Having already appeared on the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, GameCube, and PC in the past couple of years, Yu-Gi-Oh! finally makes its appearance on the Xbox with The Dawn of Destiny. Like the majority of the Yu-Gi-Oh! games already on the market, The Dawn of Destiny is a digital version of the collectible card game that is the core of the whole Yu-Gi-Oh! universe. Aside from being the first version to hit the Xbox, there isn't a whole lot to differentiate The Dawn of Destiny from its predecessors. It's really just a mediocre card battling game.
Since the premise behind most episodes of the Yu-Gi-Oh! TV series revolves around Yugi and his friends playing supernatural card games against other players, Konami has been wise enough to keep any kind of story out of its Yu-Gi-Oh! card battling games, and The Dawn of Destiny follows suit, letting you play against AI opponents that represent many familiar faces from the show. As a game that essentially emulates the real-world Duel Monsters collectible card game, The Dawn of Destiny suffices, though no more or less than any of Konami's other recent Yu-Gi-Oh! card battling games. Collectible card games are rife with very specific rule sets--some of them intuitive, some of them oddly arcane--and Yu-Gi-Oh! has its fair share of both. If you're already familiar with the rules of Duel Monsters, you'll be setting up trap cards and summoning monsters shortly after booting the game up for the first time, though if this is your first introduction to card battling, the learning curve will be significantly steeper.
Basically, you start off with a more or less random deck of cards that consists of monster cards, spell cards, trap cards, and special summon cards. Your monster cards can be used to attack your opponent's monster cards, and if your opponent has no monster cards in play, you can attack him or her directly by using your own monster cards. The ultimate goal is to take all of your opponent's hit points before he or she can do the same to you. Spell and trap cards serve a variety of different offensive and defensive purposes, such as raising the statistics of your monster cards, destroying one of your opponent's cards, counteracting your opponent's move, or fusing two monsters into a third, more-powerful monster. Most monsters can be brought directly into play from your hand, though certain monsters require a summon card to be played before they can be brought in to action. Any monster card of level five or higher will require you to sacrifice at least one of the monsters you currently have in play.
The basic strength of your cards factors heavily into whether or not you'll be victorious, though some smart strategy, thoughtful deck-building, and a spot of luck can help you score a win against a more-powerful opponent. Among the collectible-card-game crowd, Yu-Gi-Oh! isn't one of the most strategically complex games out there, and this comes across in its video game form as well. Once you've built up your deck to a respectable level and have a strong grasp of the mechanics, most of your losses will come from the weakness of your deck rather than from a fault in your strategy. Despite its relative simplicity, though, there is something enjoyable about the action in Yu-Gi-Oh!. In addition, it's easy to pacify your obsessive-compulsive tendencies as you meticulously build and tweak your decks.
Not taking the game's visual presentation into consideration, there's really almost nothing to discern The Dawn of Destiny from the Yu-Gi-Oh! card battling games released on the GBA earlier this year and on the PC late last year. Had Konami included Xbox Live support, thus allowing you to compete against other Yu-Gi-Oh! players over the Internet, The Dawn of Destiny would be a significantly more compelling title, but as it stands, the only way to get a multiplayer game going is to use the Xbox system link option.
Keeping with the overall theme of the anime series, the presentation in The Dawn of Destiny is heavily Egyptian-themed, featuring plenty of sandstone backgrounds. Like previous Yu-Gi-Oh! games, The Dawn of Destiny is a pretty plain-looking game, though, to its credit, there's a lot more visual flair in this one than we've seen in other recent installments. Every time a monster is put into play, a 3D version of it will quickly appear above the playfield, perform a little attack animation, and fade away. Though fairly true to the card art they're based on, these 3D monsters look pretty shoddy and probably could have been rendered just as well on, say, the N64. They just look bad. The space behind the playfield shows a rather nondescript sandstone chamber, though certain status cards will turn it into a swirling purple vortex, which is arguably the pinnacle of the game's visual presentation. The sound is pretty dull, featuring some low-key Egyptian-themed music and the cries of the monsters as they do battle.
Yu-Gi-Oh! The Dawn of Destiny is appropriate only for the hardcore Yu-Gi-Oh! fan or someone who is really, really desperate for a collectible card game on the Xbox. If you're the former, and you've already purchased one of the myriad Yu-Gi-Oh! collectible card games released by Konami in the past year, then The Dawn of Destiny doesn't really have much to offer. If you're a CCG nut, and you've only got an Xbox, then you don't really have any other options, though you should still probably give this a rental before deciding if it actually warrants a purchase. If you fall into neither of these categories, then The Dawn of Destiny probably shouldn't even be occupying any of your headspace.