I have a lot of nostalgia for Yu-Gi-Oh! Like many, my first exposure to it was through the original anime series as a kid, which led to me buying those starter decks based on those from the show and booster packs, as well as begging my dad to track down specific cards online. I barely actually played the card game itself with friends, but on the few occasions I did, we always had a good time.
So, when I heard that Konami had launched Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel, a brand-new simulator that lets you acquire hundreds of cards and play with others online without spending a single penny, I immediately jumped onboard, contributing to its 10 million+ downloads. But I was met with a very harsh reality: This is not quite the same game I played back in the early 2000s.
The game has changed drastically since then, almost to the point where it’s unrecognizable. There have been six more ridiculously named anime series, with a seventh starting this year, each one introducing crazier-looking monsters and mechanics that make the game so overwhelming. I struggle to wonder how kids are supposed to get into it nowadays, if they’re even the target demographic anymore. And yet despite this overwhelming hurdle, I honestly think Master Duel is worth checking out, even if you’re a Yu-Gi-Oh! boomer like myself.
Admittedly, Master Duel doesn’t have the most intricate or detailed tutorials. Perhaps it was done to not bombard newbies with too much information, but it does feel like the game expects you to already have a decent understanding of how it all works. As a result, the various summoning mechanics are given very brief summations. You’ll probably get a better understanding of how stuff like Synchro Summoning and Pendulum Summoning work just through playing with the pre-built decks you can unlock.
The biggest problem is how complicated card effects have become. Remember when having three Blue Eyes White Dragons in your deck seemed to be all you needed to win? Now, having any regular, plain monsters appears amateurish. If a monster doesn’t have some kind of secondary effect, what is it even doing here? Most of the time, it’s not even one effect. Effect Monsters are now capable of doing two or three different things depending on the circumstances.
The newer Pendulum Monsters are easily the worst offenders since they can sometimes have two wildly different effects depending on whether they’re on the field normally or being used in the Pendulum Zones, meaning their cards have giant walls of texts that make your brain shut down before you’re even halfway through reading them. Spell and Trap cards aren’t immune to having overly thorough descriptions either, resulting in numerous instances where I would misunderstand how they worked and play them at inopportune times.
Fortunately, the pre-built decks you can acquire either through the in-game shop or by playing through the solo mode do a great job of getting you used to the more complex mechanics. Each one is built around a different strategy, so you don’t have to worry about juggling five different playstyles. One of them being designed solely for Pendulum Summoning did much a better job of demonstrating its usefulness than the tutorial did.
While you’re always encouraged to form your own decks, having access to pre-built ones is a fantastic way at easing fans like myself that haven’t been keeping up the with Yu-Gi-Oh! for the last 20 years into its modern iteration. Their complexity can be off-putting at times, but repeated use helps you get to grips with how each card works in relation to each other, as well as introduce you to strategies you may never have considered. It’s fun discovering new methods to win a duel, such as returning monsters you used for a Fusion Summon to your deck for more Fusions. Honestly, the solo mode’s biggest problem is that sometimes you simply won’t get the cards you need while you're forced to watch your AI opponent summon multiple powerful monsters at once. I’ve had several instances where I lost on only the third turn.
It's Free Anyway
If you absolutely can’t get your head around the newer summoning mechanics or outright refuse to even learn what an XYZ Summon is, Master Duel features well over 10,000 cards, meaning you can easily put together an old-school deck that you remember from your childhood. It’s not easy to do admittedly since you’ll either need to try and get cards from random booster packs or craft them with the Craft Points you earn from dismantling other cards, but that is an option. And while I mocked it earlier, Konami does appear to have become aware of how almost useless Normal Monsters are and added new cards that can only be used with those monsters.
Plus, it being completely free to play and available on every modern platform means you have nothing to lose but time by checking it out. That’s probably the most attractive prospect and why the game has been downloaded over 10 million times. But I don’t think that number is comprised entirely of long-time aficionados and professional players. It must include those who are just now discovering the franchise and people like me that have fond childhood memories of it, both of whom are able to manage its more complex nature in one way or another.
If you’re simply looking for quick bursts of nostalgia, Master Duel’s single player stuff should be enough to satisfy you without needing to commit to any long-term engagement. You can avoid the online stuff entirely if you’re anxious about being repeatedly curb stomped by more experienced players. Don’t be put off by the absurd number of words crammed onto each individual card; just start playing and you’ll eventually settle into a nice groove where the most frustrating part of the experience is the Heart of the Cards failing to get you the card you need and not needing to read an essay to know what the cards do.