"Welcome to the D&D World!" With these words, one of the all time greatest series of co-op games began. Chronicles of Mystara brings the classic brawling action from the 90s arcade right into your living room via digital download. How does the hack and slashing hold up today? Is there enough here to keep the interest of modern gamers?
Chronicles of Mystara is a compilation of two classic Dungeons & Dragons arcade games. Tower of Doom was released in 1993, and the sequel, Shadow over Mystara, came three years later. Capcom was at its best during this time period, and both games are defining examples of the side scrolling co-op brawler. I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the game mechanics for the purposes of the review; if you are interested in more about the games themselves, check out previous features. It is worth pointing out that the depth and varied options that led to replayability in the arcades make these two games excellent candidates for modern release.
Apart from the source material, then, what exactly is included in the Chronicles of Mystara package? One never knows what to expect when a classic comes to PC, Xbox Live Arcade, or Playstation Network. Lazy ports abound, but as the platforms have matured, more and more additional features make their way into rereleases like this one. Chronicles of Mystara has received the deluxe treatment, with all the bells and whistles modern gamers expect, including a host of options, tweaks, bonus features, and even a leveling system that will keep achievement hunters busy for months. Only one thing is missing, as we will discuss later.
How exactly does the leveling system work? Remember arcade games like NBA Jam that kept your record and other data from one session to the next if you signed in? Chronicles of Mystara has a very similar system. In true D&D fashion, players can level up as they enjoy playing both games. Performing specific tasks, like shooting a certain number of enemies with a bow, or using so many scrolls, earns players gems. The achievement system is tied into earning these gems, and gems further reward players by unlocking concept art, special game modes, or best of all, in-game power ups. Don’t like your items breaking all the time? Spend gems to purchase the ability to never lose another item. Other strong power ups include the ability to heal when dealing damage and increasing the amount of money foes drop when slain. The leveling system is deep, satisfying, and a great bridge between the game’s vintage charm and modern game design ideals.
Arcade games like Tower of Doom and Shadow over Mystara weren’t exactly intended for modern displays, being quite low in resolution and in the old standard 4:3 screen ratio. This presents a challenge for developers: how should this problem be fixed? In this case, the solution is in the players’ hands. The display can be letterboxed (with gem/achievement information on either side of the game screen), zoomed in, stretched to fit, and more. You can choose to keep the gorgeous art as is, or apply filters to make the game look even better. Arcade purists will appreciate the toggle for scan lines as well as the arcade cabinet view. There is a level of attention to detail in the display options that many other games could certainly learn from.
In the arcades, both of the Dungeons & Dragons games included co-op for up to four players. Chronicles of Mystara does the same. Arcade mode is the local co-op mode, and is pretty much just what it sounds like: you can choose either Tower of Doom or Shadows over Mystara and play from beginning to end. Players can drop in and out as they like. There is no limit to the amount of continues you have, though the game does track how many credits you use, for bragging rights purposes.
Online co-op has a few more options, including a “house rules” feature that lets the host determine what power ups will be allowed. Level selection and difficulty can be tweaked when playing online, as well. I was unable to test lag or other issues with online co-op with the early review copy, but from what I can determine, there is no combo co-op, where two or more local players can play in an online game. This is a perplexing decision, and its a shame that one of Chronicles of Mystara’s few flaws is such a disappointing one. Perhaps combo co-op will be patched in later; we can only hope.
As the next console generation approaches, online game services like XBLA and PSN are delivering some of their best. Chronicles of Mystara is a nearly perfect package of two stellar co-op classics. The lack of combo co-op is the only serious flaw in the game. As a huge fan of the games, I'd have been thrilled with a full on HD remake, but this is still an excellent representation. Chronicles of Mystara is a true thrill to play, whether you are a fan of classic brawlers or a newer gamer looking for a great dungeon crawl or two.
This review is based on a copy of the Xbox 360 version of the game, provided by the publisher.