It’s difficult to say how many card-based video games have come out in the past decade or so; they began to pop up routinely ever since the likes of Pokemon assaulted the U.S. market. The fad has slowed down a bit nowadays, but the die-hard fans will always love the virtual collecting and battle concept found in such games. Furthermore, this style lends itself perfectly to a portable unit like the PSP, as its addictive quality can make long trips and boring commutes far more stimulating. Neverland Card Battles is a revamped version of Cardinal Arc: Neverland Card War for the PS2, and if you’ve never heard of it, that’s because the game never made it out of Japan. But now, Yuke’s Media Creations plans to deliver this new version to Sony’s handheld, and although it won’t be one of the blockbuster titles in October (the month is loaded with next-gen goodness), it’ll still appeal to the aforementioned fans. Their loyalty is quite impressive.
Although there have been a number of card-based strategy titles in the past, a few are significantly different for a variety of reasons. Neverland Card Battles is one of those games, as two Dominators will actually face each other on a battlefield map most reminiscent of turn-based strat/RPGs like Final Fantasy Tactics or Disgaea. You will take control of the hero, Galahad, and your available cards will feature three main classes: the Yellow cards are defensive, the Blue cards designate creatures you can call into combat, and the Purple cards allow you to use powerful magic spells. Each deck will hold a maximum of 30 cards, and of course, with over 200 cards available in the game, the key to the best deck will revolve around the player’s shrewd trading ability. You can trade and even customize to your heart’s content, and the only rule is that you can’t have more than 4 of the same card in your deck at any given time.
Herein lies the main appeal of these games. Although you’re not collecting real cards, you’re still “collecting” them in a virtual realm, and that’s the second best option for all you rabid card gatherers out there. You could spend hours upon hours creating a deck of 30 cards you deem the most effective, and that’s the kind of micromanagement that will drag in the hardcore fans. As for the battles themselves, there’s another twist- it’s not just about playing one card against the other. That square-based field is there for a reason; the Dominator will actually be a separate unit, complete with an inherent set of skills and abilities. Now, in order to access your deck, you’ll have to acquire Mana and this brings us to another intriguing aspect of the gameplay. You will move your allies across the battlefield, changing neutral tiles to colored tiles and each tile that you essentially “own” will give you one Mana point. Therefore, you will have to oversee the deployment of your units and keep careful track of their movements in order to emerge victorious.
So yeah, it’s not all about the cards. Just like in those strat/RPGs mentioned earlier, a unit can attack an enemy unit when occupying an adjacent square. When you initiate combat, the camera view will zoom in and the two characters in question will trade blows for one turn each. It’s here you’ll want to take advantage of any special cards you have in your deck, and you had better hope you have enough Mana to handle the job. Clearly, if the enemy has less units as a result of your units defeating them, you’ll have the edge because you’ll have more tiles under your feet. That’s only logical. We’re not entirely sure exactly when you’ll be able to use a card in battle, though…do we have to wait until there’s an encounter? And what happens if we don’t have enough Mana left for any cards? Does that mean we’re only limited to what our units can do on their own? And if so, what are they really capable of? These are questions that we don’t have answers for, but we still believe the gameplay foundation to be both original and solid.
The story? Oh, it’s standard JRPG fare, although we admit it sounds interesting on a number of different levels. See, Hellgaia is an evil being that was once safely sealed away from the civilized world, but that seal is now beginning to weaken. Those Dominators, the special beings that can utilize the immense power of the Spectral Cards, are called upon to save the day. Your Dominator’s name is Galahad, and it is you who will eventually send Hellgaia back to his wretched prison…you know, provided you can handle the battlefield and your deck effectively. Let’s not forget that each of those 200 cards in the game are different from one another in certain ways; just because there are three classes doesn’t mean there’s limited variety. On top of which, IGN claims the game will last you a good 20-30 hours and that’s certainly not including any fun you may have with the multiplayer option; two players can go at it if they so choose. And isn’t that what everyone loves to do with collectible cards, real or virtual?
Neverland Card Battles is scheduled to release on October 28, and although there are plenty of huge titles on the way next month, few are for the PSP. So if you’re a fan of the genre and you’re a frequent handheld user, you may want to seriously consider this game. Its uniqueness separates it from the rest of the pack…no pun intended.
9/29/2008 Ben Dutka