28 years later, I'm still playing tabletop rpgs. I may have changed sides between companies a couple times, but I still enjoy rolling the dice to see if I'm drunk. Back in the day, there was a certain mystique to Dungeons & Dragons that drew all those socially awkward dreamers, such as myself, to their friends' basements every week to become something much more fantastic. Even though I don't play D&D anymore (I don't like 4th Edition) I still pay tribute to the pioneers of fantasy gaming.
In 1989, TSR released their second edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which resurrected the interest in tabletop rpgs. It was only a matter of time until someone orchestrated the awesome marriage between D&D and video games. Capcom did just that -- not once, but twice. When I first saw the majesty that was Dungeons & Dragons: Tower of Doom in the arcades, my jaw hit the floor. While fantasy arcade games with rpg elements were nothing new (just look at King of Dragons, Knights of the Round, and Cadash), this brought it to a brand new level. Never before had someone so perfectly integrated a lot of the classes, rules, and creatures of D&D into a brilliant side-scrolling brawler. Seriously, this game was the closest one could get to "Nerdvana". Three years later, they followed up an awesome game with an even better one: Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara. While I've never seen the sequel in arcades, I did get the chance to play it at an old friend's house with the Dungeons & Dragons Collection import game for the Sega Saturn.
Of course, the games weren't exactly like playing D&D. It didn't have a "Roll a d20" button, no saving throws, no THAC0 listings. Actually, I don't think I would play a game that was that painfully adherent to the rules (and those games were made, just for the PC). Tower of Doom captured the feel of playing D&D without all the bookkeeping. The game was what a D&D game should look like: seamless, fast-paced fantasy action.
Both of these games were full to the brim with classic D&D style. The adventures take place in the classic D&D setting of Mystara, which was, pretty much, your standard fantasy campaign. You and your friends can go around rescuing villages and defeating vile beasts. And what would D&D be without the monsters. Capcom scoured the Monster Manuals to give the players plenty of creatures and enemies to slay. I couldn't believe how psyched I was to fight the Manticore or the Black Dragon for the first time. And the Lich? Holy crap, that was awesome (if you didn't know, liches are my favorite fantasy adversaries).
There were also multiple paths you could take throughout gameplay. While you still played through the same storyline and ultimately end up at the same destination, your journey was dictated by the choices you made. This allowed players to play different levels over others and added to the replay value. With each choice, you explore different areas, such as a swamp, a mountain pass, or a village under attack. Each specific level had their own unique boss, so there was always something new and exciting to fight.
Of course, with all these adventures to embark on, treasures to collect, and enemies to slay, the world has to have heroes. Each of the characters in these games run the gamut of the standard D&D classes, but you won't find any multiclassed characters (sorry, all you Fighter/Mage/Thief fans). Four classes were available in Tower of Doom, and that number expanded to six in Shadow Over Mystara:
First off, you have the Fighter. Strong, reliable, good with a sword -- your typical hack 'n' slash type. Of course, he can't use magic, but there are magic items that allow him to use spells, should he find them. The Fighter is my usual go-to guy when it comes to fantasy roleplaying, so I typically end up playing him in the game.
With their fantastic side-scrolling action, four player cooperative ability, and the quests, characters, and monsters straight from the pages of one of the most famous tabletop rpgs, both of these games are high on my list of all-time favorite arcade games. It's a shame that they have not seen a console release since the days of the Sega Saturn (and that was only in Japan). These games need to be available for current gen systems. The XBOX 360 is perfect for four player arcade action (as evidenced by Konami's X-Men). Someone at Capcom better get to work on that, seriously.
A lot of the images, including the video below, are from this great D&D arcade shrine, which features a lot of great resources. Check out the link here and take a look. The guy who made it also has some other great video game shrines you should see. Just click the link for his homepage at the bottom of the shrine.
Until next time, keep your scores high and the quarters flowing.