Dragalia Lost Review

Yay!  Yay! Yay!  Yay!

About a year ago Nintendo began buzzing about a curious little collaboration with Cygames, the prolific developer of GranBlue Fantasy, and from it came a curious little fantasy action RPG by the name of Dragalia Lost.  A mobile game that I initially paid little mind to after it was announced and released.  But over the past month and a half I wound up investing a considerable amount of time into this title as part of a prolonged effort on my part to better experience what the world of mobile gaming has to offer.  I originally intended on saving my thoughts towards this game in particular for a post I have scheduled for next Wednesday, but as I was deliberating over things, and weighing my schedule, I decided that this pleasant little treat deserved its very own review.

Dragalia Lost Review
Platforms: iOS(Reviewed), Android
Developer: CyGames and Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

As it begins, the story of Dragalia Lost is nothing special, being a fairly standard good versus evil lark against a dark entity that seeks to destroy the world for thinly veiled reasons while prince Euden and his crew of relevant and irrelevant heroes venture forward, fighting off the opposing fiends, and pursuing the powerful elemental dragons that rule over this land in order to recruit their power for an impending battle against this ethereal dark entity.  But then after the story seemingly billows towards its conclusion in chapter 5, it spins things off into another direction, stacking the odds against these characters and making their adventure a more dire one that has them spread further across the land in search of whatever aid they may find. 

All while running into a cavalcade of tropey yet compelling characters along the way, and discovering more about the history and background of this seemingly unremarkable fantasy world.  This is all led by a core cast that, while ultimately well trodden archetypes, receive far more play and attention over time, allowing their characters to blossom into something more remarkable and memorable.  A feat that is thankfully given even to the more ancillary characters— the ones that you can summon via this game’s gacha system. All of them come with their own unique 5-part stories that do wonders to contextualize and endear these seemingly random oddballs to the player beyond just a few voice lines, a spiffy design, and a brief bio.  

In fact, for a mobile game I would say that Dragalia Lost places an incredible amount of emphasis on storytelling, as between the main plot, the character specific stories, and even the stories corresponding to each and every dragon, you could easily fill a full novel or two with all the dialog found in this seemingly innocuous package.  But the developers did not simply stop there, as they gave every periodic event a full and detailed story to call its own, bringing in new characters, locales, and concepts into the game.

Now, this would all be appreciated but somewhat irksome if the storytelling were not up to snuff, and while there are a few characters and story beats that left me feeling unenthused, I actually do like a lot of what the game has to offer, finding the characters and underlying concepts to be compelling, though I do feel the need to mention that it is very… anime, especially with regards to its tone.  This is a game where you can expect to see the protagonist doted on by his self appointed romantic partner who calls him darling, and routinely says “ara ara,” but does not shy away from admitting that people are dying by the hundreds at the hands of the malicious regime that is currently wreaking havoc on the continent. It is only made more preposterous by the events, which have the heroes celebrate Valentines together, hold concerts for dragons that look and talk like modern Japanese pop stars, and fight transdimensional threats that feed off of infinite dark energy, but are weak to fireworks.  I would criticize it… but considering how much I love goofy anime style shenanigans, that’d just be disingenuous.  

As for the game this story is built around, it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that it is one part straight visual novel given the quantity of story on display here.  One part navigation because boy golly is there a lot to do in the main menu, which is admittedly true of most games of this sort. And one part overhead action RPG that would be a dungeon crawler of sorts if its stages, or rather quests, weren’t so short that they could universally be cleared within less than four minutes, with most of them not even lasting two.  This is all a slightly unconventional genre choice given how mobile platforms are not really the best fit for action games, and accordingly the underlying quest gameplay on display here is rather simplistic. 

Players control one character in a party of four, where they are tasked to dash, roll, and attack with context sensitive swipes that are naturally not as precise or responsive as traditional sticks and buttons, but it gets the job done and allows for players to efficiently dish out damage, avoid clearly conveyed enemy attacks, and dodge environmental traps throughout the blocky floor layouts.  All while accumulating meter for special attacks and their dragon transformation, which allows player characters to assume a powerful form designed to rack up damage against powerful foes, but mostly the bosses that either conclude or are the primary focus of each quest.  

It is a fairly simple system, yet an enjoyable one that is divided into small bursts that requires the player to remain active and aware of their surroundings, which is easy for the most part, but some issues do emerge given the title’s platform of choice.  Naturally one’s fingers can obfuscate certain enemies or environmental details, and the game is not fully optimized around the vertical orientation, which can make it difficult to foresee attacks or obstacles coming from the left or right. It’s something the game attempts to fix by adopting an isometric perspective, but it still remains unwieldy in a few spots. 

Such as the endgame, wherein Dragalia Lost opts to boost the challenge level significantly by introducing more elaborate MMO-esque bosses that can decimate an ill-prepared player while encouraging them to boost their cumulative number denoting power, or rather Might, higher and higher.  This is achieved through a myriad of concepts that can easily overwhelm new players, but are wisely drip fed to players from the onset, and… I actually really like what they came up with. There are a lot of little ways that players can upgrade their teams and characters, some of which correspond to the specific character in question, such as their level and linear Final Fantasy XIII-style skill tree, or upgrade characters based on their weapon type or element by erecting and upgrading structures in the city builder sub-game.

I will openly say that it is a rather slow process, as even after playing the game for a month and a half I am not at the level demanded by some of these endgame missions, but I also do not feel a lot of pressure to do so.  For my first two weeks with this game, I played it frequently, going through the expansive story mode, steadily building up my characters’ might, and seeing a lot of what the game had to offer. But after a certain point my time with it became far more casual.  For the past month or so my playtime has mostly involved checking in, doing the daily tasks assigned to all players, coming away with a supple amount of upgrade materials that have some meaningful value, and partaking in the ongoing event. Unlike many of its contemporaries, Dragalia Lost does not overwhelm players with an insatiable list of things to do, and instead provides them with a series of predictable tasks that give them daily rewards.

As for the events themselves, they opt for quality and depth over quantity, being these lengthy affairs that primarily focus on clearing out a few easy stages, as to make the event accessible to new and old players, a light yet enjoyable story, before divulging into a series of single player boss encounters and co-op raid battles.  Both of which offer players with a spectrum of rewards upon each completion, and despite the fact that the player is expected to play through each of them a significant number of times, they remain enjoyable affairs due to how it requires just enough involvement, strategy, and foresight to be enjoyable, but not enough to be overwhelming.  

I also have to say that I found myself greatly enjoying the passive and mutually beneficial nature of the co-op battles, which feature no communication beyond the use of little emotes, but are simple enough to not necessitate anything more, and do bring with them a sense of comradery that I appreciated.  It’s nice to help weaker players out, get help from stronger players, and have everybody walk away from each successful encounter with a bounty of rewards. All of which the player is encouraged to do as co-op quests do not consume stamina, but rather their own stamina equivalent, getherwings. By giving players effectively two forms of stamina, it allows them to play longer, get more materials and rewards, and keeps the online component of the game lively.

The more I parse and think about the intertwining systems seen throughout the game the more… impressed I am by how well thought out and devised they are.  From upgrading equipment to benefit multiple characters instead of just one. Steadily building up permanent buffs that affect entire classes. A reward system that feels profoundly generous at points.  Gameplay that remains simple, yet fun, and through the implementation of auto play and skip tickets avoids a lot of the strains otherwise caused by playing the same missions day in and day out. Along with a personality and charm that makes the game feel… soulful.  

The character artwork and adorable chibi models, the cute menus, the excess of story and forethought put into this world, the bubbly soundtrack that is really just a greatest hits album from Japanese pop artist DAOKO, and the quantity of Japanese voice acting offered throughout each event and story.  The developers put a lot of attention and effort into the presentation and overall aesthetics of Dragalia Lost, resulting in something that does come across as a touch generic and plain at first, but boasts a charisma that kept me playing well after I had played enough for this review.  Even if this game were a manipulative and exploitative title, which it isn’t, I would need to offer it a plethora of praise for its presentation, with my only real grievance or gripe being how the game is really optimized for tablets and larger phones, boasting text that is often a font size too small for my liking on my rinky dink iPhone 6s.

…I feel like I am forgetting something— oh, right, the gacha system itself.  Despite the main story being strongly character focused and often providing little reference to the other characters, a significant draw of this title is the collection and accumulation of a plethora of kawaii anime boys and handsome ladies, and… I’m not a big fan of how they implement it.  While initially it held a great appeal, as players effectively need 20 characters to get through most challenges (a team of 4 characters of varying weapon types, and one healer, for all 5 elements), once I got a team of cuties and weirdos I was happy with, my desire to draw for more characters stopped to the point where I am currently sitting on enough summoning materials to summon… 200 times (which is a lot).

Now, this is due to three reasons.  One, it requires a significant investment to get characters to a useable state, requiring a good amount of EXP crystals, mana for mana circle, and elemental orbs.  As such, I was selective with what characters I used, and once I reached a point where I was satisfied with the teams I had assembled, I lost much incentive to summon more characters.  Reason number two is that summoning does not only summon new characters, it also summons dragons, which basically function as equipment, and despite being more practical than characters in a sense… I started getting annoyed by the number of common dragons I was summoning.  Getting duplicate characters gives players a material that boosts a character’s level cap, but getting a duplicate dragon gives you the ability to increase the power of an existing dragon by a marginal amount. If you get a duplicate of a good dragon, it can be a considerable amount, but if it is a near worthless 3 star dragon, because… they’re all kinda rubbish.  Oh, and reason number 3 is that common 3 stars are too dang common.

There are a scattering of additional miscellaneous gripes I could muster towards this title, such as how Euden’s name in-game is actually whatever the player calls themselves.  How the process of upgrading characters can be a bit more clunky than it ought to be. How the shop and alliance icons on the home menu really ought to have a notification marker and a name next to the respectively, instead of being these weird shapes that I need to remember to tap for my dailies.  Or how tying character voice lines to the home menu was… not a very wise decision, as players can wind up hearing the same phrases ad nauseum during events. But those are all very nebulous details that do little to detract from how much I enjoyed, and am enjoying, Dragalia Lost.  

If I were to be trite and surmise my opinion and thoughts on this game with two words, they would be generous and impressive.  Dragalia Lost manages to be a fulfilling title that offers invested players with a large breadth of content, a design that has the player receive rewards constantly, and a level of presentational polish that did a wonderful job of endearing me to its characters and its world.  It’s a title that managed to sick me in far longer than I originally wanted, and with some awareness of the dangers of live services and mobile gacha games, I still find myself actively wanting to stick with the game in order to see how things will iterate, improve, and expand as time goes on.

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