Part 5: Duel Monsters on the GBCDuel Monsters on the GBC
Welcome back! Before we get to what's probably the highlight of the entire LP, we're going to look at the very, VERY old Duel Monsters games on the Gameboy. Sacred Cards is the seventh Duel Monsters game, but the series started on the Gameboy with this: Duel Monsters 1. This is the very first Yu-Gi-Oh card game ever, predating even the TCG, although the very first Yu-Gi-Oh video game was a Capsule Monsters game on the PS1. The Duel Monsters series spans eight games, and after the eighth Konami focused entirely on yearly releases of TCG adaptations.
These aren't the most interesting games in the world at first glance, and in fact playing them is rather repetitive. However, these games are completely fucking insane. I don't know how else to put it. Most of what I know about the games comes from an acquaintance of mine in the speedrunning community. His name is Froggy25, and he reverse-engineers these old games as a hobby, so thanks, Froggy, nobody would know Konami's dirty little secrets without you!
Now then, hopefully you don't mind lots and lots of text, as this is going to read more like a Hardcore Gaming 101 article than an LP, so here goes!
So, Duel Monsters 1 gives you a selection of opponents to play against and ask you to beat them all five times to advance to the next stage. It can get a little repetitive, and unfortunately this pattern is repeated in every game up until Sacred Cards, which gave us something resembling an RPG instead. I suppose there wasn't much else they could have done on hardware this old.
The artwork certainly makes that much clear.
Gameplay is EXTREMELY primitive. You can play one card per turn, there are no trap cards, no ritual monsters, and the only effect monsters are Exodia and Petit Moth. There are 315 monsters and 50 Spell cards (which the computer never uses, oddly) making the game largely about numbers. Yes, it's even MORE simplistic than the infamously terrible Forbidden Memories on the PS1...but is it worse than Forbidden Memories overall?
Well, actually, I'd say it isn't. If all you want to do is make the credits roll, then it's not that bad because the best cards you can get from every opponent...are also the most common. Forbidden Memories had you grinding your heart out for decent cards until someone found a way to manipulate the random number generator. I'll take this game over that any day.
On the other hand, if you want to 100% this game...ahaha...we'll get into that.
An odd quirk about this game is the way Equip Spells work. The first Equip Spell you play raises a compatible monster's attack and defense by 64% instead of a flat 500 points like in other games. The second Equip Spell elevates that to 256%. Add in the 30% boost from Field Spells, and certain monsters can actually break five figures, which causes glitches for some reason.
Also, though this game has Fusion summoning like Forbidden Memories, there are VERY few combinations that work in Duel Monsters 1, and none of them are even worth it.
Anyhow, stage 2 has NINE opponents, which you select by choosing a location on this map. The map is cool, but it was annoying trying to find the opponent I needed to beat next since they don't display names or win/loss records on this screen.
Then you have to beat Simon Muran from Forbidden Memories five times. He uses a random deck from one of the other opponents for some reason.
Then you have to beat Pegasus five times. After that, the credits roll.
Then you have Dark Yugi as a "post-game" opponent.
So beating the game is not hard, but collecting all the cards is, well, it's something else. Random drops are painful as is - I wrote a program to dump the game's list of random drops for every opponent, and there are some really awful rare cards you must grind for. We're talking 1/2048 chances. But as mentioned, those aren't even good cards anyways.
However, I noticed that some cards outright don't appear on any of the loot tables. How could that be?
Well, for one thing, there are some cards you will never, ever see, such as Black Luster Soldier. They aren't unused, though, they're tournament prizes. Yes, Konami ran tournaments for this game, and evidently they were popular in spite of how primitive the game was. You enter one of those, you win, you get an exclusive card on your cartridge, like Mew from Pokémon.
But that's only the beginning of Konami's horrific ideas. There are several cards obtained only by inputting a password on the title screen. These are not the 8-digit codes on the real life cards, this game predated the TCG. Instead, you have to input a wierd-ass button combination on the title screen with VERY tight timing, then punch in a text password to get the cards. They aren't worth it in the slightest, either. They're just more junk monster cards.
Hold on though, it gets WORSE. This game has Link Cable trading and Link battling. It also has Link Monsters...nah, I'm bullshitting. But here's something I'm not bullshitting. You remember how Pokémon has Trade Evolutions?
This monster right here is called Change Slime. It has an incredibly stupid ability outside of battle. Sending a Change Slime and two other specific cards to another player through your Link Cable will cause your partner to recieve a different card entirely - for example, if you send Change Slime, Red-Eyes Black Dragon, and Summoned Skull, your partner recieves Black Skull Dragon. Better hope he agrees to send it back to you!
I'd ask what they were thinking, but then I noticed something else. Red-Eyes Black Dragon isn't on any of the loot tables, there's no Change Slime trade combo to get him, and there were other cards we still had no idea how to obtain.
Duel Monsters 1 can trade with its sequel, and sure enough, there are "trade evolution" comboes not only between two copies of Duel Monsters 2, but sending certain cards from Duel Monsters 1 to Duel Monsters 2 can result in a "trade evolution". One of these does in fact result in a Red-Eyes Black Dragon. But that couldn't POSSIBLY be how you get one, can it? Trade it from the sequel? What?
I was stumped, Froggy25 was stumped, which meant there was one solution: Google the Japanese internet to hopefully find a Japanese resource.
Well, it just so happens a Japanese blog opened up not a week ago and had posted the info I was looking for. Upon reading what I'd found, I was hoping to the Egyptian Gods that Google Translate was making a mistake, but it wasn't.
Each opponent in the game has a list of ten cards they will give you, one for every TEN DUELS you beat them in. These aren't random. So you can indeed get Blue-Eyes White Dragon, Red-Eyes Black Dragon, Petit Moth, and the Exodia pieces...
BY DEFEATING THE CORRECT OPPONENT ONE HUNDRED TIMES.
Who the FUCK is going to play the game THAT MUCH?!
Is this image of Exodia WORTH FIVE HUNDRED DUELS TO SEE?!
We're not even done. In order to incentivise Link battling, they made it so every 10 Link battle wins gives you a bonus card. Oh hold on, I meant every 10 Link battles against DIFFERENT PEOPLE. You can win up to 20 cards this way, so that means you need to find 200 other people who also play this game, because the 20th card can't be found anywhere else:
See that? That's Tremendous Fire. You might remember it doing 1000 direct damage in the TCG. Well, in Duel Monsters 1, it does FIVE THOUSAND damage. If you draw two of these on the first turn, you win. Nothing can stop direct damage. And you can make yourself invincible by having 36 Tremendous Fires, because...
This game doesn't limit the number of copies of a particular card you can have in your deck.
Except to get any copies of Tremendous Fire nowadays, you would have to find 200 people who actually like this game, have every last one of them link battle each other, and OH, did I mention that in this game's Link battles, the loser always gives up one of his cards to the winner?! Holy shit, Konami, I know Magic: The Gathering had an ante rule, but at least you could ignore it if you wanted to not gamble! Here, we have no damned choice!
And if you drop below 40 cards, the minimum required for a deck, you can't play the game ever again unless your opponent gives the card back! Or you enter a password.
"But Ephraim, couldn't you just delete the save file and start over?"
Sure, if anyone bothered to DOCUMENT THE BUTTON COMBINATION THAT WIPES THE SAVE. Froggy25 had to reverse-engineer the game code to find it!
See how crazy this is? Well that was just game ONE. There's three more to talk about.
This is Duel Monsters 2: Dark Duel Stories, not to be confused with Duel Monsters 3, which was given that name when it was localized.
The goal of this game remains the same: Beat everybody five times to advance. Dark Yugi is the endgame opponent like before, HOWEVER, he has a 3/2048 chance of being replaced by one of three other opponents every time you duel. Yes, being able to fight the other endgame opponents is determined COMPLETELY BY CHANCE. But hey, you only have to beat them 30 times for their rare cards instead of 100! Cool?
Fortunately, we have actual character portraits this time, but boy do they look weird. I think I'll duel Mai Valentine today...
......you ARE wearing clothes, right?
Anyhow, let's talk gameplay changes. A number of new mechanics were added that actually make Duel Monsters 2 fairly decent.
First, you can play only one monster card per turn AND as many Spell or Trap cards as you wish, thank goodness. They also added monster Attributes like you saw in Sacred Cards.
Second, with the extra 355 cards they added to this game, Fusion summoning now has all the same combinations that Forbidden Memories had, so now you can summon the Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon as long as you have the right cards. Problem is, you can't fuse two monsters in your hand and put the result on the board; one of the materials has to already be on the field, which is more than a little frustrating since monster life-span isn't really known for being that high.
If you make a successful fusion, however, you can play another monster card, and since your hand refills back to five cards at the beginning of each turn, more fusions means you get to your good cards quicker! You can actually use strategy!
This is also the game that introduced Deck Capacity, though the formula was very different from Sacred Cards. It's simple: to figure out a monster's card cost, combine their attack and defense, then divide by 100. This is a bit unbalanced because it means Curse of Dragon, a 2000-attack monster, is worth more to Deck Capacity than Jurai Gumo, who has 2200 attack, simply because the latter has far less defense points.
Oh, and Duelist Level was also introduced. You know what I think of that.
Lots of Spell cards are outright overpriced to the point of you never being able to use them, no matter what. Look at Tremendous Fire. They nerfed it down to 1000 damage and still made the cost 255.
Anyhow, Trap Cards make their debut here, only in this game, you only have one spot on the board for traps, and at the start of your turn, the trap you set disappears. It's only their for one of your opponent's turns, which severely harms how useful they could have been. Anything that counters a spell card is also completely worthless against the computer because they never use those, and even against humans, good luck predicting the exact turn they'll attack or use that spell.
Ritual cards were also introduced. They work exactly like in Forbidden Memories, which means they combine three specific monsters into one. And since the Divine attribute didn't exist yet, they don't even have that advantage. That would have been the final nail in the coffin, but Konami decided to hammer it in with a fucking sledgehammer:
Ritual spells are CONSUMABLE. Use one, and it disappears from your deck forever.
Yeah...how much more unusable can we make them?!
The final new feature of Duel Monsters 2 is the card passwords. You can enter the 8-digit codes found on real life TCG cards to obtain that card in-game, and there is a secret code that makes Yugi's Grandpa appear and give you another card after every duel. HOWEVER. Your deck capacity has to be over 600 to enter a code, and every password you input drops your deck capacity by FIFTY, and your Duelist Level drops along with it. I hate this, let's move on to the third game.
Duel Monsters 3, known as "Tri-Holy God Advent" in Japan, renamed "Dark Duel Stories" for the localisation - the only GBC game to get one, and I'm alright with that, this is basically the best GBC Yu-Gi-Oh. No bullshit card collection, Rituals aren't consumable and work just like Sacred Cards, though I have mixed feelings on the rule changes.
You know the drill: Beat everyone five times. I believe Forbidden Memories was out at around the same time as this, so a number of that game's characters appear here. The endgame opponent is Dark Yugi as usual, but a password can change him to one of four others. Thank goodness it's not luck-based this time.
But any time you want to change the final opponent, you have to put in the password again. Oh, and passwords are free to use now, so you can get every card just by looking those up.
Onto gameplay changes. At long last, we have monster effects!...okay there aren't that many and very few of them are actually good, but it's progress, right?
They also added monster levels. Up until now, monsters required no tributes to summon, ever. But now you do need tributes, same as Sacred Cards. The card cost formula was adjusted to take off 10 cost for every tribute required, but they tend to be very bad at balancing a monster's value on the field with how many tributes it takes to get it there.
Fusion still works, but now whenever you create a new monster, it can't do anything until next turn. You can also fuse monsters but keep them in your hand. Great! They don't need to survive a turn on the field! Oh wait. The tribute rule exists, so creating Twin-Headed Thunder Dragon in your hand does you no good. Oh well.
You also don't refill your hand at the start of every turn anymore.
The biggest new addition, however, was Card Construction. You will never see this again in any other game, but here's how it works. Winning battles now gets you a "Card Part" and you can combine two parts to make your very own card. Unfortunately you can only make monsters with no effects, but still, it's a really neat feature. Let's look at some of the cards you can make.
There are some pretty wacky combinations, even if you are basically sticking a head part on top of a leg part.
There's no real logic to the stats you end up with. The best combinations result in 2000-point, no-tribute monsters, and if you get lots of those, you can steamroll the game with superior monsters, although endgame opponents are just flooded with broken spell cards (which the computer uses, finally.) However, constructed monsters can't be fused, so you have to keep that in mind.
This one is probably my favorites even though it's complete junk.
Something tells me that when they made these, they designed a bunch of monsters and then came up with the idea to mix-and-match them afterward, because some of the combinations feel like natural matches.
Some of them even became real cards in Duel Monsters 4, which we'll take a look at next.
The fourth and final GBC Yu-Gi-Oh is absolutely insane. It has some of the dumbest changes to the game. Taking yet another bad idea from a good game, Konami decided to split this one into three versions: one for Yugi, one for Kaiba, and one for Joey. The version you play determines your character, one opponent becomes unavailable entirely depending on your version, and in one of the dumbest moves I've ever seen, you are disallowed from using certain cards depending on what version you play.
That's right, you can earn any card in any version, but if you're playing the wrong version, you might not be able to even use it! Was Duelist Level not enough?! The really sick part is, this is the first game to give us the Egyptian God cards, way before Sacred Cards. Guess what? The opponent that drops the God card usable in your version can't be fought in that version.
As for gameplay, the only new addition is the Graveyard. It's hilarious to think that it took three games for it to be implemented, but now that you have Monster Reborn, you kinda need it, right? Oh, and unused traps don't disappear anymore, and the card cost formula matches that of Sacred Cards now.
Their other really stupid change has to do with monster levels. See this card? You might own it in the TCG. You might also remember its level isn't that high in the TCG.
Well, for any monster with 1400 or more attack OR defense, Konami decided to severely inflate their levels! BRILLIANT. This severely slows the game down and was a terrible idea in my opinion.
Can you imagine how Kaiba must feel? His Blue-Eyes White Dragon is LEVEL NINE. Three tributes needed. What a fantastic idea.
As usual, beat everyone five times to advance the game. There are two secret opponents you can unlock with the right password. I've never seen them before and I have no idea who they are, but their faces amuse me.
Since we're reaching the end of this little adventure, I'd like to close by showing off some of the cards that were in this game that didn't make it into Sacred Cards. They had some really neat ideas back then, all things considered.
Of course with stats like that, you'd have real trouble finding a use for these guys.
But who doesn't love PIRATES?!
The designs are so good, yet their stats are so tiny!
An electric wallaby, however, is the greatest idea in history.
Anyhow, that's all I have to say on the "classic" Duel Monsters games. I completed all four of them just to give them a fair shot. None of them were completely awful but they were certainly very "meh". After Duel Monsters 4, they made Eternal Duelist Soul and Stairway To The Destined Duel for the GBA, both games that followed the TCG ruleset and are fondly remembered.
And then they made Sacred Cards.
And then they made Reshef of Destruction.