If you had told me in 2008 that among the various IPs held by Konami - Metal Gear, Silent Hill, Castlevania, Pro Evolution Soccer - Yu-Gi-Oh it would have been the only one treated with velvet gloves by the Japanese software house nowadays, I would have taken you for crazy. Why it must be said: Konami's reputation has reached an all-time low, especially after the events related to Metal Gear Solid V and Hideo Kojima, the NFT of Castlevania, the case of PT and the most recent launch of eFootball, a game that nowadays is a bad copy of the football franchise made famous by Collina's bald head.
Yet, taking a simple leap of "D4C-ana inspiration", within the scope of the collectible card game based on the work of Kazuki Takahashi, we find ourselves in front of an alternative world. Leaving aside the Asian OCG panorama, of which I am not an expert and which on balance - between dedicated banlists, dynamics of problem solving card text never introduced by us and secondary market busted - embodies a completely different game, the Konami that manages the European and American TCG has left me often dazed by how well it manages its flow of content and communication.
True, when it comes to actively intervening on the meta and the crazy and unpleasant combos of the players it is rather slow, with banlists that span months and months, but at the same time in recent years they have managed to excel in what the other Konami fatigue: give importance to user and expert feedback, making the latter ambassadors and discussion points for them (as a company) and for us (as a community).
In essence, in Yu-Gi-Oh everything is (almost) fine. I say almost because, unlike other competitors such as Pokémon and Magic, the good Yugi lacked what (even during periods of global pandemic) allowed his rivals to organize events or at least allow users to play: an online platform. The initiative of the Remote Duel, but even that led to the appearance of problems that immediately made it a gimmick, something interesting but cumbersome to put into practice.
Fortunately, after years of requests after requests, Konami also took the plunge by releasing Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel last January 16th 2022, the digital version of their card game is available on PlayStation, Xbox, PC, Android, iOS and Nintendo Switch. But what is this Master Duel? How does it stand out from its physical counterparts? And above all, can it work or be sustainable in the long term? Get comfortable, grab your duel disk and let's get started!
But first: a couple of historical notes!
"Yu-Gi-Oh! Connection Memories "
Before talking about what Master Duel puts on the table, it is mandatory to stop, rethink the past and analyze how Konami managed and manage its free-to-play titles dedicated to this brand, as well as to clarify what they were the real competitors of this title and the doubts that have marred my expectation. And I would say to leave by unlocking a memory: but you remember Yu-Gi-Oh Online?
Starting from a basis set by the trilogy of Power of Chaos, Yu-Gi-Oh! Online was the first attempt to digitally transpose the game and I must say that even for 2005 it was very, very backward. Not so much in the gameplay, which at the end of the fair was the TCG format of the time (can't remember if it was already the infamous GOAT) and in terms of support beyond seasonal events, there wasn't much else outside the main lobby . But the real problem with Yu-Gi-Oh's first incarnation of the online experience lay in one huge mistake: the business model. Now, looking back on it, it makes you smile, but in a historical period in which World of Warcraft he had made the industry understand how to manage an online video game subscription, these crazy people thought “mmmmh… usb sticks”. In general, with the purchase of the Starter Pack by Yu-Gi-Oh! Online, the player was given gods Points Duel Pass, or credits to consume whenever you wanted to even just play a game, without having the opportunity to try your decks through single player mode as a simple Practice Mode. And once these points were exhausted, there were two solutions: abandon the game or buy Gift Cards or USB sticks with 30 DPs inside them, a bonus card and 10 Mileage Points, which can be used in-game to purchase rare cards.
It goes without saying that in a game in which to compete it was necessary to win hundreds and hundreds of games, to have the opportunity to unwrap 3 cards at random from dozens of packs and expansions and that if all went well they oscillated between Dark Magician and Frog the Jam, imposing such a limit is pure madness, also for 2005. Not to mention the difficulties in recovering these prepaid cards in areas such as Italy, a country where at the time, just hearing the word online video game, there was a risk of to sink into a space-time chasm.
Does anyone remember ygo online 2? I used to play it when i was about 11 yo and i couldn't buy duelpass, so i made new acc everytime i spent all free duelpasses lol. It still was a nice game, i wish konami would make ygo online where u can make your own avatar like it was there from Yu-Gi-Oh
And after the sequel's release Duel Evolution, which improved online interactions using the series setting Duel Monsters and GX to allow players to create their own avatar and explore Domino City e the Academy of Duelists looking for new friends e opponents, while maintaining the criminal system of the Duel Pass; the release in 2009 Yu-Gi-Oh! Online Duel Accelerator led to the real one evolution of Konami's business model, bringing it a little closer to the most modern free-to-play games for that era. And I don't think there is a better way to present this title to you than by taking you back in all senses to 2009. How? But obviously with a video recorded with Hypercam 2 and with in the background Bring Me to Life by Evanescence.
Thank goodness, with Duel Accelerator the gentlemen at the top of Konami put together an at least passable product, reproducing the style and fluidity of gameplay that characterized the series in a multiplayer key. Tag Force, which at the time had reached its fourth installment on PlayStation Portable. The explorable world was replaced by a static game menu that (in a very tacky way to me) incorporated everything players needed to get into the game. As for single player content, it was possible to tackle several legendary duelists from the animated series, up to Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Ds. By defeating the CPU you were able not only to unlock new difficulty levels, but also to obtain additional cards to improve your deck. Of course, even in this round the best way to build a competitive deck was to buy with real money Boosterpass Point, necessary for obtaining the classic packages, which from what I remember came up to Storm of Ragnarok, the penultimate expansion of the Synchro Era.
Unfortunately, with the closure of the servers in 2012 a lot of the content and information regarding these titles became lost meday. Making the writing of this first paragraph quite difficult. In the case of Duel Accelerator, the 432 videos uploaded to the channel still exist duellogs, and ranging from simple demonstrations to the last competitive tournament held in 2012. Nostalgia, take me away.
Simultaneously with the development of these software, a small community of enthusiasts - mostly college students or very small teams - worked on programs that would be the basis of the pre-Master Duel online experience: the simulators. Kaiba Corp Virtual Duel System, Yugioh Virtual Desktop and the historian Dueling Network can be considered the progenitors of manual simulators, programs that offer the card database, the terrain, the life points system and all the rest of the mechanics that make up the card game, while leaving their operation to the player's discretion. Let's face it, it is an archaic, fallacious and from my point of view obsolete way of playing but which for many others was the only free way to meet the need for a constantly updated virtual platform.
Only in the last 10 years have programs been developed that can offer an automatic simulation like the video games published by Konami (which in the meantime continued to churn out titles that were born and died since day one due to the limited and non-limited amount of cards. updatable). Software such as YGO Pro or the hundreds of its versions have therefore created a fairly high standard for this type of simulator - also offering replay functions and LAN Party missing even on AAA titles such as Heartstone and Magic Arena - but it has also contributed to a further division of the player base, which has tried to make a virtue of necessity to remedy a serious lack of Konami, a lack that has worsened over the years and that during the pandemic reached its maximum peak.
And it is precisely for this reason that, at the announcement of Master Duel, I began to think that the community would never accept the minimum wage, and that Konami would have to do development, care and support work not only to compete with Blizzard or Wizard of the Coast, but also with fan projects, ready to come back to them should the whole project be gone down the drain as in the case of eFootball. With these premises, I refused to follow the marketing campaign and waited with shyness and mistrust the release of the title.
Exit that came suddenly, without any celebration. And although in most cases (especially towards Konami) the stench of shit would have been smelled from afar, much of the content offered by Master Duel at the release is incredible.
After a fairly light download by current standards, Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel presents itself in all its minimal but functional interface for its Free-To-Play task: a short list of the available modes and functions, accompanied by two banners dedicated to the announcements and advertising of the Duel Pass, which I will talk about in following. What really drove the community crazy at launch was Konami's foresight in thinking about the experience of the paying user or not. Regardless of the usual starting gem bonus and welcome offers, which allow more players seasoned to get right away the goal cards necessary to compete.
Speaking as a player who is limited to using in the paper game budget deck, even just the idea of being able to immediately get staple like Lightning Storm or the infamous Flowering Ash & Joyful Spring from the spacious forehead it stunned me, especially if you look at the history of Konami TCG towards the resources given to the player between small reprints, shortprints or even meta must-have cards available exclusively in high rarity and many other market strategies that yes, help the game and the various expansions to be relevant in the long run, but which at the same time built the myth of Komoney.
To these precautions, a crafting system and card rarity which, in ways very similar to how it happens in Hearthstone, allows you to dismantle unnecessary cards to get points (divided into different rarities, from Normal to Ultra Rare) that can be spent on creating better cards. Each card is also craftable in 3 versions of foiling different, and each of them - if dismantled - will offer an ever greater bonus of points.
And speaking of cards, a small note for the incomplete database available within Master Duel and which includes over 10.000 cards coming in 90% of cases from the various expansions released in OCG and TCG, up to a good half of Legendary Duelists: Storm Synchro. There are obvious shortcomings, especially in the case of the last mentioned set, shortcomings that (in my opinion) were ignored either due to lack of time or because they wanted to avoid (for a few months) a chaotic metagame in which Destroyer Phoenix Overseer - Destiny HERO and Flower Baron would be played in any deck, even more than the usual ones Maxx "C", Rhongo Bongo, Apollousa and so on and so forth.
And here we cannot fail to mention the special banlist tuned for Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel. A sort of cross between the western and eastern lists, able to resurrect from oblivion decks and themes capable of exploiting cards or strategies that cannot be used in a paper format. Street Red-Eyes Black Dragon? We exhume That Grass Looks Greener to the delight of daredevils crazy for 60-card decks. A little help Assault of the Sky? Riccastro Goblin a 3 is the ideal solution! Eldlich players crave even more power? Here are all the Skill Drain you want. In short, we are faced with a crazy and out of control format, in which everyone is desperately trying to emerge and where the right card pulled at the right time is able to put in check any combination, also thanks to the presence of the usual ones handtrap like the aforementioned Ash, Maxx "C" or Nibiru, The Primordial Being or cards that (a little for poor creep) may result unfair in the eyes of a nostalgic player who expected a more caciarona and close to the anime experience. Experience that, in some ways, remains confined within the Solo mode.
Within this exclusively single player section, Konami has tried to make up for the shortcomings of less experienced players through short tutorials on game dynamics and mechanics, from the functioning of the phases to the most modern methods of evocation such as Links. In addition, and I would say finally, the player is given the opportunity to explore the lore of the various archetypes that make up the great macro-universe of Yu-Gi-Oh (outside the anime). Every Gate of Solo Mode is composed of several chapters and duels, the latter can be tackled either by using your own deck or by renting one already pre-built by Konami and that you will most likely never use. For heaven's sake, some of these decks introduce interesting combinations, but at the moment - apart from very few exceptions - at the moment the available archetypes leave a lot to be desired. True, Karakuri, Faithful of the light e World Chalice they continue to have their own whys in the scene rogue and casual game tables, but again Solo Mode will reward your interest in these archetypes giving you useless and now obsolete cards.
Completing a Gate in Solo Mode unlocks access to a Secret Package, an expansion pack that can be purchased in the shop which, depending on the theme or archetype, increases the possibilities of pullare of the cards belonging to the latter. In the case of the Faithful of the Light (although by now the deck needs another 7 archetypes to function decently), cards like Wulf, Lumina Hair Care, Raiden and obviously Judgment Dragon they will have a higher percentage of being obtained. But be careful: because the same discourse also applies to all the others Featured Cards featured in this package, and this is where the money machine of Konami shows its darker side.
Once unlocked, the secret pack will remain active for a long time 24 hours, unless it comes continuously repurposed through two methods: crafting an archetype card of Super Rare or higher rarity or by unwrapping of specific cards within any package. And although during the first few days, this mechanic had been defined consumer-friendly, at the exact moment in which the gifts have started to run out, it is very easy to end up in the trap of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and start spending for real money.
In all of this, however, I have not talked about the core of Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel: the gameplay. More than anything, I don't know what to tell you about it, is simple and pure Yu-Gi-Oh! No particular gimmicks, no skills, no characters to unlock. Just press the Duel button in the menu to be catapulted into the heart of the experience, divided into Ranked Matches which at the moment are divided into 5 tiers (Rookie, Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum), the Lobby from where you can invite your friends to challenge each other in friendly duels and finally Events, which I will talk about in closing. Once you have entered a game you are faced with a playing field that comes to life with every play, with the development team working hard to make any duel interesting (even the ones with shifts that are defined alone) through the use of particles, three-dimensional and two-dimensional animations for cards, an inspired sound design and a dynamic and captivating soundtrack.
The playing field is then customizable by purchasing or obtaining through the Solo Mode of terrain elements, Sleeves, themes e companions. The only criticisms I really feel like making have to do with the netcode not always stable and that in case of disconnection it will lead to an automatic defeat with no ifs and buts, and at default duel options, never clear and that without a minimum of knowledge and manipulation on the system of chains, they risk ruining any play.
From a certain point of view, my description of Master Duel embodies perfectly the dichotomy of modern Konami: on the one hand we have the Komoney, a company that tries everything to get rich immediately and constantly (in this case, using the simple psychological tricks that have haunted the Free-to-Play market for years); on the other hand we find a Konami that underneath thinks about its own users, responding to the criticisms of years and years of negligence. But to date, almost 5 months after the release of Master Duel, how will they have handled post launch support? Very, very bad.
End of the honeymoon
NB: Unlike the previous chapters, this one was written and revised months later, so it will examine what Konami did up to Patch 1.1.1. I know, I'm a damned scoundrel, but I hope the 200 hours of gaming experience can make me forgive.
We assume that the game had already been dated since day one, sending that country any kind of surprise Konami had in store for the playerbase. This, however, does not justify the biggest problem of Master Duel: the lack of respect towards their most hardcore and loyal audience. Once you get to 1 Diamond, the highest rank currently available in Ranked Duels, the game retroactively punishes you at the start of next season. How? Locking yourself in the Gold rank without offering the rewards of the previous levels, thus preventing you from obtaining the necessary gems for obtaining new cards. Sure, some might think “But that you only play for the rewards? But play for fun, don't you? " and it is a more than legitimate thought.
However, putting myself in the shoes of a player who intends to invest a lot of hours on Master Duel without putting his hand to his wallet, why on earth should I engage in ranked matches rather than swinging through the lowest ranks and getting more resources? This upsets the balance of matchmaking, with the potential risk for inexperienced and novice players to find themselves in front of an army of trolls and experienced players ready to stomach them for pretty good. Another Konami error in balancing? FTK (First Turn Kill). Now, this is a problem that also exists in the physical board game, but which has been overcome several times over the years. Do you want for a series of stabs to the offending decks within the list of restricted and forbidden cards, or do you want to because in a format "Best of 3" these strategies do not find great popularity. But the way Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, the only existence of this kind of Win Conditions it should have been one of the main critical issues to be solved. Unfortunately that was not the case, the result? Bots-filled servers able to abuse their opponent's extra deck for inflict 9000 points of damage even before the opponent can somehow react. And in a competitive format a dry match, you don't have to be a game design genius to understand that this is bullshit.
This thing was discovered at March, and despite the feedback from competitive players, influencers and pro-players, Konami only spoke to May, through a banlist that - let's be honest - it has nothing at all changed a metagame that begins to smell stale, despite the addition of archetypes such as Despia or very strong cards such as the aforementioned Destroyer Phoenix Overseer - HERO of Destiny, which together with Predaplant Anaconda Verte he is considered to be one of the most annoying and spammy boss monsters ever.
And last but not least, to complete the triad ofirresponsibility of Konami, none and I mean no kind of disciplinary measure towards those who choose to surrender at the first stages of the game. I understand, the game has reached such a complexity and speed as to incentivize 30 minute solo combos. We are giving up if we are faced with an unbeatable board with 70 negations, 30 slits, 50 removals from the ground e the Madonna of the Milan Cathedral. But at the same time it's funny to think that most of the daily missions dedicated to the Battle Phase are impossible to complete in 7 out of 10 cases, yet another proof that most of the Yu-Gi-Oh community cares more about playing the game rather than playing the game itself.
At the cost of appearing inconsistent with the previously expressed opinion, my criticism of Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel was born from a sincere "love" for the game. I would love to participate in the competitive, have fun during the events - although those organized so far are anonymous and infested with the same problems of competitive matchmaking - try new decks, vary my gameplay and enjoy a visual experience that has been refined and that is even more lively and pleasant than the launch.
Yet, after 200 hours of gameplay I feel like I've lost all interest in Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, at least for a while and I suppose it's the same feeling as a lot of players from the first hour, and that's a shame. Konami had and still has an interesting project in his hands, which could even compete - also in terms of economic gains - with the TCG. But this will happen only and only if the Japanese company knows how to listen to user feedback with the right seriousness. And unfortunately for them, precisely because we are talking about Konami, I do not see this thing possible.