Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle Review: Playing Your Cards Right
It’s fortuitous I was at HPP when review keys for Shadowverse rolled around. Reason being, I’ve become something of a Yu-Gi-Oh! expert over the past few years. Though I’m hardly a competitive player, I love trying out all sorts of different strategies and decks. So the opportunity to jump into a brand new digital card game was too much to refuse. It’s also fitting I was a Yu-Gi-Oh! fan first, since it’s clear to me Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle was thematically inspired by the Yu-Gi-Oh! TV show. Throw in a little Magic the Gathering and you basically know what the game is about. The question is, would this card game appeal to people other than those already well-versed in the genre?
A Familiar Cast
The main arc of the game is the story mode. Though it only consists of 9 chapters, it’s a pretty massive experience. I clocked in nearly 60 hours beating the game, and there’s post-game content afterward. One reason for the length is that there’s a lot of exploration to do. Searching every nook and cranny will unearth helpful items called Data Boxes, full of Rupies, packs, and more. You also have a lot of competitors, and each and every chapter will focus on battling your way to the top. And when you want to take a detour, there’s plenty of quests to entertain you. Not only will fulfilling them reward you with more goodies, but some will increase your friendship with specific players, eventually rewarding you with their best card. None of that would matter if the primary card game wasn’t fun, but thankfully I really enjoyed the mechanics of Shadowverse.
Fair warning, I’m gonna get a bit in the weeds here, but with the goal of clearly explaining how it plays. Each turn, you’ll get one more play point (think mana for Magic), which is used to play all types of cards. You can have a maximum of 10 play points, but it takes time to work up to that many. So it’s a good idea to balance your decks with low, medium, and high-cost cards so you can play something every turn. Both players start with 20 defense, and though you can never increase it beyond that, you can heal yourself after taking damage. After a roll of the dice selects who goes first, you’re both allowed to reshuffle up to 3 cards from their initial hand. If you go first, you’ll start the game by drawing 1 more card, beginning with a hand of 4 cards. If you go second, you’ll instead draw 2 cards for your initial turn, meaning you start with 5 cards. The maximum number of cards you can have in hand is 9, with any further cards drawn automatically banished instead. Additionally, going second has another benefit – you’ll get one more Evolution opportunity than your opponent. Evolution is choosing a follower on the field and transforming them into a more powerful version. They get increased stats and sometimes even get new abilities when they evolve.
Other than those basics, the general thrust of each match is the same. Your goal is to reduce the defense of the opposing leader (your opponent) to 0. Generally, you’ll do that by attacking them directly or dealing damage with effects. You can ignore their followers and go straight for them so long as none of them have Ward. Otherwise, you have to attack them first. There are also some ways to win with unique win conditions. But in general, you’re gonna want to make sure you have followers on board to attack as often as possible. Each follower has defense and attack stats. When they attack another follower, they’ll have their own defense reduced by the attack rating of that monster. So if you go after a monster with the same attack but higher defense, you’ll probably lose out. Followers cannot generally attack the turn they’re summoned, but the next turn, they’re good to go. The exception to this is an effect called Storm, which lets followers attack out of the gate. While there’s a ton of followers you can include in your deck, you can only have 5 cards on the field at any time, which brings us to the next feature – amulets, and spells.
Amulets would be called continuous cards in Yu-Gi-Oh! They have no stats, and once played, they stay on the field, generally until they’re destroyed. Though many amulets have an effect called Last Words, which activates when they leave the field. They also have a clock that ticks down each turn until Last Words is activated. Spells, on the other hand, can be played immediately. They’ll do things like draw more cards, boost your followers, destroy other cards, and much more. Generally, if you’re building a deck that goes fast, you’ll want more spells than amulets, though there are exceptions to that rule. One important thing to keep in mind is that any card, follower, amulet or spell, is banished when destroyed. This is referred to as “becoming a shadow.” There’s no graveyard which cards go to like in other card games. Which means it’s harder to recycle resources in Shadowverse than I expected, but that’s not a knock. This is a genuinely fun and challenging game regardless.
Classy Decks, Less Classy Champions
Another area where Shadowverse distinguishes itself from other card games is the deck classes. Depending on which you play, it will dramatically affect your available strategies and general playstyle. There are 7 total classes – Bloodcraft, Dragoncraft, Forestcraft, Havencraft, Runecraft, Shadowcraft, and Swordcraft. There are also what are called Neutral cards. Think colorless from Magic. Neutral cards can be used in any other deck. What’s especially important to remember is besides Neutral cards, you can’t mix and match deck classes. So if you’re playing a Dragoncraft deck, it can only include Dragoncraft or Neutral cards. I was a bit disappointed by this, though it makes some sense. Mainly because each class has a distinct quirk you can use to your advantage.
Bloodcraft decks have a feature called Vengeance. Once your defense is half or less, Vengeance kicks in, and you can activate some amazing effects. It’s a very risk-and-reward deck focused on burning through your own defense quickly to turn the tables on your opponent. Dragoncraft is a deck focused on high-cost monsters. The upside is Dragoncraft has access to Overflow. Basically, when you have 7 or more play points, all your dragons get much stronger. Additionally, they have a lot of cards to increase your play points faster than your opponent can. Forestcraft decks are full of fast yet weak monsters that can spam the field like crazy. Havencraft specializes in healing and banishing monsters, and plays many powerful countdown amulets. Runecraft uses Spellboost effects, which can reduce the costs of cards in your hand and power up effects every time a spell is played. Shadowcraft uses Shadows to activate Necromancy effects, and can even get back destroyed followers and summon annoying ghosts. And finally, Swordcraft lets you synergize between Officer and Commander cards to spam the field and put on the pressure. As you can clearly see, there’s a lot of inherent complexity in Shadowverse.
So Many Cards To Choose From…
No matter what class of deck you play, the one constant is that every deck has to include exactly 40 cards. I didn’t mind this, especially since you’ll earn a ton of Deck Codes as you defeat opponents in the game. These are checklists of their decks, and you’re encouraged to build them yourself to learn strategies. Early on, you only have access to really basic Deck Codes, but you’re also more than welcome to build your own decks from scratch. As you play through the game, you’ll not only unlock more deck classes, but you’ll also increase your rank. The main arc of the story involves competing in and winning the national championship. But there are several layers of ranks, from C to B to A to AA, and you’ll have to work your way up through each, winning qualifiers and then taking on the real competitors. Your ultimate goal is becoming acknowledged as a Grand Master, but it will take all your skill and no small amount of stubborn patience to get there.
Great Game, Annoying Characters
The main thrust of the game is a lot of fun. No matter how frustrating it was to lose to some tough decks repeatedly, I found myself deeply immersed in the gameplay. It was great figuring out which classes worked well in certain situations, and adapting on the fly. What I was less captivated by were the characters. In fairness, the Yu-Gi-Oh! characters aren’t much better, and are often cringeworthy. But whereas that show threw everything at the wall, and had insane life or death consequences, the story in Shadowverse never gets that exciting. At best, it has a shady underground club featuring Underverse duels. Worse, many of the characters are just unbelievably dense, and it stretches credulity that these same goofballs are somehow amazing competitors. Which isn’t to say I hated all of it. I actually really grew to like a few characters, such as Mimori and Kagura. It’s really fun to experience some of the friendship quests, and learning more about people. But if you come into the game expecting anything other than standard anime tropes, you’ll be disappointed by what’s here.
One thing I really appreciated about Shadowvese is all the quality of life features. Though the game map is big and keeps expanding, it never became overwhelming. One reason for that is you can fast travel to any location you’ve been to. Another is that the map has clear icons indicating what objectives are available in any given area. You’re also allowed to fast forward through dialogue, which is a lifesaver when you’ve been fighting the same opponent for hours, and aren’t in the mood for their trash talk. The game conveniently autosaves frequently, but you can also manually save at practically any time you’re not battling. And it’s very easy to get more and more cards by winning battles, exploring the map, and just buying more packs. There are only 3 packs in the game, but there’s some 600+ cards total. Fair warning, though, the RNG for pulling new cards can be a real hassle sometimes. Another thing to keep in mind is some cards cannot be found in packs and have to be acquired by other means. Plus, as you rank up any deck class, you’ll get rewarded with even more goodies. So there’s a lot I really appreciated about how the game is structured.
Better With a Friend
I should mention that I was actually able to test the game’s online features thanks to a friend who is also reviewing Shadowverse. Overall I found network play very solid. It was easy to exchange lobby codes and play each other with a minimum of lag. The only real oddity is that you use one button to choose which deck you’re using in story mode. In online play, you use a different button, which the game never clarified. Also, I should mention that there’s a bunch of warnings about using profanity in online play and how you’ll get bounced and your deck deleted if that happens. I felt this was a bit extreme, but I can also understand the developers not wanting Shadowverse getting a bad reputation cause of some troublemakers.
Flashy Anime Battles
Visually, Shadowverse is a very compelling game. Not only is the general aesthetic bright and cheerful, but the art found in the many cards is diverse and lush. Each class has a different focus, from vampires found in Bloodcraft, the undead found in Shadowcraft, to the adorably cheery Fairies in Forestcraft. Best of all, you can unlock sleeves and themes to properly outfit whatever deck you’re using. I also liked the dynamic cut-ins for when you’re about to win a match. Perhaps most impressive visually are the background effects found on rarer cards. Many have 3D effects, with clouds scrolling by or fire lighting up the sky. Some have frames that glow with color. Oh, and did I mention all the follower cards talk? Yea, it can be a little much sometimes, but it really brings the various classes to life. The voice acting is also pretty solid for the many characters. The music gets properly dramatic at times, though generally, it’s pretty laid back. Overall, the visual and audio design in the game is pretty top tier.
Prepare For Trouble! And Make it Double!
Now while there’s not a lot I had issues with in the game, the following sections are devoted to things I found curious or irritating. At the beginning of the game, the only real irritation I had was when you have two huge terms of service contracts you have to scroll through and agree to. I’m used to that sort of thing with random freemium games, but not with console games. I honestly was afraid to even mention it initially, in case I was stepping on the toe of some term I had just browsed across. Luckily, the rest of my issues are much more benign.
I had complained earlier about how you can’t really mix and match different decks. What’s more annoying for me is you can’t make a purely Neutral deck. There are enough cards you should be able to, so I found it odd you couldn’t. On the topics of gameplay, I should also mention your AI opponents have MUCH better luck drawing the right card at the right time than you will. More than once, I would lose to a deck I was on the verge of defeating because of my opponent’s insane “luck”. Also, though I don’t mind the general linear quality of the narrative, things get very convoluted towards the end of the game, with tons of random fetch quests you’ll have to fulfill before you can be crowned king. Mostly this involves searching for a colleague and getting drawn into the drama of the Underverse Arena, which has its own currency and special play conditions.
This next part is more quirks I noticed because of how much I’ve played other card games. It’s a bit curious there are no clear phases in the game. You can attack, play a card, and then attack again in any order. You also have no reactionary cards, such as counters. Everything happens during your turn, then you just cross your fingers and pray your board is strong enough to survive your opponent’s turn. And though I didn’t mind this, I found it funny you can swap decks during tournaments. In a real-life card tournament, this would be a giant no-no. But I will admit this feature was helpful as I played the game, especially since some deck classes work much better against others. And again, though this isn’t a complaint, I found the fact there’s no penalty for losing diminished the stakes of Shadowverse. You can keep trying again and again, so long as you’re not competing in qualifiers, which require winning 2 out of 3 games.
It’s Time For a Shadow Game!
Quirks aside, I had a tremendous time playing Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle. Not only is it a fun and complex card game, but it’s one you don’t have to be an expert to enjoy. The threshold to start playing is low, but actually mastering the game takes much more perseverance. Overall, this is a wonderful game with attractive artwork and tons of great features. While it can be frustrating at times, especially due to the luck of your AI opponents, I’d highly recommend it. If you need a new game to get lost in, look no further. Now I just hope they announce more new packs coming to Shadowverse at a later date. Cause any excuse to keep playing a fun game is a good excuse.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Marvelous (XSEED Games); Developer: Cygames; Players: 1; Released: August 10, 2021; MSRP: $49.99
Editor’s note: The publisher provided a review copy to Hey Poor Player.