Yu-Gi-Oh! The Falsebound Kingdom is Konami's latest use of Kazuki Takahashi's inexplicably popular manga, anime, and collectible-card game. Though the current standards set by previous Yu-Gi-Oh! games aren't particularly high, The Falsebound Kingdom is one of the most poorly realized Yu-Gi-Oh! games yet, and it almost seems to be testing the limits of what sort of monotonous, dreary games the fans are willing to tolerate.
Though the standard Yu-Gi-Oh! stories revolve around a group of kids and the adventures they have while playing Duel Monsters, a collectible-card game where the monsters on the cards come to life, The Falsebound Kingdom takes the action to an immersive virtual-reality video game where the creatures of the Duel Monsters game are real. Yugi and his friends are invited to check out a prototype of this virtual-reality game and are immediately trapped inside the game, with the only apparent exit being to finish the game. Inside the game, there is a civil war going on, and whether you choose to play as Kaiba or Yugi will determine whether you side with the oppressive king or the rebel movement, respectively. The story that proceeds inside the virtual-reality world is of little consequence, though the game brims with pretense and presents the story in a very dry, serious manner--the game starts off with a quote from 19th-century Irish philosopher Alexander Irvine, which sets the tone for the rest of the game.
The actual gameplay in The Falsebound Kingdom is one part stripped-down real-time strategy and one part stripped-down turn-based role-playing game. You're placed on a map and given a mission objective. The objectives are straightforward, usually boiling down to basic RTS-type objectives like defending certain positions or simply beating all of your opponents. The game, however, strips out a lot of the standard RTS conventions, such as resource gathering and army building. Instead of having a legion of individual units, you're given control over marshals, each of whom has command over three monsters, and the only way to gain control over new marshals is by completing missions. When you face off against an opposing marshal, the game switches to the combat mode, which is not unlike what you'd see in a standard Japanese console RPG. From here, the monsters take turns beating on the other side until one side is victorious. There's a little more to the game than just moving characters around on the map and engaging in stripped-down RPG fights. You'll often have to occupy towns and use the spoils of war to equip the towns with defenses, armories, and infirmaries for your marshals, and there are a few special group attacks that your monsters can perform under special circumstances, but none of this really brings much significant depth to the action.
There are several core problems with the gameplay in The Falsebound Kingdom. For starters, the pacing of the game is downright grueling--it takes forever for your marshals to get from one side of the map to the other, and the actual combat is shallow and tedious. With its extensive menus and screens full of character statistics, the game tries to give the air of a sophisticated strategy game, but there's not really any strategy to it at all--instead, a lot of the game is both needlessly arcane and one-dimensional, which is a bit of a feat in and of itself.
For the most part, The Falsebound Kingdom looks terrible, though there are some pieces of the puzzle that stand out. Though their animations are a little stiff, the actual 3D models for the monsters look pretty good and faithfully re-create the 2D art found on the cards they're based on, and the special effects for the monsters' attacks can look pretty slick from time to time as well. All of the environments, though, from the overview map to the fields where the battles take place, are drab and barren. Basic, grimy-looking textures cover flat planes that are occasionally dotted with a building or some crude landscaping. The game's sound design really shows off the game's anime roots--both the in-game sound effects, which are pretty much limited to the attack sounds while in combat, and the music sound as though they were lifted directly from some second- or third-string piece of Japanese animation.
The Falsebound Kingdom is a game that only a diehard Yu-Gi-Oh! fan could enjoy--and it's likely that even they would prefer a game that more closely adheres to the card game from which the whole Yu-Gi-Oh! license is derived. Anyone who doesn't already have an affinity for Yugi, Kaiba, and the rest of the gang will likely be unable to tolerate the game's shoddy graphics and its dull, shallow gameplay.