Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Developer: Iron Galaxy Studios
Genre: Side Scrolling Beat ‘Em Up
Release Date: 06/18/2013
Last week you may have read my preview slash secrets list articles for both Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara. Now it’s time for the actual review – one written by someone that owns the original collection for the Sega Saturn and both arcade cabinets. These two games, along with Captain American & the Avengers, are the only arcade cabinets I’ve ever purchased (although I’d love to get CarnEvil) and my friends and I have played them to the point where I think I’ve memorized everything about them. It’s no wonder, then, that Capcom sent me the game weeks in advance to really test the mettle of it. So are the games arcade perfect? No, there are some noticeable control issues and field detection problems, and I’d even go so far as to say the Saturn version is better. However this new version is only FIFTEEN DOLLARS ($40 for the disc based version in August), whereas the Saturn version will cost upwards of $100, and you’ll need an ST KEY to play them, and the cabinets… well, they’re as cost prohibitive as they are rare, so only someone that had no other choice should go that route (ahem). For the amount you’re spending compared to what I did back in the late 90s, I am MORE than willing to overlook the minor issues in this collection. Plus hey, it’s Iron Galaxy – I guess I’m used to their HD remakes being inferior to the Arcade and Sega system versions of games.
In Chronicles of Mystara, you’re getting two games. The first is Tower of Doom, which is a seven or so stage title where you have a choice of four PCs: Warrior, Cleric, Elf and Dwarf. It’s pretty straightforward and rips locations, antagonists and weaponry straight from the Rules Cyclopedia from Basic D&D. There are some odd design choices, like the Cleric having to level up a bit before healing(!?) or having a spell called Continual Light that, well… only lasts a few seconds, but it’s extremely accurate to the tabletop games considering this is a beat ’em up, right down to elemental weaknesses. Here players are ultimately trying to stop Deimos the Lich, although other bosses include a Manticore, Black Dragon, Green Dragon, Ogre, Displacer Beast and so on. There’s also a slightly hidden Red Dragon boss that is tougher than Deimos, but the new version of the game is missing the insignia for when you beat Flamewing in the top score listing.
Shadow Over Mystara is the better game in my opinion, even though it’s little more than a remix of the original. The game adds two new (overpowered) PCs, The Magic-User and Thief, and also gives each class two different character designs, allowing you to have say, two mages and two elves on your team, so there’s no more fighting over who gets to be, say, the Warrior. Bosses are remixed, with the Red Dragon being the end boss in this game, although there’s a very hidden second Red Dragon in the game as well, worth 1 MILLION EXPERIENCE POINTS. There are a few new monsters, such as goblins and the frost/flame salamanders, but mostly it’s more of what you encountered in Tower of Doom but with more stages, more branches, some hidden levels, and spellcasters get a lot power behind them as everyone is starting at a higher level than ToD.
Visually the games look great. I won’t lie – looking at these in time with the arcade cabinet… I have to say the arcade versions look better. Colors are crisper and clearer and the BIG bosses like Flamewing and Synn definitely look better on the cabinet. This new version certainly looks better than my Saturn versions, although honestly… not by much. I think IGS was trying so hard to keep the retro visuals of the games intact, they stopped paying attention to the original, especially in terms of hues and colours. You can monkey with the graphics in the HD version to make them more to your liking, but honestly, it’s a bit odd saying that the HD remake is only slightly better looking than a disc based released from 1998. Now, don’t get me wrong, what’s here looks good and captures the feel of the game wonderfully; it’s just that the Saturn version was surprisingly good, with smooth textures and visuals that pushed the system. Character designs, backgrounds and so on are pretty close to the original, and only someone obsessed enough with the original games is going to be comparing the HD remake to the original in terms of colours, frame rate and the like. 99.99% of you are going to be thrilled with how the game looks, and that’s what matters. This collection LOOKS like the games in your memory, and if you ever played either, you will be ecstatic just to recapture your youth with this digital nostalgia.
Audio-wise, the HD remake is definitely better than the Saturn, especially in terms of the voice acting. It’s on par with the arcade version too, with characters having their trademark voices and cries intact. Combat sounds wonderful, with each spell and weapon having their own distinct sound effects to go with them. If you played these games back in the mid to late 90s at your local arcade, then no doubt just listening to the game is going to make you a happy camper.
So let’s talk gameplay. Tower of Doom is relatively simple. You have an attack button, a jump button, a use item button and a button to cycle through your inventory. The Elf and Cleric have spells, so their cycling will take longer, which simulates the time needed to cast a spell. It’s best that patient gamers play the spellcasters, which is doubly so in Shadow Over Mystara. The sequel adds several new physical attacks, and hitting the jump button while in the inventory will change you over to a new level (or levels in the case of spell casters) of the inventory system. Warriors might have new weapons and armour, while spellcasters might have rods and two levels of spell inventory. Again, it becomes important that the spellcasters are patient, as they have to slog through their menus in real time, possibly while being stabbed. Shadow of Mystara also introduces hidden magical items, stages and even a numerology system where your name determines what free magic item you will receive towards the beginning of the adventure. I have the entire numerology guide in my Shadow Over Mystara preview guide, which you can read here.
There are some noticeable issues with the HD remakes not present in the arcade game or Saturn version, chiefly rapid press detection. Things like the Dwarf’s rapid attack, the Elf’s rapid fire bow attack, the Magic User’s teleport and anyone trying to dash aren’t noticed about half the time, which is a real disappointment. Considering dashing is vital to using the Thief correctly, and teleport is one of the ways you can beat Shadow Over Mystara on a single credit with the Magic User (along with a Rod of Cold and Rod of Lightning), this will no doubt annoy and frustrate long time fans of the game. At least these issues can be fixed with a patch – again, if my SATURN version could get it right, why couldn’t a current gen version? You can reduce these issues by choosing the D-pad over the analog stick, but it’s still noticeable.
Another big issue is jump lag. You will notice lag between pressing jump and it actually occurring. I’ve also noticed you will sometimes crouch instead of jump, even if your hand is off the pad/stick. Sometimes it will even crouch then jump, making you wonder how this got through quality control, but thankfully this is minor, as the only times you really need jump to save your life is with the Red Dragons and Deimos. Oh wait… the END BOSSES. Finally, there is noticeable field detection issues. I’ve noticed attacks for characters and antagonists hitting even when one is too far away from the defender, and attacks not connecting even when you are right next to each other. Now in some case, like fireballs on the Black Dragon, this was originally programmed into the game, but I’m talking basic attacks and spells connecting when they shouldn’t and vice versa. It’s not that often, and it does seem to be field and position based rather than a straight forward hit detection issue. If you’re not on the same plane, attacks do seem to have a chance of not connecting even if they should, and if you are on the same plane, you can sometimes score an attack even if you’re on opposite sides of the screen. Again, a patch IS NEEDED and it’s odd that these issues are in the game when, again, they’re not in the original arcade game or the Sega Saturn version.
Now, gameplay complaints aside, Chronicles of Mystara is still a joy to play through. Unless you are immensely familiar with the previous versions of the games, you probably won’t realize that there are control/gameplay issues with this version. You’ll just think that’s how the original played and be happy leveling up, fighting over healing potions, killing monsters and deciding which branching path to take. This collection plays better than other arcade conversions, like TMNT3: Turtles in Time and even modern beat ’em ups like the Watchmen games. I’m happy with what is here and have already learned to compensate for the quirks in this version. Again, is it as good as the previous incarnations? NO. Is it good enough to recommend wholeheartedly? YES.
One thing I do like gameplay wise is that with the Wii U version, inventory management is SO much easier thanks to the GamePad. Seriously, I know most people will probably go for the PS3 or 360 version, but man, the Wii U version is heads and tails above the other versions just because of the management control. It’s definitely the best version of the game and it makes Magic Users EVEN MORE POWERFUL – something I didn’t think was possible.
Replaywise, there is a lot in this collection, even though you basically have unlimited credits here. After all, you have two games, both with branching paths, hidden levels, multiple characters to try, a new Challenges system where you earn XP for doing specific actions and a vault full of artwork to unlock. I’ll admit I’m a bit disappointed that the vault’s “secrets” section doesn’t actually contain ANY SECRETS that the games have, like how to find various swords, the numerology chart, examples of infinite combos and so on. You would think these little tricks would be worth mentioning, but I guess not. As well, you can unlock “House Rules” for your game in the Vault, such as unbreakable items, a ton of money, a lack of continues/credits, using money instead of hit points, and so on. It’s really quite interesting to see all the options here, and along with multiplayer capabilities, there’s a ton of reasons to keep coming back to this game collection.
Balance is a hard thing to discuss. After all, these games were arcade titles designed to make you keep putting quarters into them. So death comes rather frequently, especially against certain bosses, like the Beholder and Red Dragons. That said, the Magic User is insanely overpowered, and between the teleport, infinite attack combos via the Rod of Cold or Rod of Lightning and how crazy powerful his spells can be, it is possible to get through the game on a single credit with him. I know I’ve done it. As well, you can cast Final Strike if you earn it, and basically one hit KO Synn in Shadow Over Mystara. The key is figuring out what to do (Read my guide!), which, again, is something that should have been in the Secrets section of the vault. Overall, as long as you know things like attack patterns, elemental weaknesses and have a strategy lined up with your friends (say, a team of two mages, an elf and a thief or cleric), you should be good to go.
It’s also worth noting that nearly twenty years after Tower of Doom first came out, the games still feel fresh and original. The beat ’em/action RPG hybrid concept was pretty new at this point, with really only games like Shadowrun for the Sega Genesis coming close. The visuals still look good for their age, and monsters like the Displacer Beast and Red Dragons will still make people go “Holy crap, I’m dead” when they see them. The games have easily stood the test of time and then some. So whether you are brand new to these Dungeons & Dragons titles or longtime veterans, you’ll find these games are hard to put down and a lot of fun. There really is nothing like the Dungeons & Dragons Collection and I’m thrilled to have these available on a North American console for the first time ever. They are worth the wait and even with the issues plaguing this version that aren’t in the original incarnations of the game, you’ll still have a blast with these games. Considering I probably paid a little under $1,000 for these games back in the day, the fifteen dollar price tag makes me want to make sure everyone who has a 360, PC, Wii U or PS3 gets these, because you can’t begin to comprehend what an amazing deal you are getting. BUY THIS COLLECTION NOW.
Short Attention Span Summary
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara brings both D&D arcades games to North American consoles for the first time ever. Sure, the collection suffers from some gameplay issues that weren’t present in the actual arcade cabinets OR the Sega Saturn version, but it’s still a lot of fun and a steal at only fifteen dollars. Considering the Saturn version would require importing the game for over $100, purchasing an ST Key and only offered two player co-op, and the arcade cabinets cost hundreds of dollars and take up way too much space, this collection is a bargain unlike any other. The slight gameplay issues can easily be patched, and honestly, whether you are a long time fan of these games or completely new to them, you will thoroughly enjoy these beat ’em ups. If you really want a physical copy, you can always import the PS3 version that comes out in Japan in August.