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PSP Fanboy review: Neverland Card Battles

Neverland Card Battles merges the strategy-RPG genre with the core gameplay mechanics of a trading card game. It's a card game first, an SRPG second, and this is clearly evident after having played and finished the title this past week. We know that a good number of our readers have read our preview from last month and have kept interest in the title. With the game releasing today, we know you all want to know: what's the final verdict? Read on after the break to find out.

Like we started off saying, NCB is first and foremost a card game. The battles, the strategy all revolve around common card game elements: random draw phases, cards in hand, mana/cost, summoning and buffs. What turns this game into an SRPG is the inclusion of a battlefield grid and a thin storyline to keep your actions loosely strung together. The integration of the territory system -- whereby each square on the grid equals one mana -- is the epitome of this convergence between SRPG and TCG. It's interesting to note that this causes the strategic movements seen in traditional SRPGs to shift from chess-like planning to a more exploratory, dominate-the-board type of gameplay.

The idea here is to control as many squares as possible to summon more costly creatures, spells and bases. One strategy that works well is to immediately rush the enemy and capture their squares as quickly as possible. This ensures that enemy Dominators (name for character card duelers) won't be able to cast their costliest/deadliest magic. However, this strategy doesn't always work out well; sometimes Dominators can summon creatures far away from themselves across the board and start grabbing land. They do this by using elemental squares -- creatures of the same element can be summoned on those special areas and will receive bonus buffs too while on an elemental square.

Then again, that strategy doesn't always work because each Dominator truly fights with a unique style. Some Dominators will fight with the Snipe skill which bypasses regular attacks and deals direct damage from afar. Others will use warriors that all have First Attack -- an ability which lets a creature make an initial attack before the opponent can retaliate. This is a very good skill as regular battles allow for both opposing units to damage each other simultaneously -- First Attack allows for an early killing strike.

If any of this isn't sinking in yet, it's because TCGs are usually quite difficult to understand without having been shown an example -- or having played it for oneself. It's much easier to pick up and play than this review lets on. The first two battles in the game are tutorial battles and they explain everything you'll need to know. By the end of both tutorials, you'll have full grasp of how everything works.

The overall difficulty of the game progresses smoothly throughout the main story mode. Even if you think you're losing a match, you can leave the battle and return to the main screen to start over. However, I personally think it's better to finish the battle and collect the new cards given out at the end. Yes, the game will give you new cards even if you lose a match. This is an excellent addition as re-do battles become less frustrating and more of a "let me adjust my deck and try again" experience.

Speaking of adjusting decks, editing and creating a deck are both very easy processes. Cards can be viewed altogether or by type. The ones that can be added to your deck will be lit up while those already fully used will be grayed out. The max number of cards in a deck is 30 and players can save up to three decks at one time.

Now, let's move on to some gripes. First off, when you're down to zero cards in hand, most other TCGs offer a multiple drawing of cards to help stimulate your game; however, NCB lacks this and it can really be painful to play when down to one or no cards (which will happen more often than not). Another major disappointment is the game's dialogue. It's a rather poor translation, or at least the manner in which the story is told (short two-way conversations before and after battles) leaves little time to flesh out a detailed story. The voice acting suffers from the poor dialogue and even the best actors can't turn bad lines into good audio.

The main storyline is quite short. It only lasts for about 16 battles. However, keep in mind that each battle can average around 20 minutes long, and the most difficult levels can drag on for up to an hour. When the main storyline ends, it's not quite over just yet as there is a surprise new goal to check out. We won't say anymore on that though for spoiler reasons. Then, there is also the ad-hoc Versus Mode where players can control the other Dominators in the game. These Dominators get unlocked after defeating them in the story mode.

Overall, Neverland Card Battles is a very satisfying experience. The gameplay is worlds of fun, but the relatively short story and other nagging gripes drag things down a notch. A game like this is meant for multiplayer, and it is rather unfortunate that we were not able to play the ad hoc mode. We're sure that mode would add more longevity to the title. If that's not enough, then grabbing a 100% card collection should be an adequate time sink.

PSP Fanboy score: 7.5

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