The CRPG Addict has done a good job of putting some of those SSI RPGs – particularly Wizard’s Crown and Demon’s Winter/Shard of Spring – in context as essentially steps on the way to the Gold Box combat engine.
My brother played Wizard’s Crown when it came out. For my tastes, it seems to veer further into the ‘strategy’ (versus ‘rpg’) lane than really appeals to me, and I have to admit that the ass-ugly graphics don’t help. The thing about the Ultimas is that they looked good. They still look good, in my opinion. Add to that the feelies, the larger amount of effort put into lore, etc… it added up to something pretty special.
I may get around to Wizard’s Crown, but there are quite a few old CRPGs that are ahead of it in my queue.