Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D's Decade Duels review
I must admit that Yu-Gi-Oh! has long been a guilty pleasure of mine. Admittedly, I can’t describe the plot and outcome of the series’ 300+ episodes, nor do I store a thorough archive of the entire TCG catelogue in my head, but still I’ve dabbled in Konami’s answer to Pokemon more than any adult human probably should. That being said, I was looking forward to an XBLA version of the game to replace--or at least compliment--Magic the Gathering. Due to the painfully subpar nature of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5D’s Decade Duels, however, that dream has died.
Although Decade Duels finally brings the franchise’s signature card battle gameplay to the Xbox 360, the execution leaves much to be desired. Over 3,000 cards-worth, to be exact. While the more recent handheld iterations of 5D’s boast upwards of 4,700 unique cards, Decade Duels hosts a paltry 1,000. Sure, that sounds like a lot, but when you consider that these span all three decks (classic, GX, and 5D), it’s easy to imagine that at least a handful of the cards you’re keen on using won’t be included. Konami plans to release card packs as premium DLC, but not only does that sting considering the mediocre game they’ve put out, if their carefree support--or lack thereof--for Castlevania HD is any indication, additional content will be sporadic at best.
Decade Duels’ primary method of gaining cards in-game is the sole tournament. That’s right, the entire game consists of a single, short tournament. Of course, it would be short if the game wasn’t so ridiculously unbalanced. All players begin with the same mandatory starter deck and must win new cards by beating the AI. Unfortunately, the AI’s decks, even during the qualifier rounds, are so unfairly overpowered it’s literally disheartening. The GameFAQs forums are filled with angry rants about seasoned players not being able to win a single match due to the AI special summoning three fusion monsters on their first turn, which happens far more than it should. These decks have been fine-tuned and the AI is not afraid to wipe the floor with you by making use of the most powerful tactics possible.
Assuming you do get lucky and win a few matches, the upper tier of the tournament only gets worse, with Yusei and Jack essentially being invincible. The amount of singleplayer matches you’d have to play in order to gain quality cards for your custom deck is astronomical, which leads to the game’s single largest--and blatantly intentional--design flaw. Multiplayer matches, available in Normal and Tag flavors, can actually be quite thrilling. It’s nice to go up against a real person, especially considering you’re probably playing with the same exact deck they are. Sadly, winning online matches does not grant any cards whatsoever. Konami obviously did this so players could not boost wins off each other, but at least having a “pink slip” ranked match option would have rewarded players for their time and skill.
The overall presentation of the game is on par with Duelist of the Roses for the PlayStation 2, and like that obsolete relic, Konami’s design team really needs to be replaced with people who know what they’re doing. This game is ugly: the menus are bland, the virtual control scheme is poorly integrated, and there’s not even a way to zoom in on the cards. Want to admire your low-res Egyptian God card? Too bad, you’ll be doing it from afar. And when the AI is pummeling you with chain spells and random effects, there is no way to slow the game down and find out what exactly is happening. You don’t even get to play as a real character; you are forced to choose between two nameless, faceless avatars.
The appeal of a Live-enabled, DLC-driven Yu-Gi-Oh! game certainly has merit in theory, but Konami clearly phoned in their efforts in the hopes that the mega-popular brand alone would sell units. If you’re looking for a virtual alternative to collecting and battling real Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, try your luck with the DS and PSP offerings; this frustratingly difficult and annoying unfinished cash-in has nothing to offer devoted fans or potential newcomers alike.