Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links Review: A mobile reimagination of the classic TCG
Let me start by saying that I played a lot of Yu-Gi-Oh until several years ago. I played the physical game, the various unlicensed online games and the licensed video games for several consoles (the GameBoy Advance titles nailed it). I wasn't great, but I was decent, so I know what a Yu-Gi-Oh game should look like.
Now that we got that out of the way, let me get straight to the point. Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Links is not the game one would expect. For starters, it's not a full Yu-Gi-Oh experience, due to its vastly different rule set.
Duel Links makes use of a completely fresh rule set. Duels are designed to last for just a few minutes, due to the mobile nature of the game. The number of monster and trap/magic cards you can put on the field are reduced to just three, as opposed to the standard five. Additionally, Life Points are reduced to 4,000 and deck sizes are halved to 20-30 cards, instead of the regular 40-60. Also, there is no Main Phase 2, which means that you can't play any cards after the Battle Phase.
The game itself is organized in something called Duel World. According to the story, it's a virtual reality environment, where duelists gather for the title of Duel World King or Queen. In reality, it's just four separate screens with different buildings on each. All of the screens are riddled with blips that represent different NPC duelists that you can battle.
The first screen holds the Duel School, where you can go through simple tutorials, and the Portal, which allows you to battle different legendary duelists from the anime, such as Joey Wheeler, Yugi Muto, Seto Kaiba and so on. The second holds the PvP Arena, which pits you against other human players in a real-time online match. The third houses the card shop, where you can purchase booster packs, and the Card Trader, that allows you to trade special items for individual rare cards. The Card Studio is on the last screen, and you can use it to customize your decks.
As for the computer-controlled duelists, at first they're laughably easy to beat. They would summon monsters in attack position that are considerably weaker than the monsters I had on the field, for example. I had many duels that ended in less than 8 turns, with me not losing a single Life Point. However, when you reach the later stages of the game, you might be in for a surprise. The mysterious duelist, known as the Vagabond, is one of those surprises. I have yet to win a duel against him, or even damage his Life Points in any way. He uses a “challenge” deck and special rules apply in duels against him, such as not being able to use monster effects for example.
“My turn, draw!” every time someone has to draw a card. And this is not only annoying, but also time-consuming too, since the character will not draw a card until they finish their line.
The constant chatter from you and your opponents alike isn't the only drawback of the game, though. The way you level up, acquire new cards and complete challenges is confusing too. The game features two separate leveling systems – one for each of the characters that you can choose, and one for your account. The first is based on experience points that you get from duels. The better you do in a match, the more experience you get. The second, however, is based on different objectives. For example, winning six duels in duel world will allow you to advance to the next level, or Stage, as they're called. The presence of two systems is confusing and unnecessary in my opinion.
The other frustrating feature is the insane amount of items you can collect. These are used to buy cards from the Card Trader, but I have yet to use them effectively. When you have to collect 25 items of five different varieties just to get that single card you want, it's really hard to build a proper deck. And if you fail to build a good deck, you stand no chance in PvP duels. Of course, this is the main reason for people to go for micro-transactions in the game. Therefore, Konami had probably done it on prupose, to turn more profit.
And while we're talking about cards, the selection is currently quite limited. According to the Yu-Gi-Oh website, Duel Links features “more than 700 classic Monster, Trap and Spell cards”. To put it in perspective, the official Trading Card Game features nearly 8,000 unique playable cards. But if we consider the fact that Duel Links is meant to be simple and novice-friendly, the limited card catalog actually makes sense.
Gameplay aside, the game looks and feels pretty good. Graphics are polished, and the sound and voice acting is at a pretty good level. Despite that, it doesn't feel like a true Yu-Gi-Oh game. The vibe I get from Duel Links reminds me of a mini-game or a special challenge in a full game, due to its stripped-down rules, low number of cards available and quick-paced duels. Honestly, I can't recommend the game to hardcore Yu-Gi-Oh players, but it's pretty good if you're not that serious about your dueling and are looking for some casual duels on-the-go.
- Easy for newcomers to the Yu-Gi-Oh franchise
- Quick-paced duels make for good dueling on-the-go
- Polished graphics and sound
- Obtaining cards with no IAP is too hard
- No Main Phase 2
- Confusing UI and Duel World mechanics