In the late 90s and early 2000s, it was like Yu-Gi-Oh! was seen on the playground as the game only played by children who wouldn’t play Pokemon. Nonetheless, the franchise has persisted nearly as long as these popular pocket monsters and has always maintained a passionate following. Naturally, this led to many video games being produced, but most of those releases arguably lacked that special something needed to capture what made the real card game so compelling. Yu Gi Oh! Master Duel is Konami’s latest attempt – a free-to-play card game that seeks to become the Yu Gi Oh! game you’ve been waiting for. In many ways, it succeeds, though there are a few rough edges to this version that hold it back from greatness.
Yu Gi Oh! Master Duel is a “pure” digital card game in the same way as Legends of Runeterra Where Foyer are – there’s no real story or RPG-like “game around” to help ground deckbuilding in a more concrete universe. It’s just a bunch of menus and a parcel of cards to sort, and in that regard, that’s all you could have hoped for if you’re the kind of player who really likes to cut to the chase and embark on learning an incredibly in-depth game.
This depth is perhaps the main sticking point of this release, so let’s jump right into that negative before moving on to the positive. Simply put, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is a rough game to tackle if you are a newcomer who doesn’t already know what you are doing. There’s a mountain of rules and concepts to learn, and you’re certainly not going to understand them without spending a lot of time browsing online wiki databases and YouTube videos. An early in-game tutorial does a pretty decent job of giving you a crash course in the basics of a match, and later single-player campaigns help build on that with piloting specific decks, but there’s a ton considerable additional knowledge you need to acquire before you can reasonably hope to stand a chance against real-world enemies.
Most higher tier cards come with news in their descriptions exposing the trigger conditions and dark talents of this card, and it can be extremely confusing to start building a knowledge base of how to use them effectively when there are so many terms that are never explained but ring extraordinarily important. Even once you understand the cards better, knowing how to use them effectively in tandem for the best performance really requires you to do your homework. A number of our online matches were therefore spent watching the fireworks as our enemies methodically managed to play, summon and destroy cards continuously until a bomb wiped us out in one turn. Not all battles went this way – ourselves won several of them, but there’s a pervasive feeling that the new player experience in Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel might need some work.
If you can get past that huge barrier to entry, though, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel has a lot to love. The main draw to the experience here is, of course, the online matchmaking, which simply pairs you up with someone who is (hopefully) at your skill level and lets you duel head-to-head. headed. If you win, you’ll move up a bit in your rank and get more experience points, which gives you both more crystals to spend in the store and more levels unlocked in the battle pass. It’s a simple system, sure, but very effective at keeping you locked in the loop of spending your earnings on crafting and drawing cards so you can come back to win more battles and earn more rewards.
If you’re not much into competitive multiplayer, however, there’s not as much content to parse. These tutorials mentioned above act as interesting intros to the lore and give you an in-depth understanding of specific cards or decks, but it doesn’t take too long to cut through those “doors” and want more. Of course, there’s no reason to believe that Konami won’t add more content to this section over time, but that seems a little disappointing if you’re the kind of gamer who prefers to stay on your own.
If you want to have even a remote chance online, you’ll need to invest your limited resources into building a proper deck and this is perhaps where the most controversial element of Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is coming. We’re happy to report that the map store doesn’t feel like it’s overpaying, but keep in mind that this is also a new game and the devs are generally a lot more generous with the free game currency on a new release like this. Either way, you spend crystals to buy card packs and get more by paying for them with real money or earning them by winning duels and completing simple daily missions. There are plenty of potential card packs to pull, and rare cards in a pack will usually unlock more “secret packs” which are built around those cards, but with the caveat that they disappear within 24 hours. Of course, this is where Konami twists the knife, because if you really want to take advantage of the increased chance of getting the cards in these secret limited-time packs, you’ll probably need to either play a parcel from Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel the next day or shell out cash to sufficiently shore up your crystals.
Luckily, cards aren’t added to your collection just by random gacha draws, as you can access the deck editor and destroy unwanted or extra cards and use those resources to create any card you want. It takes a good amount of planning and commitment for a specific deck given that your resources here are quite limited, but it can be satisfying to slowly build a deck that you understand and know will be competitive enough when you go online. All that to say that we’re pretty happy with how Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel continually finds ways to give you more cards over time without absolutely inundating you with them, but we can also see this very quickly turn into a huge waste of money and time if Konami starts to be more stingy with crystals or begins to meddle in prices.
As for its presentation, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel manages to satisfy, although the current version available at launch is greatly disappointed with its performance. The card art is well detailed and the animations and effects that play, especially when someone slaps a high level monster, can put on quite a colorful sight. This is simply a card game at the end of the day, so there might not be much to expect from the visuals, but we were pretty impressed with how much energy all the sound effects and animations add to the experience.
What didn’t impress us was the abysmal performance on display, which is downright disappointing. When starting the game for the first time, we were greeted with a message that basically told us about the game will be crash and that it is under investigation. The message certainly didn’t lie, as there were a few instances where a sudden shutdown forced us to restart and try to remember where we were in the bridge we were building. Beyond that, whenever the game moves screens or menus, there are a few significant lag moments where everything on screen almost freezes while you can pretty much hear the game wheezing. We’re confident that the worst of these issues will be resolved in the coming weeks after launch, but just know that the Switch is probably the worst platform to play Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel enabled at time of writing.
Yu Gi Oh! Master Duel is a strange game to recommend. Those of you who have never played before can I want to check it out – it’s free after all – but even at this lowest price the barrier to entry is so high it might feel like getting stuck in this one isn’t really worth it. effort it would take. Those of you with a longer history with Yu-Gi-Oh! you’ll have a lot more fun jumping in and climbing the ranks, but you were probably going to play this game regardless of the reviews. Anyway, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel has all the basics of a potentially great online card game, and while it has its issues – at least at launch – it’s definitely worth checking out if you’re brave enough to stick with it.