|Capcom, you've got something here. Source|
It all started with a simple game called "Magic Sword". Magic Sword featured a shirtless, He-man wanna-be kind of character called The Brave One. The evil dark lord Drokmar has obtained an evil magical item called "The Black Orb". He lurks in a 50 story dungeon called "Dragon Keep". It's not particularly clear what this Black Orb is capable of doing, but it can't be good. As this was in 1990 and video games with plots were still fairly new, the plot never really developed beyond this. At the end, you get a single roleplaying option: destroy the orb, or take up the orb and become the new face of evil.
The Brave One is assisted by a bunch of imprisoned heroes hidden throughout the dungeon, including ninjas and wizards. There are hidden magic doors that will allow The Brave One to skip floors as well.
|This game + lots of quarters = good times. Source|
King of Dragons allowed multiple players to take on different characters. Being able to select between the Elf, the Wizard, The Fighter, the Cleric, and the Dwarf allowed for a richer experience as players could select based on play-style and gaming tastes.
|A typical D&D party, now available to use in the arcade. Source|
Now, this game really had me hooked. I remember specifically when I first played it, and I have not seen any arcade cabinets for it in almost two decades now. The story for the game was that the massive red dragon Gildiss had been preying on the kingdom for the better part of a century, and only creatures of darkness could live in the scorched ruins of what was left afterward. The people pleaded for someone to do something, and the king had his court wizard Guindon use his magic to put the dragon to sleep. However, something went wrong and the dragon woke up, beginning his reign of terror once more. Sounds pretty much like it has all the trappings of standard D&D game play. *SPOILER ALERT* Guindon had since become the Dark Wizard (one of the later bosses in the game), and was manipulating Gildiss to do his bidding. However, Gildiss threw off the wizard's enchantments and double crosses him, leaving him at the mercy of the heroes. Also, the dragon's forces captured Princess Mari, the military leader of the kingdom, so it really is just up to the heroes to fix it.
The thing that really impressed me about this game beyond the story was the graphics and the scale of everything. The Hydra boss fight, for example, was HUGE. The dragon Gildiss was even bigger. The variety of monsters also struck a chord with me: there are gnolls, orcs, minotaurs, lizard-men, and a lot of others.
|Dang, I'm huge! Gildiss, the King of Dragons. Source|
|So many college afternoons spent playing this game... Source|
|Bottom to Top: Arthur, Lancelot, and Perceval... or Knight-in-shining-armor, Agile-for-a-guy-in-plate-armor, and Mighty Glacier. Source|
|This guy's name is Deathwing. He's not even the Big Bad Evil Guy in this game. Source|
These games were some of the best translation of the D&D rules to a game ever, and drew heavily upon D&D lore to make a good storyline. The first only allowed a party of four adventurers: The Fighter, The Cleric, The Dwarf, and the Elf. This party make up allowed for all the traditional fantasy roles to be filled, more or less. The sequel came packing two more characters: a full-on Magic-User (read: Wizard) and a thief. These games were loaded with hidden secret rooms, alternative paths based on player choices at key decision points, special treasures, and unique items.
|Choose from a full cast of heroes. Press start instead of attack when selecting your character to get a different version with different powers and clothes, too. Source|
|Deimos, the Arch-Lich. Toughest bad guy in Tower of Doom. He comes back in Shadow over Mystara, but he's a speed bump, because you're way higher level. Source.|
The sequel showed that the lich was only part of a grand scheme: a sorceress named Synn was manipulating the lich to do her will. The heroes hit higher levels in this game, with the "immortal" (read: God) speaking to them, revealing hidden mysteries, and hinting at powerful magics.
|Villainous monologuing. Source.|
It is eventually revealed that Synn is not a hot blonde in red leather lingerie as she appears, but rather a massive red dragon hell-bent on bringing forth an even more powerful monster forth, simply referred to as "The Fiend".
|Synn, the big bad of Shadow Over Mystara. Toughest monster in the whole series. Use everything you've got, there's no fights after her. Source.|
For whatever reason, Capcom kind of turned away from 2-D side-scrollers, and has since moved on to bigger, fancier fare. I still find these games more charming than 90% of anything I've seen from Capcom in years, though, and I find them incredibly re-playable.
There is a glimmer of hope for this style of game in the future, however. A game called "Dragon's Crown" is currently being developed by Vanillaware/Atlus for the PS3, and it appears to capture the old-school side-scrolling beat-em-up fantasy vibe. Players can choose from six characters (Fighter, Wizard, Amazon, Sorceress, Elf, and Dwarf), each with their own strength. All are seeking a legendary MacGuffin, the Dragon's Crown, to keep it out of evil magic-wielder's hands. The art is beautiful and the style is bang on. See the trailer below:
Lots of gameplay previews and background for Dragon's Crown can be seen here.
Have you played any of these games? Are there any games you've seen that you recommend? Are you looking forward to Dragon's Crown as much as I am? What appeals to you in a game? Drop me a comment or tweet me on Twitter @colinjmarco.