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Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Caller (DS) artwork

Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Caller (DS) review

"Much strategy comes into play. What cards should you put in that will complement each other and make their powers stronger together than divided? What can you do to counter common card effects your opponent might use?"

A world where card games dictate the fate of mankind is a bit on the nerdy side, even for those of us who have grown up on anime. Thankfully, although the shoddy antics of the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX show cast do not carry over into Konami’s latest video game iteration of the license, the epic intensity of the Yu-Gi-Oh! card game is done justice in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Summoner (and probably the three dozen games bound to follow it onto the DS).

Konami did keep two things from the Yu-Gi-Oh! GX show in the game, though: a streamlined plot and the plethora of characters. Meet Jaden Yuki, the show’s protagonist. Now, Jaden, step aside; a character of your own making will become your in-game replacement for the first two years of school at the aptly-named Duel Academy, a famed school where card games are taught (card games are serious business).

For those of you just interested in playing the game, but lacking any idea what it’s about (or even just intimidated by the 50+ games released in the last five years and unsure which to pick), listen up. The basic core of the game is the art of dueling in a card battle. The rules of Yu-Gi-Oh! are those of a modified Magic: The Gathering. Each character starts with eight thousand life points and a deck consisting of at least forty cards. If you lose all your life points or try to draw when there are no cards left, it’s game over. Cards are divided into three separate categories: Monster cards, Spell cards, and Trap cards.

Monster cards are your basic henchmen that do all the dirty work for you. Each one comes with an Attack point and Defense point status, a pair of numbers that determines the victor in a battle with a monster, by ‘greater than’ and ‘less than’ margins. Monsters can be utilized in two different modes: Attack mode, which allows them to attack other monsters using their Attack points but leaves them open to Life points loss if defeated, or Defense mode, which keeps Life points safe but removes the ability to attack. Some monsters also have special effects that they can activate. These include the ability to change the battlefield, increased stats for certain monsters with certain attributes, or the chance to bypass an enemy monster and attack your opponent’s Life Points directly.

Spell Cards are a different type of beast. Although there’s no number crunching for them, they themselves enable a lot of effects. You’ll be able to force your enemy to discard the top card from his deck to the graveyard when attacking, destroy a different Spell card, or slaughter all enemies on the opposite side of the battlefield. They are further subdivided into several categories, such as the Equip spell, which can cause your monster’s Attack or Defense points to increase along with a few other auxiliary effects, or continuous spells that remain constantly in play.

Trap cards are much like Spell cards, with the key difference being that they need an action of sorts to occur before they can be set off. They can range from something as simple as destroying an attacking monster to negating Spell cards to being able to summon monsters from your deck to the field. They, too, are split into several categories, such as Continuous Trap cards.

In building a deck, much strategy comes into play. What cards should you put in that will complement each other and make their powers stronger together than divided? What can you do to counter common card effects your opponent might use? Should you use a themed deck with specialized cards that can turn the tide of a duel in a turn, or keep a wide-open deck with a surprise at every turn? This gives the game its true thrill, like when an idea comes together and creates a strong deck, or when it completely destroys all opponents.

However, there is one definite problem with the game: its difficulty. Many of the prime cards to build a deck around are unavailable until a long way into the game (for example, it will likely not be until the Shadow Riders that you can even swipe a Trap Jammer, a necessity in any deck of cards), and until then, you are forced to make do with what you can get. To make it worse, a pack of five cards costs 150 Duelist Points (money of a sort that you gain from winning duels). The one problem with this is that constant duel grinding is required, since you will usually only net around 100 DP a game. Many of the rarer cards won’t appear until you’ve purchased hundreds of packs. Ironically, this is fixed by exploiting a harmless game glitch that allows you to buy up to 50 packs of cards for only 150 DP. If it were not for that, though, what then?

Those elusive cards are also present in many of your foes’ decks, which makes it a struggle to keep up. At the start of the game, there are only about three other duelists you can safely battle with any expectation of victory. The rest will crush you within instants, ‘nuff said. Then, once you finally beat everyone else and go to the first trio for easy experience, you’ll quickly find to your shock that the strength of their decks has been vastly upgraded. Once you unlock all available cards the game really picks up its deck-building aspects, but the constant difficulty spikes make it a pain to pick up and play through at times.

In the end, there will always be the question: should I jump into the craze now and pick up this game, or wait for the next one? Yu-Gi-Oh! World Tournament 2007 comes out at the beginning of March. The difference in the games is that Yu-Gi-Oh! GX: Spirit Caller is more story-oriented, whereas WT07 has more cards, modes of play such as a survival mode, and gets straight to the dueling action. What you choose is entirely suited to your level of play, casual or hardcore. Then again, you could always wait, knowing that this is just a sign of the Yu-Gi-Oh! games to come.

yamishuryou's avatar
Freelance review by (January 23, 2007)

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