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Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara

Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow over Mystara, also simplified to Shadow of Mystara or known as Dungeons & Dragons 2, was developed and published by Capcom as an arcade game, as a sequel to Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom in 1996. Considered the "latest and greatest" in the beat-'em-up game genre by the Gaming Age Review and "one of the finest of its genre" by Jon Thompson, All Games Guide.

The game was also released on the Sega Saturn, packaged with Tower of Doom, under the title Dungeons & Dragons Collection, although the Saturn version limited the gameplay to only 2 players.

Overview

Combining the side scrolling gameplay of a beat 'em up with some aspects found in a computer RPG, Shadow over Mystara has many game mechanics not commonly found in arcade games. While things as simple as item collection, finding and equipping new gear and earning new spells as you gain experience is an old idea in console games, it is a rare find at the arcades. Players can wield a large variety of weapons and armor, although this selection is limited by the character you choose (thieves and magic-users, for example, can not use shields). There is also a huge assortment of magical and hidden items in the game, many of which are completely unknown to exist to the typical arcade gamer. This, along with the addition of multiple endings and forking paths, gives the game an extreme amount of re-playability and has led to its cult following.

Plot

The game is set in the Mystara campaign setting.

After defeating the Arch Lich Deimos, the heroes continued on their journey through the Broken Lands of Glantri after realising that Deimos is only part of a greater evil plan. Deimos was in fact being used by a mysterious sorceress named Synn. Synn, who appears to be a young woman but commands incredibly powerful magical abilities, was scheming to control the Kingdom of Glantri and conquer the humanoids of the Republic of Darokin. The original plan was having Deimos controlling the Republic of Darokin and Synn controlling the Kingdom of Glantri, and then through Deimos Synn can indirectly control Darokin. But now that Deimos has been defeated, Synn vowed to punish the land that she desired for.

Mechanics

Controls

There are four buttons: Attack, Jump, Select and Use. Pressing Select brings up a small inventory ring around the character allowing the player to choose what item is set in the Use slot. Pressing the Use button will activate what ever item is currently set in this Use slot. The Cleric, Elf and Magic-User also have two extra rings for their spells, with the Jump button used to switch from ring to ring.

Shadow over Mystara also introduced a selection of special moves which are executed by moving the joystick and tapping the buttons in certain combinations, in a way similar to the Street Fighter series. The characters (except for the Magic-User) have a Dashing Attack as well as a Rising Attack which can be used to combo monsters or even juggle them in the air. Most characters (again, with the exception of the Magic-User and also Cleric, who has turning undead) also have a Megacrush, a move common to nearly all of Capcom side-scrollers, which damages all enemies standing close enough to the character but in turn also damaging the player themselves.

Treasure on the ground is picked up by standing near it and pressing the Attack button. Due to this feature, characters that stand too close to loot while fighting will instead bend down and retrieve the nearby item. It was very difficult to fight monsters in room full of treasure in the original Tower of Doom, and Capcom addressed these complaints with the addition of Sliding. The maneuver allows players to automatically pick up any treasure and equipment a hero slides over, quickly clearing the area of items.

While the game uses the same kick harness as the first Dungeons & Dragons arcade game, the Select and Use buttons are reversed.

Visiting villages

In between many stages the players find themselves inside small town stores where they can restock on common items such as arrows, burning oils, throwing daggers and healing potions. Players can sell items for gold and also trade special items found during boss battles with shopkeepers (by clicking on the shopkeepers head) to earn unique magical items.

For example, during the fight with a large Displacer Beast you can pick up a chunk of his skin. Turning this in to a shopkeeper gets you the Displacer Cloak, an item that sits in the players armor slot and makes all non-magical projectiles pass right through him.

The players can also come across a special gnome village where the townfolk beg to be saved from a Chimera. The gnomes, unlike traditional Dungeons & Dragons gnomes, are very minuscule, standing about a foot tall. If the players choose to fight the beast and are successful, they are given the option to purchase a shrinking potion to visit the villagers (although, due to a strange error in the program, the potion actually costs no gold.)

Treasure and equipment

Players, as they fight their way through each level, will come across a huge assortment of treasure. Treasure is found in chests, stolen from monsters, dropped from dead enemies and bosses, or even found simply lying on the ground. Most treasure is gold and silver, which is used to buy simple items in shops (see below), or precious gems, which add to a heroes experience points. Other treasure include weapons and equipment.

Every character starts with their armor (the second slot) already filled, specific to their character, and remains unchanged the entire game. The character's helmet (the first slot) and shield (the fifth slot) are the other two items that lend to a character's defensive ability. Most characters also begin with a shield, except the Magic-User and Thief, who cannot use shields.

While magical items in traditional Dungeons & Dragons rules are practically invulnerable or tough, the magical items in Shadow over Mystara are very fragile. Magical boots (slot three), gauntlets (slot four), and rings (slot six) are all destroyed after the player is damaged a few times.

The eighth slot is used for miscellaneous items such as the "Skin of the Displacer Beast" or the "Eye of the Beholder". Many bosses drop rare items such as these and they either grant special abilities or can be traded in for special magical equipment.

There are also many rare and unique hidden items. The game includes two cursed swords, one which the Cleric must attempt to pick up (since he cannot actually pick up a bladed weapon) 8 times before it will become the Holy Avenger and a second which must be swung over 30 times, with each swing randomly causing damage to the sword holder, before it is uncursed and transformed into the Sword of Legends.

Hidden near the end of the game is a treasure chest, that if the Magic-User opens it, contains the Staff of Wizardry. If the Magic-User wields the staff during the last boss Synn and there are at least 3 players with a combined total of over 1 million experience points, the Staff will glow and the team will be able to use Final Strike. This secret attack requires that all players press all of their buttons (except the inventory button) at the same time which causes the Magic-User to leap to the center of the screen, screaming out the words "Final strike!" and snapping the Staff in half, over his knee, causing all four elementals and the Djinni to be summoned in succession. This does a considerable amount of damage to Synn and leaves all of the players at 1 hit point.

Completion of the game

After the characters destroy the final boss, each member of the group is treated to a short epilogue detailing his or her future exploits. Endings are titled with a simple code: the first letter of the character class followed by the number of the ending. Therefore the Cleric's second ending is called "C-2", the Fighter's best ending is named "F-1", and so on. There are four separate endings per character class and the hero earns an ending based on two facts: total Experience Points earned and rank in the group based on those points.

For example, if two characters, a Fighter and a Magic User, both had enough experience points to earn their best endings, the one who earned more would win their first ending and the other character would see his second. Or, if a Thief has the second highest amount of experience points in the group but still doesn't end up having enough points to see ending T-2, she would be given ending T-3. The amount of experience needed to earn each ending varies depending on the difficulty that the machine is set at. The Dwarf endings D-2 and D-3 are erroneously identical.

Characters

In addition to the original four characters found in Tower of Doom, the Cleric, Dwarf, Elf and Fighter, Shadow of Mystara adds a Thief and a Magic-User to the selection. Furthermore, with the inclusion of two separate version of each character's sprite set, the game allows up to two players to select the same character (in Tower of Doom each of the characters could only be selected once), effectively giving the game twelve "different" characters to choose from. The two Clerics and two Magic Users also have subtle differences within their spell books.

Players, upon completion of their first stage, are prompted to enter a character name. Unlike most arcade games which only allow a person to enter 3 letters, Shadow over Mystara has space for six. For the unimaginative, the game provides a default name for each of the characters. The default name is also automatically used if the player tries to submit a blank name or use vulgarity.

  • Cleric

The Cleric's main role is to be the party's healer and buffer. He also has the ability to turn undead and can cast from a large library of Clerical spells including Continual Light, Bless and Cure Serious Wounds. In line with classic Dungeons & Dragons rules he cannot wield any weapon that is bladed. However, he gains new special attacks when wielding the morningstar. The two Clerics have subtle differences within their spell books.

  • Dwarf

More hardy than even the Fighter, the Dwarf has the most hit points in the game, as well as being able to deal the most physical damage in a short amount of time. The Dwarf is a difficult character to use as his strengths lie in his special attacks rather than his normal attacks; however, once mastered he is a dervish of destruction. He also has the ability to bash opened treasure chests to reveal extra gold and treasure.

  • Elf

The Elf is a fighter-mage, combining the offense of a fighter with the spells of a magic-user. Although she excels at neither, she is a well-rounded character who's main weakness is her low constitution. The Elf has an unlimited quantity of arrows in her inventory and has the ability to fire them in rapid succession. Much like the Dwarf, she reaches her maximum level fairly early in the game, which gives her an early advantage but just as well halts her progression abruptly.

  • Fighter

The Fighter is a melee character with an excellent moveset and high endurance, making him suitable for beginners and experts alike. He can wield nearly every weapon in the game, including the two-handed sword, and is the only character with the ability to dual-wield with a short sword in his offhand. The Sword of Legends is named after the highest ranking Fighter in the high scores.

  • Magic-User

The Magic-User is a master of devastating spells but is physically the weakest character in the game. He is quick to die when played by novices due to his low constitution and relatively weak melee abilities. The Magic-User has a useful teleportation move which allows him to dodge all physical attacks, along with a spell that grants him temporary invulnerability. He also can cause critical hits with his poisonous dagger to inflict severe damage. Like the two Clerics, the two Magic-Users have a slightly varied spell selection. The Magic-User is a difficult, but rewarding, character to use that requires previous knowledge of the game and effective management of his spells. His offensive spells are greatly enhanced by the Staff of Wizardry arguably making him the most powerful character in the game.

  • Thief

The Thief is a dexterous character, with many unique skills, that can double jump, wall jump, back flip, and leap across the screen. She has the abilities to pick locks, detect traps, pickpocket enemies, and even backstab enemies for severe damage. She also has an unlimited supply of rocks to sling with and utilizes flasks of burning oil in some of her special attacks. The Thief is a powerful melee character whose default weapon deals the most damage in the game. However, she suffers defensively due to her low constitution and lack of a shield.

Spell use

The game offers a small selection of arcane magic, available for the Magic-User and Elf, and Divine magic, available to the Cleric. Instead of an MP system, characters use D&D's Vancian magic system where a certain amount of each spell ready to cast. Extra uses of the spells can be picked up off the ground, represented graphically as scrolls of paper, or occasionally recharged after certain boss fights.

When a spell is cast the entire game is momentarily paused during which the spell effect is played out. Two spells can be controlled during this time; Lightning Bolt can be aimed up and down and Wall of Fire can be spun in a circle if the joystick is rotated in that fashion.

Glitches

Item hacking

Shadow over Mystara contains a system which allows you to name your character. Abusing this system in a specific way causes the game to become incredibly glitched, giving the players powerful items in the beginning of the game. This exploit also has a nasty side effect of causing the game to have an incredible amount of visual bugs (flickering sprites, missing sprites and mistakes in the text) and often causes the game to reboot, or worse, to freeze up. Arcade owners, unaware that the players themselves were the cause of the troubles, would often shut down the machine for repair or simply remove the game completely. Gamers on the Internet, aware of these consequences, would often refuse to post instructions on how to activate the glitch.

Revision 2 of the game prevented the use of this bug.

Highlander Mode

A less dangerous glitch, known commonly as Highlander Mode, allows the Magic-User and Thief to become more or less immune to all damage. Players must simply swap their default headgear to use the exploit—any Magic-User wearing a Hood (the Thief's default hat) or any Thief that wears a Magicians Hat (the Magic-User's starting hat) cannot be killed from any standard damage in the game (the character will be reduced to 1 hit point but will not be killed). Some examples of non-standard damage that can still drop the player below 1 hit point are bite attacks, breath weapons, treasure chests thrown by allies, and spells.

This bug was never addressed in the arcade.

Legacy

The game is preceded by Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom (1993) and is one of the last 2-D arcade side scrollers that Capcom created. Only Battle Circuit, in 1997, came after.

Ports

In 1999, Capcom released both D&D arcade games as a 2-disc compilation on the Sega Saturn called Dungeons & Dragons Collection in Japan. Dungeons & Dragons Collection was never released in the United States and Europe due to the Saturn's poor financial performance in both regions.

Although the games are basically identical to their arcade counterparts, due to the limitations of the Saturn there is a maximum of two players instead of the original four. As there are some doors and events which require the game to have more than two people playing the game (such as the special ability Final Strike), there may have been changes to the game rules to allow these events to happen with only 1 or 2 players.

Sometime around January 3, 2003, MCB Interactive released a PC port. Due to "insert coin" appearing in screenshots it is to be assumed that the game is running under an in-house emulator rather than actually being redesigned for the new platform as the Saturn port was, where coin-insertion was replaced with console-style continues. This elusive port is currently out of stock.

Reception

IGN Editors picked it as one of the top 10 co-op games to pass the summer. All Games Guide stated Shadow of Mystara is a huge improvement over its predecessor. The experience system in the game was not fully utilised however the reviewer comments the replay value of the game will ensure its longevity.

In the Gaming Age review of the Dungeons and Dragons Collection, the reviewer noted that the game was better than similar games such as The King of Dragons and The Punisher, although the port transfer does not allow for 4 players simultaneously.

See also

References

External links

Fansites

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