Will the Yu-Gi-Oh! Golden Flame Die?
Who says you shouldn’t beat a dead horse? Since the late ‘90s, there have been nearly 50 Yu-Gi-Oh! video games released worldwide. Konami is at the forefront of the franchise, dropping new iterations faster than Angelina Jolie adopts new babies. But while the Salt actress provides her adopted children with a better life than they would have had elsewhere, what are gamers getting out of the Yu-Gi-Oh! deal?
Not much. Over the last decade, the Game Boy Advance alone has been flooded with Yu-Gi-Oh! games that don't differentiate amongst themselves including: The Eternal Duelist Soul, Stairway to the Destined Duel, and World Championship Tournament 2004. Can anyone tell the difference between them? Probably not. But I’m sure that if I don’t acknowledge that each title features different cards, a diehard fan will eventually tell me that’s how these games are defined. There, now my bases are covered.
Unfortunately, this brings forth a painful truth that Yu-Gi-Oh! fans have been living with for a long time: The franchise struggles to evolve. In ’03, the developers re-engineered the series to produce Dungeondice Monsters, an amusing strategy/RPG. But where is that series now? Gone. Once Yu-Gi-Oh! jumped to the Nintendo DS, Konami returned the franchise to its original card-dueling form. You may know this as Rehash Land.
Nightmare Troubadour, the first DS outing, introduced a couple new elements, the most notable being dual-screen visuals and touch screen controls. Shortly after that, a sequel followed: GX Spirit Caller. Don’t be misled by the drastic name change – this one is more of the same plus an online mode that many complained was long overdue. But if you were one of the players who already purchased Yu-Gi-Oh! Online for the PC, you probably didn’t care.
On the PSP, Konami continued to drive through Rehash Land with the Tag Force series, which is set to get another release any day now. If PlayStation 2, the original Xbox, and the Game Boy Color were still thriving, we’d likely see additional chapters released for those platforms as well. As if they didn’t already have enough!
Pop a Wheelie
Last year, the developers tinkered the franchise once more and created Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Stardust Accelerator World Championship 2009 for Nintendo DS and Wheelie Breakers for Nintendo Wii. Conceptually, Wheelie Breakers was appealing: Who would have thought of combining a racing game with a card battler? Sadly, in the end, the execution sucked. While the card elements were solid, the racing was atrociously slow. The game seemed to be a hit with some fans, but ultimately failed to satisfy gamers seeking a great Yu-Gi-Oh! sequel or simply a great racing game. Stardust Accelerator, meanwhile, turned out to be a much more traditional Yu-Gi-Oh! experience. It also proved to be the better game.
This leads me to another painful truth: Whenever the series is pushed in another direction, Konami eventually pulls back and releases another straight rehash. That’s why the Capsule Monster Coliseum form of gameplay no longer exists, and why Destiny Board Traveler failed to receive a million updates.
You could argue that it’s wise for the developers to avoid creating sequels that nobody asked for. But guess what – we didn’t ask for a zillion rehashes either. Once Konami is done with the Wheelie Breakers/Stardust Accelerator format, you can bet the series will go back to its original gameplay style.
The Big Question
When I was asked to write this editorial, Dakota Grabowski, GameZone’s Editor-in-Chief of Editorial Content, posed the following question:
When will the Yu-Gi-Oh! golden flame die or, rather, will Konami ever create a relevant title on the franchise?
My initial reaction was that Konami will never, ever make a relevant sequel because it doesn't have to. Instead, it will beat the horse long past its death and eventually move onto some other lucrative license-of-the-moment. Unlike the publisher’s prized franchises – Metal Gear Solid, Silent Hill and Castlevania – Konami doesn't seem to view Yu-Gi-Oh! as anything other than a cash cow.
After thinking about this and all of the Yu-Gi-Oh! games that I have enjoyed playing (often the first in a particular series, such as the original Tag Force), I realized that it would be unfair to say that Konami is beating a dead horse. The developers have certainly kicked the horse, and maybe even sat on its head a few times. But by adjusting the gameplay every few years, Konami has saved Yu-Gi-Oh! from what could have been a brutal death.
Will players ever get sick of the repeats and minor upgrades? My gut says that they will, but look at the Dynasty Warriors series – people have practically offered KOEI buckets of cash to stop developing it and that series still refuses to die.
For better or worse, Konami likes the idea of merging Yu-Gi-Oh!’s card battle gameplay with other genres. Perhaps it’s time for the developers to take it one step further and design a full-fledged racing game, a true tactical/strategy game, or a traditional turn-based RPG.
Could this inadvertently remove the core elements of the series? Yes. But if that’s their concern, the developers need to reevaluate the products they’re producing. As it stands now, Yu-Gi-Oh! isn’t merely a type of game; it’s a franchise.
Many publishers like franchises because they don’t have to be specific. Just look at all of the Mario-themed sports games and mini-game collections that Nintendo has released. Are they true Mario adventures? Nope. Regardless, gamers accept them because they’re fun (that’s the primary rule – the games must be entertaining) and because we understand that they’re a part of the world that Nintendo has built.
Thus, if Konami wants to continue to push Yu-Gi-Oh! as a franchise, it’s time to diversify. If, however, the publisher would prefer to keep the series within the realm of card battling, Konami needs to stop releasing a new Yu-Gi-Oh! game every four months. The developers would be wise to refocus their efforts on designing one multiplatform game that combines every successful Yu-Gi-Oh! concept onto a single disc.
And how about a new card setup? After 10+ years, is it really asking too much for this card game to evolve, if only in the virtual realm? Racing/strategy game spin-offs don’t count.
If Konami would instead prefer to continue down its current path, the publisher needs to know that it can’t sit on a dead horse forever. Eventually, the animal is going to stink.