Dungeons & Dragons Collection: Shadow Over Mystara

While I believe Tower of Doom does capture the D&D atmosphere better, the gameplay of Shadow Over Mystara makes it the superior of the two games. There are some annoying issues, but it this a solid hack-and-slash game, and a personal favorite.

In my last review, I looked at Tower of Doom, the first of two games included in the Dungeons & Dragons Collection for the Sega Saturn. I am finishing my review of the collection now by looking at Shadow Over Mystara, a game that improves upon the first game but is still not without its own failings.

In Shadow Over Mystara, two new characters have been added to the roster, so you may now choose between the fighter, dwarf, cleric, elf, magic-user, and thief. Each of the characters has his or her own strengths and weaknesses, and it may take you some time playing this game before you realize which is best suited for you. If you prefer pure hack-and-slash, then the fighter or dwarf is your best bet. It turns out that I really like the thief, but I tend to prefer the quicker characters in games like this.

The control in this game seems to be improved, but perhaps that is due to the new moves that are added. Since this is a Capcom game, it is not surprising that they added in a move that uses the fireball motion from Street Fighter II. When you do this move, you will slide forward and slash, and it is a very effective way of taking care of several enemies. I had a slight problem with the addition of some moves, such as the fighter’s move that looks very much like the dragon punch from Street Figher II. Though the moves may improve playability, they don’t seem suited for a D&D game. Even with the improvements, though, there are still nagging issues, such as how items are picked up. Oftentimes, you will either pick up an item when you mean to attack, opening yourself up for a cheap hit, or you will replace an item you want to keep with one you don’t (or you will keep switching between them instead of attacking). That said, the item management in this game is better, and it is very cool that you can now carry different melee weapons and switch between them. I still would prefer to do this through a pause screen, as dealing with your inventory during the heat of battle can be bothersome, but I have become accustomed to it well enough that it doesn’t give me too many problems now.

Once again, you will see many familiar D&D enemies in this game, including several that make repeat appearances from the last game. Given the wealth of monsters in the D&D universe, it was somewhat disappointing to once again face such enemies as the manticore and displacer beast. Also, there were a few enemies which I didn’t recognize from D&D, and I am curious whether they were created just for this game, as they don’t seem like normal D&D monsters.

Overall, though, this game is more fun to play than the first and a blast if you team up with a buddy. Because of the new moves, the game does not feel so cheap. Even when enemies are knocked off the side of the screen, you can still fight them and inflict a lot of damage. The fact that you can find different weapons and armor is a plus as well. Also, whenever you fight certain enemies, you may slice off a piece of skin or other body part that can be fashioned into an item (it sounds much more disgusting than it appears on screen).

While I believe Tower of Doom does capture the D&D atmosphere better, the gameplay of Shadow Over Mystara makes it the superior of the two games. There are some annoying issues, but it this a solid hack-and-slash game, and a personal favorite. It may be hard to justify the ridiculous prices some ebayers attempt to sell this one for, but it probably comes closer to being worthy of the inflated price than a lot of the other collector games.

Highly recommended

Dungeons & Dragons Collection: Tower of Doom

Though not without flaws, if you love hack-and-slash gameplay and D&D, then Tower of Doom should have a place in your game library.

Released only in Japan, Dungeons & Dragons Collection brought two arcade games, Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara, to the Sega Saturn. It seems strange to me that this was released in Japan but not the U.S., considering that there are going to be many more D&D fans in the States than there are in Japan, but perhaps we can attribute that to the short life of the Sega Saturn console.

Since the collection consists of two different games, I have decided to review each game separately. This post will focus on Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom, the first of the two to be released in arcades.

As someone who did play Dungeons & Dragons when I was younger, I was ecstatic when I had the opportunity to play this in the arcade. All of the enemies are faithfully reproduced and all appear to be fashioned from the AD&D Second Edition Monstrous Compendium. In fact, they even did better than the Monstrous Compendium on at least one enemy, as they gave the displacer beast the correct number of legs (six), while it only had four in the Monstrous Compendium. And yes, with that bit of trivia, I prove what a geek I really am.

I started playing the Saturn version of Tower of Doom remembering how much fun my friends and I had playing it in the arcade. We pumped in a lot of quarters, especially when I demanded that we face the red dragon, even though we were warned not to. It took the rest of our money, but it was very satisfying when the final stroke was dealt and the red dragon fell. So, did I get the same kind of satisfaction playing it on the Sega Saturn?

Unfortunately, I didn’t. And before you wonder if they botched the Saturn port—let me assure you that it is a good port. Though there may be small differences, it is very much like playing the original arcade game. So, why didn’t I enjoy it as much as I once did? There are a few reasons. For one, this is the type of game that really benefits from having at least two players. That allows you to choose characters of different strengths and work off of one another. For example, the elf can cast magic, but she isn’t as strong in melee combat. If you pair her with the fighter or the dwarf, then you have a more balanced offense. Also, playing with a friend helps prevent you from being surrounded by enemies and receiving multiple hits. The second reason I did not enjoy the game as much is because practically all of the text is in Japanese. I started to make cheat sheets so that I could tell which items were which in my inventory, but not having them memorized, it’s obviously not as convenient as being able to read that I have lightning bolt as my active spell or I have oil ready as my secondary weapon. Also, this game allows you to choose different paths to get to the end, but without being able to read the text, you can’t be sure how one path differs from the other. I plan on coming up with translations to all of the text in the game, but in the meantime, it’s just a matter of memorizing which choices bring which results. If only this game had an option to switch all the text to English like Vampire Savior does (of course, that is an unlockable secret in that game). The third reason I didn’t enjoy this game as much is that because this is an arcade port, there is an arcade mentality to it. An arcade game is set up so that you will keep putting quarters in the machine, so it has to make sure that you die and die fairly often. Even though you have a variety of moves (sometimes too many, but I will get to that later) and items, you will likely die a lot in this game. You can pick up healing potions and rings along the way, but they do not replenish much health. The game has unlimited continues, so no matter what, you will be able to finish the game, but it is still frustrating to die frequently.

The controls for the game are good, but as I mentioned, you might get a little frustrated at times by some of the moves. Even though the Saturn controller has eight buttons, only four are used. After you crouch down to do a sliding slash with your sword a few times instead of doing a jump attack (the jump button does both, depending on what direction you are pressing), you will wonder why Capcom didn’t change the controls from the arcade to make use of the Y, Z, or the shoulder buttons.

Finally, this game suffers from the off-screen enemy problem that occurs so often in this type of game. You will be fighting an enemy and knock him off the side of the screen, where you can no longer get to him or see him, but he can still attack you. It’s frustrating when you have a good rhythm establish and are dealing a lot of punishment on your enemy, but then he is saved because you knock him off the side of the screen and out of view.

After all these complaints, it may be surprising to hear that I still like this game, and I like it a lot. I have always been a fan of hack-and-slash games, and this is one of the best ones to be found. Plus, it really does capture the feel of D&D, and though Shadow Over Mystara introduced improvements, Tower of Doom seems more like D&D to me. The monsters are all recognizable and attack as you would expect them to based on the source material. I also prefer the final enemy in Tower of Doom to Shadow Over Mystara. I won’t ruin the boss battles for you, but the final boss in Mystara is similar to an enemy you can fight earlier in the game, and I really believe the final boss should be a unique experience.

Though not without flaws, if you love hack-and-slash gameplay and D&D, then Tower of Doom should have a place in your game library. Unfortunately, this game is selling for quite a bit on ebay these days (I got mine on Yahoo Auctions for $40 years ago), so you’ll likely have to spend more than this game originally sold for in order to snag a copy. If you can find it at a bargain price, though, it is a must buy.

Note that U.S. Sega Saturns will need something like an Action Replay (what I use) in order to play the Japanese games. One of these cartridges is a good investment for a Saturn owner, though, as many of the good Saturn games never made it to the States.

Recommended (and highly recommended for D&D fans)