Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – Chapter 1: Story and Aesthetics

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Back in 2019, I published a review of Draglia Lost, an action RPG made through a collaboration between Nintendo and Cygames, as part of a personal exploration I embarked on to see what the world of mobile gaming, or more specifically gacha gaming, had to offer. I tried a handful of games, documented my thoughts in Natalie Rambles About Gacha Games, and while I did enjoy some titles or think they were neat, the only game that I wound up loving, and sticking with, was Dragalia Lost.

Since then, I have been playing the game on a daily basis, have put an embarrassing number of hours into it, and after going from a casual player to an enfranchised one, I have developed a lot of thoughts about Dragalia. Originally, this was meant to be a review set to coincide with the second anniversary of Dragalia Lost, which launched in September 2018. But I figured that the structure and more free-form nature of my Rambles would be a better platform to discuss the game. Why I love it, what I don’t like about it, and what playing this game is like from the perspective of an enfranchised player, while explaining the game’s systems and flow in great detail.

In fact, I had so much to say, and so many details that I wound up covering that this has blossomed into my longest Ramble ever, to the point where I have decided to split it up into 6 Chapters that I plan on releasing over the next week. But before getting to Chapter 1, I should probably offer a brief overview.

Prologue: Basic Bio

So, what the flipping heck is Dragalia Lost? Well, Dragalia Lost is an overhead 3D action game where a party of four adventurers sporting various weapon types, elements, and character-specific skills, battle against enemies and bosses in real-time combat. Levels, or rather quests, last only a few minutes at most, and while the game starts pretty basic, it does gradually open up to reveal a litany of subsystems, character-specific minutiae, and team-based synergy. All of which is driven by a gacha system where players can summon for new characters in exchange for freemium and premium currency and in accordance with predetermined appearance rates.

Yes, conceptually, it is none too different from the myriad gacha RPGs that have been filling the mobile market over the past few years. But just because something conforms to a reliable and general template does not necessarily say anything about its quality, and what I find so compelling about Dragalia Lost is all in its execution. What it does, how its systems work, and how it is all presented.

Chapter 1-1: Main Campaign and Main Complaints

While Dragalia Lost is indeed chiefly an action game, it also boasts enough story to rival that of a full-length RPG or even visual novel, all added and iterated on periodically with new campaign chapters, events, and character-specific stories. As such, it is hard to view the story as one cohesive entity instead of several distinct sub-entities that vary in quality, tone, and focus. So that’s how I’ll broach this subject.

When viewed from the campaign, Dragalia Lost is the story of prince Euden, the seventh scion to the kingdom of Alberia, who sets off into the woods one day with his sweet and innocent little sister Zethia to form a pact with a dragon, as is customary for members of the royal family. During this venture, things go awry almost immediately, time travel is thrown in from minute 5, and Euden is unwittingly placed in the center of a conflict involving the awakening of a dark entity known as The Other. A fairly standard dark lord who seeks to amass nigh unimaginable power and take over both this kingdom and the world for their own lightly specified reasons. After resurfacing, The Other possesses Euden’s father, kidnaps Zethia, brands Euden a traitor to the throne, is a ripe bastard to all who dwell within Alberia and begins traveling across the land to eliminate powerful elemental dragons strewn throughout the land of Alberia, known as the Greatwyrms.

This would likely be the end for a sort like Euden, but he is fortunate enough to amass a merry band of like-minded adventurers, and also a magical castle known as the Halidom for them to all live and hang out in. With these resources secure, Euden begins combating his possessed father, befriending the Greatwyrms, and learning more about this world as he travels throughout it.

This serves as the crux for the first of three ongoing story arcs throughout the campaign of Dragalia Lost, with the first 5 chapters detailing Euden’s pursuit of the Greatwyrms and attempts to rescue Zethia. This all culminates in the fifth chapter, where the story could have concluded itself, but instead things only get worse for Euden and better for The Other, setting the heroes in a disadvantageous position going forward.

Chapter 6 picks up “some months” later, and begins the second arc of Dragalia Lost, or as I like to call it, the family reunion arc. Since Euden and the crew failed to stop The Other the first time around, they’re left scrambling for allies and allegiances as they plan and prepare to take on The Other via traditional warfare. This sees them hopping from end to end of this nation, meeting up with Euden’s elder siblings, and getting into assorted kerfuffles along the way, all before chapter 10, which offers a deluge of background to The Other and the ancient king Alberius before ending, much like chapter 5 beforehand, with The Other remaining undefeated. Euden does not take this particularly well and, in response, steels himself, dons a new outfit, and is notably less optimistic and youthful, as his character developed beyond the bright-eyed season 1 Shonen protagonist he started out as.

So far, we have two sensible 5 chapter arcs, each with a myriad of unmentioned minutiae involving side characters, lore, world-building, and all of that fun stuff. However, when it came time to continue this arc, which I assumed would culminate in a final battle against The Other in chapter 15 after Euden gained the forces and powers needed, the story took a… different direction.

From chapter 11 onwards, the story begins moving in a scattered direction, with its story lacking the same clearly defined arc structure, and most chapters feeling like disjointed ideas wedged together that spawn a litany of other plotlines. Chapter 11 is all about a resurrected army of battle androids from a society that existed centuries ago. Chapter 12 furthers the relationship between Euden and his siblings as they are placed on opposing sides. Chapter 13 sees the introduction of a new antagonistic variable into the story. Chapter 14 is poised to be a climactic confrontation between Euden and The Other, but… isn’t for various reasons. While chapter 15, the most recent chapter, sees the introduction of a new antagonistic faction, even though The Other still has not been defeated, and we just introduced an uber-destructive edgeboy two chapters ago.

However, I am nowhere near as critical of the story as some people. It is an ongoing narrative, the developers have a clear plan in place, and while there are a plethora of little things I could get hung up on, I still find the major events of the story, general presentation, and associated dialogue to still be something well worth getting excited for every time an update comes around. Which tends to be every other month.

Chapter 1-2: Eventful, But Expected

Now, the campaign is where the core and crux of Dragalia Lost can be found, but as is a staple for live services like Dragalia, the game also boasts a rotating series of events that are held for a certain number of days, offering unique content, endeavor rewards, and a new storyline to enjoy. These stories tend to be disconnected and have very little relevance to the campaign, with most only offering light lip service to the going-ons and trepidations of the story, and most being set in some ambiguous point before chapter 10, when the characters are just chilling out and get knee-deep in somebody else’s trouble.

These events vary in content, and I will describe the gameplay differences later on, but the majority of them are comparable to an incidental OVA or filler episode from an anime. Euden, Ranzal, Elisanne, Cleo, Luca, and maybe some other characters, are off somewhere doing something when something bad happens, they need to protect the people and places around them, and battle an opposing force or entity over and over again. New characters are introduced and made available to the player, a new antagonist is often thrown in for good measure, and tidbits of lore about the world are vicariously shared, as these events often take place in an environment distant from the Halidom.

To give a few examples, The Miracle of Dragonyule is a Christmas special about the Halidom homies banning together to save Christmas and build a giant glorious tree while fending off pesky thieving critters. Fractured Futures was the first year anniversary event, and saw Euden travel to an alternate dark timeline where he failed to fell The Other and defeat a dragon that can manipulate the fabric of space-time. While July 2020’s Doomsday Getaway was a summer-themed murder mystery inspired by both Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and the Danganronpa series, where ten characters are tormented by a malicious magical tapir and big murder is afoot on a tropical island.

Bottom line is that the events play it fast and loose with the subject matter, and I love them for that. When they’re funny, they’re a blast, they have enough room for sadder or more somber moments, and after getting to know the main cast so well in the campaign, it is fun to see them mingle and share the spotlight with new faces. My only qualm with the storylines these events offer would be how formulaic a lot of the earlier ones were, feeling the need to justify most of the gameplay with these short quests sliced between story beats. But as of late the developers have been keeping the story and gameplay of these events cleanly divided, following an opening prologue that is.

It is a minor, yet very welcome, change of pace that allows me to enjoy the event stories on my own time. Which is easier now than ever due to the quality of more recent events, which have ditched and diminished their reliance on creating a justification for gameplay and instead focus on telling a story first and foremost. Which is really all I, and many other players, want from these events. A good story, new characters, some content to munch on and grind against for a week or two, and some extra goodies as a reward for diligent and regular play.

Chapter 1-3: Side Story Spectacular

Those are the stories to be found while doing quests and perusing the premiere content, but that is far from the entirety of Dragalia Lost’s story content. Hell, that’s easily the minority of it. You see, for every adventurer and dragon you get in this game about collecting adventurers and dragons, you unlock an accompanying story detailing this character, giving them a degree of life and complexity you don’t see in most other gacha games, where characterization is limited to sound clips, a brief bio, and character art.

For adventurers, these take the form of brief multi-episode stories that offer some insights into the various characters recruited into Euden’s ranks, showing off their personalities, telling a tight little story, and giving players something substantial to latch onto. Are these stories particularly good? Well, when taken as a whole, they are… mixed. A lot of the launch adventurer stories tend to be very brief, formulaic, and base their characters on anime tropes and familiar archetypes. It is clear that these were created in bulk in order to flesh out this game’s initial roster of characters, and made while the game’s identity was still being refined.

However, in going through these adventurers in (mostly) release order, I began to notice a significant uptick in quality as I got into the more recent stuff. Newer adventurer stories are longer, more original, have more complex characterization, and do a far better job of establishing that Dragalia Lost takes place in a unified world. The earlier adventurer stories tended to only focus on the main five characters interacting with this newcomer, and everybody else is either a recycled background NPC or merely mentioned. But now, it is common to see adventurers pop up in each other’s stories, which is not only a neat bit of fan service, but it gives greater life and purpose to these characters.

Take, for example, Templar Hope, a character introduced on March 12, 2020, who serves as a variant of the pre-existing launch character of the same name. His story functions as a direct continuation of his original adventurer story, casting away his priestly duties as he pursues his lifelong dream of becoming a knight. It places the character of Tobias, as Hope’s mentor figure, whose rigidness clashes against Hope’s spry optimism. And it features another look at how Paladyns, a high ranking form of holy knight in the world of Dragalia Lost, goes about their training, vicariously adding to the background of characters like Elisanne and Julietta. But even beyond that, it is still a good 20-minute story about a young man whose determination and conviction allow him to overcome poorly stacked odds and hardships.

On the other end of things, there are dragon stories, which offer the reader a look into the many immortal beings that control the elements of Dragalia Lost’s world. But whereas the adventurer stories often serve as either an origin story or a day-in-the-life-of look into the character beyond the character art, dragon stories take the form of mythological fables. Tales pertaining to the history of the dragons, an encounter they had with a human, or whatever anecdote the writer had rattlin’ round the ol’ noggin. Some show the dragons as helpful, others as destructive, sometimes dragons cross paths, sometimes they play a pivotal part in great wars or conflicts, and sometimes they’re just a goofball who likes to get into all sorts of weird scrambles. They’re varied, they’re rightfully brief, and they definitely nail a mythological feel, without ever being too overbearing or obsessed with reprising an antiquated vernacular just for the sake of it.

Finally, there is Castle Stories, which mostly involve two previously unrelated adventurers with a common bond partaking in some form of adventure or general merrymaking, offering players a glimpse into a unique character dynamic otherwise unseen throughout the rest of the game. They are short, only lasting about five minutes, but they can be jovial and insightful little asides that extends the life of otherwise forgotten characters in a game with a cast this overwhelmingly expansive, and really goes to show just how much the writers at Cygames care about their characters.

Chapter 1-4: Lost and Found in Localization

Generalizing my thoughts, I would say that Dragalia Lost is among the best-written RPGs I’ve gone through due to how much detail and character are put into every story snippet available in the game. It is certainly not bereft of faults, as there are a scattering of unremarkable characters, blasé events to sift through in its backlog, and I am not super confident in where the story is heading at the moment. However, it does far more than I would have ever expected from a mobile game like this, and I have been having a wonderful time making my way through its dense narrative backlog these past few months.

However, a lot of my fondness for this game’s story stems from its actual writing, and specifically its localization. Rather than being handled by an internal team, Dragalia Lost has been localized by 8-4 Ltd., who you might know as the people behind the Japanese to English translations of Nier Automata, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, and SaGa: Scarlet Grace.

They’re a fantastic localization studio, and with Dragalia Lost, they opted for something more liberal than most of their other translations in order to create something more palatable to an English-speaking audience. Translation diehards might take offense to this, but I personally don’t really care because the script created by 8-4 is really good. The character dialogue is rich with personality. The script flutters between erudite fantasy-era theatrics and contemporary jargon. It managed to capture my attention during the serious moments and left me with a doofy smile on my face during the comedic bits.

My only qualm with the localization is how it sometimes clashes with the Japanese dub in fairly obvious ways. Sometimes short sound bites are stretched across two sentences. Sometimes spoken English words spoken by the Japanese voice actors are different from the subtitles, and like half the character names were changed in the translation process. Most of the time this results in a very minor alteration, such as changing Eudiel to Euden, Nhaam to Notte, Clau to Cleo, but other times it is jarring, such as how the event character Wu Kong was originally named Goku in Japanese and whose translated name has to do with how it can be read in both Japanese and Chinese, and the localizers opted for the Chinese version

I do not mind these changes— in fact, I think the English versions are better for the most part, but it is odd to see such a discrepancy in a game where most content is not fully voiced in English, and from a title that was designed with a global, or global-ish, audience in mind.

Oh, and the reason why I play with the Japanese dub instead of the English dub is due to the simple fact that most of the game is unvoiced in English, but all main campaign chapters and certain adventurer stories are fully voiced in Japanese.

Chapter 1-5: Dragalia be Pretty

So, the story of Dragalia Lost definitely gets a gold star from me, but before diving into the mesh that is its gameplay and slew of mechanics, let’s talk about the presentation, because hot damn, is Dragalia Lost one fine looking video game.

Character designs are striking and distinct, with the game boasting an impressive assortment of handsome waifus and beautiful husbandos. Their key art is flushed with personality and charisma, giving them an immediate and easily recognizable identity. The full-screen art seen in the campaign and events punctuates whatever moment it is paired with and is beautiful when rendered on its own. The visual novel style story sequences are lively and expressive, with characters jittering, jumping, and teetering about as the metaphorical camera switches between them. While background artwork consists of painterly fantastical backdrops with minor animations in the form of moving clouds and fluttering wind.

When embarking on quests, the game shifts to 3D characters and environments, and while all of them are clearly designed for mobile devices, with basic map design and an ideally zoomed out overhead camera angle, I think the game still shines regardless of the distance. Despite being chibi renditions, every character model is lousy with little design details but holds enough of a distinctive identity and color scheme for characters to be easily identifiable even when things get busy. Which they often do, with all the flashy skill effects, enemy attacks, and attack sparks that fill combat. But enemy attacks remain clear enough to be seen throughout the barrage of sparkles and numbers, causing combat to never feel a struggle of comprehension. …At least once you disable the combat log and camera shake settings.

Environments skew towards the blasé fantasy themes of grass land, lava land, lake land, and cave land, but all of them are crafted with an assortment of small details and design touches that help these environments pop and makes them easy on the eyes as players go through them repeatedly. And when the environments do deviate from the elemental staples, they often bear wonderful results, as seen recently in the dark castle environment of Chapter 14, and the twisted seaside wonderland seen in the July 2020 event Doomsday Getaway.

It makes me wish there was official support for the widescreen mode you see some Android players forcing into the game, or just some way to get around the fact that the game’s visibility is limited by how it is a vertical phone game. But at the very least, I can’t say it isn’t properly designed around this limitation.

Chapter 1-6: Dragalia be Stylish

As a mobile live service RPG, players are naturally going to be spending hours looking at the menus, UI, and everything associated with it. It is actually quite easy for games to get by and get through with fairly basic or mundane yet functional UIs, but much like with its visuals in general, Dragalia Lost goes one step beyond.

The developers did nothing short of an amazing job here, and absolutely nailed a wonderful balance between something stylish and functional. Icons are distinguished with unique art, come in various shapes and sizes, expand and animate whenever touched, and overall self-explanatory. Everything is colorful and vibrant without ever being obnoxious. Even when the UI is playing it safe with basic confirmation buttons or text boxes, it has an appreciated pinch of flair with a circular gradient effect. Subtle flakey icons float throughout menu backgrounds, preventing the game from ever looking cold or truly static.

It’s crisp, it’s pretty, through successive UI improvements it takes realistically as few inputs as possible to do most things, and even after looking at the main screen for so long, I still find myself appreciating the little things that cause this game to stand out next to more aesthetically restrained menus, even if they are similar in regards to functionality. During combat, however, the UI is rightfully reserved, condensing the HUD down into the corners, top, and bottom of the screen to maximize the player’s visibility. The buttons are still large enough to be easily tapped but spaced out in such a way that there is little risk of tapping the wrong thing at the wrong time.

Everything about Dragalia Lost’s UI feels like something from an era beyond every other mobile game I have played, striking such a delicate balance between personality and functionality that I wish I could praise it with no reservation. Unfortunately, I do have three minor quibbles.

In the home screen, there are four icons wedged near the center-left of the screen for notifications, endeavors, alliances, and the shop, none of which are labeled. While their functions and purpose are learnable and explanatory enough, it is nevertheless odd for them, and the two icons for Goodies and More, to be unlabeled when everything else in the game’s intertwining menus is labeled and labeled well.

In combat, players continuously amass a series of buffs, debuffs, and conditions that are represented as rows of tiny icons above their usable skills. However, there is no legend to break down what each of these icons is for, and there are so many it is hard to keep track of what is what, which turns what should be useful information into a bunch of multicolored circles.

For most of its text, Dragalia Lost uses the extra bold and condensed variant of TW cen MT, and while the font in its base form is readily legible and aesthetically appealing, it does not necessarily read well on a smartphone screen, especially with the ever-common mobile game obsession with tiny text. I would comment on how I wish this could be changed, but I’m sure that would be too much trouble to even bother at this point because they would need to check EVERYTHING to make sure that the text flows properly.

Chapter 1-7: Dragalia be Boppin’

When it came time to giving Dragalia Lost a unique auditory identity, Cygames approached Japanese pop sensation DAOKO in order to license many of her biggest and most popular tracks, reincorporating existing songs for its many themes, producing instrumental versions and remixes, and using it as a foundation for the auditory identity of Dragalia as its sound team paired these existing tracks with original compositions created specifically for this game. This made up the game’s soundscape at launch, but since then it has expanded, with new tracks being added to the game periodically to coincide with key events, all coming from a wide variety of Japanese musical artists.

It is certainly a unique way to go about creating a soundtrack for a mobile game, but it is a decision that undoubtedly paid off, as Dragalia Lost’s soundtrack is nothing short of fantastic. From catchy home themes to the booming boss themes, and the litany of incidental tracks in between. It is probably one of the best soundtracks to any mobile game that I can think of, and its regularly expanding soundtrack is something that has become a foundational part of my recent musical rotation. Partially because I can write and edit while listening to it, and partially because it is 40+ tracks of grade-A bops.

However, I must confess that despite loving the game’s soundtrack, I most often play the game with my iPhone 6s on silent mode, so I rarely experience the game’s full audio beyond story segments. And for two core reasons.

The first is that I do not particularly enjoy listening to the first few seconds of songs ad nauseam, which often happens in Dragalia Lost as one hops between menus and quests. While the second is the simple fact that in order to listen to it on my computer headphones, I need to run an audio cable from my phone and into my computer. And while I have everything set up for that, my phone becomes cumbersome to use when I have two cables jutting out from its bottom, and it does not fit nicely into my phone stand. This could all be circumvented if my Windows 10 computer could output audio from iOS devices via Bluetooth, but after 4 hours of troubleshooting, I have reached the conclusion that this simply cannot be done.

Beyond the soundtrack, Dragalia Lost also features a vibrant and lively soundscape with character-specific voice barks, enemy grunts, a plethora of hit-based sound effects, and a plentiful amount of Japanese voice acting. Some might not really care for this frantic mesh of sounds, but I actually like how chaotic it is with all the strikes, barks, and warnings. It makes me feel like a lot is happening at once, and even with so many audio effects playing at once, they never truly overpower the music they are paired with.

To conclude this initial chapter, Dragalia Lost delivers one of the most expansive stories I have seen from any individual game, including full-length visual novels. Looks pretty as all heck. Has next level UI design, barring a few issues. And sports an amazing soundtrack, with the soundscape only behind held back by the standards and limitations of mobile gacha RPGs. These are all plenty of good reasons to love and admire this game, but we have not even gotten into the real meat of the matter, the gameplay. Which I will begin going over in Chapter 2!

Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost:
Chapter 1: Story and Aesthetics
Chapter 2: Systems, Gameplay, and Progression
Chapter 3: Quests, Events, and Endgame
Chapter 4: Summoning, Monetization, and Gacha
Chapter 5: Love, Loss, and Gripes
Chapter 6: Dragalia Digest and Developments

Note: This post was finalized on September 14th, 2020. Any changes to the systems, mechanics, and so forth announced or implemented after this date are not reflected in Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 of this multi-part article.

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  1. ericshanrick

    Looking back on this since the Dragalia lost story was the most captivating one I’ve experienced in a mobile game.