Trading card games are everywhere these days, mostly thanks to smartphones and the free-to-play model. Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Duels looks to present the genre in a more traditional way. With thousands upon thousands of cards available to collect and utilise in battle, as well as both single player and online modes, it’d be easy to spend dozens of hours battling duel monsters without even decking-‘em-all. Everything else is suspiciously bare bones, however, but how important is visual flare and story in a game about trading cards? Turns out that it depends on what you’re playing for.
After picking a trendy, spiky-haired character to represent you in the virtual reality suite that the entire game takes place in, you’ll be allowed to bust out your best card for the first time. If you’re not sure how to play, there’s a tutorial offered straight away that’ll fill in the blanks. This gets quite comprehensive, as there are over fifteen playable tutorials and an extensive “how to play” section that you can reference from the options. It would take a couple of hours to make your way through all of the reference material, but afterwards, you’d probably be able to earn a Bachelor’s degree in the subject. If you’re not interested, you can pick up the basics through actual play, but it’s nice to know that there are resources to refer to if you come unstuck.
The single mention of the virtual reality suite made as soon as you start is important, because that’s how Konami explains away the dull menus and visual style. Every background is made up of techy, sci-fi squares, and every battle is fought on exactly the same white outline; the picture of your opponent changes, and that’s all. Individually, the cards are interesting enough, but collectively, the best that you can expect are a few whirlwind animations as your monsters are sent to the graveyard, and maybe the odd sound effect. On a smartphone, this may have been acceptable, but there’s something about how static the whole thing is that rubs the wrong way.
This is strange, because the game actually benefits from the simplicity. Millennium Duels is fast paced because it focuses on the card game rather than a set of funky animations. Despite the fact that it feels like there’s something missing, it’s definitely the lesser of two evils. It means that the twists and turns of a match come thick and fast, even if you have to play out the results of each segment in your head. It’s this juxtaposition that’ll divide players – either the cards will be enough, or they won’t.
At least the game is actually pretty easy to play. Taking turns, you’ll draw a card from your deck, and then ‘summon’ one of your monsters to the battle area. Before you move onto the attack phase, you can cast a variety of spells or set a trap or two. Finding out what each of these do is as easy as reading the information on the screen, which you’ll spend a lot of time doing as you try to work out the best way of countering your opponent’s tactics.
The basics of the game are indeed very simple, but the matches themselves are anything but. It’s easy to accuse the release of cheating, because very quickly you’ll find your best laid plans falling apart before you’ve even attempted to pull them off. Opponents who can block your every move while summoning beasts with thousands of attack damage will face you in your very first set of matches, proving that there’s more to it than just drawing the right card at the right time. It’s easy to blame the cards, and sometimes you’ll luck out and beat an enemy that you’ve been struggling with for hours just because they didn’t access the exact set of abilities that they needed in order to execute their usual diabolical scheme. There has to be more to it than that though, right?
In Yu-Gi-Oh! you make your own luck. More specifically, you make your own deck. If you have the interest and inclination, you can completely customise the cards that you use in a match, and considering that there are so many to unlock, there’s an awful lot of potential. Alas, the deck customizer isn’t exactly easy to use, and it will take a while for you to figure out the various layers available to you. Smart players will leave nothing to chance, but beginners and casuals will find this is to be a largely optional portion of their trading card career.
There are multiple championships to play through, each harder than the last. Along the way, you’ll unlock your opponents as playable characters (which equates to nothing more than a different avatar in the corner of the screen), and their decks so that you can see things from the other side of the arena. There’s an online mode as well, although it’s not always easy to get hold of another player. If you’re a big fan, talk your friends into buying, and you’ll have infinitely more fun with the multiplayer features.
Alas, there’s nothing else to hold your attention. Trophies reward you for completing tournaments and playing 30 matches in the online mode, and if you’re not actually in a card game, then you’ll be organising your collection ready for the next one. If you’re not one of the world’s biggest trading card fans, then there’s no plot to keep you going, and no reason to take the risk of buying the game if you’re not entirely certain about it.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Millennium Duels is mainly for the fans. While newcomers may be able to appreciate the depths of this card-based battler, its low-frills presentation makes it a difficult sell. Engross yourself in the tactical action, and you’ll find an adventure meatier than the paper that it’s printed on – but that doesn’t prevent this title from dealing a niche hand at best.