Writing on video games by Steve Hernandez

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Ambient Music of Duel Masters

I don't remember where I got it, but I have a good reason why I bought Duel Masters for the PlayStation 2 years ago. When I was younger, I was an avid player of the trading card game that the video game was based on. Roughly similar to Magic: The Gathering (both card games published by Wizards of the Coast) Duel Masters let you use cards as a means to summon monsters and cast spells. Each card belongs to a civilization that represents one of five elements: fire, water, nature, darkness, and light. The card game became popular to the point where numerous video games were made for it. However, one, in particular, had a unique characteristic that differentiated it from other games in the series, and perhaps the card battle genre too: the use of ambient music in the duels.

Duel Masters, developed by High Voltage Software, successfully simulated the experience of playing the TCG. It had a tutorial for new players and two different ways to play the card game. The first was the standard turn-based mode and the other was a faster-paced mode in which turns were removed and mana would slowly refill after being used. Each monster was fully modeled and you could even look at each one using the "creature viewer". The game also included a story mode in which you select one of five characters, each representing one of the five civilizations in both their character model and the deck they used. The duels are set in 3D arenas that are themed after the five civilizations.

Most video games that are adaptions of TCGs have a track or background theme that play during the duels you participate in. I call them "duel themes" and consider them as the equivalent to the battle theme of a Role-Playing-Game. They can be used as a character's theme or to emphasize the fact that you're in a battle against a tough opponent. In contrast, Duel Masters uses ambient music to give the arenas an atmospheric quality and a sense of space. The sounds of flickering fire can be heard in the music track of the fire arena. The water arena's track sounds like the depths of the ocean, the crashing of waves, and harsh winds accompanied with the cries of unimaginable sea creatures. The music heard in the darkness arena sounds like those used in horror games and movies. These duel themes and the variations of them also sound unnatural and alien.

There is also a sense of indifference towards the duel you're in. It doesn't matter who your opponent is, how tough he or she is, or how competitive the duel gets. Even when you're up against the final opponent in the story, there is no music to emphasize that. There's just an ambient track coupled with the idle animations of summoned monsters and the noises they sometimes make. Unlike the majority of video games in this genre, the "duel theme" of Duel Masters focuses less on the duel itself and more on the environment surrounding it.

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