Great fun even for third-rate duelists with fourth-rate decks.
I never managed to get into actually playing the Yu-Gi-Oh card game when I was a kid - mostly because I didn’t want to put in the money to make a functional deck - but I always had a lot of fun playing video games based off the card game. In particular, I always played one of the Game Boy Advance games based on the Battle City arc from the anime, which I still constantly go back to whenever I want to get my Yu-Gi-Oh fix.
Since my frame of reference for the game was still firmly in the original generation of cards, I was worried going into Legacy of the Duelist that I would struggle to keep up with all the mechanics that had been added over the years like Synchro Summons, Xyz Summons, and Pendulum Summons. Thankfully, Legacy of the Duelist does such a good job explaining the mechanics that it wasn’t long before I was able to hop online and duel with the best of them - or at least be able to mostly handle the basics.
Cards in Yu-Gi-Oh are split up between three broad categories: monster cards that fight each other, spell cards that support monsters, and trap cards that react to your opponent’s moves. If, like me, you mainly remember the card game from the days of Yugi and his friends gathering star chips at Duelist Kingdom or locator cards in Battle City, you may be surprised to see how many new, unique mechanics have been added to the card game over the years. One of Yu-Gi-Oh’s most unique aspects, as well as its greatest strength over other trading card games, is how many different ways there are to get monster cards onto the field.
Legacy of the Duelist does an excellent job of appealing to both newcomers and longtime players alike through its story mode. In the story mode, you play through the many duels of the Yu-Gi-Oh anime from Yugi’s first duel against Joey in the classroom across all different series like GX and 5Ds all the way to the latest series, VRAINS. The very first duel of each series gives you a tutorial fight that walks through the new mechanics of that series (or the basic rules in the first series). Since every series is unlocked from the start, these opening chapters serve as an excellent introduction to every mechanic in modern Yu-Gi-Oh. After a brief cutscene catching you up to speed on what the characters are doing in each chapter, you’re given the option to either play with a deck of your own creation or a story deck filled with cards that the character you’re controlling actually had at that point in the anime.
I personally enjoyed playing mostly with the story decks since they gave an extra unique challenge to every duel, but there are downsides to this. In addition to the fact that you’ll learn pretty quick how often the main characters won their duels through blind luck, you’re also not allowed to view the story decks before starting the duel. You won’t be able to form any real strategy unless you’re intimately familiar with every duel in the anime. However, there’s still plenty of variety in the story mode duels even if you’re playing with your own custom deck - with over 200 duels in the campaign, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to come up with any single deck that can bulldoze through more than a few of them with little effort.
Story mode is far from the only draw, though. Rather than let you build your ideal deck right out of the gate, Legacy of the Duelist requires you to build a library of cards through booster packs that are purchased with in-game currency. Although this sounds like an opportunity to nickel and dime players, there are actually no microtransactions in sight; Legacy of the Duelist features no real-money transactions whatsoever. This makes you actually think creatively about building a deck out of the cards you have instead of just looking up the current best deck online, and encourages you to keep playing in order to keep earning new cards. While some may see it as grindy and long-winded, I actually really love it as a way to give a lot of longevity out of the game without forcing you to play with the same few cards over and over.
For those who prefer deck building on the fly, there is an option to play both Draft and Sealed Deck matches that give you a set of booster packs and force you to play a duel either online or offline with the cards in those packs. It’s a classic alternative game mode for trading card games that is a joy to see in an official video game, but there is a major hiccup: you cannot play Draft or Sealed Deck matches online with friends. This effectively forces both players to have put in enough time to craft a custom deck before playing together becomes a viable option. It would be nice to see this option patched in later, but since this is an updated rerelease of a three-year-old game, that’s unlikely to see any time soon.
Despite a few bumps along the way, Yu-Gi-Oh! Legacy of the Duelist: Link Evolution is the best Yu-Gi-Oh video game I have played in years. Opening booster packs to build your best deck out of the cards you have is the perfect simulacrum of actually playing the trading card game (unless you’d prefer to just buy the single cards you need online), and the choice to include no real-money purchases whatsoever helps mitigate the cost sink that has kept me away from the physical card game in the past. There will never be a Yu-Gi-Oh game that is quite the same as simply playing with real cards, but Legacy of the Duelist is the closest that we have ever gotten to the real thing.