The Tower of Druaga ruined my life.
Once, I was just like you. I played decent games that more than 5% of the population had heard of. Unbelievable, but I once had good taste. This abruptly changed in May '07, as I stumbled upon the Namco Museum series on the Playstation. By chance, I found a copy of the 5th volume at my local game shop, and decided that I had to catch 'em all after falling in love with games like Baraduke and The Legend of Valkyrie. However, it turns out that the best volumes are actually 4 and 5, because the first three generally have the same games you've played a billion times- Pac-Man, Dig-Dug, Pole Position, and all that stuff. That said, each one has one token 'what the hell is this' game, and Volume 3 (the one I found next) has two of them- one's Phozon and the other is The Tower of Druaga. Now, I'd heard about this game's apparently brutal difficulty, but paid it no heed.
What I didn't know is that The Tower of Druaga is cruelty in vid-con form. Play it and you're a lost cause!
Released in 1984, and re-released in 1996 on the aforementioned Namco Museum Vol. 3, The Tower of Druaga is part Pac-Man, part Dungeons and Dragons, and all confusion and befuddlement for all who play it and don't know what they're getting into. The story is delivered in a very badly-translated story screen, as shown above- the maiden Ki's been kidnapped by that ne'er-do-well Druaga, and as Gilgamesh the Golden Knight (named after the hero of the Sumerian legend, The Epic of Gilgamesh) your mission is to climb 60 floors of the tower, defeat Druaga, rescue the maiden, and try to keep your sanity in the process.
Gil can't really do much; he can move in the 4 cardinal directions, he can unsheathe his sword to kill enemies (you can either hold the button and walk into enemies with it, or tap it so Gil simply swings the sword then re-sheaths it) and, with the appropriate item, he can destroy walls by standing still and tapping the button. That's all there is to the controls. Each level in the game has 3 common elements: a door, a key, and a hidden treasure that needs to be uncovered. While the map, treasure, enemies and the method to find the treasure remains the same every time you play for each floor, the placement of the door and key is always randomised. Naturally, each one is populated with monsters that can kill Gil in one touch. Since I took the time to grab the sprites, here's a rogue's gallery:
Pathetic little things that just serve to annoy you. The stronger ones can fire magic at you.
These guys teleport in, cast a spell (either a projectile that can kill you or break walls, or a small fire in front of them) then teleport away. Annoying.
The Knights engage in a little swordplay with Gil- to kill them, you have to walk into them repeatedly with your sword drawn out.
Being ghosts, these things don't care for the laws of physics, and will teleport through walls to get you. Some of them also use magic.
Basically the same as the Knights, except faster, and they take a lot longer to kill. Good luck taking them on!
Dragons and The Quox
The Big Bads of the game. Unless you find specific special items, these guys take forever to kill, and also launch fire at you.
Will 'o Wisp
The 'time-out' enemies of the game, they can't be killed at all, although the Ring items give you protection from them.
The final boss, Druaga will run around at ridiculous speeds, launching magic spells at you constantly. GOOD LUCK.
Now, this all seems fine and dandy, but if the enemy descriptions didn't somehow tip you off, the secret treasures of the game are pretty important. Look at all of 'em up there, huh? Admittedly, it was a special kind of hell to grab the sprites for all these items from the game, but I wanted to prove a point- there's a lot of different items in this game. Each item has a specific purpose, like boosting Gil's health (this only applies when you're fighting the knights, as touching anything with your sword sheathed will kill you), unlocking certain treasure chests, speeding Gil up, granting you the ability to see ghosts on later floors, and so on. Some of them are utterly necessary to beat the game, some only serve to make better items available later on, and others are actually bad for you, like the Evil Gauntlet which robs Gil of his ability to use his sword. Not that you'd know it's an Evil Gauntlet when you open the treasure chest to get it, but whatever. So, these items are what you'll find in the treasure chests. All you have to do is uncover the way of making the chest appear.
It's this 'revealing the treasure chest' nonsense that gives the game its reputation. This is because...
You are given absolutely no clues in finding these treasure chests. Not a jot. The game gives you no help, no clues, nothing. On the first couple of floors, this is practically a non-issue, as you'll probably uncover the chest by accident- objectives such as 'kill 2 Green Slimes' and 'reflect a spell from a Mage' aren't terribly taxing things to do, but as you get further into the game, these methods become increasingly obtuse and downright twisted. How about the one where you have to make sure a Druid teleports onto the bottom row? The one where you have to stand still for 10 seconds? The one where you have to kill all the Wizards on a level, and nothing else? The one where you have to tap in a certain button combination which is never hinted at? The one where you have to kill all the enemies in a specific order, then find a real Wizard among 4 fakes ones that are trying to kill you, then kill Druaga?! My personal favourite is Floor 31, where to get the treasure, you have to press the Start button. It's so simple, yet it throws the conventions of video games right out the window- who's going to figure that out by themselves unless they're trying out absolutely everything? By the end of their playthrough, they probably would be reduced to trying literally everything!
If that was the only difficult aspect of this game, then you'd expect it to be a walk in the park as long as you've got a guide, right? Ah, not so fast, because The Tower of Druaga is not only a mental challenge, but a physical one too. Not only must you be a total expert and know all of the obtuse reveal methods to stand a chance at beating the game, but you also need to wrestle with Gil himself, who is terribly, horribly slow even with the speed-up item. There's also the enemies, who will always be faster than you, show up at the most inopportune moments, and as mentioned, can kill you with a single touch. They'll even sometimes screw you over in some way which makes getting the treasure impossible, forcing you to restart the entire game. There's 60 floors of this, so the average video gamer will most likely find it interminable, giving up in despair after 5 minutes.
If that's the case, then why would anyone bother? American gamers already answered this question when the game was play-tested in arcades over there- it was a total flop. It wasn't well-received on Namco Museum Vol. 3 either, and from here on, the reviews for the Museum series would only get lower. However, the game has a fanbase in its native Japan. There's several sequels, an anime series which makes no sense, and an MMORPG based on the game. How is this possible? The game popped up in Gamasutra's 20 Difficult Games article and they try to explain it through the difference between Western "I'm not jumping through these bloody hoops, go swivel on it, Namco" and Japanese "The hoops can be jumped through with the right items, even though it is difficult" mentalities. They also point out the whole 'co-operate with your fellow masochists to find out all the secrets of this game!' aspect of the series, which makes sense if you compare it to one of the games that Druaga seems to have served as the basis for- The Legend of Zelda on the NES. Both have pretty difficult puzzles, but whereas The Legend of Zelda gives you loads of concessions (being able to save, reliable ways to defend yourself) The Tower of Druaga, possibly because of its arcade origins, is far less merciful to the player. With teamwork, and a lot of trial and error, it's certainly possible to have fun and beat it, but this sort of 'arcade community' is dead these days... The other thing is the first sequel, The Return of Ishtar, generally executes the idea better- it's an 127-room maze with interconnected rooms, and it's really a case of levelling up your characters and finding the best route out. There's still that sense of discovery (the spells list is immense, and you have to figure out what they all do) and arcade community (it's two-player only!) but it's far more accessible, even today.
If, however, you decide to play the game by yourself with a guide by your side, then you can actually have fun with this game... In a weird way. The idea of struggling against a game that does absolutely everything in its power to put you down, where every level completed is another tiny and insignificant victory against the game designer, has some sort of weird appeal. It's like The Tower of Druaga is Goliath, and you're David, except that this time Goliath only dies if you have 3 different crystal rods, then you run between his legs five times, then six times in the opposite direction, then kill the Roman soldiers on the left (but not the right) then throw a stone in his left eye, then the right one twice, and finally the left eye three times. All without being touched. Admittedly, using a guide takes away the feeling that you're beating this game with only your wits, but The Tower of Druaga never plays fair- why should you?
I know all of this because I have actually completed the game myself. Well, obviously, I wouldn't be writing about it if I hadn't, right? After buying Vol. 3, I lost several nights in the spring of 2007, plugging away at this game with a guide to hand, usually getting to Floor 13 before something would go horribly wrong, and the air would turn a very blue colour as I, shall we say, vented my frustration with new and interesting words. I exploited every trick in the book- consulting the guide constantly (which is actually in the manual so at least the game is upfront about how hard this thing is), avoiding all the bad items, and continuing a lot (you can do this by holding down the button and pressing Start after getting a game over) and, eventually, was 'rewarded' with the little ending shown above. I don't know if it was worth all the lost time or not, but I've never felt so satisfied with finishing a game in my entire life.
I'm really not sure whether I should recommend playing The Tower of Druaga. From a historical standpoint, it's a very significant step forward, laying down the foundations for action-adventure RPGs (if that's the term to use) for the home consoles to pick up the slack on. However, it also doesn't feel right as an arcade title, even if this was inevitable. It's frustrating, ugly, and the brief flashes of enjoyment that come from conquering each insane task is bookended by non-stop drudgery, but there's something very satisfying about kicking this game to the kerb, which will eventually happen... If you have the patience. A lot of die-hard retro gamers often pine for the days when games were a real challenge- The Tower of Druaga exemplifies this in spades. So, if you're sick of modern games holding your hand with endless tutorials, and want a genuine challenge that will almost certainly crush your enthusiasm for all forms of electronic entertainment, be my guest! Take on the challenge of this game, and curse me profusely for introducing you to it! For everyone else... Nah, you'd best not. It'll just be hell.
If you complete it, you're either insane or some kind of hero, and either way, I salute you, soldier.
For being such a cruel, hateful game, The Tower of Druaga is awarded...
In a sentence, The Tower of Druaga is...
For super masochists only.
And now, it's that time, folks!
In addition to several sequels, spin-offs and even an MMORPG, The Tower of Druaga spawned a two-series anime.
Subtitled The Aegis of URUK (1st season) and The Sword of URUK (2nd season), it's mostly based on the MMORPG (The Recovery of BABYLIM) as they were released around the same time, but characters from the original games, including Gil, Ki, Druaga and Ropers (who get used for cheap tentacle molestation jokes, sigh) play significant roles in the story. To be honest, it's not very good. I don't really have much of a frame of reference for this kind of anime, but it flits so wildly between wacky hijinx and super-duper-serious drama that watching it gave me whiplash. By the end it feels less like a cohesive story and more just a bunch of stuff that happens, although the arguments between aging magician Melt and his fiesty assistant Coopa were kinda funny. Also, the plot twist at the end is really, really dumb. The series has a habit of using the tiniest of excuses to get its female cast in the bath and without clothes, too. The kind of thing even a eroge writer would strike out as 'too cliché'.
We're mentioning it here because an entire episode deals with the original Tower of Druaga arcade game.
Season 1 Episode 8- Tower of Origin on the UK DVDs- has our group of heroes discover the original Tower of Druaga, the one Gilgamesh conquered alone, within the new one. Kaaya (the party's stand-in for Ki) insists that Jil (the party's stand-in for Gil) goes in, but the rest of the party control his movements from a cocktail cabinet (made of stone) next to a snack stall, to replicate the arcade atmosphere. In a fantasy adventure tower. Another party member, Ahmey, gets a cheat-sheet from the little Jawa-like guy running the stall, and she reads out what Jil needs to do on each floor- all of the solutions read out are directly from the arcade game, even the 'push the start button' one. Even better, to access this part of the tower they input a code on a joystick, and the first half of that code is the cheat to access Another Tower mode in the Namco Gallery Vol. 2 version of TOD on the Game Boy.
Also, Masanobu Endo (designer of Tower of Druaga and Xevious) appears at the end of Episode 7 for the preview of Episode 8.
Here he is being silly.
Just before we depart, though, there's two more things to share with you.
First, home ports. For a game that supposedly tanked at its American showing in arcades, you've got a lot of options for playing the game over here. There's versions of it available on Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the Playstation (which comes with robust stat-tracking and a mini-guide), Namco Museum on the PSP, Namco Museum DS on the (duh) Nintendo DS (probably the best version, as it comes with solutions on the bottom screen), Namco Museum: Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360, and finally, you can download it for 500 Wii Points from the Virtual Console Arcade. That's a lot of options, at least compared to its superior sequel (Return of Ishtar is only on Namco Museum Vol. 4), so you have no excuse.
Next, the good stuff.
This is the German guide to The Tower of Druaga, taken from Namco Museum Vol. 3.'s instruction manual. Click it for a readable version.
Why am I putting this here? Just look a little closer...
Looks like someone left some translation notes for a Mr. James Lisle in the final product... Whoops!
And, just for the hell of it, here's the English guide:
I'm mean. I know. But this game is mean too.
Back to the index for you, before this game totally ruins your life!