The card game RPG is back! Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle brings back a formula that had its heyday two decades ago, and it does it with a nuanced understanding of what makes the best of those games work. With the card game genre moving more and more toward free-to-play multiplayer services, a solid single-player experience is rare. So it’s great that Champion’s Battle nails it in so many ways.
Of course, all RPGs center around a story! But also very few card game RPGs use it as a selling point. That’s probably still true here. Champion’s Battle does have a narrative, built around the companion anime and its characters. You’re in a school! You have to save the Shadowverse club! Which, inexplicably, isn’t popular despite everyone in the world loving Shadowverse. The main plot is a predictable ramp to tougher and tougher opponents, but little moments do their best to garner some affection for your friends’ personalities. Of course, if none of this sounds particularly worth your time, you’ll be happy to learn that you can fast-forward through these sequences with little issue.
What holds Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle together is, unsurprisingly, Shadowverse. The card game, which has been fairly characterized as “anime Hearthstone,” has a very solid foundation and lots of classes to try. And unlike the card game RPGs of old, this game gets to build on a foundation that’s digital-first, rather than implementing ways to shuffle and rotate cards around. Matches are quick and breezy. Nothing feels clunky. It’s nice!
Shadowverse’s deck-building centers around its seven classes. Each has exclusive cards, but you can pair neutral cards with any of them. This isn’t exactly unique in concept (again, Hearthstone), but the flavors of these factions are very different. Dragoncraft is about playing big things faster. Forestcraft is about overwhelming with many small attackers. Havencraft makes you wait for its effects, in exchange for more power. Runecraft focuses on playing as many spells as possible. Swordcraft pairs officers with commanders for combo effects. And then there’s the… evil ones? Bloodcraft is about damaging yourself and Shadowcraft is about killing your own stuff. Playing each feels meaningfully distinct.
Champion’s Battle includes a bit more than three sets of cards, pulled from the early days of Shadowverse. The mobile game has spiraled into a lot of mechanical complexity, but the choice to limit the included sets here does give it some focus. (Though we’d grab an expansion with more cards in a heartbeat.) We did worry a bit in our preview that it might not be able to sustain this fun, but we were pleasantly surprised! Instead of relying on years of experimentation, the game offers its own sorts of challenges.
There’s a wealth of battle puzzles, many suitably complex, to make you think about what cards can do when played in the right order. The easier of these are more instructive for each class’ abilities, while the harder ones? They’re fun ways to spend time thinking over a lunch break.
The late-game “underverse” area also presents the sort of thing only digital card games can offer: special modifiers. While we’d otherwise stagnated a bit with our deckbuilding, finding comfortable builds for each class and only tweaking them here and there, each of these special battles required entirely new decks. For example: what if your defense was also your attack? What if cards got way cheaper? Or each enters-play Fanfare effect triggered twice? These would break the normal game (and playing them does make you appreciate the delicate balance that’s built), but as a one-off challenge against a deck designed to exploit the weirdness, it’s quite engaging.
There’s some weird stuff here and there. Like the story side quests? Fetching items and finding people around the world ain’t great, and there are even a few peculiar minigame action sequences. Thankfully, though, there’s not a lot of this, so you’ll deal with a few minutes of it here and there and enjoy the card game for the rest of the 50-plus hours you can play.
Of course, Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle isn’t exclusively a single-player game. You can play against friends online, which works well. There’s ranked play, too. If you’re focusing on the competitive aspects of Shadowverse, you’re still likely better off playing the mobile game. But with friends enjoying the campaign experience of Champion’s Battle, it can be a fun change of pace and a good way to explore and experiment with new strategies.
We haven’t had this much fun with a card battle RPG since the Pokemon TCG games on the Game Boy Color. If you at all have an affinity for the concept, it’s unlikely that you’re burned out on the idea these days. Give Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle a shot, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be disappointed.
Shadowverse: Champion’s Battle, developed by Cygames and published in the West by XSEED, is out now on Nintendo Switch.