D&D: Chronicles of Mystara is a downloadable HD console release of two arcade games created by Capcom, based on the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop role-playing game and set in the Mystara campaign setting Tower of Doom (originally released in 1993) and Shadows Over Mystara (1997).
At first glance this appears to be a rip-off of the Golden Axe games, and I can’t help comparing it with them; however it doesn’t take long to see that it’s a bit more than that. Chronicles of Mystara somehow manages to incorporate RPG elements into a 2D hack ‘n’ slash arcade fighter – I would say it’s more of a fighter at heart though, as the RPG side is moderate, but still adds a refreshing layer of depth to the proceedings.
In both D&D Campaigns there are several different characters to choose from, each with different fighting styles: melee, magic and a combination of both and each their own abilities, spells, and weapons; all of which can be accessed from their inventory. Extra character specific items can also picked up after defeating enemies, which when used really add to the otherwise limited combat.
Whilst the RPG elements in themselves are very impressive, there are a few other things I’d like to mention which sets this game apart from similar incarnations, such as the aforementioned, Golden Axe. For a start, Chronicles of Mystara has a wide variety of creature & boss types from the D&D universe, all with their own attack patterns, strengths and weaknesses, whereas in Golden Axe most enemies were human and the bosses were all very similar to one another, both in appearance and combat style.
Also, unlike GA, there is the ability to choose your own path, giving you a different experience each time you play and allowing the developers to introduce the many hidden rooms full of treasure, items and..TRAPS!
A great feature of this game is its challenge system; various challenges for you to complete in order to gain more experience points, and if you play the game in 4:3 you can view your progression on the side bar. Typical challenges require killing enemies with a specific weapon type or collecting a certain amount of treasure in a set time. The XP points can then be used to unlock things like concept art, posters and advertising.
Best of all are the different ‘rule type’ unlocks, which can make the game either easier or more difficult depending on which you choose. These include ‘vampire mode’, which allows you to regain health every time you damage an enemy, and ‘hedgehog mode’ where you bleed gold instead of health (I’m assuming this is a very subtle Sonic reference… I like it.)
The graphics look pretty clean, especially with the HD makeover. The sprites are fairly large and nicely detailed, the backdrops look good and there’s a great use of colour.
Games of this type never take long to play through but each Chronicles of Mystara campaign takes over an hour to complete… which may not sound like a lot but in comparison, Golden Axe campaigns only last about 20 minutes. In addition, the campaigns are highly re-playable due to the level branching, varied classes, challenges, and of course their online mode.
The addition of online mode is where this version really comes to life. Up to 4 players can join a game together and drop in and out at any point. You can create your own game and set your own preferences, including how many players you will allow to join and making your own custom rules, or alternatively, they have provided a search engine to enable you to find the game that best suits you.
In my experience, online modes in retro games can tend to suffer from performance issues, but it copes very well with just a brief pause when a new player is joining and otherwise no real issues that I’ve encountered. Playing Chronicles of Mystara in multi-player mode is much more fun than just on your own: it makes it a bit easier to stay alive more than a couple of minutes, and whilst working as a team you find more depth to the gameplay.
All being said there were a few things I wasn’t quite keen on… Although the inventory system is a great part of the gameplay, it can be fairly tricky to scroll through all of your items while you’re fighting, especially on Shadows Over Mystara which has an inventory with several tiers. I also found that the game forces you on a bit too quickly after beating enemies, which often doesn’t give you enough time to pick up all the loot they dropped or open treasure chests. Finally, there were a few graphical glitches which looked really bad when they occured, but they weren’t too frequent to cause any major concern.
Chronicles of Mystara is a great game and though it may seem a bit expensive at its price of approx $15/£12 a pop for a retro arcade game, Capcom have provided a chunky amount of extra content for this release so I think it is well worth paying a bit more for. I’m sure fans of the original co-op version will love it, and you can take my word that it doesn’t need to rely on nostalgia alone; A must have for all retro game fans.