Every story has a beginning, and Yu-Gi-Oh! is very much an unusual case. The trading card game (TCG) wasn’t initially conceived as a main idea, with its roots tracing back to the fictional game of Duel Monsters from within the sprawling Yu-Gi-Oh! universe. Much like the norm-defying circumstances of its inception, it has continued to surpass expectations in growth and popularity, even till today.
In celebration of the its 25-year journey, one that includes two Guinness World Records as the world’s best-selling TCG, Konami hosted a two-day anniversary bash at Tokyo Dome – a first since 1997, its birth year. Held across 3 and 4 February, the Yu-Gi-Oh! The Legend of Duelist Quarter Century event saw a full-house crowd on both days, where enthusiasts basked in all things Yu-Gi-Oh!.
Visitors were greeted by big displays of the key art at the main entrance, featuring the iconic Blue-Eyes White Dragon flying in the skies above Tokyo Dome. Step inside to catch the special commemorative cards in the flesh, standing tall and mighty in all their oversized glory, and joined by more large-scale monster cards on the grandstand seats.
With the first stage performance of the event, attendees were quick to get into the Yu-Gi-Oh! spirit. Japanese rock band Novelbright, the opening act for both days, roused excitement with a high-energy rendition of the anime’s theme song, as nostalgic scenes from the show played on the screen.
The second day shifted the spotlight to voice actors from previous seasons of the anime, who took over the stage by getting into character in a Duel Links! exhibition match. Some of the notable guest appearances include Kenjiro Tsuda (Kaiba Seto in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! anime), Kensho Ono (Yuya Sasaki in Yu-Gi-Oh! Arc-V), and Kenn (Judai Yuki in Yu-Gi-Oh! GX), but the highlight was when the stage acts saw attendees waving their light seats and jumping along to the songs.
Meanwhile, card-duelling action unfolded in the arena. While the more competitive enthusiasts duked it out against each other in a Battle City experience, the rest of the crowd participated in a quiz championship and hands-on play sessions, turned themselves into a custom Yu-Gi-Oh! card at a green screen area, and enjoyed a special movie theatre screening. There were also photo spots within the space, allowing them to take a picture of, and with, their favourite protagonists from all eight anime seasons.
Head down to the AI System Stage at the right time, and fans will be able to catch a glimpse of the yet-to-be-released AI System for the digital title Master Duel at work. The live demonstration invited fans to pit their prowess against an AI opponent that can learn, think, and execute moves, offering a quick look at the user interface design.
“Our proposal here is a demo of how individuals can create their own AI to do something with Master Duel,” shares senior producer Kenichi Kataoka in a group interview that Geek Culture attended. “In the future, what we want is to host a tournament where everyone brings their own AI and compete with each other; when we do that, we might have regulations [in place].”
While only open to select media guests, the Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Links virtual reality experience proved to be a highlight of the digital play area. Running on Meta Quest 3, it brings players into a simulated universe developed by KaibaCorp of the original anime, with head honcho Seto Kaiba pitting his monsters, including Blue-Eyes White Dragon against Dark Magician Girl.
The 15-minute-or-so session teased a good use of its spatial capabilities, with the character models offering a scale of their respective builds against one another. Detailed and animated, their actions and expressions are clearly defined, from the character’s head nod to Dark Magician Girl’s smile. The immersion factor is also pretty impressive – card activation effects and monster attacks almost feel real, especially when a looming Blue-Eyes White Dragon fires his beam directly at you. It’s a nifty touch to include a narrative element as well, considering the lore-rich world of the Yu-Gi-Oh! universe.
It should be noted, however, that this VR preview serves as a proof of concept more than an official project. Speaking in a group interview with regional media, game producer Akitsu Terashima reveals how it’s designed to be an anniversary special and not for full-fledged development, though that may change depending on user feedback.
“Duel Links has this uniqueness of being able to showcase the characters and their voices and models, so we thought VR was the best methods to show what the game can do… We think it’d be nice to have it as a frontier project, because the manga and anime already have scenes that somewhat simulate [what goes beyond] the physical,” he says, adding that the team will “think about what to do in the future” after looking at player response, and thus, doesn’t “have anything definite to share.”
Back to the on-site buzz, the TCG celebration continues with a majestic 36-row glass-encased card display. An immediate attraction for collectors and casual players alike, it tracks the design changes over the years, and is truly a sight to behold in the flesh.
For anime and manga enthusiasts, there was plenty of nostalgia to go around. The 25th-year anniversary dedicated an impressive manga wall to the last chapter of the original work, with the panels oozing a stylish flair. At one point, Kuriboh, whose various forms can be found in exhibited artwork around the event space, even made a mascot appearance in front of it, much to the joy of fans.
Taking a trip down the memory lane was a compilation reel of creator Kazuki Takahashi’s original artwork. Highlighting some of the most iconic scenes from the anime, it came complete with the signature theme song and a dynamic art style.
There were also other side activities like stamp hunting, but the biggest draw for most would be the exclusive merchandise. Apart from special commemorative cards for each day, ticket holders will be able to pick up their pre-ordered goods, including the Yu-Gi-Oh! OCG Duel Monsters EX Reprint Edition, Magicians of Unity and Bonds / Dragon of Pride and Soul Duel Set, the OCG Premium Pack Quarter Century Edition, and more.
Meanwhile, lucky draw winners got their hands on even more items, such as skateboard featuring Dark Magician, a pair of Yu-Gi-Oh!-themed Adidas sneakers, and a card set of the three gods: Silfer the Sky Dragon, Winged Dragon of Ra, and Obelisk the Tormentor. Rounding out day one was the announcement of Konami animation, a new division within the company, followed by the worldwide premiere of Yu-Gi-Oh! Card Game The Chronicles, a special trailer for the anniversary event from the team.
The Legend of Duelist Quarter Century event ended off with some fanfare, unveiling the Yu-Gi-Oh! Early Days Collection that brings together the earliest Yu-Gi-Oh! games ever released. It will also include titles previously only released in Japan, such as 2000’s Yu-Gi-Oh! Duel Monsters 4: Battle of Great Duelists, and is slated for launch on Nintendo Switch and Steam sometime in the future.
With the return to Tokyo Dome, this 25th-anniversary celebration serves as nice tribute to the TCG’s launch in 1997, which took place at the same venue. As Yu-Gi-Oh! looks to usher in another 25 years and beyond, fans can expect more offerings, content, and memories to come.