With the powerful force of Hellgaia on the road to being reawakened, the only hope for Neverland seems to fall on the shoulders of Galahad, a brave traveler tasked with banishing the evil force back to his shrine. This isn’t going to be a field-stomping battle loaded with crossed swords and battlecries, though. Originally released on Playstation 2 in Japan, the PSP version of Cardinal Arc: Neverland Card War is all about mixing strategic fights with warrior, spirit and spell-summoning decks of cards, and the end result is a mixed bag of grid-based action served up for especially patient strategy gamers.
Patience is definitely the key word here, because Neverland doesn’t even feign hand-holding from the get-go. Instead of taking the player step by step through the finer aspects of card battling, the tutorial throws Galahad right into the mix, making a trip to the instruction manual a necessity rather than the time-killing luxury it would normally be. It’s kind of a shame, because it spells instant frustration in the portion of the game that should ease everyone into the basics rather than tossing them in their face.
Somehow, I managed to survive the first battle on my initial attempt, so I wasn’t worn too ragged for the fights ahead. That particular road is a rocky one, though, and it doesn’t get any easier. Some breathing room early on would definitely be nice, because getting a handle on the mechanics reveals a pretty interesting mix of turn-based strategy and card gaming rife with potential. The card-selecting portion of Galahad’s turn allows access to his deck, and cards are drawn at the beginning of the turn, each deployable so long as the casting price is right. Summoned units can then be positioned on unoccupied portions of the grid, and Galahad is free to attack with them, move a few spaces on the map, and attack on his own, as well.
This opens the door for some solid strategies to anyone willing to go through the trial and error involved in digging deeper. It’s going to take a special breed, however, thanks to the computer’s ability to stay one step ahead of your every move. The first few missions aren’t exactly cakewalks for the uninitiated, but they’re a breeze compared to the thrashing to come. Difficulty aside, this is the meat and potatoes of Neverland Card Battles, and the concept is an intriguing one that can’t help but get snagged by a few of the bumpier elements of design that get in the way.
The artwork and character designs themselves aren’t much of an issue with Neverland—not inspiring or original but not terribly unattractive either—but the overall presentation comes off as a bit stilted and awkward at times. The field graphics may not be the best, but the sprites stand out atop the blurred backdrops, and that’s all that really matters. The area these issues are most apparent in is during the dialogue exchanges (and the story in general), which are riddled with brief load times and clumsy writing. Loading also plagues other aspects of the game, and even though a brief second or two of the UMD booting up a card or battle sequence is fairly insignificant, it can hamper the experience when it happens repeatedly throughout.
What card fans will probably find the most enjoyment in is crafting the perfect deck. With a card count of over 200, there’s a lot to work with, and sicking your own minions against each stage’s Dominator is preferable to leaving everything up to Galahad alone, which would spell certain doom time and time again.
Neverland Card Battles is ultimately a flawed title with promise held deep within its clutches, waiting for the right person to grasp at it tightly enough. Who is that person, you ask? It’s going to take the proper combination of strategically-minded, card-obsessed determination to break through these walls, but it can be done. And perhaps, down the road, Idea Factory can put this back together again from its solid foundation like a portable Six Million Dollar Man. They can rebuild it. They have the technology. For now, Neverland Card Battles exists in a realm that will please only the most hardcore of card battlers on the block.
Publisher: Yuke’s Media Creations
Developer: Idea Factory