By Brad Williams / July 23rd, 2013
Shadow Over Mystara makes enormous improvements on the formula in use with Tower of Doom. The story picks up two years later, and whispers reach the party’s ears that Deimos was only a bit player in a larger plot involving the sorceress Synn. The party comes together once again, facing more kobolds, gnolls, orcs, ogres, and, of course, dragons.
The party from the first game returns in Shadow Over Mystara with the addition of two additional characters. The Thief is a lockpicking melee fighter heavily based around combo attacks. Her moves include abilities like an uppercut into the air, followed by a string of burning oils on the ground, and jumping on an enemy’s shoulders, repeatedly stabbing them in the back. On the other hand, the Magic User has very weak melee abilities, but is a more capable arcane caster than the elf. While his poisoned dagger may only be useful on rare occasion, powerful spells like Meteor Swarm and Flesh to Stone more than make up for this shortcoming. These two characters are also a bit more mobile, with dodge attacks in the form of the Thief doing a backflip, or the Magic User teleporting out of harm’s way.
These new characters are not the only ones to differentiate themselves. All characters now have different movesets. Each one has an attack triggered by pushing down-up-attack, each with different mobility and attack ranges. Dash attacks are different, characters have different combo strings, and the gameplay feels completely different with each character and each party combination. And unlike most brawlers, Tower of Doom included, Shadow Over Mystara feels a little more fair. While most brawlers are full of cheap hits and cheaper deaths, every trap and enemy attack is completely avoidable, making it possible for skilled players to beat the game without continuing.
Shadow Over Mystara also expands the inventory considerably. While its predecessor allowed characters to pick up sub-weapons for use in battle, the newer game includes new weapons and armor as well. Among these, shields that protect against different elements, elemental swords that freeze, burn, or electrocute enemies, and staves that enhance the Magic User’s spells. There are even some very difficult to find weapons – kill a dragon and get its horn, and it can be turned into the Dragon Slayer sword. A cleric picking up a cursed sword enough times will purify it, becoming the Holy Avenger. Or another cursed sword that, after the character endures enough damage from its use, becomes the Sword of “Legend,” where “Legend” is replaced by the name of the top ranked Fighter on the player’s high score list. These hidden items found behind secret passages really increase the replayability considerably, on top of the branching paths returning from the first game.
These two games combined give Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara a considerable amount of value. The graphics remain unchanged from the arcade originals, but the games run smoothly, and the controls translate very well to a gamepad. Anyone familiar with Iron Galaxy’s previous arcade ports like Street Fighter III 3rd Strike and Marvel Vs. Capcom Origins will recognize the in-game Vault. Both titles include challenges, like successfully polymorphing enemies into harmless animals, or setting enemies on fire. As these challenges are completed, the player earns experience in the form of gems that can be spent unlocking concept art, and copies of old advertisements used to sell the games to both American and Japanese arcade manufacturers. These are a very cool addition that show the background of gaming that few people see.
Also like Iron Galaxy’s other ports, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara includes multiplayer. Multiple people can play on the same system, and online play is included. While these games are not fighting games, lag can still be a problem since you are still entering inputs and dodging attacks, but I never experienced the game becoming unplayably laggy.
Players can also unlock House Rules, allowing the game to be modified in specific ways. If players find the game too difficult, Vampirism gives health back every time they hit enemies. Or, for an extra challenge, Enemy Rush mode puts thirty seconds on the clock, and time can only be added by killing enemies quickly.
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is an enjoyable arcade romp that still plays well today. The titles offer a glimpse into arcade beat-em-ups at their prime, making the games great for fans of the originals and newcomers alike. Tower of Doom is definitely the weaker of the two, but play through it once and then move on to Shadow Over Mystara for the real meat of the package. Dive into this package expecting a great old school arcade beat-em-up, and Chronicles of Mystara will not disappoint.
Review copy supplied by author.
This review is based on the PC version of the game.
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