After several delays and well publicised development issues, Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara has finally launched on Wii U; while it’s not without issues, the wait was worth it. Developed by Iron Galaxy Games, Chronicles of Mystara is a HD remastering of Capcom’s arcade brawlers Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara, with extra content and online play. With two full arcade games to play through, plenty of challenges that unlock concept art and other game paraphernalia and highly customisable gameplay options, it avoids the typical nostalgic trappings of retro remasterings and instead gives a fascinating look at Capcom’s colourful past.
Chronicles of Mystara's gameplay is surprisingly deep. On the surface, it appears to be a generic button masher masked by a Dungeons & Dragons skin, but players will quickly realize that simply pressing A to attack isn't going to be the most effective strategy. There is an extensive combo system for every character, and it's highly recommended that players check out the "How to Play" section of the Help screen to see available combinations and special moves. As Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara were built for arcades there's no tutorial mode, so Iron Galaxy should be commended for including a comprehensive move/combo list. There are no notable GamePad-specific features, other than Off-TV play, which is a slight disappointment. The menus aren't touch-based, which is surprising given all the options.
While Tower of Doom preceded Shadow Over Mystara, the latter is the default option upon starting up the game, and after playing both campaigns it’s easy to understand Iron Galaxy’s choice. Shadow Over Mystara is superior from its predecessor in every way, with more playable characters, smoother visuals, and improved menus that make switching weapons much easier.
There are four characters in Tower of Doom and six in Shadow Over Mystara: Cleric, Thief, Dwarf, Fighter, Magic User, and Elf. Each has a different play style; the Fighter, for example, is the classic “tank” character, with several melee combinations to defeat enemies. The Magic User, on the other hand, relies on powerful, ranged spells. There is a bit of imbalance when trying out different characters, and the Magic User does feel a bit overpowered — certain spells attack every enemy on the screen, which makes for an easy playthrough, but not necessarily the most satisfying. And because the two titles are not actually played in an arcade there are unlimited “Continues,” which lowers the stakes significantly.
Thankfully, Chronicles of Mystara offers customisable House Rules, which allow the player to decide the difficulty setting, add fun variables to gameplay like unbreakable weapons (an option that comes in very handy when playing a higher difficulty level) and more. One great option is the ability to add scan lines to the screen to emulate the actual arcade experience. Both titles can also be played widescreen, stretched, and even framed in an arcade cabinet, which adds a self-aware atmosphere to the experience without compromising the series’ earnest, unironic fantasy story. There is also an enormous amount of story in both titles — far more than most other coin-op games — with branching paths that lead to different levels and enemies; multiple playthroughs are encouraged.
Playing through the campaigns and completing challenges will net Vault Points, meanwhile, which unlock concept art and other goodies. There are some really great documents and items to be discovered in the Vault, including Japanese promotional items. Most think of Dungeons & Dragons as a Western franchise, so it really is fascinating to see how a Japanese company interpreted and adapted the source material to make a game satisfying for both markets.
An arcade game wouldn't be very exciting without multiplayer, and Chronicles of Mystara doesn't disappoint, with local and online options. Local multiplayer is single-screen, with one player using the GamePad and the others using any combination of Wii Remote, Wii Remote Plus, Pro Controller or Classic Controller. The online multiplayer is a relatively smooth experience; players can jump into quick matches or create their own, and there is very little wait when entering a game. The downside to the cooperative play is that there is occasional lag, and when one player exits the remaining players are left to continue playing, even if that means alone. Because there is no real competitive element, though, it’s easy to jump in and play without a steep learning curve. Is there a D&D MOBA yet? There should be!
Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is an enjoyable eShop game that offers lots of content and a glimpse into Capcom’s storied past, and the occasional balance issues and streamlined online experience aren’t enough to bring this arcade gem down. Iron Galaxy may have run into some trouble porting Chronicles of Mystara to the Wii U, but it certainly doesn’t show in the final product. This is a title not to be missed.