Last Wednesday, in the early afternoon, at least one obsessive Wizardry fan (me) was eagerly reloading the Steam Store page for Wizardry: Labyrinth of Lost Souls, the 2009 Japanese Wizardry spinoff whose Windows port was scheduled to finally launch at 1:00 PM Eastern. When the launch time arrived and the game did not, this fan grew concerned. At 1:05 PM, a surprising announcement appeared on the game’s Steam page:
“Due to an unforeseen issue involving IP licensing, the game cannot launch today as previously intended. We apologise for the sudden delay, and will inform you of a new release date once it’s confirmed.”
This statement raised questions. Was it really possible for the publisher not to foresee a licensing issue until the very moment of a game’s release? Who even owns the Wizardry licence now? Is there any chance that the issue might fail to be resolved, and the Windows port might be cancelled altogether?
A rep for the game’s publisher XSEED tells Kotaku that the problem should be resolved easily, though they didn’t say how soon. “This should be a simple formality that’s being worked through right now as the game is done and ready for release anytime,” they said.
This is nevertheless yet another twist in one of gaming’s longest-running franchises. Licensing issues are familiar to fans of Wizardry, which began as an American computer role-playing game series in 1981, and whose influence is still felt today in first-person, party-based dungeon crawls. When original Wizardry publisher Sir-Tech failed to pay royalties to the creators, Andrew Greenberg and Robert Woodhead, the duo sued Sir-Tech in 1992. “The lawsuit took twenty years,” Greenberg, who went on to work as an attorney, told me. “It was one of the longest-running cases in New York state.”
The suit ended with a settlement, and Sir-Tech bought the rights to Wizardry from Greenberg and Woodhead. “Losing control of the franchise was sad for me,” said Greenberg, but “we were quite satisfied” with the terms of the settlement. “It had been long after the last big [Wizardry hit], so it was unlikely that we’d see a lot of money in the long term [if we hadn’t settled].”
Sir-Tech had already been making deals with Japanese developers to extend the Wizardry franchise, and new Wizardry titles still come out in Japan all the time (featuring the same logo that appeared on the very first box cover in 1981). For the most part, Japanese Wizardry games resemble the early-’80s American titles.
You assemble a D&D-style adventuring party in a medieval-inspired town, then journey into a dungeon laid out in a grid, and engage in turn-based combat with monsters from a first-person perspective. Those Japanese games rarely get released in America. When they do, it’s typically on a console. (Labyrinth of Lost Souls has been available in the United States for PlayStation 3 since 2011.) Other than WizRogue, an erstwhile mobile game that bears almost no resemblance to the original series, there has never been an official English-language PC port of a Japanese Wizardry game before.
That’s why it was such a big deal that Labyrinth of Lost Souls, which embraces the style of Greenberg’s and Woodhead’s originals, was about to come out on Steam, a full decade after its Japanese debut.
I reached out to XSEED, the Western publisher of Labyrinth of Lost Souls, and they offered an encouraging statement over email. “GMO is the company who owns the Wizardry IP now,” they said. “[Acquire, the developer of Labyrinth of Lost Souls,] got GMO’s approval… but their contract with GMO wasn’t prepared before the release date and we were told to postpone it.” They said that getting the contract sorted should “be a simple formality.”
As for the last-minute timing of the delay, the XSEED rep said, “Acquire got the message from GMO’s legal department the day of our scheduled release, 5/29, Japan time, which they immediately relayed to us close to midnight, 5/28, US time. That was the first that we heard the contract between them was still in progress or that it would prevent us from launching the game, so we had to postpone the release an hour before the scheduled [1 PM Eastern] time.”
If and when Labyrinth of Lost Souls finally launches on Steam, it just might signal a new era in which the Japanese branch of the series could return to American home computers, the platform where it all began. “Labyrinth of Lost Souls actually had a sequel which was never brought to the West,” XSEED told me. “Theoretically once we release on PC and it does well, we could look into localising and releasing that title for the first time to an English audience.”
American Wizardry fans can look forward to that future, but for now, we’ll just have to keep waiting.
Tony Carnevale is gathering his party before venturing forth.