In 2000, Japanese television began airing an anime series entitled Yu-Gi-Oh! about a boy named Yugi whose grandfather gives him a “Millennium Puzzle” artifact that ultimately opens up his power to duel monsters. The show was first aired in the United States in 2001, and the associated collectible card game has spawned a huge following worldwide.
Being aware of the TV show isn’t particularly important in terms of the Game Boy Color title, but knowledge of and access to cards from the card game can be beneficial in the long run. When you begin your first campaign, you’re given less than 40 cards out of the 800 available, and that includes multiples of the same type. Building up your chest (stash of cards) involves winning cards in duels against the computer players, real players (linked by cable), trading, or importing cards from the collectible card set by inputting eight-digit password codes.
The game allows you to store up to 1000 cards, including 200 “original” cards you can create utilizing the construction mode of the game. The construction process involves combining the top and bottom halves of various card-parts (2 upper body, 2 lower body sections) with each type consisting of 70 different parts! According to the documentation, this offers the chance to create over 10,000 unique cards for dueling or trading. In reality, coming up with cards more powerful than the 800 initially available is a hit-and-miss proposition, and finding a really useful one is difficult, not to mention a whole heap of hard, detailed work.
If you’re not familiar with the concept, the first time you read through the manual can be very confusing when assaulted with the many options, especially in terms of the varied types of cards, their properties, and purposes. Monster cards, special cards, alignment, class, terrain effects, relationships, levels, sacrifice, special monsters, fusion, magic cards, terrain cards, trap cards, ritual cards, special ritual cards, and more tend to overwhelm the unsuspecting gamer. At first glance, the idea of meshing all the elements into a cohesive, understandable, easy-to-use entity seems daunting, if not impossible.
In practice, though, the learning curve isn’t nearly as tough as first appearances would seem to dictate. With a bit of patience and attention to the short but fairly detailed manual, you can be battling on the virtual battlefield very quickly, though understanding the nuances and the interrelationships between the dueling monster cards takes a while. More time is probably spent trying to figure out how to fill in the blank cards on the list of 800, until you happen to notice the short blurb near the end of the manual that explains how to obtain passwords from the corner of Yu-Gi-Oh! card game cards.
Cards are displayed effectively on the Game Boy Color screen with clear wording, nice portraits, good color, and easy-to-read text. Monster cards show the name, level, card number, deck cost, attack and defense factors, class and alignment, and any pertinent notes about the action (e.g., “highest-level magic user”). Special cards are simpler and display card name, number and deck cost, type, and notes. Menus are easy to navigate, and the Chest and Deck displays offer critical information in nicely designed formats, especially after a quick study of the various field explanations.
Actual combat between monsters is fairly straightforward with players giving specific commands, like attack, defend, discard, skip a turn, sacrifice cards to bring special monsters into play, or use special powers. You can equip magic cards to raise or lower specific factors or monster levels, change terrain conditions, fuse two cards by placing one on top of the other to create a new card with different properties, set traps or perform rituals. With the enormous number of cards and combinations available, gameplay is rarely stale and can be very entertaining as you try and lower your opponents starting Life Points from 8000 to zero.
As in most collectible card-based games, building a balanced deck is the key to success, but one that can elude the novice player. Only through practice and gained knowledge of the variety of cards will gameplay speed up, since beginners will need to focus on what each type of card does and learn the advisability of playing certain special cards or the nuances of relational situations. While the victory conditions are simplistic (reduce your opponent’s life force to zero), a few unusual circumstances, such as collecting all Exodia cards (number 17-21) in one hand, will result in instant victory.
Exception rules like one-per-deck card limitations, terrain effects that provide advantages or disadvantages to specific monsters, and superiority or inferiority of relationships based on alignment keep Yu-Gi-Oh! Dark Duel Stories’ gameplay fun and unpredictable. Despite the slow process of building decks, which is due in large part to the small screen that requires viewing details about each card separately, and the potentially frustrating process of finding passwords from external sources, Dark Duel Stories is well suited for the Game Boy Color system.
Detailed cards, easy-to-read text, and a clearly formatted menu system translate the card game nicely to the handheld system.
Background music is repetitive, although a variety of short tunes play at various screens, and can easily be voided by turning the sound off. The sounds consist of standard blips and beeps.
Learning to play effectively can be challenging, but getting into the game is easy enough. Having to get additional cards from external sources is disappointing, but the password system seems fair to those who have invested in the card game, though purchasers of the video game may feel differently.
With literally thousands of combinations and cards possible, no two games need ever be the same. Collecting, trading, and creating cards allows expansion of the basic game. Multiplayer link cable offers unlimited play.
The manual can be confusing when initially read from cover to cover, but players will find it helpful when used in conjunction with gameplay. Some elements need expanded explanations.