You know the scene in the movie A Beautiful Mind? Where the schizophrenic is sitting his room, staring at hundreds of torn-out pages from various magazines taped to his wall, trying to find some sort of patter in it to determine invaluable information to the government? That’s actually a pretty good summary of the entirety of the DS’ Fullmetal Alchemist Trading Card Game. I’ve played a lot of CCGs before, but I’m not sure if I’ve seen one with this much sheer stuff in it. I stupidly bought into many card games of my time. I remember years and years ago, I desperately tried to figure out how to play Marvel Comics’ Overpower card game. Years later, I got into the Pokemon card game, and chastised my schoolyard peers for simply collecting the cards and not playing the game, only to have all my interest in it die by the Fossil expansion. For some unknown reason, I got sucked into Yu-Gi-Oh, and played that with my family members. Then came .hack//ENEMY, simply because I was so high on .hack//Quarantine at the time. And I also know the rules for games like Magic, and other things along those lines. But the sheer number of stats and factors to take into account in the FMATCG makes Xenosaga Episode 1 look like Dragon Ball Z Budokai.
What really annoys me about this game is how you don’t win by “beating” your opponent. You win by some sort of convoluted system of “finding” “clues” to “obtain” the Philosopher’s Stone, the alchemical rock that the series is based off of. As if that wasn’t enough to turn me off to the game, I find out that the game uses a half dozen in-game statistics like “strength” and “wits” which affect the game, all of which are constantly changing. As with many of the recent card games, the FMATCG divides your turn up into different phases, six in all. Each of these phases, however, has various sub-phases, which prevent you from playing certain cards outside of certain times. Needless to say, when you’re trying to play a card and you have to mash through each turn simply to get to the part that gives you the opportunity to put the damn thing in play…it gets quite annoying. To top it all off, deck-building is a chore-and-a-half. Between the generally unspecified parameters a deck should be built around and the generally mediocre touch screen interface the game uses…it’s a hassle to try and make a deck.
FMATCG deserves HUGE amounts of credit for integrating online play into the game. For anything bad that can be said about the game, the simple fact is that it allows you to battle online makes it by FAR the best TCG made into a video game, which is an unforgivable shortcoming in so many other recent digital incarnations of analogue entertainment, ESPECIALLY you, Yu-Gi-Oh. So, if you just so happened to be a fan of the actual FMATCG, this really is a must-buy, and a real digital preservation of the game that so many other TCGs didn’t get.
Graphically, it’s what you would expect of a game based on a TCG. There are cards, there is a playing field, there is a border and that’s it. The game tries a slightly stylistic approach by incorporating screen caps and sound bites from the anime, but it doesn’t really pan out to be anything more than a minute attempt to solve the big problem of mediocre presentation. Sound consists of mediocre music, mainly midis, and low-quality one-liners taken from the anime. It’s not really unexpected, but still bad.
There really isn’t much to put it on top of the frustratingly huge avalanche of card games based on absolutely everything. You might already be playing it, and if so, it’s worth checking out simply for the online play. For everyone who isn’t a fan though, this isn’t worth playing.