Well, well, well. The original article for The Tower of Druaga on Gaming Hell was uploaded on the 31st of March 2009. Not even a full year after the site began 'operations' (if you can call them that), this was the site's first short-form article which is probably what we're really known for these days- it used to be all about long-form playthroughs! Oh, those salad days of incompetence and rampant disregard for our time and the reader's time. Anyway, over a decade later and this article was long, long overdue for a complete overhaul to not only bring it up to code in terms of layout and content included but also to make it, well, not complete horseshit. Also to completely ruin the TV Tropes page that quoted the old version for some reason. Obviously some of our older articles have undergone renovations and updates over the years to varying degrees but this is one of the most extensive, basically rewriting the entire thing from scratch. Pretty much all we left behind was the bit about the anime and a few captions, everything else we set fire to, stamped it out then threw it into a dumpster. Then we set fire to the dumpster. It'll still be numbered #13 on the site's Full English index, partly to keep continuity but also because having it as Unlucky Number 13 is very, very funny, but the date's been updated. Please enjoy this new and most-certainly improved look at a Namco classic. Well, classic in a certain sense. Perhaps if you look hard enough, you might find the old page...? Eh, probably not.
Young warrior, clad in gold, you seek to climb The Tower of Druaga?
Be warned, foolhardy soul. I took that path myself many moons ago, and now look at me.
Joking aside, The Tower of Druaga is one of those games that clearly had a pronounced effect on Japanese game design for a long time but, until more recent years perhaps, it didn't have that much recognition in the West, almost certainly because of its lack of presence outside Japan. Rumours persist that the game was given some kind of location test in US arcades and that the reception was not good, but there doesn't seem to be any factual evidence of such a test and almost every home version stayed in Japan until 1996 when the cursed tower was unleashed upon the world in Namco Museum Vol. 3. Taking a look at Japanese games released in its wake though and you can see a pretty direct throughline- releases like Dragon Slayer and especially The Legend of Zelda take the proto-action-RPG stylings of this 1984 arcade game and refine them in a lot of ways, leading to far more well-known and internationally celebrated works. While I couldn't find any specific link (arf! arf!) between the two games in interviews except for Miyamoto saying he had an arcade cab of Druaga brought to his office, as noted by Nathan Altice in I Am Error: The Nintendo Family Computer / Entertainment System (ISBN: 9780262028776) there's so many similarities between Druaga and Zelda with their item selection (things like books, rings, staffs and even blue and red candles) and enemies (slimes that jiggle and wobble and those rat-bastard teleporting wizards, of course those are the enemies they took straight from Druaga) that it's one of those generally-accepted things, and I don't think you can really talk about Druaga without at least giving that a passing mention. In years since it's certainly had its Western profile raised thanks to rereleases and acknowledgements in Game Developer lists like Game Design Essentials: 20 Difficult Games, The Birth of Japanese RPGs, re-told in 15 games and, well, this humble little website here, in times past, which had a significantly-worse version of the article you're reading right now. It's gone now, though.
Before we start climbing that tower though, let's set the scene a little, just who is responsible for creating this cursed tower? Developed by Namco with the intention of creating a quick conversion kit for Mappy (hence the vertical monitor), the two names you'll mostly hear when talking about this game are Masanobu Endō, the designer and Yuichiro Shinozaki, the main artist. We'll talk a bit more about Shinozaki a little later so for now let's focus on Endō. In a 2003 GSLA interview translated by shmuplations, he explains that after designing the smash hit Xevious, he went on a business trip to America where he got heavily interested in both the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons and Wizardry games, and since he decided his next game would have a definite ending unlike Xevious (his one regret about the game), he decided to create an action RPG which would later become The Return of Ishtar. You know, the sequel to The Tower of Druaga. He felt it was too RPG-like though, so he toned it down, made it more action-like and put his ideas into this game meant to be a Mappy conversion kit (this is probably why no dedicated cabinets exist). It turned out to be a big hit, with arcades having their own hint sheets that players could fill in and, collaboratively, figure out the mysteries of the 60-Floor tower (originally meant to be 256, but shrunk down to 60 as that was the tallest office building in Japan at the time) together... Although if it ever did have a Western location test, you can bet those hint sheets would either be stolen or vandalised, especially in a British arcade. The game would go on to spawn multiple sequels and spin-offs ranging from a platformer to a text adventure game and even to a proper roguelike and MMORPG, making a big mark on the industry, and characters from these games would join the Namco pantheon of stuff they love to reference, with Gil and Ki being on the covers of many issues of NG Namco Community Magazine. Not bad for a conversion kit!
Taking some names and motifs from Babylonian mythology, the game's story is crudely told in the attract mode sequence (which shows no actual gameplay):
You are the Golden Knight himself, Gilgamesh (or just Gil, if you like). Solve the riddles of the tower, defeat that evil Druaga and save Ki!
The Tower of Druaga takes the basic appearance of a maze-chase, a genre Namco apparently lost interest in after Pac & Pal, but it plays like nothing else in the genre. The Golden Knight Gil can't do much at the start of the game, only being able to move in the four cardinal directions, draw his sword (tap the button to pull it out then immediately re-sheath it, hold it to keep it drawn to poke enemies) and block magic with his shield (if his sword's out, it'l block spells on his left-hand side, remember this!). While he can later destroy walls with the appropriate treasure, that's pretty much his lot. In theory, these controls are enough as there's only a few constants on each Floor- the map, the enemies that populate that Floor (that mostly kill Gil in one hit, except for Knights, Ghosts and Ropers that you have to engage in proto-bump-combat with) and the treasure which are always the same every playthrough, and the door, key and where Gil spawns in which are randomised every time (the treasure chest will always appear at Gil's spawn point so remember that). Find the treasure chest which has something that might help along the way and the key, use it to open the door and make it up to the next Floor without being killed! Seems pretty reasonable but not all is as it seems in this tower.
The most vital part of this puzzle is the treasure you get on each floor. These trinkets make up the role-playing game portion of Druaga as they can increase your abilities in a lot of ways- more health for fighting Knights and Ropers, faster sword-drawing, faster walking in general (thankfully you get that one on the second Floor so you don't have to walk through treacle for very long), being able to see things like doors, keys and ghosts past certain Floors and so on. They can also decrease your abilities if you, say, pick up the Hyper Gauntlets without a Balance item beforehand, turning them into the Evil Gauntlets (that look exactly the same) rendering you unable to draw your sword making the game unwinnable. Actually, that can happen a lot- miss any items that get upgrades like swords or helmets and you can't get any later ones, meaning if you miss the Armor on Floor 12, you can't get the Hyper Armor on Floor 52, forty Floors later, and some of these items are required to defeat Druaga on Floor 59, meaning you cannot hope to win without them. That's rough, Gil. Even worse, you can lose items too- incorrect actions on much later floors might 'zap' you a random earlier floor and certain pieces of equipment will be stripped from you, plus if you use the Pickaxe too many times (you can't see how many you have left) you'll lose it forever and will have to use the continue feature to go back and get another one, plus the game doesn't have enough space to show all your acquired items so it's hard to keep track of what you've got and what you're missing later on. Still, as long as you get the treasures you'll probably be OK, but they're not just lying out there in the open for you to grab, you have to do something on each Floor to make the treasure chest appear first.
Here, of course, is the twist that gives Druaga its reputation- the treasure reveal methods are hidden and you are given no clues. The only indication you've done it properly is that the treasure chest appears. Now, at the very start of the game, these are nice and gentle, usually things you'll do by accident- the solution for the first three Floors, for instance, require you to kill three Green Slimes, two Black Slimes and a Blue Knight respectively, actions you'll just do instinctively just to, well, stay alive. After that though, things start to get weird- it's not enough to deflect three spells from a Wizard on Floor 5, you have to do so while moving. From there, things only got progressively more unhinged. Things like making a Druid appear on the bottom row, tapping out a certain direction combination, blocking a spell with your sword drawn (told you this would be important!), rotating the joystick anti-clockwise, defeating enemies in a specific order, walking through all four corners of the maze... All of these are asked of you with no prompts, hints, clues, nothing. My favourite of them, by far, is Floor 31 where you make the treasure chest appear, you must press the Start Button. I can only imagine the desperation one would go to to even think of pressing the Start Button to solve a riddle in this game. Of course, listing all this is nice and funny but when the game was originally released, no-one was expected to figure all of this out by themselves- arcades would have communal notebooks that players would fill in over the course of many, many sessions, sharing their findings and conquering the tower together, not entirely dissimilar to how From Software games like Demon's Souls allowed players to share notes via network features (although I'm sure Druaga had less jokes about nice chests). That's an element of the game that's lost to time of course, something you can't properly replicate anymore, but even with help, some of these methods are really out-there, especially since some of the most difficult ones are the ones that actively hurt you. Ouch! I suppose that's where the challenge of Druaga comes from though, right?
... Well, yes, in theory. In practice the game is, in fact, even harder than that description alludes to, although this is something that becomes less and less true as you progress through the game. Sort-of. For being the Golden Knight, Gil starts off pretty weak- he's extremely slow, vulnerable, draws his sword very slowly and will die in a single hit against anything other than enemies you have to tussle with until one of you is dead (this uses a hidden health meter that is never shown or even hinted at). Additionally, he controls a little strangely for a game that requires some good positioning at times- similar to Dig Dug, if you're not in the centre of a tile and try moving, say, up, you'll shift to the left or right without turning around until you're in the centre then you'll move up rather than press against the wall. This is a bigger problem than you might think because being able to face the right way is crucial to blocking spells from those awful, awful Wizards so this will absolutely get you killed. Some of the gear you grab along the way alleviates some of these problems- in particular the Jet Boots from Floor 2 will speed you up and the Hyper Gauntlets from Floor 26 make you draw your sword faster- but aside from being able to withstand a single spell with the Hyper Armor from Floor 52, Gil remains pretty frail throughout. That's a problem because the menagerie of enemies awaiting you in the tower are a vicious bunch, and when they're not faster than you, they're the rat-bastard magic-user family who teleport in, send a blindingly-fast spell your way then disappear, if your sword's out dealing with another enemy they will absolutely hit one of the three sides you're not guarding and if they gang up on you, it's less of an encounter and more of a crime scene. Of course, the final punchline is that for many of the treasures, you'll need enemies to cooperate and do stuff for you- if they mess it all up for you, better lose a life and try again. All these combine to make a uniquely frustrating game, one where you feel you're fighting against impossible odds at all times.
However, I said it does get slightly easier as you progress, and I think this leads to the appeal, such as it is, of The Tower of Druaga. Initially, you're probably going to be very, very frustrated with this game because of the glacial pace, the relentless enemies and of course the puzzles you need to solve with absolutely no clues given and no indication you've even done it properly. Yet... There's something compelling about it. Once you get into the flow of it, start learning the treasure reveal methods off by heart or carefully follow the myriad of guides available and begin to understand the game a little better, you do briefly have fun with it because it's deeply satisfying to know you've conquered another part of the tower, another stride towards beating a game that doesn't want you to make a single step forward, and around the Floor 25-40 range you do start to get into it... Until the absolutely crushing difficulty starts to wear you down and you get blasted by a Wizard death squad three credits in a row while trying to do a ridiculous task, being unsure you're even doing it right in the process. This is the duality of The Tower of Druaga, and such is its allure. The presentation does help a little though- while the tower environment isn't particularly great, the tiny enemy sprites carry a lot of charm and personality for how small they are, which is why I've peppered this page with as many of them as I could fit on here. The music is also surprisingly catchy given how often you'll hear it repeat, although the Quox Theme is the real hot jam here.
In any case, this is how I found myself, in the Spring of 2007, plugging away at The Tower of Druaga on Namco Museum Vol. 3 for nearly a week solid every night. At that point I was collecting the Namco Museum games after falling in love with The Legend of Valkyrie and Baraduke on Vol. 5, and had never even seen The Tower of Druaga before playing it on Vol. 3, finding myself completely fascinated but also exasperated with the thing. Manual in hand, cup of tea and chocolate bar ready to go, I threw myself into the tower time and time again, usually getting to around Floor 13 before turning the air blue with new and interesting cursewords until, finally, I broke through and completed the whole thing in a single sitting. I'm not going to lie, it was deeply satisfying to conquer the game after so long, but was my victory really worth the price I had to pay? I'll leave that to your imagination, reader.
That's the crux of The Tower of Druaga, I feel, it's immensely frustrating and somewhat compelling but not in equal measures. From a historical standpoint of course the game is extremely important and vital to the evolution of action RPGs, and games like The Legend of Zelda almost certainly wouldn't exist as we know them without its influence. Even other genres like platformers would take a few cues from it such as Milon's Secret Castle and the hidden items of Spelunker. However, it's definitely a case where other developers looked at the core appeal of Druaga and adapted it to be more suitable to home console play, sanding off a lot of the rough edges that, at least partially, come from it being an arcade game- The Legend of Zelda does let you save your progress after all which you certainly couldn't do in a 1984 arcade game! Even Namco themselves would iterate on the game in more interesting ways- The Return of Ishtar, which Endō technically created first, is equally fascinating and, while less brutally difficult, is no less of a challenge with a gigantic interconnected maze, levelling-up and even a password save! At the very least, there are certainly more accessible versions nowadays, although some of that initial appeal is inevitably lost in modern versions- when you're playing on your own with a guide at the touch of a button, you're not going to get that community aspect of people filling in notepads together to solve the tower's mysteries, but there are definitely modern games that take that idea and run with it, so its spirit lives on. As for playing the original... I've played through it multiple times myself at this point and I'm pretty confident in saying that maybe you should just admire the splendour of the tower from a safe distance, unless you really feel like getting frustrated. I dunno, maybe you do!
For being such a cruel, fascinating game, The Tower of Druaga is awarded...
In a sentence, The Tower of Druaga is...
Historically significant, which might be damning with faint praise..
And now, it's that time, folks!
Before we get into it, let's share a few resources for those of you foolhardy enough to take on this quest.
First, DeviFoxx's Druaga site has a full guide to the arcade game.
Next, GameFAQs user odino has guides for the Famicom and Game Boy versions.
Finally, StrategyWiki has a guide that covers all these versions and the Playstation-exclusive modes, as well as one for the PC Engine game.
However, I know that StrategyWiki has taken guides without credit in the past so I don't know if this was written by their users or stolen. Please be advised.
Another thing to do before we really get stuck in is take a look at the Namco Museum of Art episode about The Tower of Druaga.
Part of an excellent series of documentaries made by Namco themselves for their YouTube channel, these all focus on the key art and original materials for many of Namco's classic arcade games, and The Tower of Druaga is no exception. Of course, the centrepiece of this video is a look at the production of the mixed-media flyers for The Tower of Druaga and The Return of Ishtar, combining miniature models and cel art, dioramas and traditional artwork to create striking and charming advertisements for the two games- you can see some close-ups of the way The Tower of Druaga's flyer was made here and it's really impressive! This video also gives a major spotlight to the unsung hero of the Druaga series, character designer and artist Yuichiro Shinozaki who gave the official art its chibi style as a way to make the game more inviting to non-hardcore RPG players. I mean, it worked! He was also instrumental in creating those mixed-media flyers, so hats off to him.
This archive.org upload was by "Critical Kate" Willaert as the 'official' English subtitles versions... Were in fact done by an anonymous imposter and their account was terminated. Yeah, I didn't see it coming either, but those subtitles were so professional they apparently fooled the whole internet. Including me. Whoever you were, mysterious imposter, we salute your efforts in translating this essential material.
Anyway, with that all out the way... The arcade version has two important cheat codes, so let's cover those, both via GameFAQs.
First, it's worth mentioning that the continue function is hidden- insert a coin, hold the Sword button then press Start to enter Continue Mode.
Bear in mind, you can select any floor you visited in the past play session, but if the demo 'loop' plays more than 5 times before you continue, your progress is lost.
The other is a little Easter egg- enter Service Mode, select Sound 19, then press the Service switch again and press Up x 4, Down, Right x 2, Left x 6 then Player 2 Start.
You'll get this cute Namco screen. Aww.
Next up it's time for the home ports, there's a fair number of them so we've got quite a way to go.
(To prevent repeating myself, all these ports are Japan-only until we get to the Playstation era.)
First up are the contemporary home ports, starting with the Famicom in 1985.
This one appears to be done by Namco internally, with the main director and programming credits attributed to Koichi Yamamoto whose only other credits are on the Famicom port of Xevious and Mobile Suit Z Gundam: Hot Scramble for Game Studio (Masanobu Endō's company who we'll see again shortly) and Bandai, so it's unlikely to be the work of someone like Micronics or TOSE. That's probably for the best, could you imagine this game with that classic Micronics jank to it?! In any case, this is a very good port with a few changes and even some extras. The big change is moving from a vertical monitor to a horizontal one, scrunching each maze slightly from nine tiles tall and eighteen tiles wide to seven tiles tall and sixteen tiles wide but also offering a slightly wider view of ten tiles per screen instead of nine. This does mean that the maps have all been changed and no longer match the arcade version with the exception of Floor 60 but it only really affects a few of the treasure reveal methods that require crossing over specifc points on the map. The presentation has also taken a hit with less colours to go around but it captures the spirit of the arcade version as best as the hardware can and plays very close to it too. The last thing worth mentioning is that you can still continue, this time with just a menu item rather than a code, but once you switch the console off your progress is lost. There's more changes to this port listed on the Japanese Wikipedia page for the game and there's quite a few of them, but generally this gets as close as one could reasonably expect for a no-Mapper Famicom game from this era.
There's also two cheats in this version, one to help you beat the game and another to punish yourself. First, as documented by The Cutting Room Floor, you can access a Floor Select and Item Select function with a somewhat complicated cheat- on the title screen, press Up, Down, Left, Right, Down, Up, Right, Left, Left, Right, Down, Up, Right, Left, Up, then hold A on Controller 1 and Left + B on Controller 2, press Down on Controller 1 and select the Continue option. This allows you to select any Floor, not just ones you've reached in that session, and also add items to your inventory. The other cheat, though, is given to you after beating the game for the first time- on the title screen, press Up six times, Left three times and Right four times. The Druaga logo will turn green and you will now be playing Another Druaga Mode- the maps and treasure order remain the same, but the treasure reveal methods are all new, usually a bit more unhinged than the original tower. Good luck, Golden Knight.
Before we leave the Famicom version behind, there is one very strange thing we have to cover- the Gamecube version. Wait, what?!
(Image sourced from this site)
Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean contains a mini-dungeon modelled after Druaga, complete with the music and green slimes.
As a pre-order incentive for the game in Japan, players would receive the Famicom version of The Tower of Druaga on a Gamecube disc!
That's it- no special features or anything, but it does come with an outer sleeve based on the Famicom boxrt. Cute. Here's the manual (thanks Truner!)
Also, the Famicom version was on the Japanese Wii, Wii U and 3DS Virtual Console libraries, and on the Namcot Collection on Switch.
One of the two halves of the localised reshuffle of Namcot Collection, Namco Museum Archives, includes the game, its first international release.
... Unless you wanna count the Evercade cartridge which came out a scant few months before this. Do we have to?
Anyway... After the Famicom port, we have a bunch of Japanese home computer ports for the MSX, Sharp X1, MZ-1500 / 2500 and FM-7, all from 1986.
Oh no, please no, don't make me do this, it's worse than getting a bloody Amstrad CPC running properly. My coverage is, I'm afraid, going to be a little limited here because getting these emulated is difficult for me, I just don't have the right braincells to do it so we have some screenshots for the MSX, X1 and MZ-2500 versions and some scattered notes. The MSX version is the odd one of the bunch with no attributed developer but while all of these versions have the truncated map size of the Famicom port, only the MSX version uses the same actual maps. It's a little slow but it clearly does its best in spite of the flick-screen, a common trait in these computer versions. The rest were all apparently done by Denpa who would go on to do vintage arcade game ports for the FM Towns and X68000 including more Namco games and they're very much home computer versions, complete with big status borders, stuttery scrolling in a few versions (and in some cases like the FM-7 game, stuttered movement!) and varying levels of accuracy to the game's graphics. I can only take so much of games from this era, they're just a bit before my time, but for what they are they do their best. Fortunately, this video by RETRO ROCK demonstrates how these home computer versions work, so someone out there's done the appropriate documentation on these.
Next there's the Game Boy version released in 1990 which you would think is a straight port, but no.
Published by Angel (a company later associated with Bandai and primarily the publisher of Sailor Moon games) and apparently developed by famous shadow studioTOSE, this is a very interesting version with a lot of the difficulty toned down to become perhaps the most reasonable contemporary port of the game, even moreso than the PC Engine version we'll be seeing shortly. The basic game remains mostly the same just with everything scaled down- fortunately the maze still only scrolls horizontally and not vertically, unlike the Game Boy version of Pac-Man- and in monochrome. That would cause problems for a few of the treasure reveal methods, so any with requirements like killing Slimes in a certain colour order are gone and some others are also changed to make things slightly simpler, but it also has Another Druaga Mode from the Famicom version if you want a challenge (this time, the code is on the title screen, press B six times, Left four times and Right three times).
There's also boss battles with giant versions of normal monsters every ten floors (and you get given whatever treasure you would've gotten on that floor just for beating them... This does, however, include one poison potion that you're forced to take) but more surprising is the inclusion of on-screen Hit Points. They work a little different from the arcade game though, you can actually take hits from enemies before dying! The trade-off is that you don't get multiple lives before you have to continue, but there's a continue option on the title screen and even a password system (while it seems you get a password only every ten floors, you can find a 'super password' to take you to Floor 59 with every item you need for both normal and Another Druaga Mode on GameFAQs). The final change is multiple endings- there are four ending images depending on whether you used 30+ continues, between 4 and 29 continues, less than 4 continues or beat Another Druaga Mode. Honestly, this is my favourite of the contemporary home versions even if it is a bit on the easy side- it's far more approachable than the arcade or NES versions and you can actually zip through it when you know what you're doing, if you're curious about the game but don't want it to be too rough, give the Game Boy version a try.
This version also got reissued in 1996 as part of Namco Gallery Vol. 2.
While mostly the same game, there were a few changes made. As with the other games on this collection, Super Game Boy support's been added which gives the game a nice border complete with text and scenes like the between-floor stats and ending screens are now in colour, plus there's a Help menu that explains how to play the game. The password system's also been adjusted to give you a password between every cleared floor and when you lose a life- these passwords do work in the original version so it might be here that the Floor 59 password came from. You also get a five-digit password after a session ends, but this is for the collection's ranking system, tracking your progress in each game in a very basic way- get gold trophies in every game to unlock a little four-panel comic featuring Gil playing baseball. Finally, because pressing B exits to the game select menu, the code to access Another Druaga Mode has been changed- on the title screen, press Right nine times, Up two times and Left two times to access this mode.
Eight years after its arcade debut, the game would receive a complete remake for the PC Engine in 1992.
OK, this version is basically a completely new game and I'm not even sure where to really start with it. Developed by Masanobu Endō's Game Studio, this almost feels like a companion piece to the company's 1988 Famicom release The Quest of Ki as it has a similar story intro, the same art style and even the same scene of each game's protagonist entering the tower. The linked story between the games helps too, I suppose However, while The Quest of Ki was a Major Havoc-inspired puzzle-platformer, this is a heavy retooling of the original arcade Druaga with a plethora of changes and additions to make this as easy or as challenging as you like. First, the graphics have been completely redone with some visual elements from The Return of Ishtar like the slight 3/4 perspective (doors are now part of walls just like that game, meaning you can safely walk past them with a key without advancing to the next Floor) and characters looking more like they do in official art and the arcade flyer than ever before. Ishtar actually appears between each Floor too, just like The Quest of Ki, with a cryptic hint to help you figure out what the reveal method is on the next Floor. While the enemies of the original are all back, there's lots of new enemies and hazards to watch out for like the Vampires from The Return of Ishtar and trap doors to fall into.
The big change is that the equipment system has been overhauled with an item and status screen allowing you to change your gear and even use new consumable items like ones that let you build walls behind you and restore your health (which is now shown on-screen, although it's still one-hit deaths for the most part), and some gear you find affects other things, like a black suit of armour that prevents enemies from following you or moonwalk boots that keep you facing a single direction until you draw your sword. Tying in with this, the two lowest difficulties let you collect spirit points that can be used on a status screen before each Floor to increase one of six stats- health, attack power, defense power, the speed at which you unsheathe your sword, walking speed and the number of Pickaxe uses before it breaks (which is only on a per-Floor basis now). These are on top of equipment you've already found, so you can boost yourself beyond the gear you currently have if you like as long as you have the points, earned in Easy at the end of each Floor and in Normal by grabbing them in-game. Speaking of difficulties, there's four of them- Easy and Normal have the aforementioned stat system and infinite lives while Hard removes stat distribution (you can still see your stats but it's dictated entirely on gear) and limits your continues. For the real experience though, Pro is the same as Hard with even less continues, an added timer, no advice from Ishtar and completely different treasure reveal methods that are closer to the original arcade game.
At first, I must be honest... I wasn't sold on this version. It's mostly the more zoomed-in view that means you can't see as much of the maze as you used to, and I wasn't sure the nicer presentation was worth the trade-off. However, the mazes are significantly smaller than the original game so this isn't as much as a problem as I thought, plus you quickly get walking speed upgrades that render this a non-issue. Eventually I got into it, helped by the range of difficulty options, probably the biggest draw of this version, as they let you basically pick your Druaga experience. The Easy and Normal difficulties in particular allow you to essentially 'respec' Gil to fit the situation, so if you need more health to fight a bunch of Knights on a floor, you can move your earned spirit points over to increase your health or attack, plus later on you can switch equipment for special bonuses like the Spell Canceller sword that can block magic and make up for any reduced stats with spirit points. However, you can also have a more authentic experience on either Hard or Pro difficulties, with Pro serving as the ultimate challenge and most in the spirit of the arcade game. Similar to the Game Boy version, this rebalances the game a lot to make it way more approachable, but this version also caters to the hardcore fans who want something close to the arcade game, and comes highly recommended. Shame this is the version they've never rereleased!
There is a slight language barrier here not present in other versions, with the spirit points screen, Ishtar's advice and the conversation with the Succubus.
Fortunately there's a translation patch by Procyon over on romhacking.net, so give that a try if you like.
After this, it's pretty much all ports or emulations of the arcade game but there's still some points of interest here.
Arguably the most significant of these would be the port included in Namco Museum Vol. 3 for the Playstation in 1996.
The first arcade-faithful rerelease of the game, as with the other Namco Museum games this isn't emulation, this is a port of the game with the original assets for the PS1 without too many bells and whistles but there's a few things here and some treats for true Babylomaniacs. This recreates the original game as faithfully as possible with an arranged screen layout to be more friendly to horizontal monitors (your lives, score, timer and acquired treasures are on a sidebar now) and there's stat-tracking that keeps tabs on things like how many times you've died and, uh, how many times you've beaten the game without the Jet Boots. You also get something out of the box to help you, a guide to revealing the treasure on every floor and how to beat the game- the Japanese version includes a double-sided hint sheet (scanned by Truner, thank you!) in the style of the original arcade notebooks, the American version includes an extra booklet explaining what to do and the European version has all this information in the manual as an appendix although there's at least one solution that's wrong and one hilarious set of goofs, more on that later.
The biggest addition is not one but two alternative versions of the game, Another Tower and Darkness Tower. You can see the elaborate codes to unlock these versions over on GameFAQs or on this very site so you can try them yourself. To quickly sum things up, Another Tower is distinct from the similarly-named mode from the Famicom and Game Boy versions and keeps the maps and treasure order the same but changes the reveal methods (including one where you have to pop open the lid of your Playstation) while Darkness Tower has all-new maps with treasures in a different order as well as new treasures and enemies. If the original Druaga got too boring for you, spice things up with these versions! I can't say for sure how accurate this is to the arcade game given it's a port instead of emulation but the manual suggests that some bugs are reproduced faithfully (that will softlock the game) with the explanation, "If this happens to you try to be philosophical and remember this is history; even the great and the good who feast in the Video Game Valhalla were occasionally prone to warts", a genuinely charming way to handwave having to restart the floor you're on in this brutal game. More accurate versions would come along later, but this is a version worth checking out even now.
After that, The Tower of Druaga would lay dormant for a while, eventually showing up in a few more Namco Museum colle- wait, do you hear that?
Ah, yes, the shrill rattle of Japan-exclusive featurephone ports!
The Tower of Druaga port in particular is poorly-documented- no video at all- but at least one was released in 2008, a widescreen version via i-appli.
It looks pretty weird!
... OK, is it safe now? Good.
After this, the game would show up in a few Namco Museum collections.
Let's get the two boring ones out the way. First, it's in Namco Museum Battle Collection (Vol. 2 in Japan) for the PSP from 2005.
This version has a modified copyright date and a few options like an arranged screen layout and vertical screen orientation, so it's pretty alright.
Next is Namco Museum Virtual Arcade for the Xbox 360 from 2008.
This one is just the arcade game and the only option is the amount of lives. No guide or anything. Boo. The border's nice though.
Just a year later in 2009, The Tower of Druaga was one of the few arcade games to make it to the Wii Virtual Console worldwide! Lucky us.
Not much to say beyond the copyright date and name being altered, here's the UK eShop description and here's the Japanese manual.
The last set of ports are what I'd call more definitive, easier-to-approach versions. If you're interested in playing the arcade game, these are the ones to go for.
First we have Namco Museum DS from 2006 which includes the game as well as Dig Dug II so you know it's legit.
This is the first and only time we got a Namco collection from the masters of emulation themselves, M2 so that's a good sign already. Each game on here gets some pretty great options and extras (Xevious has an option to show the screen-burn present on many original cabinets!) and The Tower of Druaga is no exception. You get both the Old and New versions as well as the option to disable glitches (in the Hardcore Settings tab), viewable instruction cards and the flyer to zoom in on, a full set of hints and tips for learning how to play the game, a vertical screen option so you can hold the DS in portrait mode for the full tate experience and, for the first time, an in-game guide. This appears on the second screen and automatically displays the solution to the current floor and what treasure you get and what it does, but you can switch it off if you want to fly solo. It's a really helpful addition, with the only downside being that you can't play the game in portrait mode and have the guide also vertical, it's always horizontal so you might have to awkwardly swivel the DS or learn to read sideways.
Next there's the Switch-exclusive Namco Museum from 2017, pretty early in the system's life.
Developed by Gotch Technology who also worked on several Arcade Archives releases and Capcom Arcade Cabinet, this collection is missing Dig Dug II which automatically reduces its score but it does have Tank Force and, well, The Tower of Druaga. Being on the Switch allows for vertical screen orientation just like the DS and PSP versions (and this can be done in both docked and portable mode in case you have a rotating screen) but it also has a very convenient guide accessed from a button press (which can also be disabled if you want to remove the temptation) that provides the same features as the one in Namco Museum DS, although this time it'll be appropriately rotated when played in vertical mode. Other features include HD rumble for in-game actions, a more convenient Floor Select that appears whether you use the cheat to continue or not, a Challenge Mode where you must clear Floors 2, 26, 33, 37, 38, 45, 48, 52, 58, 59 and 60 as fast as possible without relying too much on the hint screen and online leaderboards. It is, however, missing the toggle between Old and New versions and glitch options from the DS release. This would be an excellent version of the game if not for one tiny flaw- in portable mode, the sound will cut out for a fraction of a section a lot, not frequently enough to be unlistenable but just frequently enough that you'll notice it and won't be able to not notice it on subsequent playthroughs. What a shame!
This was the version I played through on stream on my Twitch channel, by the way.
At last, we reach the modern day and the Arcade Archives version from 2022.
As with all of Hamster's ACA releases, this is a little barebones and only seems to include the New Version but it mostly does the job- alongside the original game you get a five-minute timed Caravan Mode, a one-credit Hi-Score Mode with its own leaderboards and a few screen options including scanlines and even CRT-style screen-rolling. This also has a couple of extra game options although not quite as many as the ones for the ACA version of The Return of Ishtar. Still, you can switch the glitches back on (although these appear to be different from the ones fixed in the New version), alter the opening and ending text to fix typos, access the guide at the press of a button (sadly this has the same problem as Namco Museum DS and doesn't rotate to match the screen orientation, you'll have to adjust if you're playing on a Flip Grip) and, for the first time, a setting that displays Gil's current health, the number of Pickaxe uses left and when the treasure's appeared in the maze. Those are actually really helpful, especially the Pickaxe one, and so minor Flip Grip inconveniences aside, if you want the easiest way to play the original arcade version of The Tower of Druaga, this is probably the one to go for.
Let's take a whistle-stop tour of other media things related to The Tower of Druaga.
Now, doing an exhaustive overview of all the stuff related to the game is a bit of a Herculean task given that there's so much of it, a lot of it is exclusively in Japanese and the most I can really find amounts to stubby pages on Fandom Wikis. If you're expecting a full overview of the tabletop game books for the game, I'm afraid you'll be bitterly disappointed, just like you always are on this website. There are a few things I'd definitely like to mention though!
First, as you can see above, there was a board game based on the arcade game, specifically titled The Tower of Druaga Fantasy Board Game- this promo shot comes courtesy of Namco Museum Vol. 3. This was released in 1985 and is a little more well-documented than some of the other pieces of Druaga ephemera out there thanks to a very rough translation of the manual from The Tower of Druaga Fandom Wiki and a Japanese blog post showing off the game and the contents of the box. This seems like a pretty complex game, complete with character sheets and stats, collectable items, monster-fighting and twelve different floor designs for up to four players to Gil it out in, with the objective being to reach Ki on Floor 6 before anyone else does. This was apparently the first in a series of similar board games including one based on The Legend of Valkyrie which I know even less about.
If you'd like to see more physical Druaga merchandise, check out Retro Game Goods!
Moving swiftly on... What about The Tower of Druaga's theme park attraction? As shown in this photo from @ohfivepro that shows off the exterior and this one that you see above, there was a dark ride based on the arcade game at The International Garden and Greenery Exposition 1990, where the Tsurumiryokuchi Expo '90 Commemorative Park is now located, complete with a tower with an inflatable Quox perched on top. While there's not much video footage out there, there is this Japanese blog with lots of images and promo materials and another Japanese blog about beating the game, it sounds like you used lightguns to fight against the denizens of the eponymous tower in a typical dark ride transportation system, complete with ranks depending on how you did and whether you collected a certain item and defeated Druaga. After Expo '90, the entire installation was moved in 1992 over to Namco's Wonder Eggs theme park in Niko Tamagawa Park, Tokyo that opened earlier that year and remained open until the 2000s.
What video footage we do have comes from promotional videos for Wonder Eggs, such as the one embedded above which gives a decent view of the exterior and interior of the ride at 5:12. There's also a briefer clip in this video at 0:59, a segment from an episode of Kasou Genjitsu Yuugi Taizen, a series of four hour-long documentaries aired on NHK in Japan around July 1992 looking at the growth of the Japanese amusement industry. Finally, there's what might be someone's own home video showing off the giant inflatable Quox on top of the tower. I've been told that this Quox is actually still available for rent from the company that made it but you need Bandai Namco's permission to do so. Let us pet the Quox, you absolute cowards!
You may have actually seen this attraction yourself, albeit as a background cameo...
Xiaoyou's Tekken 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament stage is set in Wonder Eggs 2 (the same park after a refurb) and both the attraction and the inflatable Quox are there!
Finally for now... The Tower of Druaga somehow managed to spawn a two-season anime.
Produced by Gonzo, famous for adapting series such as Hellsing, Pumpkin Scissors and Dog & Scissors to anime, and subtitled The Aegis of URUK (1st season from 2008) and The Sword of URUK (2nd season from 2009), it's mostly based on the MMORPG inspired by the series (The Recovery of BABYLIM- some places say it's based on the anime but the dates don't really match up for that, maybe they were both developed at 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. I won't lie, it's not really for me- when I watched it I didn't have as broad a frame of reference for anime but I very distinctly remember it having tonal whiplash a lot of the time, a completely out-of-nowhere plot twist at the end of the first season and maybe a little too much fanservice for some. The best characters, though, are aging magician Melt and his fiesty assistant Coopa. Give me a cheeky witch and I'll watch anything, apparently.
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 Druaga Mode in the Namco Gallery Vol. 2 version. So that's cute.
Also, Masanobu Endō appears at the end of Episode 7 for the preview of Episode 8.
Here he is being silly.
Now normally at this point we'd do an exhaustive look at cameos made by the Druaga cast in other games.
Well... A bit like Wonder Momo, this presents something of a problem. Namco absolutely loves referencing their old games, especially their '80s catalogue, and a big game like The Tower of Druaga would get a lot of shoutouts. So, as with Wonder Momo, this is just gonna be a very quick list of stuff I happen to have to hand (including recycled stuff from the Wonder Momo page, that's efficiency). It also goes to show just how often Namco would cram cameos in, you can use the same game or even the same screenshots to demonstrate!
Family Pinball is the Japanese version of Rock'n Ball, and before VAP published it in the US, it was published by Namco.
So, you can select Ki as your character. That's about it.
Marvel Land, a cute platformer in a theme park, has bonus stages set in a parody of Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade with floats of Namco characters.
Surprisingly, there's no Druaga cameo in the arcade version, but the Mega Drive port adds a float of Gil & Ki.
Tinkle Pit has an obscene amount of Namco cameos both in-game and on the name entry screen, where a random character will walk across the bottom of the screen.
One of these is Ki. Hey, how come she makes more cameos than Gil...?
Mach Breakers: Numan Athletics 2's Hyper Glider event has a blink-and-you'll-miss-it blimp that shows a random Namco character.
Guess what? Ki's here too. I mean she is very cool and good but poor Gil...
There's several references to Druaga across the Soul Blade / SoulCalibur series, which makes sense given the amount of swords in there.
Since the Playstation 1 port of Soul Blade, Sophitia has had the Blue Crystal Rod & Blue Line Shield as a weapon in most of her appearances.
In home versions of SoulCalibur II, she also gets a Ki costume and Cassandra gets the Red Crystal Rod & Red Line Shield set.
Additionally, SoulCalibur III apparently has the required costume parts to recreate Gil's golden armour, including the helmet.
Point Blank 3's festival mask stage has a selection of Namco cameos, including Gil, finally!
Namco X Capcom, Milestone's crossover strategy RPG, of course has Gil and Ki as well as Quox as an enemy.
Here's a quick clip of Arthur from Ghosts 'n Goblins teaming up with the duo for some Heat Body carnage.
Mr. Driller Drill Land has an amusement park full of different attractions, with one of them based on The Tower of Druaga.
The Hole of Druaga (please don't laugh) has you digging through interconnected pits to defeat Druaga and save Susumu Hori dressed as Ki.
Bandai Namco helped co-develop Super Smash Bros. for 3DS / Wii U and Ultimate, so alongside Pac-Man they snuck a few nods to The Tower of Druaga.
A Mii Swordfighter costume for Gil, including his Hyper Helmet, Blue Line Armor, Blue Line Shield and Excalibur, appeared as DLC in both games.
Pac-Man's Namco Roulette taunt also had a chance of showing the original sprite for Gil, complete with the sound effect for drawing his sword.
The Floor Start jingle, main theme and Floor Complete jingle also appear in Namco Arcade '80s Retro Medley 1.
To end this article... A little bit of fun.
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:
We will return to this cursed tower someday...
THE WORLD IS WAITING FOR THE RETURN OF ISHTAR