True Duel Monsters - As Opposed To Fake Ones?
Before I began writing this, I thought about covering anime video games that I've had fond memories of playing as a child, what with Anime NYC being mere days away. Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories was the perfect game to kick things off as it was not only the first game to be released stateside, but it was also one of the weirdest games in the series. However, as I looked into more information involving Forbidden Memories, I realized it'd be impossible to explain why the game is the way it is without mentioning its sequel. Then I decided to discuss both titles in what would become the Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters duology.
True Duel Monsters was the home console spinoff of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters series of handheld titles. Historically, the one thing that Duel Monsters and the OCG had in common was the cards themselves. Duel Monsters fell under a unique ruleset that only existed within the games themselves. Of the eight games, three would be released in English. Duel Monsters 3 was Dark Duel Stories on the Game Boy Color. Duel Monsters 7 was The Sacred Cards and 8 was Reshef of Destruction, both released on the Game Boy Advance.
Duel Monsters 5 and 6 were Expert 1 and 2 respectively, the "Expert" alluding to the adaptation of the Yu-Gi-Oh! Official Card Game ruleset. These two would be remade in English under The Eternal Duelist Soul and Yu-Gi-Oh! Worldwide Edition: Stairway to the Destined Duel, adapting to the Trading Card Game ruleset. Moving forward, the "Expert" Duel Monsters games would slowly adapt the World Championship moniker to stay consistent with the rest of the world as popularity peaked.
The reason for the introduction is to serve as a starting point as to why the two games I'll be covering are vastly different from what we traditionally know Yu-Gi-Oh! as. While the "Expert" series served to be as close to the official card game as possible, the main Duel Monsters series was its own entity with its own rules, universe, stories, and most notably, unique gameplay. Here's how Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters paved the way to make card games interesting.
Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories
The first of the Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters titles were released in 1999 as Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters: Sealed Memories in Japan. Three years later in early 2002 under the English title Yu-Gi-Oh! Forbidden Memories, the game would be the second in the series to be released in the United States, trailing behind Dark Duel Stories by a day. In late 2001, the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime was released in English via 4Kids Entertainment and in mere months it shook the industry to its core.
Young fans like myself were enamored with the unique monsters, art design, and interesting characters. It would be years before I'd watch the original Japanese series and appreciate how an overall mature series was stripped down to make it appealing to children. All references to violence were altered to make it "kid-friendly," for example. Can't really say "someone died" in a "children's card game" animation, so the "Shadow Realm" became a euphemism for "Death" as an example of said censorship.
For many, this was the first-ever introduction to the franchise and for a while, this was the main reason why very few of us knew how to play the game properly. It didn't help that the entire Duelist Kingdom arc in the Yu-Gi-Oh! anime was just as confusing. They had Yugi attack the moon for Ra's sake!
This added to the appeal of Forbidden Memories, a game based on an anime that had no idea how to play its own game. With that said, the PSX game was in a league of its own, with an entirely unique playstyle separated from anything else related to Yu-Gi-Oh! at the time. Forget everything you knew about the card game as this game had its own rules and all of them was meant to be played against you.
Before you begin, you're given a deck at random, with several variables that have all been illustrated by fans of the games. There's a lot that goes into your starting deck and it will either make or break your playthrough. As a general rule of thumb, the more dragons and thunder monsters you have in your deck, the better. If you have equip and spell cards that complement dragons then that's even better. This is because in order to even have a chance at making it past the latter half of the game, you'll need to rely on Forbidden Memories' core mechanic.
One thing players will immediately notice upon entering their first duel is that they can freely discard any number of cards from their hand as possible. An entire hand can be discarded should the player wish to do so and as cards are discarded, they may interact with each other and "fuse together," forming a stronger monster. In the TCG/OCG, this is done with the card Polymerization and it has to be two specific cards, like Baby Dragon and Time Wizard making a Thousand Dragon.
In this game, it's not so much the actual cards, but the archetype of each card themselves, that determines the end result of a fusion. Examples include fusing a card depicting a woman (Queen's Double and Dancing Elf are common cards) with a "Rock-type" card to get Mystical Sand, a decent card with 2100 ATK. Coincidentally, the actual card in the TCG is also a fusion monster, requiring Giant Soldier Of Stone (the big guy in the GIF above) and Ancient Elf.
The strongest card a player can fuse in Forbidden Memories is the legendary Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon. At least it's legendary in terms of this game as once again it's in the TCG as a Fusion monster. Nowadays, Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon is a viable choice in modern Yu-Gi-Oh! of all formats as there has been an impressive number of Thunder Dragon support in recent years. In 2002, however, no one was likely to run this card in the actual card game.
Still, 2800 ATK in a game where the highest attack monster wins makes this monster the cream of the crop. Summoning it is easy as well, requiring a dragon higher than 1600 ATK and an electric-based monster card to fuse together. If the dragon is less than 1600, you'll get a regular Thunder Dragon instead so be careful. Once you have this big boy on the field, you're usually primed to win most of your matches until your opponent begins to cheat--I mean throw bigger monsters on the field.
Don't be surprised to see the AI throw out ridiculous cards like Gate Guardian, Perfectly Ultimate Great Moth, Black Skull Dragon, and of course let's not forget Blue Eyes Ultimate Dragon! As I mentioned before, things like Polymerization and tributing monsters to summon larger ones do not exist in the Duel Monsters video games. Each game has its own ruleset and it is here where it's established that none of the rules relate to how YGO is played. In the later half of the game, expect to see any of these large monsters Turn 1 from the opponent.
This is also why supporting cards, like equip spells to boost Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon and field spells to further boost its ATK are essential to keep up with the heavy hitters. Basing an entire strategy around one card seems like a high-risk high reward but it's almost a necessity. Earning cards is heavily based on how well you performed in a duel, split between POW and TEC rankings. POW is based on how quickly you defeated your opponent, the more flawless and quicker the better. TEC is based on how effectively you used your cards, which is trickier than POW, but it increases the chance of obtaining better cards.
After each duel, you earn Starchips, a callback to the Duelist Kingdom arc and you can use these to redeem cards in the Password screen. The problem is that the best cards in the game are all worth close to a million Starchips, including some weaker yet iconic cards. All of these mean that the game is meant to go against you as much as possible. The average player may not have even cleared the game, but it is a popular game for speedrunners due to the ability to manipulate the sheer randomness and unfair advantage the CPU has.
So what makes this game great then if I've said nothing but negative things about it? As I mentioned before this was the first Yu-Gi-Oh! game many have played. The story was also interesting as it showed characters from the anime in ways that were never seen before. In some ways, it even preemptively spoiled the anime by focusing on Atem's (or Yami Yugi) past. These positives would expand in the sequel, a game that to this day remains one of the most unique games in the franchise's history.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelist Of The Roses
A year later in 2003, Yu-Gi-Oh! The Duelist Of The Roses was released outside of Japan, two years after its original release as Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters II: Succeeded Memories. Despite the name of the original Japanese title, there is very little, if at all in common, with Forbidden Memories. The English title is the most accurate of the two as this is the Yu-Gi-Oh! interpretation of the actual Wars of the Roses, which was a conflict between the Tudors and the Yorkists, ultimately leading the Tudors in power.
In this game, the Tudors are led by Yugi and the Yorkists are led by Seto. There was a third party in the original wars known as the Lancastrians, who is played by Simon in this game. A guide to Yugi, Simon is the one who summons you from the present day in hopes of asking for your aid in the war, which begs the question as to why he decided some random kid would be fit to be a general in a war that has nothing to do with them.
The twist here is that you can go against his wishes and join Seto as the Yorkists, effectively creating a butterfly effect should they win the war. At least Seto sends you back to where you came from, a promise he makes to you and one that he keeps. And they say Seto Kaiba is a selfish egoist. Not my Seto.
Anyways, you can actually choose a starting deck here, although some like the Patrician of Darkness deck are better than others. There is indeed a dragon deck and the Twin-Headed Thunder God is in this game, but other strategies are viable. The core gameplay from Forbidden Memories is retained in Duelist, including not needing Polymerization to fusion summon monsters. Most if not all of the fusions from the previous game are transferrable to this one, with new ones added to accommodate the new cards added. These are where the similarities end.
The main gameplay is centered on a giant board that appears like a Chess or Checkers board. Depending on the deck chosen, the team captain will appear on the board. You can move the captain around the board and the CPU will do the same. Players can summon monsters within the eight spaces surrounding the captain although they can only summon monsters based on their level number. This is actually a great way to stop the CPU from cheesing as they can't summon their strongest monster first turn from the deck.
It's also one of the reasons why Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon is "nerfed" here, as it is a Level 7 fusion monster. As an example, the player may fuse two monsters to obtain it, but if your cost is over 7, it becomes cost negative. The Patrician of Darkness deck that I mentioned earlier utilized more of the game's mechanics to its advantage. It's unlike any Yu-Gi-Oh game I've ever played but the skill floor isn't high to grasp. A luck of the draw and proper positioning ensures that duels end before the CPU gets a chance to power up.
One thing I didn't mention in the previous game was that it was possible to see the monsters fight in 3D. By pressing Square instead of Cross when you attack a monster, a scene plays where your attacking monster does an animation to the defending monster. I found this out purely by accident for the first time and it was one of the coolest things from Forbidden Memories. This returns in Duelist Of The Roses but with vastly improved visuals.
The background changes depending on the field in which the fights take place. The normal map takes place in a stormy castle at night, while the Sea takes place on a wrecked ship in the middle of the ocean. Each zone has unique music, from the calm serene Forest to the tense Mountain zone. To this day I use its music to focus when I am writing, such as now.
There are a lot of things I can take away from the Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters titles, but the ability to build lore around characters and monsters is the best thing about the games. Part of the reason why I didn't care for much of the GBA titles was that it was treated as a yearly series (And you know how I feel about sports titles). If you wanted to play the latest booster packs and try out decks vs the CPU before a big tournament, the World Championship titles were an important alternative to spending hundreds on a deck that may not work.
Nowadays, thanks to technology the practice continues whether it's on your phone, PC, or console. Konami has found a way to make money with this system due to microtransactions and the ever-changing meta ensures that previous titles remain relics of the past. The reason why Yu-Gi-Oh! True Duel Monsters remains popular with dedicated communities for both titles. This, along with the final two Duel Monsters games, The Sacred Cards and Reshef Of Destruction are games from an era where the same company that created the rules can shatter them and make something new. Give these games a try.