You enter a dark, but noisy room, illuminated by the flames of light protruding from a number of strange devices. Upon closer examination, one of them has four sets of what appear to be controls – a black staff is located to the left of four colored and unlabeled buttons. Unbeknownst to the party, the fiendish mechanism is a trap! The lure of Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom and Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara has stolen all of your silver!
Out of all of the quarter crunchers developed in the ‘90s, perhaps none has left a mark as lasting as the RPG hybrids Capcom introduced during the period. While the marriage of brawling and RPGs was definitely predated by similar action titles such as Black Tiger, Cadash and more, games such as The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round paved the way for two of the most fun and appealing Dungeons & Dragons games ever made. In fact, today’s most popular brawlers such as Castle Crashers and Dungeon Fighter Online still try to incorporate RPG elements – it’s almost as if one cannot exist without the other in today’s gaming world.
In my past, most Dungeons & Dragons offerings were brought forth by FCI and, outside of a computer-based format, I found all of them to be awful. I particularly remember one example, where an attempt to create “action” was found in a D&D game – Heroes of the Lance. Everything about this game was abysmal from its graphics to its controls and the lack of an ongoing story made the D&D license seem unnecessarily tacked on.
When Capcom took a stab at the license in 1994, however, it created something both fans of the license and action games could both understand and enjoy.
Starting off with Tower of Doom, Capcom developed what was easily the most accessible D&D game to date – you walked to the right and killed a variety of wicked beasts. With not only basic and advanced melee attacks available to players, each player had their own inventory to manage and utilize to take advantage of their character class.
Tower of Doom allowed players to choose from four different character classes and their strengths and abilities (as well as weaknesses) are made immediately evident. Fighters and dwarves were more mano e mano with their approach while the cleric and elf were more efficient with their inventories of skills. Many of the D&D staples were included including the clerics ability to turn the undead and the game forced players to finish off trolls with a fire attack. Behind the scenes, there is a lot going on such as random damage modifiers and knowing the weaknesses of the license’s classic beasts such as kobolds, gnolls and ghouls, but, on the surface, anyone can enjoy Capcom’s tight controls and solid gameplay.
Furthermore, even though the game prided itself on action, it did attempt to tell a story close to that of the D&D mythos. When approaching new environments, players get flavor text that reads like a DM and a number of choices are made available to determine where players go in the game and what items they are able to find. At the end of each story segment, the player gets to level up and purchase items with their hard-earned silver, providing the core RPG elements the game needed without implementing dice rolling and number crunching.
In fantasy fashion, the graphics were colorful and vibrant, but they could also be dark and foreboding when necessary. The beasts were also very impressive, giving even the simplest of enemies a ton of personality, which makes the larger boss characters such as the displacer, beholder and black dragon even more interesting. If a player is bested by a boss character and a continue screen pops up, the boss throws a quote out at the player, egging them on in the hopes he or she will feed the machine another quarter. In this essence, this is one of the mechanics used by Tower of Doom to provide a dialog between the game and the player, trying to recreate the social element of player versus DM.
Even though the game is simple on its surface, players that explore the commands will find a bit of depth to the fighting. In correlation with the joystick, players can press buttons to defend themselves, crouch in order to pick up treasures faster, perform defensive rolls, slide and more. In theory, players that work together will use these offensive tools to keep the enemies at bay while the skill-based characters have time to activate their offensive and defensive measures. With the inventory, D&D is one of those rare brawlers where players are encouraged to work together – the turn undead spell takes quite a while to activate, for example, and the cleric will need cover to ensure it isn’t interrupted. Much like the machine acting as a DM, the players themselves can dictate how easy or difficult the adventure can be.
In 1996, Capcom followed up on Tower of Doom with Shadow of Mystara. Tower of Doom certainly wasn’t a broken game, so, for Shadow of Mystara, Capcom didn’t aim to fix the core formula that made the first entry work so well. The most obvious difference between the two titles was the introduction of the thief and a full-fledged magician character class. To sum it up, though, Shadow of Mystara was an expansion of Tower of Doom – the main gameplay remained the same (and most of the enemies are the same), but Capcom cleaned up in a few areas and gave players even more out of the sequel.
The basics get revamped in Shadow of Mystara, such as receiving even more commands for basic moves, such as the aerial attack, more random stats in the background (what you name your character actually decides a bonus item you receive), more environments and a revamped choice system and more. Capcom also did more to improve the quality of the game’s graphics and sound effects to give the game a little extra punch. If you loved Tower of Doom, it was a sure thing you would also love Shadow Over Mystara.
Unfortunately for us in the States, much like a score of other licensed brawlers, these D&D games were only available to players in arcades. This is in contrast to Japan, where the SEGA Saturn had a D&D Collection, which bundled these two games together on one console disc. While D&D action titles have brought us dungeon crawling titles such as Heroes and the very recent Daggerdale, the license hasn’t gone through another brawler iteration to provide gamers with more fighting sizzle.
While concentrating wholly on action does seemingly take the license out of its comfort zone, Capcom showed that given the proper format and attention to detail, the combination of brawler and RPG could in fact work. As I said earlier, titles such as these paved the way for some of today’s most popular games in the genre and it would be nice to see someone take one more crack at having a mage take down an army of beasts with his staff. Hey – it worked for this person: