Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios / Publisher: Capcom / Played On: Xbox 360 / Price: $14.99 (1200 MSP) / ESRB: Teen [Violence, Blood, Suggestive Themes]
The arcade scene is all but gone today. When the business was booming in the 90s arcades were the only way to play particular games because not all arcade titles were ported to consoles. Even if they were ported, some were never released in the US; this is the case with Capcom’s duo of arcade titles based on the Dungeons & Dragons franchise. So unless you lived in Japan or imported the Sega Saturn compilation, arcades were your only alternative.
Jump ahead sixteen years and Capcom has rectified this injustice by releasing Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, an HD re-release of both arcade classics Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara. With gameplay that holds up to this day, support for up to four players, online matchmaking, unlockable content, and plenty of replay value, Chronicles of Mystara is well worth the wait.
The package includes two full arcade games: Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom which originally released in 1993 and its sequel Shadow over Mystara that launched three years later. Both titles are beat ‘em up games similar to Capcom’s other brawlers like Final Fight, but with heavy RPG influences taken from the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons ruleset (this means that each class follows the rules defined in the AD&D rulebook). For instance, the Cleric class cannot wield bladed weapons, but can use Turn Undead, a powerful spell that instantly kills any undead enemies. AD&D is dramatically different from the current fourth edition rules of the tabletop game, so if you haven’t played with the older rules don’t be surprised when some aspects differ.
Tower of Doom has four classes to choose from: Fighter, Elf, Dwarf, and Cleric. The Fighter is the most well rounded of the bunch and can use just about every weapon, while the Elf relies on her magic abilities to thwart foes. Each class is noticeable different from the other; the disparity creates a great team balance, and enhances the replay value.
Shadow Over Mystara reuses these characters and adds two brand new classes: the nimble Thief, and the physically weak but extraordinarily powerful Magic User. These two classes appeal to veterans as they’re generally the most difficult to play, but the benefits, if they’re properly used, are grand: the Thief can backstab opponents for extra damage as well as open locks without keys, and the Magic User can cast the most damaging spells in the game.
There’s even more depth to the fighting system: Each character has a special set of moves they can unleash by entering a specific button sequence. The Cleric launches enemies in the air, the Fighter can dash and attack, and the Thief double jumps over enemies. Additionally, you can pick up items like knives and axes to lob at enemies, and there’s a plethora of weapons to swap between. Throw in experience points and level progression and you’ve got one unique arcade experience.
That said, Chronicles of Mystara isn’t for everyone. The complicated nature of the game, the heavy RPG elements, and a rather high difficulty may turn away those looking for a more casual venture like Castle Crashers. Those looking for a challenge however will find a lot to like here.
Much like Capcom’s other HD remakes (Darkstalkers Resurrection being the latest), an in-game achievement system earns you points for just about everything you do. Completing goals like killing fifty enemies by fire or using a magical ring’s power five times earns you Vault Points. You can spend these Vault Points to unlock bonus artwork, videos, promotional flyers, and even additional game modes. There are dozens of goals to complete and items to unlock, raising the replay value tremendously.
Both games can also be enjoyed with up to three other players in local or online multiplayer. Playing with friends is easily the way to go, the game shines brightest when you form a cohesive, well balanced team. My multiplayer sessions were lag free, and the simple drop-in/drop-out system made it easy to play for as long as I wanted to.
Graced with the HD treatment, both Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara look beautiful. Character sprites are colorful and detailed. The same goes for the enemies, which range from tiny green goblins to colossal red dragons. I was impressed by the backgrounds in particular: you can be fighting a harpy on a boat in one stage, then running through a haunted forest and burning village in another stage. Considering that these are arcade games from the mid-90s, this makes it even more impressive.
Still, the biggest issues I take with the games are the controls. Moving around the stage is very stiff. Lining up your attacks is much more difficult than it should be; you have to be in line perfectly with your enemy before your attacks land. On the same note, picking up items also requires near perfect precision: You may think you’re standing over a bag of gold only to swing your sword and see that the bag is still on the ground.
Even worse, picking up items and attacking is the same button. On more than one occasion I was caught picking up items instead of bashing the enemy right in front of me, which usually led to the monster knocking me to the ground. Unfortunately these scenarios are common and something you’ll have to deal with throughout the entirety of both games.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a great package. The replay value is extremely high thanks to a diverse cast of characters, unlockable content, and online multiplayer. Visually the game is impressive, with various levels to explore and enemies to fight. Although the controls are a nuisance, that shouldn’t stop you from playing an otherwise excellent compilation of classic arcade games.
+ High replay value
+ Visually impressive
- Stiff controls
8.5 / 10