Reviewed: June 24, 2004
Released: June 1, 2004
Duel Masters: Sempai Legends is yet another collectible card game to ride the Yu-Gi-Oh tidal wave. If you’ve ever played another card game like Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic The Gathering then you already have a good idea of what to expect, and even if you have no idea what this fad is all about, Sempai Legends is still a pretty cool RPG-lite.
Based on the real-life trading card game, Sempai Legends takes the card combat and weaves it into an RPG game with a story that is simple yet effective. You play a young duelist who received a special “card” for your birthday. Shortly thereafter it is stolen and you spend the rest of the game tracking down the card and the person who stole it.
If you remove the concept of the cards Sempai Legends plays much like any traditional RPG. You wander around towns or outdoor environments and engage in combat and NPC encounters. The story remains true throughout with plenty of scripted encounters and events to propel the plot, but it is up to you to engage in as much “recreational” combat as possible to build up your reputation and collect additional cards.
Much like other games of this type, the more cards you have the more options you have. These cards are the core of the combat system and in some ways a monetary system, as you will often find people to trade cards with. Cards come in five elements; fire, nature, water, light and darkness, and this is an important consideration when creating special decks. Each element has their own strengths and weaknesses, especially when used against other certain elements.
Combat is simple. You flip a coin to determine who strikes first then each player draws five cards from their deck for defense and five of offense. You then start alternating, drawing and playing cards, your offense against their shield or defense. Each card costs mana and has an associated point value determining strength.
Even though you design your deck each hand is random creating a great deal of strategy trying to figure out the best order to play your cards while trying to anticipate what the other character has in their hand. As the cards are played monsters will appear in the “arena” and the battle with commence. Some creatures can block attacks, and some are unblockable when they attack. Some can do a power boost, and others can break multiple shields. It’s up to you to balance a good offense and defense along with the occasional spell to destroy your opponent’s five shields.
As complicated as all this might sound for the uninitiated, it’s actually surprisingly easy and there is even a tutorial to ease you into the rules. I have a light background in Magic and the core concepts are pretty much the same. Anyone over the age of seven will be able to grasp the fundamentals and dive right into this enjoyable RPG.
The nice thing about collectible card games is the wonderful artwork on each of the cards. On the larger consoles you have the ability to digitize this same quality of artwork but the GBA sacrifices a lot of the fantasy and anime style due to limitations of the system. The card graphics get the job done but can’t compare to the real thing.
The text (and there is a lot of it) is small and difficult to read unless you are using a magnifying lens or a GBA player. It’s okay in the combat sequences but during the rest of the game it can be a bit stressful on the eyes.
Character design and monsters are nice enough, with enough detail so you can recognize individual creatures on the battlefield. The rest of the graphics are surprisingly nice with colorful art, nicely designed levels, towns, wilderness areas, etc.
The music is pretty bland, the same tired stuff we’ve heard with countless other games in this and similar genres. The best thing I can say about the music is that in addition to being forgettable, it’s also quite subdued so it never overpowers the gameplay. The sound effects are merely adequate, slightly over-compressed, with nothing that stands out as being exceptional. It just works.
Depending on how adept you are at these card games you can probably finish the story mode in about 5-7 hours. There is a harder difficulty setting that actually lets you explore new areas and adds maybe another hour to the game. Once you finish the story on any skill level the Duel Room opens up and you can engage in practice matches against any character from the game. Perfectionists will certainly want to collect every last card in the game (there are 180 of them) and this could take several trips through the game, perhaps 20+ hours.
Duel Masters also supports the GBA link cable so you can test your favorite decks against your real-life friends. This is moderately entertaining but requires that both players have the game. Chances are you’d have just as much fun playing a “real” card game.
Speaking of real cards, the Limited Edition ships with five cards inside, a great bonus if you play the non-electronic version of the game, since these cards are exclusive to the game.
If you are a fan of Duel Masters, Yu-Gi-Oh or Magic The Gathering then you will probably find something to like about Duel Masters: Sempai Legends. There is a good story and a nice rule-based combat system that is easy to learn and fun to master. It might not be as good as the real thing but as a GBA title it’s a solid title with a few pleasant surprises.