Originally released in arcades in 1993 and 1996, respectively, Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara were somewhat unique in the beat-em-up genre. The use of RPG stats in an arcade brawler was not common in the 90s, nor was a character having an inventory beyond single-use items. These two titles were bundled together in Japan as the Dungeons & Dragons Collection for the Sega Saturn, but that was never released stateside. Now for the first time, gamers outside of Japan can play these games at home without significant expense in Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara. Without the constant flow of quarters from pocket to cabinet and the sticky floors, do these games still hold up?
The first game in Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, Tower of Doom, begins as the party encounters a town under attack. Their fight against kobolds, gnolls, the undead, and other creatures eventually leads to a showdown against the Arch Lich Deimos. There isn’t much of a story, but it is enough to move the adventure along, and more than most beat-em-up games include.
Players choose from one of four characters who have similar movesets but unique abilities. Basic attacks across each class are largely the same, with slam attacks that can stun enemies and dash attacks that enhance mobility. The Fighter is the straight warrior of the group, while the Dwarf shares similarities with the fighter but with a shorter reach and faster attacks. The Elf is a hybrid, with attacks similar to the Dwarf but the addition of damaging spells like Fireball and Lightning Bolt, and utility spells such as Haste and Invisibility. Lastly is the Cleric, armed with healing spells, party buffs like Bless and Striking, and the ability to Turn Undead, instantly destroying any undead creatures on the screen at the cost of the experience they would have given if defeated normally. Players automatically gain a level after each stage, increasing their hit points and, for casters, learning new spells.
Aside from the abilities, each character also has an inventory with special items. They can hold daggers and arrows, which are thrown or fired in a straight line, as well as hammers that travel in an arc and have a chance to stun enemies. Another item, burning oil, leaves a burning patch on the ground that both does damage and creates an area of denial, giving the hero a bit of breathing room. There are also rings that cast Elf and Cleric spells, but at a much lower power.
Players are given a bit of choice in Tower of Doom – after many of the stages, they will be allowed to decide what path to take next. A character might tell the players that the nearby town is under attack, and players can choose between rushing to the town’s aid, or attacking the monsters’ lair in the mountains. These choices lead to different stages, offering some replayability over time. Players also visit shops from time to time where they can get information and restock items.
Tower of Doom looks all right, considering the game is twenty years old now. Sprites are a tad muddy, but the animations are smooth, and the creatures look like they were pulled straight from a copy of the Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual. None of the music really stands out, but the change in tone and tempo between fighting gnolls, exploring caves, and facing a massive dragon is fitting. Also, characters say the name of the spell they are casting each time they cast. It is never grating, really, but the speech is not very clear, sounding like the voice actor mumbled into the microphone.
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