Also On: XBLA, PC, Wii U
If you were a kid growing up in the 80’s and 90’s, you’re probably pretty familiar with classic arcade beat ‘em up’s like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Final Fight, The Simpsons, and X-Men. Most of these titles were popular in part due to their licensing tie-ins or console ports of the era, and while fun, these examples are generally similar across the board. But in the mid 90’s one franchise developed by Capcom attempted to push the boundaries of what you’d expect out of a 2D beat ‘em up, and is now largely considered the best in the genre.
This compilation, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara brings these two games to North America for the first time since their arcade debut. Comprised of Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, and its sequel Shadow over Mystara, this two pack for PSN, XBLA, Steam, and Wii U is actually the first time I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying the series in English. There was a popular port of the game available for Sega Saturn at one point, Dungeons & Dragons Chronicles, but it only received a release in Japan, making it a coveted import item for quite some time. My only experience with both titles was with that version of the game, played numerous times through a local import shop in my area when I was younger.
Basing my previous experiences off of memories from the Saturn port, I’d say that this compilation for modern systems stacks up nicely in comparison. Both ports are given individual menu access, with a full set of extra content in the form of concept art and unlockable cheats. There’s stat tracking for both titles tied into trophies and achievements, and every aspect of both games seems to remain intact. Tower of Doom, the first of the two, isn’t quite as innovative as its successor, and while fun it won’t be the game you’ll spend the most time with. But Shadow over Mystara is a game that I can play over and over again, and is something that is an absolute joy to play through with multiple people.
Both titles feature online play, and while my experience prior to launch has been limited, I’d say the GGPO netcode being used by Capcom is top notch. I had little trouble connecting with the few players I was able to find online, and had no issues with lag or input delay. This is important due to the unique combat inputs required for special moves across all character classes in the compilation, featuring movesets that are more akin to fighting games than standard beat ‘em ups.
The more unique elements that set these two titles apart from other 2D brawlers also remain intact. While Tower of Doom is a bit more basic and easily comparable to other 2D brawlers, Shadow over Mystara introduced elements like character leveling and experience, along with a more robust loot system, complete with random drops and breakable gear. Both titles feature branching storyline paths, with different levels available depending on the path chosen, offering up more reasons to replay the titles over and over again.
While the Saturn version of these two titles faced some technical limitations, like two-player local play vs. four-player play found in arcades, this new port doesn’t suffer from the same issues. There’s four player online and offline play present for both titles. The online portion of matchmaking also features some great matchmaking options like the ability to search by setting a ping threshold and the ability to set your own GGPO delay.
This compilation has also been given a lot of thought when it comes to overall presentation. Besides the leveling and experience system found in-game with Shadow over Mystara, there’s an overall level system in place for the compilation too, which ties into the completion of certain challenges across both titles. Character usages is tracked, marking time spent with each character across both games in a neat little bar graph presented at the top of the menu screen and available in greater detail via the player details menu option, which shows stats like total enemies killed and total time played.
For additional options, you can switch the visuals between three filters, smooth, crisp and original. There’s also additional display options that’ll either stretch the original image, give you an arcade cabinet overlay to fill the borders, allow you to play in standard ratio without borders, or fill the sides of the screen with challenge info and stat tracking. Controls are also customizable, so you can layout your face button options however you’d prefer. The vault is where you’ll find additional content, unlocked by spending credits earned from completing challenges and leveling up, along with some unique cheats that can be enabled, allowing for unbreakable gear and so on.
All in all I’m really impressed with the care and attention Capcom has given this release. Both games seem to be intact across visuals, gameplay and soundtracks, and have really been given a lot of care in the emulation department. The online play and matchmaking options are great additions, and while concept art might not light everyone’s world on fire, it’s neat to see some imagery from the game that isn’t easily accessible elsewhere. The actual games are still fun to play, Shadow over Mystara more so than Tower of Doom, and hold up extremely well for their age. While both titles will be a short experience if you’re just looking to blow past the initial playthrough, there’s enough content packed in here via replays to make you feel that this is $15 well spent.