Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (PSN)
Title: Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara
Format: PlayStation Network Download (244.3MB)
Release Date: June 18, 2013
Publisher: Capcom U.S.A., Inc.
Developer: Iron Galaxy
ESRB Rating: T
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is also available on Xbox 360 and Wii U.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.
If you’re around my age, you probably grew up seeing the “brawler” genre come and go. That style of gameplay populated the arcades, and represented some of the best times you might have had with your buddies while playing a video game. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Simpsons, Golden Axe, Final Fight, and many others allowed you and your friends to tackle enemies side by side. These experiences were limited only to the arcades, but eventually games like Ninja Turtles: The Arcade were ported over to the home consoles, allowing two players to tackle the Foot Clan on the same console.
At the time, we were perfectly content to hack and slash, using the same basic three moves throughout the entire 1-2 hour campaign. We were also satisfied with cutting down the player count from four to two. That is, while the arcade games allowed four players to collaborate on a single enemy, the limitations of consoles of the time would only allow for two players, with the exception of a few games.
Towards the end of the age of brawlers (in the arcade at least) a game to rule them all was released to arcade floors. Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom stood as a unique take on the brawler genre. Not only did it allow for a minor inventory system (where you could select from different items, tools, and spells), but the game provided branching “story” options, allowing the players to choose whether they should venture through the forest, or take a raft across the river instead. Since arcade games were quarter-munchers at their core, this level of almost-adventure gameplay was amazing to gamers looking to do more than just hack and slash.
But when Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara (a sequel) was released, this concept was taken even further, with a much larger roster of selectable characters (each with two visually distinct versions), a huge selection of spells, items, and weapons, and the ability to actually find and replace your main weapons. Levels were gained and abilities and weapons were enhanced with each level. Hell, the wizard class wouldn’t even attain the ultimate spell until he reached level 20.
Capcom took such great care in duplicating the Dungeons & Dragons experience in an action game, that they even took the storyline of the game and turned it into a paper/pencil version to test it on the D&D creators (I learned this through the Chronicles of Mystara Collection trivia).
Regardless of whether or not I had discovered this info via the in-game trivia, I would have assumed as much. As a veteran Dungeons and Dragons player (see: Nerd), I appreciated how much effort went into duplicating the actual spells from the pencil and paper game, even down to the behavior of each spell (ie. Magic missile does NOT miss). The elf was incredibly fast, while the dwarf was brutish but slow. The wizard’s arsenal was unmatched, and the thief attacking from behind yielded serious damage. Speaking of the thief class, Shadow Over Mystara was riddled with traps. Treasure chests that otherwise appeared harmless sprang forth with traps that could cause serious damage to your player. But if you had a thief playing, a small read icon would appears over the traps. Another nod towards the thief’s ability in the old Dungeons & Dragons game.
Despite providing one of the greatest brawler experiences in the arcades, in terms of customization and offering multiple-paths to reach the ending (not to mention multiple endings), the Dungeons & Dragons arcade games never really made their way home to consoles. Now before you correct me, there was a collection released on the Sega Saturn in Japan. The collection was supposed to make its way to U.S. Shores on PlayStation 1 and Saturn, but that never happened. Thus, emulators-aside, I have waited decades for this game to come home appropriately. And this month, Capcom has finally made this a reality. And they have rewarded said patience with some nicely-added perks.
This is a brawler, first and foremost (referring to both games in the collection). You walk from left to right (sometimes right to left) and you battle hoards of enemies (all from the Dungeons & Dragons handbook). Kobolds, goblins, gnolls, and yes, even dragons, populate the world of Mystara. Unlike other brawlers, however, Shadow Over Mystara allows you to use some familiar (Street Fighter style) moves to vanquish your foes. Semi-circle and attack, for example, launches you towards and enemy with a devastating strike, while jumping over an enemy and shifting the stick down, with an attack button, will execute an underthrust that confuses the enemy and lets you get out of a sticky situation.
As mentioned before, the beauty of this arcade game came with the ability to utilize different weapons and spells to break up the redundant gameplay with various attack methods. The elf character, for example, can equip a bow with unlimited arrows. The wizard, on the other hand, has an arsenal of spells at his disposal. At any point in the game, you can rummage through your abilities with a radial menu (on Shadow Over Mystara at least). The dial spins around your character and you are able to select the item or spell at will. Obviously in a such a fast-moving game, going through your spellbook can be a little challenging, but you are allowed to walk around with the left stick as you flip through items, so you can steer clear of taking damage as you find the right area-effect fireball spell.
While you begin the game with certain items, finding some throughout your adventure will yield even more options. And while most of these items are exhaustible, you might find class-specific weapons that you can switch out with your main weapons and use throughout the entire game. My second playthrough had me wielding an electric sword. My elf was a wall of untouchable power. If I had one gripe, it would be that I wish Capcom implemented a way to keep these weapons for future playthroughs.
Speaking of playthroughs. Both games in the collections tell a story of good vs. evil, and as mentioned before, during certain story cinematics, you are allowed to choose which path your characters will take. Some of these paths are only opened when certain conditions are met, and some depend on whether a certain character is in your party. This adds to the replayability, particularly in a genre that stales up pretty quickly due to repetitive gameplay. With this collection, Capcom has added another perk to increase replayability. Every time you play through the campaign, you earn vault points. These points can be used to unlock some really awesome artwork… No really, there are some nice renditions of classes and races from the Dungeons & Dragons universe. But if art samples aren’t your thing, Capcom added unlockables in the form of “House Rules”. For example, you can unlock a mode that allows all damage dealt to be transformed into life. There is also an appropriately-named “Hedgehog” mode that replaces health with money. Take a hit and you lose money (like a certain hedgehog). Lose all your money, and you die. Capcom could have easily released this collection as a bare-bones port, but they took a few steps to make it a bit more, and as such, you are rewarded for multiple sessions, as well as for trying different things.
This is an arcade game from the 90′s. It looks like one, but it’s still an amazing visual piece from the era. Colorful backdrops match well with equally-detailed character art. And considering the time when these games were released, the spell effects are amazing, particularly when you start playing the sequel. Lightning spells continue long after cast, with residual forks of lightning traveling throughout the ground. Bosses take up the entire screen in some instances. Hell, some of them take up more than just the entire screen. And sometimes you have to fight two of them at the same time….I know…spoilers.
The musical score is not something you will be humming at work, but the sound effects surrounding the hits and smacks, as well as the discharge of energy from the spells, are all executed very well and compliment the visuals appropriately. Some of the repeated lines (particularly from the elf) can become a little grating, particularly when fighting a boss that knocks you down multiple times. Hearing the elf scream “I’m not done yet” 30 times during a fight inspires feelings of homicide towards the little fairy, and she does this almost every time she is knocked to the ground. Fortunately, you can turn down music and sound effects respectively.
These games were created before there was an online component. This was about hanging out with your buddies at the arcade and fighting monsters side to side, both digitally and physically. As such, this collection shines most when played along side friends on the same couch. That said, the collection does allow for online multiplayer and it is executed well. One thing Capcom did implement is the ability to continue a character within the same campaign. So if you decide to shut down for the day, so long as you continue the same campaign, even if you add players, you will continue to with the same character, carrying the same name, level, and items.
I am anxiously awaiting Dragon’s Crown on PS3 and PSV. If you are like me, and love these types of games, do yourself a favor and check out this collection. It provides the same type of gameplay as Crown. Don’t let its age fool you. Particularly with Shadow Over Mystara, these brawlers provide a deep hack and slash experience. One that I am happy to see resurfacing with titles like Sacred Citadel and Dragon’s Crown. But these deeper brawlers owe their existence to games like Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. And even as an old grandfather of sorts, these games have aged very well.