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Baneful's Column
A Brief History of Yu-Gi-Oh! Video Games
December 18, 2013

A Brief History of Yu-Gi-Oh! Video Games

Video games were one of many appendages of the massive Yu-Gi-Oh! franchise.  From the beginning of the 21st century to today, there have been well over 30 (probably over 40) different YGO video games, which averages to about 3 game releases per year (more than almost every single video game franchise out there, except maybe Nintendo's Mario).  Konami has been indiscriminate by releasing YGO games for just about every mainstream gaming platform.  The YGO video game franchise has generally received mixed to negative (although on some occasions, slightly positive) reviews from critics, who felt that the games lack appeal outside the core fanbase, but was commercially successful. 

Characteristic of them are typically the three promotional cards that come with them.  Some are decorative (but not very useful) like Seiyaryu whilst others have been very powerful cards for their time, like Sinister Serpent, Harpie's Feather Duster, D.D. Assailant, Dimensional Prison and Dark Bribe.  This often supplemented the fact that the games were often not very good or innovative and helped absorb the cost where the software in and of itself would probably not be worth full price to many people.  The core mechanics of what makes YGO so appealing have not changed a bit, but our standards of technology and what makes
a good video game sure have.  This makes it all the more easier to compare a timeless (sometimes stagnant) formula to growing expectations.

Early Beginnings

Forbidden Memories (for Playstation) was the first console release.  Dark Duel Stories was the first portable release (for the Gameboy Color).  If you played any of the games that came after it (DDS) first, you might not be so impressed with it.  The game, for the most part, was severely lacking in spells, traps and effect monsters, making it just a contest of ATK strength without the element of strategy.  The next game for the Gameboy Advanced (Eternal Duelist Soul) fixed this issue, thankfully, making it one of the better YGO games of it's time. 

Stairway to the Destined Duel was a multilingual YGO game with a tournament structure that allowed a little bit of freedom beyond the linear structure of "Face 5 opponents to get to the next level" or at least offered a semblance of it.  It was an all-around improvement tothe other games, but it's important to mention that the enemy deck design was lazy.  Mai, a duelist which characteristically uses WIND monsters and Harpies had a LV5 effect-less DARK Fiend monster with weak stats in her deck, for example.  Decisions like this show Konami's total lack of attention to detail.  The Gameboy Advance had other games like Reshef of Destruction, The Sacred Cards, and Spirit Caller, but ultimately stumbled on the beginning of a new sub-series with its World Championship game.

Playstation 2, Xbox and Gamecube each received a game.  Playstation 2 (aside from the conventional Duelist of the Roses) got Capsule Monster Colloseum.  Xbox got Dawn of Destiny.  Gamecube ended up getting the most interesting game of the three, The Falsebound Kingdom, a turn-based RPG with RTS elements (no cards at all).  This was a very interesting diversion from the typical card game rehash but played painfully slow, had poor production values, and lacked the depth that many other RPG's had for their time.

At this point, it was clear that console YGO games didn't do much differently than portable ones, and that the series lost it's novelty although kept a strong base of fans.  Most of these games had a fundamental flaw, though.  You started out with a weak deck, and you had to perform tedious duels for 10 hours before you would even begin to get a big enough library of cards to where you could build a themed deck.  And by then, enemies simply became too weak to handle you when you actually have a deck you were allowed to build the way you wanted to.

The Flood

Console games can be more expensive make and generally have to sell for a more expensive price.  Also, 2D strategy games have always fared better on portable platforms, whereas people tended to prefer spatial 3D games on consoles.  So, with Gamecube, Xbox and PS2 each getting a game (PS2 got a couple, I think), Konami decided it was much easier to support the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP.  This began with Nightmare Troubadour, a game servicing the original anime whilst making great use of the dual screen touch controls, but had a limited card library restricted by what the characters would use rather than all the options the player would want to use.  But with a new generation of handhelds, they've become able to display card pictures, which made it more immersive and required less of the imagination.  A card being a black square surrounded by a mono-chromatic border without text is a thing of the past.

The PSP took the less conventional route with the GX Tag Force games.  The colorful visuals of the YGO GX anime helped the presentation and the tag-team mechanics in the game worked great, but after the 2nd entry, it became rehash after rehash.  The DS took an approach that was geared more toward real-life players with competitive ambitions by continuing the World Championship series.  The problem was having to buy a new game every year instead of just being able to receive online updates.

At this point, Konami realized the mainstream market was off limits.  Fair-weather consumers who enjoyed YGO games as novelties grew bored of constant rehashes.  Also, the gaming industry significantly has significantly grown.  A decade ago, give or take, there weren't nearly as many franchises as there were today, and with so many (actually decent) titles out, YGO stands out much less than it did during the late days of the Gameboy Color or the early days of the Gameboy Advanced where they were in need of new titles.

Releasing a great game with lasting value every 2-3 years rather than an okay game twice per year seems like a logical move, but it also seems that Konami has already calculated that many people will unconditionally buy the game for the promo cards.  Two games in a several year frame wouldn't make nearly as much money as six games in a several year frame, no matter how good they were.

Near the end of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP lifespan, Konami stopped the gusher a bit, and ceased their yearly release regimen, which takes us to today.  With portable gaming consoles less appealing to casual gamers due to smartphones with capable processors, it may just be more profitable to release $5 YGO iPhone apps rather than full $30 games, but digitial transactions remove the nostalgic joy of opening a pack of promo cards.

A New Era

Nowadays, you'll find many people dueling online for free on the website Dueling Network.  Leave it to a few ordinary people with a passion for the game and some knowledge of computer programming to build a more accessible, effective and intuitive game than any of the ones that the Konami corporations have.  Playing against other people online with an internet connection isn't anything too new though.  Others have tried to take YGO to the internet, such as Xerocreative's Yu-Gi-Oh! Virtual Desktop (an application you needed to download to your desktop).  There have been a few other actual websites where you could play against people online but they weren't visually appealing and the user interface wasn't simple and convenient.  You had to use your imagination to believe you were actually playing a game of YGO until Dueling Network's superb animation, colorful visuals and smoother interface pretty much became the standard.
 
Konami had Yu-Gi-Oh! Online for a while, but there was a fundamental issue with it.  People do not want to pay for virtual cards when they could be paying for real-life cards instead.  In fact, one of the most recent official game releases was Decade Duels for the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 for a $10 price tag.  The prospect of reviving the video game series for a new generation of online-capable consoles is a good one, but the game was plagued by a weak starting deck which pressures the player into purchasing $2 packs via micro-transactions in order to stay afloat.

Sure, there are lots of debates on whether this infringes upon the copyright.  Different companies have different terms, and it's clear that nobody has been able to make a dueling network for Magic: The Gathering for likely that reason.  Whether Dueling Network is allowed to stand or not, it makes a compelling case for what a YGO game should be like in the future.  It's an example of what consumers want.  Gone is the era where people pay with their memberships, but rather, one where people pay with their eyes.  They, essentially, pay attention.  Advertising has been a fair compromise which allows companies to make money while the consumer being able to enjoy luxuries for free, which is exactly how television works.

Overall Legacy

The overall legacy of the offical YGO video games is mixed one.  On the good side, it promoted the card game and helped extend it's life.  It provided
a strong series of portable games to go along with classics like Pokemon, Mario and Zelda.  Where many portable games in the early 21st century
were just simple platforming or action games lacking depth, YGO let the player have access to a grand strategy game, with a customizable deck to be
used in battles against a colorful cast of characters, all on portable devices.  On the bad side, it was a series that put quantity over quality, and quick profit over actually creating games of artistic value.  It cluttered the shelves, and the series eventually began to burn out after compromising much of it's quality, re-hashing instead of innovating once it got to a comfortable point.

As for which of Konami's games I would recommend, I would argue that Nightmare Troubadour has a timeless charm to it that remains in tact, or you might want to try one of the GX Tag Force games for the interesting tag-team mechanic.  Most of the other games are either dated, lack personality or are beat out in quality by a lot of free software people use to duel by.  This in effect has made the dozens of YGO games created a matter of quick profit and extension of the brand that have now lost their effectiveness and artistic merit.  Millions of them are still in circulation, but most will likely remain as nostalgic relics like AOL discs rather than timeless masterpeices.

In the end, how you view the YGO video games is entirely a matter of perspective.  If you aren't a core fan of the series, you might see it as a giant litter of repetitive games made purely for a niche crowed with low standards.  If you're a fan like me, you probably hold fonder and inseperable memories.

Contact: banefulscolumn@gmail.com

 

 


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