Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara: Hit points

June 18, 2013

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After a flurry of fighting game re-releases, Capcom has pointed Iron Galaxy’s arcade-port expertise to a beat-‘em-up. It’s not just any of the company’s myriad brawlers, though. Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara have long been missing from home platforms for various reasons, and it’s a shame, because the inventory and decision-making aspects of the game make it quite distinct.

Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara were released in arcades in 1993 and 1996, respectively, and the two games are very similar. Both have you choosing a class and progressing through branching paths, collecting treasures, weapons and (if you can use them) spells toward taking down a large nemesis. Tower sets you toward defeating the archlich Deimos, and direct sequel Shadow reveals that someone called Synn is really behind Deimos’ actions.

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As you progress, you’ll face the sorts of decisions you would during a real Dungeons & Dragons campaign: go for help to aid a village under attack, or try to save them alone? Trek through the shorter-but-dangerous forest path or sail the long way around the river? It’s a nice touch, and it’s also nice that all four players get a vote. (If it’s a tie, the decision’s made for you.)

Shadow is a bit more complicated than Tower, mechanically. You’ll find more items and spells, which means you’ll spend a bit more time micromanaging them. (There are also two more classes added to the original’s four.)  Still, though, most of the time you’ll be doing the same thing: mashing the attack button and running around to pick up loot.

The Chronicles of Mystara release is actually the second home port of these games. The first, a Japan-only Saturn release, didn’t allow for more than two players, and had a few other issues. Otherwise, this is the first time many will be able to get their hands on the game, and it’s a great way to play it. Iron Galaxy put its online expertise toward relatively lag-free play, and it seems to be just as solid here as in its fighting game releases. Local play works like a charm, too, and it’s really designed for that kind of experience, so it’s the best option.

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So how do the games hold up? Fairly well, actually. You’ll never really want to play alone, as the encounters and drop rates just get tedious, so find some friends online or off. It’s not a huge problem with Tower‘s limited inventory, but watch out for having more than one mage (Magic-User or Elf) in the party while playing Shadow: their spells stop all the action, and multiple spells in a row is just frustrating if you’re not someone casting them. (With just one mage, it actually is nice, as it gives you time to go through your own inventory and pick the item you want to use next.)

Chronicles includes all it can to enhance and supplement the original games. Through a leveling and points system based on completing challenges, you can unlock a selection of concept art and documents from the two games. More interesting, though, are the handful of House Rules available to redeem. You can play the game in a time attack mode, with no continues or with all chests unlocked. You can use Vampirism, earning you health for every kill, or Hedgehog, in which your money is your health. These are silly things, but nice to have anyway.

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If you’ve played any of Iron Galaxy’s other arcade ports, you know how the team likes its filters and views. There’s an over-the-shoulder arcade mode, sure, but there’s also a shot of the games’ signature double-cabinet setup. No, you can’t really play the game very well when it’s that small and that skewed, but it’s in there and it’s funny. There’s also the normal set of options: scan lines, blur filters, stretched widescreen and more. We like it best with no filters and the default, challenges-on-the-side view.

The game tracks activity, with leaderboards and visual representations of how often you use each character. It knows which of the game’s treasures you’ve claimed in your various playthroughs, even though many are nondescript jewels and such that are purely worth points. Basically, without changing the base nature of the game, Chronicles adds everything it can.

If you’re an existing fan of the arcade games, Chronicles of Mystara is exactly what you want: a robust version that’s respectful of the source material. If you missed them in the ’90s but enjoy games like Castle Crashers, you should have fun as well.

Pros: Smooth implementation, many bonus features, solid online play
Cons: Gets a bit repetitive, can elicit D-pad frustration on 360 version

Score: 4/5

Questions? Check out our review guide.