Even as an awkward junior high schooler, the retro charm of the Namco Museum series that came out for the Playstation 1 had a strong allure that captured my classic game loving heart, even at the tender age of 13. I was especially looking forward to playing Namco Museum Volume 3, and learning more about true classics like Dig Dug, Galaxian, and Pole Position, but it was a game that was showing its face for the first time the US, thirteen years after its debut in Japanese arcades, that ended up turning me into a lifelong fan.
That game of course, is The Tower of Druaga.
The Tower of Druaga was released in 1984, and while it enjoyed tremendous success in its hayday in the arcades in Japan, it never quite made much of an impact over here in the US, and quickly became an afterthought soon after Namco Museum Volume 3 had released stateside. The Tower of Druaga was also released on the Namco Museum collections for the Nintendo DS and Xbox 360, but I think for the most part, the Playstation 1 version was many people’s first bit of exposure to the game.
At first glance this game looks like a slow and clunky dungeon crawler that seems next to impossible to traverse, and in many ways, this description is quite correct. The hero, the golden armor clad Gil, gets an item that makes him move A LOT faster quite early in the game, but still, my previous description still holds true! Despite all of that however, something about this game mystified my young mind, and I couldn’t get enough of this game, even though there was nothing else from this series to be had beyond my game disc.
The game itself consists of 60 grueling levels as you ascend the treacherous floors of the Tower of Druaga, with each floor getting more difficult than the previous one. One of the major gameplay mechanics to this game are the appearance of treasure chests on every floor. Well, just about every floor. In order to make the treasure chests appear, you have to perform a unique task on each floor, which can be as simple as killing a few enemies, or in most cases, they require to do much more insane feats in order to appear.
Sometimes you may have to kill enemies in a certain order, walk over specific points on the map in a particular order, finish the floor within a certain time limit, and many other more insanely difficult to figure out actions.
If I had to pinpoint one major reason why this game never saw the light of day in North America until over decade after its initial release, it would be because, without a strategy guide (which fortunately came packaged with Namco Museum Volume 3), this game would be, for all intents and purposes, practically impossible to beat. No, not unbelievably difficult, or exceptionally difficult, but practically impossible. The treasure system is designed so that, should you miss any of the essential treasures that are required to clear the game (you don’t know which ones these are without a guide, by the way), you cannot beat the game.
Arcade cabinets in Japan used to have guides that players created as they progressed through the game, leaving hints and treasure obtaining strategies along the way. In the arcade back in 1984 when this came out, you had nothing but dumb luck to help you figure out how to clear this game. I fear to think about how many 100Yen ($1) coins the guy who first beat this game fed into the machine.
I guess the Bally Midway guys who were licensing so many other Namco games took a look at Druaga and said, “f@$% that.” Thus, Western gamers grew up without ever knowing the agony, and satisfaction to had from this game.
In Japan though, Druaga was a huge hit, and quite the sensation. The characters were featured hand-in- hand with all of Namco’s most prominent characters like Pac-Man, Mappy, Dig Dug, and more. Druaga merch, books, magazine covers, and even its very own board game could be had in Japan during its prime. (Said board game is one of my most treasured pieces of gaming history.)
Numerous other types of merch have been made in Japan since, from t-shirts to fancy pins, and even a re-release of the Famicom version of the game for the Gamecube (Japan only), an anime based of the story from the game, a PS2 game which did alright in Japan, and completely bombed in its North American release (probably due its insanely unforgiving difficulty), and even a brand new online co-op game that could be enjoyed in the arcades here in Japan from 2006-2009.
It’s a real shame that gamers who loved a real, true challenge had to miss out on this one. With the love for insanely difficult games that exists nowadays with games like Dark Souls becoming popular, or the popularity of ROM hacks that increase the difficulty of classic games, I’m hoping that The Tower of Druaga will one day get the time in the spotlight in deserves in the west.