genuine concern among gamers that 2D games were going to die out forever, replaced permanently by 3D games likeMario 64, Tekken, and Crash Bandicoot. Today that notion is a bit absurd, as 2D games peacefully coexist among the most graphically impressive 3D experiences ever made. Between digital marketplaces, mobile games, and a surge of indie developers, 2D gaming is here to stay. But in 1996, the death of 2D was a genuine concern.
Playing Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara, a collection of Capcom's 2D D&D brawlers Tower of Doom (1993) and Shadow over Mystara (1996), I can't help but transport myself back to that time. 2D beat 'em up games like Final Fight and Streets of Rage had run their course by then, and the genre had been stagnating like so many 2D genres at the time. Looking back, these games feel like a genuine last effort to revitalize the genre, Shadow over Mystara especially.
While Tower of Doom is a solid game, there's a good reason Shadow over Mystara takes top billing in this collection. Simply put, you'd be hard pressed to find an arcade brawler with more depth. Relegated to arcades and a Japan-only collection on Sega Saturn, Shadow over Mystara is a game that deserves a new audience. It's ahead of its time in many ways. In fact, the only game I'd consider its peer is Guardian Heroes, another classic of the genre.
By mixing a simple, quarter-munching genre with a fighting game pedigree and the RPG aspects of D&D, Capcom crafted some uncharacteristically deep arcade games. It's only in recent years, with games like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Legend of Dungeon that we've seen the brawler genre infused with so much depth.
Players begin by choosing from one of six different classes -- Fighter, Dwarf, Elf, Cleric, Thief, and Magic User. Each class comes with their own unique movesets. The Fighter, for example, may have the framework of the traditional 2D brawler character, but he has everything from lunging attacks to aerial launchers and the ability to parry and counterattack. The Magic User, conversely, doesn't have much in way of attack strength, but has access to a repertoire of powerful spells. When you get four players together that D&D feel shines through, as each class's strengths and weaknesses play off of each other.
Both games take players through typical fantasy adventures, where an evil force is looking to harm the realm and it's up to you to stop them. It's cliché fare -- the story isn't good at all (and even contains a couple silly grammatical errors), but it's brief and harmless. More interesting are the moments where the games ask you to make choices on where you'll go next. Both Tower of Doomand Shadow over Mystara are packed with branching paths and hidden areas. There are several entire levels you'll only experience by completing multiple adventures, lending these games a ton of replay value, even if each one only takes an hour or so to complete.