore players will revel in the return of the complex dungeons that have punctuated previous iterations, and will soon discover that the game is fraught with significant pitfalls: magic online features permadeath, in which player characters can be removed from the game upon death, creating a more immersive experience,” boasted a 2011 press release.

Because it wasn’t hardcore enough, the MMO too Open world PvP with corpse looting and bounty system. I know, it ticks all the boxes for you!

In fact, there was a pretty neat option when leveling that I should mention. Players who got to a certain point in their character’s journey had the option to change class – but retained a skill from their previous profession in the process.

Even with the controversial novelty of permadeath, magic online didn’t offer enough else to reach a wider audience. The title struggled to gain recognition or release post-launch updates, which ultimately led to one of the (then) shortest lifespans for a Western MMO. A year and a half after its release by SOE, Witchcraft closed in July 2014. However, the Japanese version continued to exist, limping for another two years until it also closed in July 2016.

That might have been the end of the story if it weren’t for some die-hard fans doing what geeky hardcore niche MMORPG fans tend to do – resurrect the title as a rogue server. The magic online Private Server took advantage of a huge data dump of the MMORPG game files in 2019 to create an emulator of the most recent version of the game. So yes, if you want to see how weird it is Witchcraft what branching looks like and what gambling looks like with permadeath, then you still have the option to do it today.

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The Game Archaeologist: Wizardry Online, the short-lived permadeath MMO

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