Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Review

Yu-Gi-Oh my god…
Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Header

I used to love playing Yu-Gi-Oh! as a kid. I remember diligently sleeving up my Dark Magicians and Exodia pieces at a time when I thought they’d hold more value than my Blastoise or Charizard cards. I also thought Magic the Gathering sucked. Oh, how times have changed…

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel is the latest client to run the game, giving it the kind of graphical overhaul that players of Magic Arena and Legends of Runeterra have enjoyed in recent years. It looks beautiful, with battlefields that get damaged as you slowly pummel your opponent into the dirt, and cool attack animations to suit.

However, Master Duel is a difficult game to appraise, as it’s very much a client of two halves. Make no mistake, this is very clearly aimed at hardcore fans; however, given the client’s attempt to bring in new players with its single-player tutorials, we need to examine it from both sides.

Yu-Gi-Oh! has evolved drastically over the past 20 years. What was once a card game born of a wacky but compelling Saturday morning anime launched a series of spin-offs, from Dungeon Dice Monsters to our most recent Rush Duels games. What is undeniable about this evolution is that the card game that the characters played in the anime has become the poster child of spectacle creep. The bloated corpse that remains is now both a blessing and a curse.

The blessing, of course, is that those who are invested have found something that they love, and no matter the level of overcomplication, are there to stay. The curse is that the game is so complicated that it is virtually unapproachable for new players with limited free time, which is where the Rush Duels franchise comes in in a desperate bid to simplify proceedings, albeit with mixed results.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Review

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel very much caters to the dyed-in-the-wool fans. Whatever you want to play, from cross-play games with friends to ranked tournament play, Master Duel has you covered — and it does so with a fair level of success. With a bevvy of missions offering free gems (in-game cash) and a sandbox deckbuilding environment, there is a lot here for fans to love. Whether newcomers to the franchise can get anything from it, however, is another question entirely.

If you love Yu-Gi-Oh!, you can skip to the end of this review; you’ll both love this game and find its quirks frustrating, although the issues with matchmaking and clunkiness of interface may get ironed out in due course. Issues with the economy, such as a capped wallet of free gems and failures in redeeming paid gems present bigger hurdles. Still, for you, this is probably a solid 8/10.

Everyone else, pull up your chair and we’ll cover this in more depth, as you’re probably looking at a 5/10 kind of game.

The biggest problems with Yu-Gi-Oh! come down to complexity: the base mechanics and the card-level mechanics are both extremely complicated. Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel attempts to address the first, but leaves the second completely untouched, which is a colossal hurdle for new players.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Card Battle

The rules, at a glance, are that you can Normal Summon one low-level monster (1–4 stars) or Tribute Summon one high-level monster (5+ stars) per turn. Since you don’t have a mana system to throttle your resources, this is important for setting the pace of play.

However there’s also a bevvy of Special Summons — ways of getting monsters into play while circumventing the above rule. Some of these involve rules on the cards in your deck, others involve summoning from a second ‘extra’ deck. When I started playing, the most complicated this got was fusion summoning using the card Polymerization. Now, you can Ritual Summon, Link Summon, XYZ Summon, Synchro Summon and Pendulum Summon. Link Summoning even cares about where you place monsters on the battlefield, adding a level of strategy beyond trying to remember everything in the previous sentence.

If that sounds overly wordy, just try reading a Yu-Gi-Oh! card!

The issue of complexity here is helped by Master Duel’s solo play mode. In what is effectively an extended tutorial mode, you can try your hand at each of these modes, and more. It even does its bit to teach you some of the lore and backstory, but much like a Yu-Gi-Oh! card itself, it mostly just involves a lot of reading and getting bored halfway through.

This is the crux of the problem: Konami sorely needs an editor.

Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duel Deck Building

I’m no stranger to card games; I’ve played at several national tournaments over the years and I enjoy reading rules documents for Magic ahead of local pre-release tournaments — I’m the kind of nerd that laughed with glee at Rules Lawyer. Additionally, considering my job is to read and write articles, I’m pretty good with the English language.

Yu-Gi-Oh! cards hurt my head. When reading what’s in my hand, I’ve forgotten what the first card does by the time I’ve got to the third because each one reads something like the Iliad. I’ve shown these cards to other long-term, high-level Magic players and their response is an almost unanimous four-letter word followed by a three-letter word.

This problem is not unique to Yu-Gi-Oh!, but it is something that Yu-Gi-Oh! uniquely refuses to fix. Wizards of the Coast solved this problem in Magic by templating old cards and putting the new ‘Oracle text’ cards online: a great example of this is Oubliette — 65 words were cut down to 23 between printings. Since then, all new cards and the online versions of the old cards use the Oracle text to make life easy for the players.

There is no reason why Konami can’t do the same, and every reason to do so; it would certainly make the game far more approachable to new players.

If you can get past this, and you have a preternatural affinity for verbiage, Master Duel may be for you. However, you’ll quickly run into the client’s other problems. By dumping you into a sandbox environment with thousands of cards to build decks from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. This then follows through to the matchmaking issues; with such huge disparity between decks and no firm metagame just yet, it’s difficult to matchmake with people of a similar level. This should all shake out as the game evolves; let’s just hope Konami bucks tradition and simplifies things, rather than bloating the game even further.

If I could grade Yu-Gi-Oh! Master Duels in Magic Terms, I’d give it a Sideboard B. If you love Yu-Gi-Oh, this is probably the pinnacle of the game’s experience, with modern flourishes and easy access to a huge repository of cards. However, if you’re not a hardcore fan and just fancy dipping your toes in the water, this game is probably not for you — by all means give it a chance, but don’t be surprised if you find its complexities impossible to overcome.
  • Beautiful client
  • High-level deckbuilding and play
  • It’s not approachable for newcomers
  • They still haven’t streamlined the cards themselves
  • There are a few teething issues with matchmaking
  • The free economy is capped and I’ve had issues purchasing in-game currency
Written by
Barely functional Pokémon Go player. Journalist. Hunter of Monster Hunter monsters. Drinks more coffee than Alan Wake.