Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara Review
Back in the days when Capcom started making less money on beat-em-ups and a lot more on fighting games like Street Fighter II, the developers started putting together some really interesting stuff as a response to the changing industry. Possibly the best product to come out of that shake up was Capcom's short series of Dungeons & Dragons games that put together classic beat-em-up action with the elements of choice and a bit of persistence that the genre previously hadn't really seen.
Now, they're bringing it back with D&D: Chronicles of Mystara, a collection of the two arcade classics Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara (from 1993 and 1996, respectively) with all of the action together in one game, plus GGPO-powered online play for very smooth action along with drop-in and drop-out play that really maintains the spirit of the arcade originals which were always meant for four players. Add in new overarching features and other fun stuff, and suddenly those fifteen bucks that Capcom is asking doesn't seem like so much money anymore - especially if you'd put that much in quarters into the machines back in the 90s.
When jumping into Mystara, you'll see the same treatment that Capcom gave games like Street Fighter III Online Edition on Xbox Live, although I'm reviewing Chronicles of Mystara on PC over Steam. Still, the developers have added plenty, including using the sides of the display (the original game is in all of its extreme low-def, non-widescreen glory) to show your progress towards challenges and achievements, which can then lead to unlocks of new stuff later on.
As to how Mystara plays, well, I have to admit I had a bit of a case of rose-tinted glasses on this one, because I remember the originals playing supremely well. Simply put, though, it's not nearly as impressive as I recall, and the game's many iffy moments and slightly choppy animation can be a bit off-putting at first. As animation smoothness goes, it now looks like these D&D games were almost a step backwards from Final Fight (despite these ones being much longer, having many more monsters and bosses to fight, and doubling the number of playable characters), and it can get a little weird trying to play and wondering why enemies stun or knock you down, leaving you in some single frame of animation, just waiting to recover.
Still, Capcom did make things interesting with several characters to choose from, each with special abilities and fun Golden Axe-style magic that can be unleashed. Playing alone will mean you're dumping lots of virtual quarters into the game (that number, of course, is tracked - along with a lot of things you might not expect are recorded while you play), but I think you'll find that if you open your game up to online joiners, people will come in and really help as you can start doing the same stun-locking and huge combos as the enemies often do to you. At no point did I see even a second of lag when playing online, and it really was a little bit like being back in the arcades.
Capcom put in important features like keyboard/mouse support as well as easy support for Xbox 360 controllers, and you can play in a number of ways with and without pixel filters, scanlines, and viewing angles - including a simulation of the two-monitor standup machine that was a bit of a rarity even when these games were relatively new.
I don't know that it's terribly smart to recommend Chronicles of Mystara to those who didn't play arcade beat-em-ups way back in the day - after all, games like Castle Crashers or even the decade-old Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance move so much smoother than these classics - but I will say that if you enjoyed any of those games and just never got around to this, then it will likely be worth your money to give it a shot - although you might want to wait for an inevitable Steam sale. Otherwise, the extra features, house rules modes, smooth online play, and attention to detail in emulating the originals in their entirety makes for a package that you simply should not ignore if you really enjoyed Capcom's D&D arcade games in the past. This is an arcade revival done right, and even if my memories of the games were a little more idealized than reality, the games are still a blast to play and this is now by far the best way to play them.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a downloadable, final version of the game supplied by the publisher.