Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara for PC Review

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I like the Dungeons & Dragons concept and bestiary but I just can’t get into the actual game or tabletop game, whatever it is. I get bored very quickly. However, I do enjoy some of the D&D video games. Chronicles of Mystara is one of them. Developed by Capcom and Ion Galaxy Studios and published by Capcom, Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara was released in August, 2013 for PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii U, and Steam. I have played this on Wii U before but for this review, Jeremy, Matt, and I teamed up to play through the Steam version. Chronicles of Mystara consists of two arcade games – Tower of Doom, originally released in 1993, and Shadow over Mystara, originally released in 1996. Both are beat’em ups with RPG elements.

Before you start playing, you must select your character. In both games you can play as a Fighter, Elf, Cleric, or Dwarf and Shadow over Mystara adds in a Thief and Magic User. The story in the Tower of Doom follows four adventurers as they investigate monster attacks which lead them to the Arch Lich Deimos. The story in Shadow over Mystara takes place right after the events of the Tower of Doom and the adventurers continue their journey and discover that the Arch Lich was being used by a Sorceress named Synn who wants to control the Kingdom. The stories are told through text and you can make choices on your quests which does add some replay value. Most of the voice acting that’s heard is when the characters scream and groan during gameplay.

Both games are side scrolling beat’em ups and you can move left, right, up, down, crouch, jump, and run. There are multiple difficulty modes and each character class specializes in different things but they can all perform the same basic attacks and moves. You can hit enemies with your melee weapon, cast magic spells, there’s jump attacks, a slide attack, and you can block. Shadow over Mystara includes more moves and attacks and special attacks for each character class. The special attacks do have a downside, though, like costing you health or no experience gained from the kills. We would suggest reading through the How to Play menu which lists all the moves and how to perform them. Magic abilities can be offensive or defensive and you’ll want to use them appropriately to be truly effective in combat. However, casting magic does pause the game for everyone which can be annoying at times. You can acquire non-magic items like daggers and hammers to throw at enemies and arrows for your bow. Most weapons or spells you acquire can only be used a limited amount of times before you have to obtain more. Some enemies like gargoyles are immune to non-magic attacks so knowing when to use and save certain magic abilities is important.

As you progress through the games and kill monsters, you’ll gain experience and level up. Although, one guide I’ve read indicated that in Tower of Doom, your experience doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way and is more for scoring purposes. The lack of information in-game about how things work is a problem. In between most stages you’ll have the opportunity to buy items like weapons and health at shops. When you take damage, you lose health, and when you lose all of your health, you die.  You can spend a credit to get back in the game. You can restore some of your health by casting specific spells or by drinking health potions that can be found in the environments or are dropped by fallen enemies. Enemies also drop items like weapons, treasure, coins, and equipment when killed. You can find loot in chests as well. Equipment like boots, shields, and rings, among other items are automatically equipped once acquired and they can break during combat. But they will provide you benefits while equipped. Unfortunately, the attack and pick up items button are the same so if there’s items on the ground and you’re trying to attack, you may find yourself picking up items instead which can be annoying. Shadow over Mystara feels faster-paced than Tower of Doom and the combat in Shadow feels a bit more fluid and responsive. One advantage Tower has over Shadow is the inventory system. In both games, you press a button to scroll through your inventory. Hower, in Tower you can just press the button to switch between items instantly. Shadow introduces inventory wheels which not only display over top of your character but you have to press another button to confirm the switch. And since items and spells are categorized into multiple inventory wheels, navigating through your inventory can be a bit tedious during combat.

Unfortunately, neither game explains any systems, mechanics, or how things work. There are hints that pop-up at the main menu but you’re pretty much on your own. You can read through the How to Play menu but it doesn’t explain anything outside of showing you how to perform attacks. I’m not saying the game needs to hold your hand but some information would be nice. Every time you level up, your health increases. We had no idea how leveling up really worked since it seemed like we were just leveling up willy nilly in between stages. There’s a detailed guide on Steam that covers Shadow over Mystara. From what I’ve read in this guide, defeating certain bosses will raise your character’s level, granting magic-focused characters new spells. In addition to leveling up your character during gameplay in both games, you’ll level up you’re overall player which I think happens by earning overall experience just by playing. None of this is really explained anywhere. There are challenges you can complete in both games which are kind of like achievements and completing them does reward you with experience. The coins you collect act as currency that can be spent at shops and the treasure is a form of collectibles. Furthermore, collecting treasure grants you experience. You can view what treasure you’ve collected from the Treasure list, accessed from the main menu. Now there is something called VP which we think stands for Vault Points but we can’t confirm. Again, not explained in-game. As you play the games, you earn VP and can spend points in the Vault to unlock concept art, secret, files and more importantly, House Rules. The House Rules are basically gameplay modifiers. Many of these rules will make the gameplay easier and some just mix up the gameplay. One rule allows you to lose money instead of health when taking damage. Another allows you to unlock specific chests without keys. And the Vampirism rule lets your attacks leech health from enemies. The Enemy Rush modifier is a Special Time Attack mode where you’re timed and every kill grants you a little more time. You need to be quick because when the timer reaches zero, you die. Playing with the rules on may increase your enjoyment of the games and at the very least, they give you another reason to replay through the campaigns.

Playing solo is fun but can be very hard. These are arcade games after all. Thankfully, you can keep continuing after death without spending any real money. Playing with friends is the ideal way to experience these games. Plus, you’ll probably have a less difficult time getting through areas with a few buddies watching your back. You can play with buddies locally which is how we played or online. The game supports up to four players and with each class specializing in different things, teamwork is key. The cleric will be able to decimate undead enemies instantly which will help the rest of the group deal with the tougher enemy types. The dwarf is the most powerful character at close range and the elf is both a magic user and fighter. Each class has their own strengths and weaknesses. Every stage consists of plenty of enemies to defeat including troglodytes, goblins, hellhounds, gnolls, and trolls, among other different types of foes. Some utilize ranged attacks, others can teleport around, and many like to rush you and utilize melee attacks. You can stun enemies, they can stun you, some can grab onto you and drain your health, and they don’t all go down so easily. They can block your attacks and they’re often relentless with theirs which becomes very noticeable when playing solo. You can easily get overwhelmed and killed in a matter of seconds. You’ll engage plenty of bosses and they are tough, bordering on cheap. But again, arcade games. Some will teleport all over the place or rapidly move around areas and it things can get intense. You will want to master your attacks and magic to be successful in combat. You’ll need to experiment with attacks and see what magic is best against certain enemies. Trial and error.

There’s a decent variety of areas in both games and the choices you make throughout the storylines will take you to different areas so you have to play through the games multiple times to see everything. You’ll battle your way through caves, ride a raft down a river while being chased by a dragon, and engage a troll on some kind of ship. The environments are filled with all kinds of hazards like fire, crushers, ice, falling rocks, arrows, and trap chests. Some these chests can petrify you which can be a bitch since petrification can kill you instantly. There are secret areas and rooms you can find, you’ll acquire keys that are needed to open certain chests, and it’s always a good idea to explore every nook and cranny so you don’t miss out on loot. Some environments in Shadow contain puzzles but they don’t require much thinking.

Visually, both games look good with Shadow over Mystara looking noticeably better. It contains better effects and more detailed environments. The games are filled with plenty of color and the sprite work is well done. The character and monster sprites are animated well and the combat feels satisfying thanks to the nice visual effects of the blows. The music in both games is solid but nothing to write home about. The soundtracks are full of orchestral adventurous-sounding tunes but the menu music for the Tower of Doom is just repetitive as fuck. The sound effects are decent. The slashes, stabs, and magic attacks all sound satisfying enough and the characters and enemies like to shout during combat as well as scream and groan when they take damage and/or die. On the technical side we experienced no issues during gameplay however every time we would exit the game and then launch it again, the main menu control option would always revert back to keyboard and mouse even though we set it to controller.

We had a great time with the Chronicles of Mystara and even though the games provide little to no information about most things, these were still a blast to play. Every time we finished a game, we were able to unlock something in the vault so that’s cool. Shadow over Mystara is longer than Tower of Doom and Shadow also feels more faster-paced and fluid. With that said, we do think that’s the better game out of the two. There’s more characters to choose from, it feels more fun to play, and it has more content in general. With the multiple difficulty modes, multiple characters, the house rules, and all the unlockable content, you’ll be playing these for a little while.

Ultimately, we would recommend Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara. I mean, it’s no Turtles in Time, it won’t make you crave pizza, but it’s two great games in one package. They’re fun to play solo or with friends and they offer a good amount of replay value. If you enjoy D&D, beat’em ups, or just think these look like fun then I would say definitely check it out.

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