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May 9, 2014

Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards (Part 1)

Oh YES! This is the final Game Boy Advance game in my collection! I've kept the best – and the worst! – for last! Hell yeah, this is gonna be one awesome review, I tell ya!

First off, a little history. You all know the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise, right? It's that bunch of losers playing a card game against other losers. ...Okay, I'm a little harsh. It's the story of that guy, Yugi, who assembles the legendary Millenium Puzzle, an artifact from the Egyptian era. This puzzle contains the spirit of a Pharaoh who strangely looks like him, and that second Yugi (named Yami Yugi for the sake of having a name) takes over Yugi's body whenever his host is in danger. Did I mention that Yami enacts revenge by challenging his enemies in dangerous games? At first it was all sorts of games, but by the ninth book in the manga it became pretty much strictly a card game: “Magic and Wizards” as the manga called it, or “Duel Monsters” as the anime called it, to be precise. The card game was renamed Yu-Gi-Oh later, as an homage to the series.

BTW, gonna ruin it right now;
the second Yugi leaves at the end.
The first manga series had over 35 volumes, and got a cult following thanks to the card game de-fictionalized, the anime, the hammy and weird feel of the series, and of course the three sequel series that followed it (that is, GX, 5Ds and Zexal). Oh yeah, it's also the anime series that led to the creation of the Abridged parody format thanks to Matthew Billany AKA LittleKuriboh. This innovative parody format got so popular that a bajillion Abridged series appeared afterwards. Of course, for any good series, there has to be a tie-in video game. As you can guess, the Yu-Gi-Oh! series has had a lot of video game adaptations, because a card game like this really translates well to video games. Or... well... In some cases, anyway.

One major arc of the series was Duel City, which spawned from Books 17 to 31 of the manga, had one of the most awesome villains in the entire franchise, and was overall a lot of fun. Yugi's rival Kaiba settled a whole card game tournament in Domino City, where most main characters live. Kaiba's plan is to get his hands on three God cards that would make him the King of Games. However, two of those are in the hands of an evil organization called the Ghouls, who... do their terrorism... through card games. Hey, I said it was hammy and weird, you knew what to expect! Of course, Yugi and his Yami join the tournament, along with their friend Joey, not a half-bad player himself. In this arc, Yugi deals with the evil Ghouls, which are cheating bastards, while Joey meets many previously-seen duelists who aren't half-bad either. Guess what? Both make it to the final 8. Also guess who defeats the leader of the Ghouls in the tournament's finale? Why, Yami Yugi of course! 

Phew, that was a long story recap. Can't wait to see it made into a game.

Who do we get to play? Yugi? Joey?

Sprites from The Spriters Resource.

...A nobody wearing an orange cap and shirt. What the Hell, really?

Ready to see me make a complete geek of myself in front of all of you? Well, wait no more, here it is! This is Yu-Gi-Oh! The Sacred Cards, a game so great it's awesome in some aspects, and so bad it's good in other aspects!

So, we're getting introduced to our protagonist, [Insert Name Here]. For the sake of using less words, I'll call him... Nikorasu. Hey, the names are weird in this series, I gotta follow the trend. So, Nikorasu is visited by none other than Yugi and Joey, and they tell him about Duel City. Clearly, the player character is also participating. Oh, by the way, this intro establishes that the main character, who doesn't even exist in the original material, is friends with Yugi and co.

Writing tip number 1. If you make an Original Character and make him an instant friend or ally to the heroes, this is the first signal that your character is a Mary Sue or a Gary Stu. Being a fiction writer sometimes, I know the Mary Sue traits, and I try to use them the least possible, compared to some *urgh* lesser forms of fanfiction that go for those traits as soon as the character appears.

Like here.

Not everyone, Joey. Go get a haircut, your hair is
blocking your vision.
So, Nikorasu goes with Yugi and Joey to Times Rectangle (because of the huge clock in the center, I guess?), and there they watch Kaiba talking a long time about the duel, what it represents, and what everyone is gonna do. He doesn't go on a stage, he doesn't use screens located around the city, he doesn't even sport a microphone. How can he be heard by everyone?? This already makes less sense than the real series... So, the character goes around, trying to duel everyone, but since the tournament hasn't even begun, none of this works. Heck, you annoy the other strong duelists so much that most of them LEAVE the place. Good work there, man. Anyway, the hero is about to leave when Kaiba FINALLY announces that the tournament is started. We get a small word from many major duelists in Domino City, and then the plot begin. At last!

So, there's a lot of cheap duelists around the Times Rectangle, and they can all be defeated damn easily (seriously, their decks would suck now, but they would have sucked even back when the card game wasn't complicated, and that was in 2003, long before XYZ and Synchro monsters!). Another thing that must be noted in this game: It works with some sort of experience points system. Yep, this is like an RPG. When you defeat lesser duelists, you get a tiny amount of EXP. When you defeat plot-relevant duelists, you get more EXP. To note, while the game does calculate your Level based on your number of experience points, the Level is almost irrelevant to your progress. In fact, the Experience, also known as Deck Capacity, is more relevant to the gameplay, for reasons you'll see a little later.

Bonz! Where are you, stupid loser? You'll hit the ground!
Nikorasu heads to the graveyard (yes, there's one next door to the Times Rectangle for some reason), where Bonz is waiting. However, he hides until you defeat one of his friends in the nearby alley. Luckily, those are pushovers, so they're defeated easily (whichever one you picked, anyway, as you can't fight all three), leading to the player character dueling against Bonz... and winning, of course, as he's barely a little stronger than the other weaklings in there. With this fight, you get a Locator Card! In the original story arc, each duelist had a Locator Card at the beginning of the tournament, and had to collect five more in order to access the finale. SOMEHOW, superimposing them would create a map showing the location to the finale. By the way, this makes no goddamn sense. Then again, DuelDisks make no goddamn sense, the Millenium items make no goddamn sense, this whole show makes no goddamn sense, this franchise makes no goddamn sense, but we all like it for that particular reason, so get used to it!

Look at how sucky the Deck is! Even the strong ones suck!
After every duelist is defeated, you also get an Ante card if you bet one at the start of the duel. Some are okay, others... not so much. When you defeat a major opponent, you always win their favorite card, something that also happened in the original story (though, why duelists would bet their favorite card is beyond my comprehension). In the manga, those cards ended up being very useful to Joey in his final battles of the tournament, but here, you'll probably use them a few times and then put them in the collection, never to be used again.

Then again, in the manga, Joey went around collecting the Locator Cards from normal duelists. Wait, does that mean you're sorta playing his part of the story? It seems so, doesn't it?

..Looks like you're stealing this guy's storyline.
Maybe he deserved it. Maybe not. We'll never know.

Writing tip number 2: If your Original Character literally takes the place of another character in the series, then it's a spot stealer. That's not just bad, that's wrong on so many levels of fiction. It's like saying “Hey, my character is better than one of the real characters, look I'm using mine instead of theirs!” even if your character is as bland as salt-less butter on white bread. As is the case here. Orange Cap Boy is defined only by his flashy attire and his inability to speak unless he's making a choice. He has no personality, only plot relevance for his game, and even then it seems like he's thrown into it all of a sudden. He still somehow carries through until he defeats all of his enemies. I call it the “Pokémon's Red” Syndrome. Kind of a designated protagonist. I can understand for most games, but for Yu-Gi-Oh? I would be less annoyed if he wasn't taking the spot and duels of Joey Wheeler.

How foolish of YOU! ...Loser.
What's next? Oh yeah, Nikorasu goes in a back alley and defeats a green-haired boy. When that kid is defeated, he calls upon his older brother to fight you. The older brother is just a taller carbon copy of his bro. Once you defeat HIM, he calls his older brother on you. Enters one of the most pathetic duelist in the history of the series, Esper Roba, who claims to have extrasensory powers. He claims to have ESP. I believe him; I think he is ESPecially annoying. Did I mention that in the original story, he's a cheater who has his brothers look at his opponent's cards? He has no such luck here. Once defeated, he leaves. Probably to mope somewhere. Oh, by the way, originally it was Joey who dealt with this guy. Which means that Orange Cap Boy stole this duel from Joey. Good work.

Bakura's mugshot.
Taken from Spriters Resource.
...Yeah, weird haircuts is the norm here.
The protagonist can now go to the museum, which is off-limits for duelists (but Bakura is at the entrance, so you can duel him; for those who don't know, Bakura also has a Millenium item that can take control of him). The player also has access to a shop, where he can buy a lot of different cards among the 900 different ones you can get in the game. Yeah, 900 cards in this game, not bad, I'd say. Maybe insufficient, but for a GBA game with a long plot like this, it's actually kind of impressive.

But here's my problem with the system in this. I mentioned earlier that you had a Level that increased as you won duels, right? Well, all cards are rated according to Level. In your Deck, you can only use cards whose Level is equal to or lower than yours. This really restricts the amount of cards you can put in your deck at the beginning, and even by the end of the game you might have to do a hundred more duels before you can play the highest-level card, which isn't even a good one technically.

Yeah, 20 Cost for the Dark Magician, a very strong card...
Something's wrong here. Hey, its stats should be 2500/2100!
Here's the other thing that irks me with this. The Levels (AKA Cost) given to the cards are utter NONSENSE. I can look at the selection of cards in this and it still baffles me how illogical it is. Okay, so some types of cards have a set value (as an example, Ritual monsters all require a Level 255 for you to use them, or Field Spells demand that you are Level 40). However, for most monsters, I try to understand how they say “Yep, that card can only be used by a Level X player”. Here's what I think I understood. Emphasis on “What I think”, because that's all speculation, and that's the best you can do when you're facing something crazy.
-The weaker the cards, the lowest their Level; that goes with their number of Stars but also with the total if you add the Attack and Defense stats of each.
-There is pretty much no distinction for monster cards with effects. They're maybe a few levels higher, but your starting deck already has effect monsters, so many are available from the start.
-The cards with higher Levels are overall better cards with higher stats for their Attack and Defense.
-Weak 5+ Stars monsters will have a very low cost, but the better they get the higher their cost will be.
-If a monster has high Attack but very low Defense, its cost will be higher. If it has high Defense but very low Attack, its cost will also be higher.
-The people who thought that system up were stupid.

But again, that's all speculation. It gets worse. Do you remember when I talked about Experience points? Well, those aren't just “Experience”, they're also Deck Capacity. They also define the strength of the cards you can put in your Deck. See, in this game, your Deck can only hold 40 cards, no less, no more. As a result, you must select 40 cards from your collection, and every card's Level required for you to use it is also its Cost in your Deck. You cannot exceed your amount of Deck Capacity when you're building your Deck. As a result, you may be tempted to use cards with a high Cost but wind up with crappy ones to fill the remaining spots.

This sucks. This way the game works is awful, because you cannot use some cards until you reach their Level, and even then their Cost really decreases their usefulness. Like I said, many cards with higher Cost just happen to have one stat better than the other, and that's it. So is it really worth it? This system sucks, but I do admit that in the game, it makes a bit of sense. Your character grows in strength, becomes better at the game as he duels... but that's because he can now access cards he couldn't use before, so that idea of “becoming stronger because you duel” gets replaced by “becoming stronger because you got better cards to replace your crappy ones”, which just isn't as cool. That's also why you start off by defeating lame duelists, and then as your Deck's strength increases you can go on to fight stronger opponents.

...Yeah. Sure we should. Our starting Decks make us the
laughingstock of the franchise.

But you know what? It sucks, but it's also kind of fun. It makes little sense, but this series makes little sense. So, it's faithful to the source material, in a way. I played through this game a lot of times. And therefore, I think that I must do it justice. Which is why this review will continue for three more parts. You heard that right: the first four-part review I'll have ever written.

Tune in next time, which will be... this Monday!