Trading card games are big in Japan—from Yu-Gi-Oh! to Pokémon to Magic: The Gathering. And given the popularity of video games also, it's really not surprising that videogame makers figured out how to combine the two. Today, outside of fighting games and medal games, these card/video games are the most popular thing you'll see in your average Japanese arcade.


So back in 2008, with the rise of these trading card-based arcade games, Square Enix set about making their own. The result was Lord of Vermilion. Four years and two major updates later, it is still going strong.

While other trading card games focus on a single existing property (e.g., Gundam or World Cup Soccer), Lord of Vermilion features characters from Final Fantasy, Romancing Saga, Magic: The Gathering, King of Fighters, Nier, Black Rock Shooter, BlazBlue, and several other series—in addition to its many original characters.

I had long wanted to try out this game. However, as with any collectible trading card game, getting into Lord of Vermilion can be quite expensive—not to mention confusing. Luckily, I had a friend with a box of extra cards willing to teach me to play.

You start by choosing your party. Each character card has a point cost and your entire party can be no more than 90 points. In addition, only four cards can be in play at any time.

When the game begins, it plays more like an RTS than anything else. You place the four cards you want to use on the field—my party included Final Fantasy VI's Kefka and Magic: The Final Fantasy, King of Fighters, and Magic: The Gathering Collide in This Arcade GameGathering's Serra Angel—and the placement of the cards reflects their position on the field. You move your party via a joystick and you turn them by turning the cards themselves. To attack, all you need to do is face the enemy.

From that point on, the game is basically a "capture the point" type game. You try to destroy your opponent's three arcana stones while he or she tries to do the same to yours. Then, every three stages, you face a boss fight instead.

Of course, there's more to the game than that—with reinforcements, special skills, equipment, smash attacks, special summons, and a host of tactics and strategies—but the core of the game is that simple.

Lord of Vermilion sports online versus play as well as a robust single player campaign—and win or lose—the game dispenses a new card for your deck each time you play.

I really enjoyed my time with Lord of Vermilion and had to fight the urge to go to a card shop and buy myself all the cards for a Final Fantasy deck. It's a complex game that felt more like a game of League of Legends where I controlled four characters rather than one. Getting a starter deck only takes about 500 yen (about six dollars), and even with beginner cards, the easy difficulty levels are beatable. So if you have the money, access to a machine, and at least a little Japanese language ability, I recommend giving Lord of Vermilion a try.

To see my deck in action, check out the video above.

Lord of Vermilion was released in Japanese arcades on November 7, 2008. The latest update, Lord of Vermilion Re:2 was released on July 26, 2011.