Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost: 2021 Remix – Ch 1: Story and Aesthetics

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Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! 3, 2, 1 let’s go!

This post is part of a series on the mobile action RPG by Nintendo and Cygames, Dragalia Lost
Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost – 2021 Remix
Chapter 1: Story and Aesthetics
Chapter 2: Play and Progression
Chapter 3: Quests, Events, Modes, and Endgame
Chapter 4: Summoning, Monetization, and Gacha
Chapter 5: Petty Quibbles and Miscellaneous Desires

Back in September 2020, I prepared this overly long and overly detailed analysis and summary of Dragalia Lost, a mobile action RPG by Cygames and Nintendo, which I have been playing on a daily basis since August 2019. Unfortunately, large sections of my analysis were almost instantly outmoded as Dragalia Lost received a positively massive overhaul in the form of its Version 2.0 update (1, 2, 3, 4), which went live as I was releasing my analysis.

This discouraged me from talking about the game in detail, as something I invested over 100 hours into was invalidated overnight. But after another year, I decided it’s finally time to open up the well and try describing and analyzing Dragalia Lost anew. And by anew, I mean with approximately 50% new content, as some sections needed to be added, omitted, or rewritten entirely. 

I would have gotten this together around for the time of its third anniversary, which happened back during late September. But I’m a tax accountant and I had to deal with an October 15th tax deadline, so I’m picking this up about a month late.

Prologue: DL on DL (Down Low on Dragalia Lost)

So, what 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 template does not necessarily say anything about its quality. And what I find so compelling about Dragalia Lost is all in its execution. And in order to describe what I like, and dislike, about this title, I need to indulge in a needlessly elaborate and in-depth discussion. So without further ado, let’s begin.

Chapter 1-1: Main Campaign and Making Chaos

While Dragalia Lost is indeed chiefly an action RPG, it also boasts enough story to rival that of a full-length console RPG or even visual novel. And it achieves this feat through new campaign chapters, story-driven events, and character-specific stories. Due to this fragmented approach, 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 reasons elaborated upon outside of the main campaign. After resurfacing, The Other possesses Euden’s father, kidnaps Zethia, brands Euden a traitor to the throne, 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 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 story arc 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.

Though… that’s not what happened. Due to a desire to keep things going, and a post-launch change in directors, the story of Dragalia Lost gets… odd after its initial two arcs. It complicates itself by introducing numerous antagonists in rapid succession while casting aside the story of defeating The Other in exchange for something with far more factions and complexity. 

Chapter 11 introduces ancient androids from the distant scientifically advanced past. Chapter 13 introduces a character capable of releasing a miasma of evil and corruption. Chapter 14 is the supposed end of The Other arc, but it does not so much as stop the conflict as much as it puts it on hold. Chapter 15 offers a flurry of revelations about the protagonist while introducing a new antagonist faction. Chapter 17 is set on a different continent and sees the character clash with the corrupt Northern Ilian church of Grams. Chapter 19 takes the characters into the fairy kingdom and begins a deluge of revelations that are compounded as the characters are sent on a chase to pursue ultimate power. And in Chapter 21 they go full on endgame JRPG and start fighting against divine beings before taking on satan.

It is scattered and kind of messy, with a few lulls and points in the story when fans got hung up on small details and oversights, but after the latest update as of writing, I think the story is in a good place and I appreciate its evolution over the past year. My only problem is that the main campaign is arguably trying to do too much, and leaves multiple plot threads by the sidelines, while making time to introduce and promote adventurers and dragons for summoning showcases at the end of every month.

Chapter 1-2: Eventful and Enticing!

Now, the campaign is where the core and crux of Dragalia Lost’s story rests, but it expands well beyond any singular narrative, and the secondary way it does this is through a series of events that offer unique content, extra rewards, and a new storyline for players to enjoy. 

These storylines run the gamut, ranging from serious to comedic, playful to somber, and complex to simple. Some are more character-driven, others are built around a distinct story concept, and a few tie directly into the lore and world detailed in the main campaign by showing the player a side of the world mentioned but never explored. 

They offer a great deal of variety, and while many of the earlier events are a tad formulaic, around 2020 the writing team gained the freedom and understanding necessary to tell basically whatever story they wanted to tell without much regard for the related gameplay. Which is for the best, and makes these events feel all the more unique.

To give a few examples: 

  • The Miracle of Dragonyule is a Christmas special about the Halidom crew banning together to save Christmas and build a giant glorious tree while fending off pesky thieving critters. 
  • Fractured Futures is the first year anniversary event, sees 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. 
  • Doomsday Getaway is a July 2020 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 stirred into a tizzy as more and more of their friends wake up dead each morning.
  • Dawn of Dragalia is the 2.5 year anniversary event that shows the world 300 years prior to the main campaign and explores characters previously only mentioned in the main story, and it does a great job of characterizing all who show up in the event.
  • August 2021’s Knights of Alberia focuses on the secondary character of Lief as he meets with his former classmate, who developed a drug addiction, and sees the two banding together to fight against a persistent shady figure from the main campaign.
  • And in the September 2021 event Faith Forsaken, the pope revives Satan in order to prevent a god from destroying all possibility in the world. Which goes about as well as anyone with a fair bit of media literacy would expect.

No matter the exact flavor, I always look forward to what each new event will offer, as they almost always deliver a good story and new characters, some basic content to munch on and grind against for a week or two, and some extra goodies to reward 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 probably the minority of it. You see, for every adventurer and dragon players get in this game about collecting adventurers and dragons, they unlock an accompanying story detailing this character. Thereby giving them a level of characterization 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 5-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? Generally speaking? Yes, quite. 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.

Hell, that’s not even getting into how most Gala adventurers (powerful adventurers from the main campaign who are only available on a limited time basis) are often as substantial and lore-relevant as the main campaign. As they offer insight into events happening in tandem with the campaign and showcase character relationships only implied outside of these snippets.

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, which appropriately 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 heavy with narrative implications

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 extend the life of otherwise forgotten characters in a game with a cast this expansive, and really goes to show just how much the writers at Cygames care about their characters. I just wish there were more of them, as Castle Stories have been shafted in recent months, and are only updated sporatically. 

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 and blasé events to sift through in its backlog. 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… years.

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 many 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 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 story content is not voiced in English, and from a title that was designed with a global, or global-ish, audience in mind.

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, Dragalia Lost is one fine looking 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 gorgeous 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 these sections are clearly designed around the limitations of mobile devices, I think they are quite beautiful. Character models are chibi renditions with N64 hands and Fire Emblem Awakening feet, but all of them are crafted with numerous tiny bits of flair to help the characters stand out from the crowd, and do a wonderful job of bringing the character art to the third dimension. And the deluge of visual effects that play out in combat, while a bit overwhelming in some instances, are flashy, colorful, and do a lot to make combat as enjoyable as it is.

Some 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 make them easy on the eyes as players go through them. And when the environments do deviate from the elemental staples, they often bear wonderful results. Such as the city of Grams in chapter 17, the twisted seaside wonderland seen in the July 2020 event Doomsday Getaway, the gorgeous giant tree environment from chapters 20 and 21, or the nighttime beach environment recently seen in the June 2021 Toll of the Abyss event.

I should also make note of the visual overhaul seen with Version 2.0, which gave this game more of a cel-shaded look, making the characters pop more against the backdrops thanks to the introduction of a black outline. All things considered, I think this change made an already fantastic looking game all the more beautiful.

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.

Truly, my only major gripe with the presentation is how it is used sometimes. In the main campaign, the mappers did a wonderful job of creating gorgeous environments, but many of their respective assets are not used outside of this environment. The dark castle interior of chapter 14, the winter wonderland of chapter 18, and the breezy prairies of chapter 11 are all lovely, but the assets are not used in any content that players are expected to play regularly. I would love to see these assets be used to create battlegrounds for new boss battles, but the developers seem keen on repeating the same, fairly basic, environments for most bosses.

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 fares well. The developers nailed a 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, it takes realistically as few inputs as possible to do most things, and 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. While 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. And this is coming from someone with a fairly small phone (an iPhone 6s).

Nearly 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 four minor quibbles.

On 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 in the English version of the game. 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. This is not the case for the Japanese version from what I have seen, but is still odd nevertheless.

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.

And lastly, while Dragalia is an attractive game, UI design occasionally needs refreshes after features have been added and the way in which people use features have changed. And Dragalia Lost has not had a proper UI overhaul since November 2019. The game still looks good and is intuitive, but a lot of newer UI changes are a touch more basic and typically lack the expected flair in exchange for white menu windows with a hint of flair.

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 songs. They reincorporated them into the game’s themes, produced instrumentals, and used it as a foundation for the auditory identity of Dragalia. This made up the game’s soundscape at launch, but since then it has expanded, with new tracks being added to the game 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 musical rotation. Partially because I can write and edit while listening to it, and partially because it is 60+ tracks of grade-A bops.

However, I must confess that despite loving the game’s soundtrack, I most often play the game with my phone 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. I have everything set up for that, my phone becomes cumbersome to use when I have two cables jutting out from its bottom. This could all be circumvented if my Windows 10 computer could output audio from iOS devices via Bluetooth, or USB, but I couldn’t get it to work right.

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. …Assuming you mix the volume correctly 

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. It looks pretty as all heck. It has next level UI design, barring a few issues. And it sports an amazing soundtrack, with the soundscape only held back by the standards and limitations of mobile gacha RPGs. These are all plenty of good reasons to love and admire this game based on these factors alone, but we have not even gotten into the real meat of the matter, the gameplay. Which I will begin going over in Chapter 2!

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