The pair of games in Capcom's Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara collection may very well be the best of its beat-'em-up games from the '90s arcade era, and these ports from Iron Galaxy are the most robust versions of the duo of Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara to date. The 1999 Sega Saturn ports were exclusive to Japan and were unfortunately downgraded from four-player to two-player co-op, but these new HD ports are upscaled versions of the four-player arcade originals with a few modern additions, such as visual filters, unlockable rules, and concept art. Of course, the real draw is the co-op beat-'em-up experience, which has stood the test of time surprisingly well. It's a return to form for these nearly 20-year-old games; for players who remember them, and even those who don't, Chronicles is worth the time it takes to wrangle a party of warriors and suit up for battle.
Coming toward the end of Capcom's stint in side-scrolling brawlers, these games are far more advanced than was typical of the genre at the time, when their contemporaries included only temporarily equippable secondary weapons and a small selection of combo attacks and special moves. Capcom took a more role-playing-game-like approach by including elements of level progression, optional equipment, and supply shops. There are branching paths and conditional events, and even the name you give your character determines certain factors of your character's skill and equipment loadout. These nuances, especially in Shadow Over Mystara, with its advanced Street Fighter-like inputs, provide plenty of depth. There are moments when fighting common enemies becomes repetitive, but it's not difficult to find new ways to play to keep the experience fresh; it's often as easy as choosing a different character and exploring their distinct moveset.
You and your co-op cohorts have four character classes to choose from in Tower of Doom: fighter, elf, cleric, and dwarf. Shadow Over Mystara contains those four and adds the thief and magic-user classes to the roster. The classes differ quite noticeably in speed, power, and abilities, and though you can charge your way through the game with any selection thanks to unlimited continues, it's a far more rewarding experience to plan and build a team of complementary characters. The availability of unlimited continues is good in the sense that it lets you see everything the game has to offer, but it ultimately cheapens the thrill of victory.
Both Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara were designed for co-op play, and though playing solo can be enjoyable, it pales in comparison to the fun that can be had when joining up with a team. Without expert knowledge of the nuanced controls, such as the proper timing of a riposte with the cleric, it's not uncommon to die quite frequently when fighting monsters on your own. Each class's default abilities are detailed in the main menu, but it will take considerable practice to memorize, and consistently perform, some advanced but crucial maneuvers, a task that's more easily done when someone has got your back.
Health pickups are few and far between, but again, the unlimited-continues system negates their worth. Don't bother spending money on health in shops between levels (unless you're chasing a high score); you're fully revitalized the next time you continue after death. It's the nature of a direct arcade port that doesn't include a coin limit. The unlockable Elimination mode does away with the default continue system--entirely. Once it's enabled, you die the first time your HP runs out. This is good for those trying to prove their mastery, but it doesn't really resolve the hand-holding nature of the default system in a desirable fashion.
Of course, judging classic games by modern standards is tricky. Ultimately, it comes down to expectations. Tower of Doom and Shadow Over Mystara were revered upon release, but their classic traits can be off-putting without a nostalgic perspective to give them context. Players who have graduated from the past and are looking for a more advanced experience may view this collection as a lighthearted diversion. However, for anyone who has waited the better part of two decades to play these games, their arrival on modern platforms is nothing short of awesome. Dungeons & Dragons: Chronicles of Mystara is a great port of two delightful games, and unsurprisingly, they're the very best versions that you can get your hands on.