LAST EDITED ON Dec-29-16 AT 02:38 AM (Pacific)
I'm a pretty big Wizardry nut, having played the first scenario pretty extensively on multiple versions. It can be pretty frustrating when you're first trying out the series to know what version is the most worthwhile to play (I started with DOS, which as I will explain is not ideal). However, having played nearly all of the versions that exist of the first scenarios, I can safely say that the PS1 version is by far the most polished, and most faithful to the original, and more attention needs to be given to this one. Unsurprising, given how influential the Wizardry series was in Japan in particular. Version differences detailed below:
The original. Unbearably slow to be honest, however modern emulators allow you to speed up things. Haman and Mahaman behave a bit differently from later counterparts, choosing the effect completely at random (instead of letting you pick from one of three randomly chosen effects). I also recall noticing that surprise encounters also allow you (as well as monsters) to cast spells, whereas later versions do not allow spells in the first round of a surprise encounter. If you play it in an emulator, crank that speed up, and it's actually reasonably solid, if very dated graphically.
Avoid. While it initially appears convenient, this version appears to have a bug with stat gains - instead of trending upwards, and expecting low age characters to get high 17s and 18s, you'll often see stats vary wildly and often decrease. If a non-Vit stat goes below a certain value it seems to wrap around to a high positive number (?!). I don't think I've ever managed to make a Lord or Ninja legitimately via stats on this one because character levelling was so botched.
Pretty barebones, and while the Japanese Famicom version I think lets you transfer to the next scenario, the NES one does not (and I can't recall if English releases were made of the second and third scenario). Reportedly there's a bug with AC where having AC does not help you dodge attacks. If AC is broken in this version, that's a pretty serious issue.
Not a bad version, but not entirely faithful either. Released only in Japan as a compilation of the first three games, the full English text of the game is available even on the original Japanese version. The only thing that isn't translated when the game is set to English is the options menu, which is easy enough to navigate. Playing in an emulator, an English patch is available, which translates the options, and makes it convenient to play.
The options menu has settings for how the mapping spell works (classic coordinates, or a modern map view) as well as a toggle for the Hide command (when ON, Thieves get to use Hide when in the back row to physically attack, as they were able to in Wizardry V). Importing characters between scenarios is also pretty convenient.
The only issues with the game are related to the scenarios. For whatever reason, Scenario II and Scenario III are swapped; Knight of Diamonds was made Scenario III and the encounters appear to be rebalanced to be the same as the NES version (i.e. level 1 characters can survive the first floor, so the scenario can be played standalone without needing to import high level characters). This is my main beef with the SNES version; otherwise it's pretty competent.
There's apparently a Windows port available, but from what I've heard it's finicky to get working on modern systems, and is largely avoidable.
The crowing gem of Wizardry releases so far. There were releases of Wizardry 1-3, Wizardry 4&5, and Wizardry 6. I've not had a chance to try the ones past 3 yet for the PS1 (Wizardry 4 for PS1 apparently includes a special arrange mode, but sadly has a lot of untranslated Japanese only text specific to arrange mode http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/wizardry/wizardry6.htm ).
Wizardry 1, 2 and 3 are in the correct order, with Scenario II being Knight of Diamonds with the extremely difficult original encounter tables. If you start a new game in that scenario, the default premade characters you can use are not level 1, but appropriately high level characters. Don't be daunted by the fact that the options menu is in Japanese; the full English text of the games is available simply by changing the language options (see this post here: http://shmups.system11.org/viewtopic.php?p=784654#p784654 ). The graphics are very well done, and can be adjusted to the 'classic' wireframe originals if you prefer.
It's very easy to setup in a PS1 emulator, and will likely give you the best experience for the original Wizardry. There's a few things that remain in Japanese though; spell descriptions don't appear to be translated (and you couldn't see the descriptions in battle in early Wizardry games anyways), and there's a Bestiary and Item Collection record that tracks what monsters you've seen and fought as well as what items you've gotten, so you can go through and look at their stats. Those don't appear to have an English option, but they're easy enough to figure out while you're browsing. I can't remember how Haman/Mahaman behave (if it's purely random as in Apple II or gives you a choice from three as in later ones), but otherwise I strongly recommend the PS1 version for authenticity to the original's difficulty, a lack of any serious bugs (stat gain bug in DOS, potential AC bug in the NES version), and generally high production values.
Other games worth looking into:
A huge, HUGE number of Japan exclusive "Gaiden" releases in the series have recently been translated. If you're a dedicated Wizardry fan, I would strongly recommend checking out the Game Boy and SNES games to try these. For instance, "Throb of the Demon's Heart" includes many of the more modern race and class options, while retaining the interface of the early classic games. It's really, really cool:
For a more a more modern series, check out "Etrian Odyssey". If you want a good mobile phone game, there's a series of Android releases called "Wandroid" that are pseudoremakes, essentially heavily revamped versions of the original scenarios. They come in a pay version as well as a free (with ads version). There's also one scenario on the Apple Store for iOS devices called "Wandrium" which is playable enough (but save often as it tends to crash occasionally, I got in the habit of saving after opening chests). Spells are heavily rebalanced, and there's enough new content in it to make it a fun remake of the original Wizardry I (there's at least four different secret bonus boss battles to fight).