Gameplay is unlike anything currently on the Xbox, or anything found on any console for that matter, making comparisons hard. Basically, it’s a combination of the deck-building elements found in a CCG, like Magic: The Gathering
, combined with those found in an action game.
The main goal is simple: wear you opponent’s life points down to zero before they can do the same to you. However, instead of using action game staples like guns, fists, or other melee weapons, you instead duel using skills. Each of these skills is assigned to the face buttons on the controller. These four skills are drawn for a deck of 30, which makes up your arsenal (or deck). In addition, three of your skills are also found scattered in the arena, which you can equip by standing over and pressing the button you want to assign it to. Picking up skills in the arena replaces another skill in your “hand” and disappears from the field, only to be replaced by another skill from your deck.
Currently, the game features 340 skills to construct your deck. New skills can be acquired either by winning them in single-player missions, by purchasing them from the in-game store, or by trading with others on Xbox Live. In addition, 40 powerful cards are also available and can only be accessed after completing certain goals online, such as winning a set number of duels.
Skills fall into five schools: Faith, Nature, Ki, Optical, and Psycho. Decks can only contain one or two of the five schools, which is where deck-building comes into play. Early on you have to decide what type of skills appeal most to your play style and build your deck around that. Each school is broken down into skill types; these include standard types like attack and defense, as well as non-traditional abilities like erasing a skill from your opponent’s hand or manipulating the battlefield in some way. Some skills can be used multiple times, while others can only be used once.
Skills use Aura points when activated (think mana). Your initial number is influenced by your character’s level. Aura Particles, which are the other class of card in the game, can be picked up from the ground like new skills and added to your total. If you’re familiar with either Magic: The Gathering or the Pokémon CCG, think of Aura Particles as being something like Land or Energy cards. Aura points replenish as the duel rages on, adding to the game’s strategy. Carelessly flinging spells quickly runs down your Aura points, while miserly casting can mean death.
Phantom Dust offers two main play modes: Single and Multiplayer. The single-player game is long, grueling, and one of the game’s weakest points. Other than learning to play the game and collecting new cards, there isn’t much of a reason to play though the 20+ hours that encompass the game’s weak narrative. Mutliplayer, on the other hand, is where the game really shines. As is the case with all CCGs, dueling against other players online is loads of fun, especially once you start to see the numerous deck types and strategies people have come up with.