While Capcom has a habit of porting arcade classics like Final Fight and SonSon, I didn’t think Capcom would dig that deep in their archives to re-release their two Dungeons & Dragons beat ’em ups again. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara were released in the late 90s when side-scrolling beat ’em ups were starting to wane from arcades. The two games were packaged as Dungeons & Dragons Collection for Sega Saturn, but that was only released in Japan.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is much more accessible since you don’t need to track down a rare Saturn game and Iron Galaxy made sure the digital re-release supports four players. Being the first Dungeons & Dragons beat ’em up, Tower of Doom is a simpler game with four classes. The fighter hits stuff and… that’s about it. If you like casting spells pick the Elf who is armed with Magic Missile and Cloudkill. The downside about the elf is she has less life than the other characters. Clerics can heal other players with Cure Serious Wounds and destroy undead creatures like skeletons with Turn Undead. Finally, you have the Dwarf who hits stuff harder, but slower than the fighter. Part of what makes Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom entertaining is how the classes compliment each other, so when you find four players and have a full party the game is a blast.
Tower of Doom was just the beginning. Capcom improved on the formula with Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara. This adds two more classes the Magic User who has even more powerful magic spells and the agile Thief who can detect traps and is armed with infinite rocks for her sling. The battle system was also refined to add in technical moves like a knockdown attack and a lunging attack (QCF + attack). You can combo enemies with the Aerial Attack and all characters have a Desperation Move that clears enemies surrounding the player at the cost of a little life. For a side-scrolling beat ’em up, Shadow over Mystara is surprisingly deep. What’s even better is the story branches and you can choose which quests to take on.
Depending on your choices, you might end up in the Land of Fire or in a gnome village. Each route has different bosses and you won’t see everything by playing through the game once. Players can pick up silver pieces when they defeat enemies, which are used to purchase healing potions or items at the end of the level. Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara has infinite continues so the healing potions aren’t as useful, but back in the arcade days healing potions were a quarter saving blessing.
Like any role playing game, the best items you can get are the ones you find. Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara has an Ice Sword that freezes enemies, a Dragon Shield that protects you from Dragon Breath, and magical wands . Characters gain experience points too which unlock more spells for magic using characters. Basically, Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara gets the formula for blending RPG mechanics into a beat ’em up right and it paved the way for Dragon’s Crown.
The home conversion by Iron Galaxy is solid and online play, at least on Xbox 360, is smooth. Chronicles of Mystara supports GGPO and drop in/drop out co-op play, which makes it easy to get into the world of D&D with a full party. Like Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike Online Edition and Marvel vs. Capcom Origins, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles over Mystara has challenges like doing a certain number of desperation attacks or using a ranged weapon X times. You earn vault points for completing these, which you can use to unlock artwork and most interesting House Rules. House Rules are custom rules that change how the games are played. You can make them easier by choosing rules that make enemies drop more silver pieces or starting with all of the chests unlocked (making the Thief’s unique ability worthless). Or you can make the game more challenging by adding a 30 second game over timer that forces players to fight enemies quickly. It will take about one playthrough of Shadow over Mystaria to get all of the House Rules.
If you’re looking forward to Dragon’s Crown at all, give Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara a try. Tower of Doom is simplistic in comparison, but Shadow over Mystara still shines as the king of fantasy beat ’em ups. I mean the game even gives you different spells depending on which character color you pick. Capcom put that much detail into Shadow over Mystara and now you can play it without buying an arcade board or importing it from Japan. The only downside might be Capcom may have a better version of Chronicles of Mystara. The PlayStation 3 version for Japan lets all four players pick the same class, a feature that isn’t in the digital release. However, House Rules and the challenges have not been confirmed for the retail Japanese version. Kind of strange that Capcom made two different versions of an arcade port compilation, but the up side is these gems are way more accessible than they were a month ago.