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Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Review – An Incredible Adaptation Without A Yugi-Boy In Sight

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My first time playing Yu-Gi-Oh! was when I was about 10 years old, sitting in my neighbour’s house. Neither of us knew how to play, but we did know that the Red-Eyes Black Dragon was obviously the best card ever made because it was a big dragon that looked awesome in 2004. We knew we had to shout “Duel!” before we started, and then proceeded to throw the cards at each other. 18 years later I still don’t quite know how to play Yu-Gi-Oh!, but Master Duel is definitely helping to correct that decades-long ignorance with what is easily the best adaptation of the megahit TCG ever made.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is Konami throwing its hat into the free-to-play digital card game space, sizing up to the likes of Magic The Gathering: Arena, Pokemon Trading Card Game Online, and Legends of Runeterra. And it’s going in hard, with full cross-play and cross-progression across every platform it’s released on, 10,000 cards at launch, and an impressive solo mode.

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While Yu-Gi-Oh! has had video games before, they’ve always been an adaptation of the anime and manga, rather than the trading card game. Master Duel’s different – without a Yugi or Joey or Weevil Underwood in sight, the game places the focus on the cards themselves, providing what feels like the purest way to play the card game online we’ve ever had.


Pendulum Summoning

This reverence for the cards over the shouty shonen boys we usually see playing with them extends into its extensive single-player mode. While it would’ve been so easy for the game to give us yet another duel with Mako Tsunami or Mai Valentine, Master Duel instead looks into the cards themselves again for inspiration. We finally get explanations of what’s going on in the art, the worlds Konami has hinted at, and finally learn what the hell a Geargia even is. The missions themselves all follow the same basic structure of ‘learn the deck, beat AI missions with the deck’, but they serve as a bit more than mere tutorials.


Even the duelling itself feels slicker and more mature than in other games. Yu-Gi-Oh! is notorious for being very information-dense, with entire novels filling a card’s allotted text space. While it can still be a bit of a slog to read a card like Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring, Master Duel presents it in a more digestible fashion. Everything is explained, the ‘chain’ of effects waiting to be resolved is visualised on a literal chain to help illustrate how it works, and there’s even a full ‘duel log’ to explain what’s happened on previous turns.

With all this accessibility, it’d be easy to think Master Duel may not have much room for veteran players who already know their Synchro from their Pendulum. Because many of the game’s most powerful and complex archetypes are available, that’s not the case. The skill ceiling here is just as high as it would be in a tabletop game; it’s just been streamlined for convenience.



Chain

In the last few months, digital card games have been under fire for their in-game economies. TCGs are already known for being money sinks, but even fully paid-up fans have complained about how little games like Magic Arena gives you. So it’s incredible to see something from Konami, a publisher who admittedly doesn’t have the best reputation for its generosity, go absolutely ham on throwing endless amounts of free stuff at you.

The first few hours of the game seem to just be a never-ending flow of free cards, gems, cosmetics, and booster packs. It’s almost overwhelming dropping 1000 gems to open ten packs, only to be rewarded with another 1000 to spend even more. While you could cynically call this a way for the game to get you invested, it’s still giving you enough to build at least one fully-playable competitive deck of your choice right from the get-go, which is more than any other game right now is offering.



Duel Pass Rewards

Of course, it isn’t all perfect. A few UI annoyances make trawling through menus feel slow, and there are a fair few grammatical and translation errors to make things seem less polished.

The biggest criticism is that Master Duel is trying to be the go-to digital version of the card game while also being a few sets behind in its card pool. We don’t have Dawn of Majesty, Burst of Destiny, Cyber Strike, or The Grand Creators in here yet, and large parts of Synchro Storm are missing. Considering Magic puts its new sets into Arena a week before the tabletop release (which causes its own problems, admittedly), it would be nice to see new Yu-Gi-Oh! sets build some hype through Master Duel instead of seeing the card game drift further and further away from it.



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Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is Yu-Gi-Oh! at its best. The kid gloves have been taken off to give us a complex, deep game full of exciting plays and powerful combos, but presented in a sensible and readable way, free from Joey Wheeler shoutin’ about da heart o’ da cards. Whether you’re a veteran duelist, a lapsed player, or someone who’s had a vague interest at some point in the last 25 years, this is the way you want to get into Yu-Gi-Oh!.


Yu-Gi-Oh!-Master-Duel-Review-Card-2

Score: 4.5/5

NEXT: Yu-Gi-Oh!: The 15 Best Archetypes In The Game’s History


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