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Duel Masters: Sempai Legends Review for Game Boy Advance (GBA)
Posted on Wednesday, July 21, 2004 @ 06:40:42 pm E.S.T

Trading card games: You either love ‘em, or you hate ‘em. If you’re like me, these addictive pieces of cardboard can get expensive, making spending the money almost a chore. Luckily for us though, game developers have taken note of this and have adapted some TCGs into video games, but with little success thus far. Other than perhaps Yu-Gi-Oh! Worldwide Edition, most adaptations have been moderate to craptacular. While various companies have tried to move this difficult genre forward, few have thrived and, sadly enough, Atari is no different. Their newest title, Duel Masters: Sempai Legends for the GBA, is destined to repeat the circular path of mediocrity that so very many virtual TCGs have taken before.

To begin, the story is about as bland as a bad pudding. Your adventure commences when you arise one morning to find that your parents do not seem to remember that it is your birthday. Disgruntled, you go outside, chat with the locals, and finally return home to be greeted by a “surprise” party. After the celebrations, your father presents you with what apparently is the greatest gift you got all day; a tremendously rare card from your grandfather, who was a great duelist. Later that night, while you slumber, a ninja (of all people!) breaks into your room and runs away with the precious card. In the morning, your father tells you to go see a detective in a nearby village to help you track down the ninja thief. All of this starts you out on your first overall goal: to find the ninja and get your card back. A vast majority of this game consists of these rather insipid plot setups with the duels being the way of advancing throughout the storyline.

The duels themselves are fairly entertaining. Essentially, the idea is to summon monsters to destroy your opponent’s shields and then to attack him with a monster. Each battle can last from two to ten minutes, depending on the luck of the draw and the strategic choices you make. On a personal note, there is nothing quite as frustrating as being on the brink of victory only to lose the match because you pressed the A button one too many times. Duels in this game are like the outcome of a high-stakes poker game: very good or very bad. If you don’t like them, this game will be torturous. However, if you get giddy over the intensity of the duels, you’ll find a treasure here. It is hard to viciously dislike the duels themselves but, on the flip side, it is hard to be enthralled in them.

Some positive aspects of the game include the difficulty level, which is about perfect. A tutorial included in the beginning helps introduce players to the duels and, if needed, advanced rules are accessible from the menu. As one travels from village to village, the difficulty level keeps up with your pace and you will find that there is no real “easy” duel. The AI is solid and very rarely falters, so you will find that flukes are hard to come by. If you plan on playing this game, expect to lose just as often when you are just starting out than when you approach the ending. This is a nice touch and it keeps the pace of the game intriguing. Replay value has always been an inherent trait of this genre and this game fits that perfectly. It's likely you'll be able to pick up and play this game years after you start. In addition, the dialogue in the game is entertaining enough. For example, I have never been called “fresh meat” and “interesting” so much in my entire life. Also, as a bonus for those who collect the cards, five rare ones have been included with the game. This is a very nice incentive for those looking to beef up their real life decks.

Now in terms of its graphics, Duel Masters starts off like marathon winner, but then trips and falls flat on its face. First off, the opening cinematic (short and sweet) is extraordinarily well done and it does an excellent job of pumping you up to play the game. In fact, the opening menu will make you stop in your tracks, just so you can give it a gander. Then after getting into the game, the slow pain of patchiness may set in. Initially you will notice that, for the most part, the cities and villages you visit look practically identical. Apparently, in the world in which Duel Masters: Sempai Legends takes place in, there is only one contractor for hire. Also, the main characters in the game do have a unique look, but the randomly generated ones and the ones wandering the village tend to look alike. According to the population of the game, Duel Masters must really appeal to bald glasses-wearing dweebs, girls in need of attitude adjustments, and little boys who practice the art of fashioning their hair into weapons.

Another disappointing aspect is the battle animations of the summoned monsters. Usually the battles are made up of less that 8 frames of animation and they leave you wanting more violence and struggle. On another note, after seeing the cards in real life, I was looking forward to the representations in the game because the real cards are gorgeous! I then found that, in the game, they were little more than a couple numbers, a few symbols, and an overall simplistic sprite representing the card. I felt ripped off. This is exceptionally sad considering the source material is so well done.

On the sound end of the spectrum, the game does a commendable job of keeping up an atmosphere. It gets intense when you’re dueling and serene when you are out and about. To be brutally honest, I have caught myself humming some of the ditties while walking around. I believe that says something. In retrospect, there is nothing here to garner an orchestrated soundtrack but it is good enough to choose over your MP3 player. There are no fancy voice-overs or even special sound effects, but all in all, it’s not a huge disappointment.

All factors considered, this game comes out to about as average as Joe. With standard replay value, run of the mill graphics, and meager gameplay, this title is ordained to sit on store shelves and be passed by. If you really enjoy the real-life card game, this title may be a paradise for you. Once again, Yu-Gi-Oh!: Worldwide Edition has this title beat, but for those looking for some other card based GBA game, Duel Masters may be a possibility. For others, who have no particular interest in TCGs, you can pass it by.

Review By: Flamecuber - 3768 Reads

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