No avid gamers could deny that nostalgia shaped the industry’s summer announcements and releases. Sony made rumors a reality thanks to an official Final Fantasy VII remake trailer; The Coalition earned brownie points with Gears of War: Ultimate Edition, which pleased fans with its remastered features; and the upcoming Lego Dimensions wrings childhood memories from Back to the Future, Scooby-Doo, Doctor Who, The Simpsons, plus a dozen more films and television series. Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist carves out a piece of that sentimental pie as well, though the skin-and-bones presentation undermines the card game and anime’s spirit.
Four campaigns (and one duel from Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V) present Legacy of the Duelist’s primary appeal: reliving classic battles from the original anime and its spinoffs. That includes Duelist Kingdom’s debut, Yu-Gi-Oh! Zexal’s ridiculous climax, and every iteration in between. Can you overcome Maximillion Pegasus and his Thousand-Eyes Restrict? Prove it. Is it time for Jaden’s Elemental Heroes to throw down against the Sacred Beasts? Always. How will you fare with Yusei’s Stardust Dragon versus the Dark Signers? Developer Other Ocean fleshes out each campaign through roughly 30 duels, so fans old and new should find a few fate-of-the-world clashes they remember. As a bonus, decks that stockpile overpowered cards – Mirror Force, Monster Reborn, and Pot of Greed to name a few – ensure wins come early and often.
The decks you encounter contain the exact cards the protagonists used. That means harnessing the strength of Yugi’s Dark Magician or Joey’s Red-Eyes Black Dragon on occasion, though hardcore viewers will spot compromises to the anime’s formula elsewhere. For those not in the know, the Duelist Kingdom saga – the show’s original story line – adhered to its own laws. Many characters – Yugi, Kaiba, and Joey chief among them – routinely summoned high-level monsters without tributing weaker ones, or disregarded the actions written on trap and spell cards. Despite later seasons addressing these obscene errors, breaking the rules secured Yu-Gi-Oh! its fame.
Yu-Gi-Oh!: Legacy of the Duelist keeps the basics intact. Duelists start the match with 8,000 life points – not 2,000 or 4,000 as seen on TV – and five cards in their hands. Traps need to be placed face-down before triggering their effects whereas spells do not, and no more than three copies of the same card is tolerated in one deck. You then normal summon one monster to the field per turn, to attack enemy creatures/life points or protect your own. Victory is yours if you deplete the other person’s life points, stall challengers until their decks run out of cards, or draw specific cards (e.g., Exodia’s pieces) that facilitate automatic wins. These standards govern the trading card game to this day, 15 years after its inception.
Legacy of the Duelist plays no worse than previous installments on Nintendo’s and Sony’s handheld systems – an achievement deserving of recognition, then, given the 6,000 cards in existence. My heart goes out to the developers. Their small team needed to ensure every single monster, spell, and trap card activates its abilities only when allowed to do so. Some effects banish monsters for the rest of the fight or end someone’s turn prematurely; others eat away life points, prevent special summons, you name it. With those daunting odds in mind – one effect might require several separate costs and conditions – I think an applause is in order.
For newcomers, Legacy of the Duelist includes an optional, step-by-step tutorial to help novices master various card types, be they fusion monsters, continuous traps, quick play spells, etc. My interest in all things Yu-Gi-Oh! dwindled midway through Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s, so the ensuing Zexal’s Xyz monsters and their capabilities consistently wowed me. Because the campaigns alternate characters and their unique decks, duels assess how easily you adapt to the unfamiliar. Rather than blame faulty draws, I turned crushing defeats into opportunities to discover better combos, to destroy multiple cards efficiently without risking my life points. I saw no shame in surrendering, since matches generally run their course within minutes.
Should a duel pose too much trouble, the developers had the foresight to allow custom decks in campaign mode. Players receive deck recipes, signature cards, and duel points for trouncing the assorted heroes and villains. Duel points procure extra cards via in-game booster packs, which gamers sort through in the extensive deck editor to satisfy their play styles. I prefer unrelenting destruction, sending cards right from my rival’s hand or deck to the graveyard, though I usually used Yugi’s, Jaden’s, and Yusei’s apex monsters for nostalgia purposes. If you would prefer to summon monsters in timelines before they were invented, however, or control Kaiba’s dragons as Joey, the freedom is yours.
Legacy of the Duelist exceeds in its gameplay, whereas the presentation reveals symptoms of neglect. Cheap, lazy backgrounds distract from each card’s iconic art, and the soundtrack’s dismal synth tunes replace the anime’s energetic opening and ending themes. I silenced the music without regrets. In addition, only acclaimed monsters like Blue-Eyes White Dragon or Elemental Hero Neos dish out attack animations. Their low-textured models emulate ancient PlayStation 2 graphics, barring Legacy of the Duelist’s horrible special effects. Also, Dark Magician’s arcane blast might be ripped from a YouTube video, circa 2006.
How I wish the faults stopped there. For a fairly uneventful game, no one expects performance issues, yet the frame rate randomly dips into single digits on the Xbox One. I know the anime had a taste for the dramatic, but be reasonable, Other Ocean. The developers even resort to visual novel text and character portraits to move the story lines along. I guess video or voice clips from the show were a bit pricey for their budget. Are finances equally responsible for the seasons and duels that Legacy of the Duelist excludes? Whatever the excuse, Yu-Gi-Oh!’s ominous Seal of Orichalcos arc remains unaccounted for, and the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX campaign merely glosses over Zane giving in to the dark side.
Infamous fights like those between Kaiba and Pegasus – the outcome of which ended with Kaiba’s soul sealed away – are confined to overpriced DLC, too. Five bucks – a fourth of the full game’s price – bags you two extra duels, some deck recipes, and cards left out of the booster packs. Joey against Bonz, Jaden versus Yami Yugi, Yusei opposing Zone; from filler episodes to finales, matches that were withheld as additional content show little consistency.
Further discrepancies appear in a few characters’ decks. The anime defined god cards like The Winged Dragon of Ra by their unprecedented powers and individuality. Legacy of the Duelist responds by cramming three Obelisk the Tormentors into Kaiba’s deck. Those deities lose their originality when you conjure their twins to the field, but I appreciate Other Ocean’s obligation to gameplay over fan service here. God cards are not immune to effects that eliminate or impair monsters, and the developers had to meet the 40-card minimum for each deck somehow. The show’s protagonists, on a good day, would utilize half their cards before somebody’s life points reached zero.
For the ultimate challenge, enthusiasts will flock to multiplayer, where everyone sweats the small stuff. Legacy of the Duelist identifies which cards have been forbidden or limited in recent tournaments, foiling cheaters that would exploit three Morphing Jars or Change of Hearts, for instance. Otherwise, the developers provide untold flexibility for assembling decks. You could construct a water – or wind-themed deck, or build a deck around defense-oriented monsters or sabotaging your adversaries. I spent hours in the editor (recipes speed up the process), and the payoff rewarded my research. I made comebacks after slipping to 6,000-point deficits, just as I overwhelmed veterans before the turn counter hit double digits.
Competitors in need of variety have several modes to select from: ranked play, social play, and battle packs. Custom settings separate social sessions from ranked bouts, while the battle pack modes stand above the rest. Sealed play instantly compiles a deck from available booster boxes; draft play asks you to pick what monsters do your bidding. Should you recruit creatures for their attack and defense, or for their effects? Will you choose more spells instead of traps in case an opponent’s deck ruins face-down cards? Ahh, I love a good thinking man’s game. People also occupy the servers daily. I came across opponents within seconds of searching. I’d say that’s a good sign for future customers.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist is a notorious trip down memory lane. My smile grew ear to ear any time I wiped out Yugi’s enemies or acquired a monster that I coveted as a kid. When not admiring 6,000 amazing/abominable cards in the deck editor, the story mode grants a fantastic glimpse at the game’s evolution and goofy hairstyles. This release even marks the first occasion where every anime offshoot unites under one price tag. Except for the low-rent music, inferior monster animations, and other presentation foibles marring this nostalgic overdose, Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist earns the franchise’s title as the next King of Games.
This review is based on the Xbox One version of the game, which the reviewer purchased.
Whether you watched Yu-Gi-Oh! a decade ago or still enjoy the card game today, Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist is a nostalgic goldmine of memorable characters and monsters.