Genre: Card Battle
Release Date: January 24, 2008
Konami can't seem to get things right with porting games. Need I cite examples of cases where porting of their works has been much-decried by their fans, such as, well, just about every Metal Gear to leave the PlayStation (Ac!d, Twin Snakes, you name it), or for the most egregious examples, their repeated efforts at porting their own collectible card game, based on Shonen Jump's mega-hit anime and manga Yu-Gi-Oh, to consoles. A well-done and maniacally popular CCG just doesn't port to console systems very well, with only the World Championship series getting it right in most areas.
The older Game Boy Advance entries were, quite literally, based on the anime and followed a freakish hybrid of the actual game and anime rule sets — including everyone having Maximilion Pegasus' "skill" of knowing exactly what every card is and playing accordingly. The newer Tag Force series for PSP is apparently more faithful to the rules, but it's essentially rigged to be practically unwinnable, pitting you and your bumbling idiot of a partner against an even more omniscient AI than before. Tag Force introduces a "Destiny Draw" mechanic that cannot be turned off and lets you cheat the deck order if you're losing, thus casting you in the position of the jobbers. (So that's what it's like to be Bandit Keith... In America!)
So does Yu-Gi-Oh GX: The Beginning of Destiny for the PlayStation 2 fix this? Yes, but it does so by screwing up, well, everything else. Konami finally seems to have achieved a decent balance of getting the game mechanics right, having an AI just difficult enough to be interesting, and letting your character grow over time. Unfortunately, they then completely ruin the main game by screwing up every framing element into a bad Persona 3 rip-off ... and it only gets worse.
The trouble starts as soon as you load the disc and get a dancing Ojama monster for a load screen. These load screens will take a long time, so that little creepy mutated freak will be dancing for a while, and this will happen far more often than it should. Save the game? There are load screens before and after. Switch areas? Nice, long load time. Deck editor? Load time. Enter a duel? Long load time. The overwhelming frequency kills any mood the game might draw.
Once you get past about two minutes of loading time, the actual game's story line starts, casting you as a generic dude in a red outfit (with face-obscuring hat) that makes you look a little too much like the old-version Pokemon Trainer. You have just been admitted to the Duel Academy, apparently on a highly positive reputation you have developed from other schools dedicated to the game, which is not evident in your serviceable starting deck, which any decent real player could smash in a few turns. For non-initiates, the Duel Monsters card game is essentially the setting's equivalent to professional wrestling and draws in crowds just about as large as the WWF and WCW drew during the late '90s. This leads to people dedicating themselves to mastering the game from a very young age. More to the point, though, you've been admitted to the Slifer Red dorm, where most of the main characters reside. Of course, this leads to the inevitable component of your interacting with just about every major hero character from the second (and in Japan, recently concluded) Yu-Gi-Oh series. The game sounds half-decent so far, right? I mean, it worked fairly well for the Game Boy Advance entries that cast you as Yugi himself.
Unfortunately, Konami found ways — lots of them — to ruin things here. Your worst enemy in The Beginning of Destiny will not be any named opponent, but the ludicrous number of badly built menus with which you will need to work for just about everything in the game. Want to buy some new cards from the card shop to buff your deck? You will have to deal with a total of seven menu screens, almost all of them wholly unnecessary, and all are highly detrimental to the experience. Want to challenge someone to a duel? You'd think you could just tap a shoulder button, as you did in the Game Boy Advance games. Nope, it's to the menus for you. Want to go exploring? Menus, menus, and more menus every time you leave an area. Oh, and you're on a clock that only moves when you leave a room. You can spend two hours dueling everyone in the same area, but only 15 minutes will pass when you walk over to the next room.
The game's actual dueling also manages to get it wrong — not with the gracefully avoided risk of in-duel loading times, but with extremely poor in-duel interface. The basic interface is similar to the format of the World Championship games, which is a good thing. The inability to see any of the card artwork's detail at all, though, is not. In fact, cards do not get any semblance of identity to them whatsoever, other than their usually ignored flavor text, possibly a card effect, and their physical numbers.
To make things more annoying, the duels are slow. In the World Championship games, you almost need reflexes to keep up enough to play cards in response to other people's playing cards, which made duels play out as quickly as the physical card game. However, in this iteration, you will spend a minimum of five seconds on each individual move, and if your opponent is making that move, he or she will inevitably get a short CGI sequence that is supposed to look like a clip from the anime, too! Oh, and you cannot skip the animations or wait times, either, which makes the anime's often ponderously slow dueling, where mind games and chatter take up most of the battle, look as positively snappy as the actual card game typically goes.
If this were not bad enough, then let's throw in the worst tutorial ever made: the actual classes. As this is an academy, you are expected to attend classes each day, and no, they couldn't simply abstract the day's lessons; you get tutorials that assume you've never played any card game of any sort in your life, and it is so ponderously slow that you will probably have figured out the entire game long before the second class has begun, even if you haven't played any card game of any sort in your life before. Way to treat your fans like idiots, Konami.
In terms of presentation, The Beginning of Destiny manages to make itself look even worse. Thankfully, the game avoids throwing in any voice acting, since the number of voice clips you could stuff onto a PlayStation 2 disc would be pretty darn low, given the number of repeated actions endemic to a duel. Instead, the voice acting is replaced with even worse "whoosh" effects, clicks, and the occasional buzzer, combined with jazz-tone music that would not look out of place in Persona 3, but is very out of place in this game. The jazzy tunes get replaced with ludicrously generic music whenever you start significantly winning or losing a duel.
Graphically, the game has decent, albeit not excellent (even by PS2 standards), models for the anime characters and generic NPCs. Unfortunately, these models are only ever shown during those short, annoying clips I mentioned above. Instead of getting those during the frame game, you get very ugly midget sprites of the characters, which take far too long to load.
So, let's review in the classroom-presentation style of which Yu-Gi-Oh GX: The Beginning of Destiny is so fond. The rules are finally done right. The AI finally resembles that of a decent human player who knows how to use his or her deck. The two largest complaints about these games have been dealt. Then Konami decided to take a few too many cards from Persona 3's deck, implement them poorly, throw in unneeded effort in exactly the wrong places, add in three surprisingly excellent exclusive cards for the real game (ironically, you can't get any of them in the PS2 game), and ship out the result. The only major reason The Beginning of Destiny would ever be worth it for any fan of the series is those three exclusive cards, of which you would need three sets to use to any effect. Konami may eventually get these games to be as consistently solid as their Nintendo DS iterations. They just haven't done so yet.