STAFF REVIEW of Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara (Xbox 360 Arcade)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013.
by Adam Dileva

Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara Box art There was a time where THE genre to make was a side scrolling beat’em-up (also known as a brawler), much like how first person shooters dominate gaming these days. Back in the late 80’s, a few pillar brawler games released and seemed to start a trend in gaming for quite a few days; these games were Double Dragon, Final Fight and Golden Axe. There were obviously a few titles that came before these, but these were the ones that really hit the main stream and become vastly popular at the time and the ones I spent many hours of my childhood playing.

Brawlers are generally an action fighting game where you’ll need to clear an area before being allowed to move on, generally taking on a large amount of enemies that you should have no chance of winning. After the wave of enemies you can move on to the next area, repeat, and then fight a boss at the end to finish the level. Most of the time you’ll be unarmed, but there are usually weapons and special items you can pick up along the way for more devastating attacks. These games were known to be notoriously hard, especially if you used to play them in the arcade, as they were a vortex that sucked all the quarters you had on you due to their sheer difficulty and length.

Here we are today and Capcom has released Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara on the Xbox Live arcade for 1200 Microsoft Points. Chronicles actually consists of two separate classic Capcom Dungeons & Dragons games: Tower of Doom (released in 1993) and its sequel Shadow over Mystara (from 1996) that have been given the HD makeover for new and older gamers to enjoy some old classic brawling action. While the price may seem steep for an older HD remake, keep in mind that Chronicles contains both games, even if Shadow of Mystara is vastly superior of the two.

While the story may be the standard ‘save the land and defeat the bad guy’, there are many ways to play through the game, as there are many hidden secrets, branching areas, and certain decisions you’ll have to make. There isn’t much to say here about the story, as Brawlers are more about the fluid gameplay, point scoring, and in this case, treasure gathering as well.

The formula for a good Brawler is quite simple, yet it seems Capcom has gone taken a few extra steps to make Chronicles stand out amongst the competition with small inclusions like a leveling system, multiple characters with distinct abilities, treasure gathering to spend your earned gold, and more. Sure at its heart it’s essentially no different than Final Fight and Double Dragon, but as multiplayer experience with up to four players, it’s a much deeper experience when compared to its simplistic roots. There’s a slight element of strategy when it comes to forming your team of players together, as some characters have specific features and skills that will play well as a team against the hordes of enemies.

From the main menu you can choose which game you would like to play (defaults to Shadow of Mystara) and from there jump in with three other players, locally or online. Once you’ve played through a few missions and earned some milestones (in-game achievements) you’ll gain currency which you can then use to unlock artwork and other cool behind the scenes stuff, though you’ll probably want to spend it on the unlockable House Rules first before anything else. These House Rules are essentially toggles that can make the game easier or more difficult based on which ones you turn on and off. The better ones are extra gold drops, gain health when attacking enemies, unbreakable equipment, and more. Even just a few of the toggles can make for a drastically different game (especially with Enemy Rush rule turned on, where you start with only 30 seconds and have to defeat enemies to keep the clock going) and will keep you coming back a few more times to try some of them out.

Tower of Doom allows you to choose from four separate classes that vary in skills and abilities, depending on your favored play style. The Fighter is the most average and balanced character that has a large life pool and great range for attacks. The Elf is similar to the Fighter, though she has a much smaller life bar but can cast magic to make up for it. The Dwarf is unable to cast magic but is the fasted fighter and hardest hitter, making him a lot of fun for melee-centric players. Lastly is the Cleric that is able to attack up close with his mace, but rather excels at healing and other spells to help the team. When you play Shadow of Mystara these four base classis are available along with two newer ones that are much more unique. The Thief is a hybrid of melee and mobility and can also sense traps and open chests with ease. Lastly is the Magic User, and while they are nor your standard definition of strong, especially with the very low life bar, they possess the most powerful spells in the game and can take out groups of large enemies with ease. Playing on the harder difficulties, you will want to vary your team makeup and play to each other’s strengths.

As you defeat bosses and move onto the next chapter you’ll gain levels with will boost your hit points and also get to spend your hard earned gold at the local shop to refill your life and extra items like daggers, throwing hammers, oil, and more. There’s no sense hoarding your gold, so you might as well spend it when you’re able to.

Most beat’em ups generally have a simplistic combat mechanic. Usually it’s an attack button and jump, or light and heavy attacks with a guard button. Dungeons and Dragons employs these, but takes it another step further (with Shadow of Mystara) and employs an almost fighting game-like system on top of the core smashing attack button system should you choose to use it. Granted, most of your attacks will simply be smashing the button repeatedly, there are a few extra moves you can pull off in Shadows of Mystara should you learn them and used appropriately. A quarter circle forward and attack (a Hadouken) will make your character lunge a wife distance in front of them while attacking upward, great for a slew of enemies right in front of you. A quarter circle forward and jump will allow you to slide and quickly evade attacks and out of the way of danger. Stringing together combinations of these special moves will allow you to become much more efficient in battle and even more so needed during boss fights surrounded by enemies. I won’t spoil all of the other moves, for having specific move sets like this in a brawler wasn’t all that common back when these originally came out and it shows how much ahead of the game Capcom was back then.

The game itself is quite difficult while playing solo, so it is definitely recommended to gather some friends, as these can be played with up to four players. With each of the characters have unique skills sets it is recommended to create your party where each player’s character will have a specific role in the group. That being said, at the time I was playing for review, I was unable to find anyone else playing online at the times I was, so I was unable to test the online capabilities, though it’s touted to have seamless drop-in and out gameplay; I just wish I was able to test it myself.

To help facilitate setting up an ideal party, there’s a Character Visualizer that keeps track of every character you use and will even show you the characters you use the most and your friends as well. This is to help show you who likes to play what so you can make the most balanced team you can so you won’t have to keep on continuing from repeated deaths.

I didn’t realize at the title screen that I had to press the Back button to swap between the two games, and since it defaults to the newer, and better game, I naturally finished that one first before realizing how to switch between them. The only problem with that though was that Shadow of Mystara is the vastly superior game out of the two, even if only for the extra characters and move sets, and playing Tower of Doom afterwards when you’re used to using all the special attacks is quite difficult, even more so if you decided to play the Magic User of Thief. Not a big deal, but I would suggest playing the games in order, get your Tower of Doom achievements out of the way, then play Shadow of Mystara and never look back.

1200 Microsoft Points may seem like a hefty price tag for two HD remakes of almost twenty year old games, but there are few brawler games that actually carry the depth and online multiplayer component like Chronicles of Mystara does. Sure you’re going to get sick of hearing the same battle cries over and over, fighting the same creatures a thousand times, and even getting one-shot by bosses, but that’s what made brawler games so endearing. Sadly I never got to play these games in the arcade as a kid, but on the other hand, without a good team of friends it would have taken me more than the amount of quarters I would have been able to carry to beat it anyways if I did. Sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and smash some button to beat up some bad guys, these games certainly allow for that, but those that want to employ some strategy and skill are also encourage to come and enjoy as well.

Overall: 7.8 / 10
Gameplay: 8.5 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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