Yay! Yay! Yay! Yay! …One last time.
Chapter 1: In Memoriam
On November 30, 2022, at 00:02 AM, I finished my final celebratory run of Morsayati’s Reckoning with my team of The Prince, Elisanne, Ranzal, and Cleo. It seemed like a fitting way to end things. Having the four initial heroes, empowered after their long journey, fending off a world-ending threat one final time. Instead of seeing the results screen, showing me that I amassed resources I could never use, even if I wanted to, I was redirected to the title screen and a message saying that ‘service has ended.’
After running for four years, Dragalia Lost is no more. Its servers had been shut down and, unless the reverse engineering project ever amounts to anything, this marked the last time I will ever play Dragalia Lost.
This was a loss that struck me particularly hard, as Dragalia Lost has become such an important game to me over these past 3 years. It became part of my daily routine. I allowed it to influence my sleep schedule. And I had not gone a single day without playing it since I first checked it out as a lark back in August 2019. I followed the game’s development and community closely. I invested what I can only estimate as over 3,500 hours with the title. And it is a title that has earned its place as one of my favorite games of all time.
This is a sad state of affairs, but also one that I knew was coming for a long while. A near-rule for every live service is that, eventually, it will be shut down. I had been aware of this since long before I started playing Dragalia Lost, and I also knew that the game did not have the same devoted following as many larger live services. Meaning its reckoning was only a matter of time.
End of service on the title was announced all the way back on March 22, 2022, and it was an announcement that the community took hard. Previously, in August 2021, it was announced that content released for Dragalia Lost would be scaled back. But in September 2021, the director, Yuji Okada, promised a new series of endgame battles and the campaign was still getting monthly updates. So, come March, the community was expecting another Dragalia Digest to celebrate the 3.5 year anniversary. Instead, we were told that the end was nigh.
The final adventurers, dragon, wyrmprints, and event were added before the end of March and, come April, the outline for the game’s life was made clear. Over the next four months, the final two chapters of the main campaign were released along with the promised endgame battles. This all came to an end on July 26, 2022 with the release of part two of chapter 26 and legend difficulty of Surtr’s Devouring Flame.
Then, on August 30, 2022, the end of service date was announced as November 30, 2022, giving players three months to enjoy the game. To enjoy it as it lingered in this maintenance state, going through recycled content, all before Dragalia Lost was no more.
So, now that the game is well and truly gone, I would like to take this opportunity to discuss it in a prolonged ramble. I previously did so with 2020’s Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost and Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost: 2021 Remix. But this year’s overly long novella-length ramble about Dragalia Lost will not be the 2022 Remix. Instead, it will be THE FINAL.
Chapter 1-1: What Made Dragalia Special?
In the world of gaming, shutdowns like this are exceedingly common, so I should probably begin by highlighting several reasons why I consider Dragalia Lost to be a special game in the world of mobile live services. I have already sung its praises in great detail in the past, but let me go through the basics.
Like a lot of gacha games, one of the biggest appeals of Dragalia Lost is its cast of characters. Despite having a massive cast of over 200 playable characters, Dragalia never left any of them as just a brief bio, a profile image, model, and varying levels of gameplay utility. Instead, it placed a far larger focus on exploring and representing these characters as… characters.
Every playable adventurer was given a 15 to 40 minute story to call their own, illustrating their personality, background, and why they decided to join up with the Halidom. Most characters were featured in pieces of official artwork beyond their portrait art, via both promotional art and wyrmprints, making them feel like an even greater part of this world. Nearly every adventurer was featured in the official Dragalia Life comic at some point, giving them additional life in the form of a cute gag comic. And from June 2020 to March 2022, the majority of new adventurers played a relevant role in the main campaign or an ongoing special event.
Though, this would not mean much if the characters themselves were not compelling. While I will admit that a lot of the initial adventurers are kind of one note, the character writing got significantly better over the game’s first year. So much better that it eventually reached a point where it stopped being ‘impressive for a mobile game’ and became plain old impressive.
Characters were basic enough to be easily understood, but all had at least some level of depth to them, to the point where I can, fairly easily, imagine why any given character would be someone’s favorite. The English script did an excellent job of conveying character personality, with many members of the cast adopting affects, quirks, or phrases to help them feel distinct next to others. And I do need to emphasize just how much I adore the designs of them, with every piece of portrait art conveying so much energy and personality and nearly every design being iconic in its own way.
The story of Dragalia Lost is a grand epic the likes of which could only ever truly be told through the medium of video games. It is a story spanning well past a million words, with so many layers that it dwarfs even the deepest visual novel. Something that contains so many settings, characters, and genres that it truly gives the story a global feel.
The core story of Dragalia Lost is a fairly standard world saving narrative. One about a group of young people using the power of bonds and friendship to battle a deific being hellbent on destroying the world. It is a story that would and could warrant its own essay-length analysis on its own. Something highlighting instances where things were clearly rewritten, superfluous elements that could have been cut, and parts where the pacing flutters between staggered and rushed. However, I still view the main campaign to be a greatly impressive work, fueled by an ambition and desire to make something that felt truly grand. Something with a cast of dozens upon dozens and a history spanning centuries.
All of this is propped up by a series of smaller sub-stories in the form of events. You have events that offer a comedic diversion from the often heavy tones of the main campaign, showing a lighter side of the world. You have side stories that switch up the setting and cast in order to shine a light on an underdeveloped aspect of the mythology. You have events that decide to switch up the genre, because the writers wanted to do something completely different. And then you have those that directly follow up on the main campaign, expanding it in a way that would seem distracting if the story were to be told in a strictly linear manner.
When everything is congealed and blended into a single entity, I find the cumulative story of Dragalia Lost to be something beyond impressive, and a genuine inspiration to me as a writer. It manages to feel cumulative yet diverse, and features a grand scale while still finding the time to care for and develop individual characters.
In the world of mobile RPGs, the de facto gameplay format is, or at least was circa 2018, that of a turn-based title, where players had to rely on stats, sets, and basic strategies to clear content. Dragalia Lost differentiated itself from those games by being an overhead isometric action game where players used a series of taps, holds, and icon taps to control characters in geometrically simple environments. This immediately caused the game to stand out next to many peers, and led the developers to refine things, resulting in… one of the best overhead action RPGs I have ever had the privilege to play.
That might sound a bit strange as, when compared to console action RPGs, the sheer number of things the player can do is rather limited. That’s because this game is designed to be played with a single finger, and because the true depth of Dragalia’s gameplay comes from everything surrounding the player’s inputs. Learning the patterns of enemies and bosses, getting your numbers big enough to tackle content, mastering the mechanics pivotal to success, and learning how to effectively use the tools available to you.
To me, the best demonstration of this can be found in Dragalia’s many boss encounters. From the High Dragon Trials to the Rise of the Sinister Dominion to the Trials of the Mighty, the game offers a large number of intense encounters where players need to take time to learn a fight. Both to help inform the player on what composition they should have as they enter the fight, along with the ebb and flow of the fight itself. Yet even when the boss is defeated, there is enough stimulating stuff to make the fights highly replayable. Which is good, because, like most live services, grinding is expected!
Art & Music:
While a generation behind many newer mobile live services in terms of graphics, I find Dragalia Lost to still be an utterly beautiful game. The chibi 3D character models are meticulously detailed renditions of the cast. The character designs are great across the board, capturing the general look typical of Japanese fantasy games, while still having the aesthetic leniency to incorporate more modern elements into these designs. The environments pop with colors and occasionally left me dazzled with their display of creativity and detail. The UI manages to be both stylish and vibrant while never being intrusive to the overall gameplay.
It is, quite simply, one of the most visually endearing games I have ever seen, and when it is at its best, it is utterly incredible. However, the one thing that potentially outclasses the look of Dragalia is its music. There are dope tone-setting pieces that complement the story. Cheery quest themes that urge players to go out to adventure and nab them goodies. Intense boss themes that make even your 100th run of the same fight still feel epic. A stupidly catchy menu theme that I could probably listen to for days. And then there are the event themes.
At some point, the game just decided to introduce a new song every month to complement an event, and about 90% of them are absolute bangers. Honestly all the music is so good that it will probably outlive the game… and it already has.
Chapter 1-2: Why Did Dragalia Die?
When a game like this is being shut down, the first natural question is… why. “Why is the game shutting down?” However, the answer to this question is rarely simple, and is almost always attributable to a combination of factors. Most commonly: the game not bringing in enough revenue, a dwindling playerbase, developers wanting to pursue other more profitable opportunities, development issues too expensive to solve, staff turnover, license expiration, embezzlement— you get the idea.
And with Dragalia Lost… its problems were plentiful.
Problem 1: The Japanese Audience ‘Hates’ Dragalia
While Dragalia Lost was successful when it first launched in Japan, there soon developed a narrative about the game not doing as well as it could have due to a pair of controversies.
The first dates back to January 2018, when Nintendo launched a lawsuit against mobile game developer Colopl over patent infringement related to the control scheme used in Dragalia. This culminated in Colopl paying Nintendo 3.3 billion yen in 2021.
The other one stems from some interview between Dragalia Lost’s original director, Hiroki Matsuura, saying negative things about Fate/Grand Order, which somehow resulted in the game getting shunned by the Japanese audience. However, I have never seen the actual source for this information, and I genuinely have no clue where the source to this story came from.
I think that this narrative might have emerged due to a lack of communication between the English and Japanese fanbases, which is a pretty common occurrence. Through a mixture of language barriers and conversational telephone, it is easy for a story like this to be passed down, exaggerated, and for facts to get lost in the shuffle.
Problem 2: Going Global in Two-Thousand-Never
For the entirety of its existence, Dragalia Lost was only available in a select few regions. Specifically, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macau, United States, United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada, Singapore, and New Zealand. This meant that if players were not in these regions, they would need to do some additional work to play these games. However, most of the time it just required them to sideload an APK.
Some community members insinuated that the game would have done significantly better if it launched globally, or at least in more European countries, but I never really agreed with this approach. The way I saw it, Dragalia Lost launched in every major market that it would have most likely succeeded in, and it was never going to get more than the English, Chinese, and Japanese scripts the game launched with.
Yes, the playerbase and revenue would have been larger if the game was more readily available in more countries, that’s just math. But I have never particularly agreed with the narrative that it would gain a dramatically larger playerbase if it launched in other markets. Even massive games like Fate/Grand Order took 7 bloody years to release in Europe and Latin America, so I would imagine that there are good reasons why certain games take a while to or simply never launch globally.
Problem 3: Nintendo Marketing and Promotion
While Nintendo promoted Dragalia Lost ahead of launch and throughout roughly its first year, the publisher became less involved with the title after the first anniversary. They occasionally brought it up in their newsletters, and hosted the videos on their Nintendo Mobile YouTube channel, but considering their reach, they could have done a lot more. Instead, Nintendo decided to shine a spotlight on their newer mobile titles, Dr. Mario World and Mario Kart Tour, along with the myriad of games they were releasing for the Switch.
They also did not arrange any crossovers with Nintendo IP beyond Fire Emblem, when I think something like a Legend of Zelda collab would have been monumental for the game’s longevity. …Actually, the Fire Emblem collab likely only happened due to the enduring popularity of Fire Emblem Heroes. A game that will also, eventually, undergo its own EOS. …But so long as it keeps bringing in over $100 million a year, it should remain a pillar of Nintendo’s mobile library.
Problem 4: Custody Problems
Dragalia was the property of both Nintendo and Cygames, and while the two have a presumably good relationship, joint ventures like this always run into certain issues behind the scenes. Who owns what, who pays the bills, how should revenue be split, who gets creative control, and so forth.
Relationships like this can be quite fragile and, after about four years, I can see why Nintendo and Cygames would want to put an experiment like this to bed. Once a venture like Dragalia stops being profitable, rights issues can become messy, and the parties typically agree to shut down this venture and move on to something else.
Problem 5: How Do You Expect Me to Play With Glass?
When the concept of an action-based mobile game is brought up in more console and PC-oriented circles, there is a common reaction from people. They say that while the game might look fun or promising; they are not interested in playing a game where they need to control a character using a touch screen.
This is a problem that mobile games have been facing since their inception and now, even after ‘everybody’ has been using a smartphone for a decade. There is still a stigma against phone games trying to simulate things designed for a more ‘traditional’ input device. While I respect people’s preferences, Dragalia Lost has taught me just how useful and intuitive a touch-only interface can be for games, and I think it is a shame people passed this game aside because it was mobile only.
Problem 6: The First Anniversary
The first anniversary of Dragalia Lost was a time of high spirits and celebration across the community. The title just received what was widely considered its best event yet. There were oodles of promotions, with log-in bonuses and free daily summons. …And the game was set to receive a slew of endgame content in the form of the Expert and Master difficulty for the 5 Advanced Dragon Trials… Which was paired with the introduction of 40 High Dragon weapons for players to craft and upgrade.
I will go into detail about this more in a later section, but this was seen as the developers introducing far too much content at once. The Standard difficulty Advanced Dragon Trials were already a high barrier for many players to surmount, so asking them to take on two dramatically harder versions of these 5 battles was a rather bold decision. But to make things worse, the developers decided to introduce Time Attack Rankings for the Advanced Dragon Trials. The Time Attack Rankings not only began days after this content dropped, but they came with significant rewards for those who ranked high on the list.
This all brewed into a cocktail of hostility and made the co-op rooms for these 10 new quests thoroughly toxic for roughly a month. The experience was so bad that some players just left the game, as the game was asking simply too much of them.
Problem 7: Version 2.0
On its second anniversary, Dragalia Lost went down for 12 hours of maintenance while the developers changed many of the core inner workings of the game. They overhauled the weapon system, reworked the wyrmprint system, gave the game a more cel-shaded look, added an unpopular battle royale mode, and rebalanced every adventurer in the game. It was a lot to throw at players all at once, and the initial reception was, as you could imagine, mixed.
The game simultaneously got simpler and more complicated, and while I personally think that Version 2.0 was dramatically better than what came before it, others do not feel as much. They thought the game was better when there were fewer equipment slots, when the Agito weapons did not cost a king’s ransom to craft, and when the co-op versions of certain quests were easier. Seeing all these changes inspired a contingent of players to leave Dragalia Lost, and made pretty much every existing high level gameplay discussion irrelevant. Which, for the record, is why some people are invested in games like this.
Problem 8: Nihilistic Curse
Six months after the developers overhauled things with Version 2.0, they decided that the game needed some rebalancing for future content and began rolling out bosses with the ability to nullify most offensive and defensive buffs. This ability, known as Curse of Nihility, made certain adventurers virtually useless in future content, as it left them unable to empower their team, and unable to trigger their own abilities. While the developers upgraded certain adventurers to perform better in this new content, there were still dozens of adventurers who were never afforded such a privilege.
This miffed a lot of players and gave them reason to leave the game behind, and even to this day, I know some fans are bitter at Nihility for ‘killing’ the game.
Problem 9: Come To My Farm and Be Our Cow!
Since its launch, Dragalia Lost has been a game where progress was slow and where players needed a mixture of patience and dedication in order to make progress. While the game tried to accommodate new players with the Royal Regimen, the Event Compendium, and so forth, it also had to keep existing players busy while the developers worked on new content.
At first, Twinkling Sands were the big bottleneck, as they were only distributed in events and used for the best weapons at launch. Then it was farming enough void materials from Void Battles. Then it was High Dragon and Agito weapon materials, and then, with one of the worst Version 2.0 adjustments of September 2020, it was rupies. This created a farming/grinding problem that inspired players to play a lot of Agito, High Dragon, Void Dragon, and Chimera battles to farm Rupies and materials. Which lasted until April 2021, when many quests got a 40% haircut for stamina costs, making farming far easier.
This was later amended in September 2021 with stamina adjustments for Agito quests and the drop rates adjustments for various quests. And ever since that update, the only truly significant place to farm materials have been the most recently released content. Rise of the Sinister Dominion and the Primal Dragon Trials.
The point is that the game pretty much always had farming problems, but this is also a problem with… basically every online game. Leaving an online game because of grinding issues is a pretty common criticism toward any live service. In my opinion though, Dragalia did a generally good job at getting rid of the old grinding methods as they introduced new ones, which not every live service does, so there’s that.
Problem 10: Cluttered Market
The video game market is a hostile and fickle thing, flooded with an untold myriad of games all vying for players’ attention, and the gacha market is one of the most fickle of them all. Games constantly shut down and become nothing more than a memory, while newer and more lavish ones take their place. Sure, the audience for gacha is expanding, thanks to generation-defining titles, but that does not fix the problem, and only makes the market more hostile as bigger fish are thrown into the aquarium.
In 2018, Dragalia was a fairly high budget title with its chibi 3D models, detailed animations, action-oriented boss encounters, plentiful voice acting, and extensive story. However, over the past 4 years, the standards have changed dramatically, as people now expect to be able to play games in fully 3D worlds with moveable cameras on their phones. Not isometric 3D arena-based titles.
Dragalia occupied an awkward middle ground. A game that was higher budget than titles that use 2D assets and turn-based battle systems, such as your Fire Emblem Heroes and GranBlue Fantasy, but not even up to Uma Musume’s ‘better looking than a Vita game’ production. It was rapidly outmoded by competition, and I don’t think that any game made Dragalia look older than Genshin Impact.
I have such mixed feelings about Genshin, but here… I think it is responsible for a lot of gacha games dying. To many players, Genshin looked like an evolution of gacha. It looked and played like a ‘modern video game.’ Yes, a lot of people got into Genshin without being gacha fans. However, there were a lot of people who jumped ship to the new hotness, or tried doubling up on two titles before dropping the less engaging one.
Problem 11: The Sin of Generosity
Dragalia Lost quickly developed a reputation for being a generous gacha game, due to the ample amounts of freemium summoning currency offered, the rebalanced pro-player summoning system introduced in April 2019, and the free summon specials. It was a game where players could remain relevant and competitive with other players without spending large sums on this game.
While this meant that the game was easier to recommend— the generosity claim is what attracted me to Dragalia in the first place— it also meant that many players were not spending much on this game. At least compared to the cash people drop on the likes of Fate/Grand Order and Genshin Impact. And even if they did… the game did not give them particularly good rewards.
Problem 12: The Monetization Sucked
In Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost: 2021 Remix – Ch 4: Summoning, Monetization, and Gacha, I explained how frustratingly poor the monetization system in Dragalia Lost was. There was simply too much the player could choose to buy, too many things that were not worth the amounts the game was asking for, and too few opportunities to outright buy desired characters. The cost of doing so ranged from spending ~$15 for a Dream Summon Special (where you choose the unit you want) to paying $200-300 to summon a feature unit. I go into more detail in the bit above, but the summary is that monetization was not a strength of Dragalia.
Problem 13: Diminishing Returns
…Let’s do a brief rundown of how Dragalia Lost was tracking financially since its inception. Now, I do not have full data on this, naturally. Instead, I am relying on estimates publicly reported by Sensor Tower, who reported the following revenue amounts throughout the game’s life.
$28 million by October 2018
$58.4 million by December 2018
$75 million by February 2019
$100 million by July 2019
$106 million by September 2019
$123 million by January 2020
$146.4 million by October 2020
$154.8 million by March 2021
$163.3 million by October 2021
$168 million by June 2022
Fixing together a quick graph shows that the game was seeing diminishing returns for quite a while, but I’d say that things were only getting ‘bad’ after October 2020… And I think the reason might have been the sparking system. The Wyrmsigil Summon. After the September 2020 Version 2.0 update, players were able to spend a finite amount on a unit in order to add them to their roster. Before this, it was entirely possible for players to spend over $300 on summoning and come away with nothing. Giving a harsh limit like this, combined with the game’s continued generosity, very well could have led the game’s revenues to diminish. …Either that, or the whales jumped ship to Genshin Impact. Which came out in September 2020. Maybe a mix of both.
Now, based on the October 2020 to October 2021 data, players spent $16.9 million on Dragalia Lost, which is not chump change. That is possibly enough to continue the development of a game of the scale and quality of Dragalia Lost. But without actual financials, I can only make theories.
Problem 14: Opportunity Costs
In game development, as both a publisher and developer, you have a goal to pursue the most profitable projects available to you. If it comes down between two projects, they almost always go with the one with the highest projected rate of return. And with Dragalia Lost, Nintendo and Cygames almost certainly had ‘better’ things to put their money into.
Nintendo could have used the funds they were spending on Dragalia Lost on any number of things. Hiring more people, securing publishing deals with third parties, or just doing more advertisements, whatever. While Cygames…. Well, in February 2021, they launched Uma Musume Pretty Derby. A Japanese exclusive mobile live service that made $965 million in its first year. A game that, presumably, they wanted more people to work on so they could keep making oodles of money.
This… opportunity cost conundrum, combined with the clearly diminishing returns, is the reason why I personally think Dragalia Lost was shut down. Because the economics of game development demanded it. Why did they shut it down instead of leaving it up in maintenance mode? Because Nintendo has never cared about preservation. They killed Dr. Mario World, so why would they treat Dragalia Lost any differently?
Chapter 1-3: Gacha Sins – Showing My Receipts of Support
I began my time with Dragalia under the mentality that one should ‘never spend money on a F2P game.’ Yet as I poured hundreds of hours into the title and became invested in the community and development of the game, my philosophy changed.
I never ‘whaled’ on the game— because I am a tax accountant who takes her finances very seriously (except when I’m giving presents to friends), but I spent money on Dragalia. I was conservative about my spending in 2020, but I pulled out the stopgaps in 2021 and became a full blown dolphin. Which is my way of saying that I droppedmore money on Dragalia Lost than I have on any other game I’ve ever played in my life. I… Actually, let me just list what I bought in chronological order.
- 05/09/20 – Beginner’s Pack for $8.49
- 10/05/20 – Facility Upgrade Special for $10.61
- 02/12/21 – 7-Day Pack (Resources) for $10.61
- 03/27/21 – Facility Upgrade Special for $10.61
- 04/26/21 – 7-Day Pack (Resources) for $10.61
- 05/16/21 – 7-Day Pack (Resources) for $10.61
- 05/26/21 – Story Pack (Hard) for $10.61
- 08/06/21 – Jumpstart Pack for $8.49
- 09/27/21 – Facility Upgrade Special for $10.61
- 10/18/21 – 7-Day Pack (Resources) for $10.61
- 11/11/21 – Story Pack 2 (Hard) for $10.61
- 11/14/21 – Story Pack 2 (Normal) for $10.61
- 12/02/21 – Upgrade Pack 2 (Adventurers) for $21.24
- 01/12/22 – Story Pack (Normal) for $10.61
- 06/25/22 – 7-Day Pack (Resources) for $10.61
- 06/25/22 – 225 Diamantium for $3.16
That all adds up to $191.94. A figure that both is and is not a lot, as I have gotten more hours of enjoyment out of Dragalia than any other game I ever played in my life. I honestly didn’t expect it to be quite so much, but I also wish I spent a bit more in retrospect. Namely, on the Platinum Deluxe Showcases, as I did not spend anything on the May and August 2022 versions. Because EOS was announced, and I did not want to support the game. But, after doing certain things I will get to later, I wish I bit the shell and threw another $80 at this game. Because honestly, Dragalia deserved it.
However, my spending habits were not limited to in-game transactions, as I did buy the three major pieces of merch. This included digital copies of DAOKO × Dragalia Lost and Dragalia Lost Song Collection for $12.99 each, and a copy of the Dragalia Lost Official Art Book for $48.33. I’m not a big art book person, but I really wanted something physical to commemorate this game, so I felt the need to grab it.
- 06/29/21 – DAOKO × Dragaria Lost for $12.99 via iTunes
- 06/29/21 – Dragalia Lost Song Collection for $12.99 via iTunes
- 03/24/22 – Dragalia Lost Official Art Book for $48.33 via CDJapan
Or in other words, I spent basically $270 on Dragalia Lost, but that is pretty much nothing next to the hours I spent on the game. Whether it be through playing the game, reading the subreddit, watching videos, writing about Dragalia Lost, or making elaborate spreadsheets.
…Also, I donated $100 to the Dragalia Lost Wiki, because I freaking love that place and I don’t want it to ever go offline.
Chapter 1-4: The Cultural Acceptance of Murdering Media
(Or Why Dragalia Had to ‘Die’)
In the modern games industry, there are a lot of things to be bitter, contemptible, or otherwise angry about. The regular abuse that happens at both independent and AAA studios across the globe. The consolidation of power and resources around a few megacorporations. The exploitative monetization methods meant to prey on… mostly neurodivergent and disabled people. Just like me! (I’m autistic and have developmental disabilities the state helps me with.)
All of those things are bad. …But the one thing that pisses me off the most is the fact that the games industry has spent so many billions of dollars on online-only games that have died and will never be revived.
It pisses me off because it’s preventable. Because there are solutions. Because the developers could just release assets while retaining their copyrights. Because developers could develop end-of-life plans for every online game, with plans to transition the title into either a freeware title or a paid packaged title. Because it can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for someone to make an online game playable without using a central server. Playable as in you can run it. Not in the sense that the game is balanced and all mechanics are functional.
But no. Instead, the industry has trained people to accept that games are going to die. To accept the norm they are pushing forward. And why do they do this? Why do publishers keep killing games? …A lot of reasons, but I have my own pet theory.
Publishers kill games because if a game is dead, it forces players to move on. If a game is dead, players cannot linger on it. They need to direct their time and money elsewhere. Publishers want the player to be sent back into the gaming ecosystem, where they can continue to spend. Because even if they are supporting a different publisher, they are still supporting the industry. They are still funneling money into it.
This is what all major media companies ultimately want. They want their customers to be gluttonous spendthrifts who drift from one thing to another, spending all their disposable money so it soaks into various industries. They want customers to perpetually pursue a persistent sense of FOMO as they drift from one thing to another.
And… I would say that they have won. Media companies have shaped the culture around shutdowns and… people just accept it. People expect and know that games like Dragalia Lost will die, because that is what has historically happened and nobody with the power to change this wants to change it. As such, you get people commenting on how a game has been alive ‘long enough.’ I’ve seen people uncritically echoing this reality without a twinge of resentment, accepting this status quo and… it just breaks my heart. It breaks my heart seeing just how misguided and uncritical people can be.
Preservation is good. It is something so intrinsically good for humanity as a whole that I’m not even sure how to articulate it.
Let me try this… If you are alive, there is probably something you enjoy that is older than you. A song, a movie, a game, whatever. How would you feel if that thing you loved just disappeared one day, and could never be experienced in its original form, and all that remains are snippets and references to what once was. You would probably be upset about that, wouldn’t you? Upset that you will never have so much as the opportunity to re-experience something, and upset that future generations won’t be able to experience it, and will only have these relics.
Art should not simply expire. But when in the hands of corporations, it often does.
Things are delisted once they stop making money. Customer rights are constantly thrown into the dumpster as companies find new ways to exploit old laws written for a vastly different ecosystem. And as people are being pushed into an all digital age, people are growing ever more complicit with the idea of things just… vanishing. With the idea that media is only owned by those who create it, and that they have the freedom to do with it as they please. Even if it means locking it away. Even if it means erasing tens of thousands of hours of work from hundreds of people over the span of years, all for something as fickle as a tax break.
I loathe the way that corporations have limited the realm of acceptable thought for preservation, and games. …Because games used to be among the best preserved mediums around. ROM sites preserved most games on the day of or even before release and made titles available freely and widely in an organized fashion. However, as games started going online, as they started depending on central servers… they started dying, and nobody was there to preserve them.
The overwhelming majority of online-only games are simply lost. Nobody backed up the files, and private servers require such a specialized skill set to create, odds are that nobody ever will. When I think about how much has been destroyed in the process, how many worlds, stories, and lifetimes of labor were simply erased, never archived, and never to resurface, I feel my love of the medium die a little.
Video games were my favorite thing in the world for so many years of my life. But as I see them die so often, as the history is erased, and the industry refuses to do anything about this relatively easy to fix issue, I start to think that this was a mistake. That it was a mistake to become invested in a medium, in an art form, where things are so often destroyed without care.
Seeing good games like Dragalia Lost makes me want to give up on the games industry, stop following it, stop playing games in general, and focus on creating my own works instead. Because if I make something, then no one can take it away from me.
Chapter 1-5: The End of Live Services
I learned a lot from Dragalia Lost. A lot of it is nebulous, difficult to articulate, and hyper specific. Little things like picking up on audio and graphical design tricks, seeing how systems can be reworked and broken by new content, or observing the ways one should or should not carry out a game’s development. Hell, I learned how index functions work in Excel because of this bloody game.
However, what I learned most from Dragalia Lost is a matter of genre. While I did a year of Fire Emblem Heroes before this, I feel like I did not fully ‘get’ live services before I played Dragalia Lost.
Live services are a genre where the player is slowly introduced into a system, walking along a lengthy path of progression. Then, once they have gone far enough, they are not only invested in the game as it is, but are driven by a desire to see what comes next.
What will the next event be? What will happen in the campaign? Who will be the next adventurer? What will the next dragon be? What will the next boss be? What improvements, features, and new quality-of-life features will come with the next version update? Will this be addressed? Will they finally do this? Are they bringing this back for a revival so I can get the stuffs?
Not only did Dragalia present a lot of content and a lot of things to do, but it presented the promise of more. More goodies to amass, more rewards to receive, more stuff to do, more fun to be had. It kept me coming back every day, kept me staying up until 12 AM or 1 AM to do my dailies and see what updates would appear on the website.
You might call this an obsession and, yeah, it was. Live services are designed to use tactics like this to keep players hooked, keep them coming back, and this is something I have deeply mixed feelings about.
It is nice to have a routine. To have a process one does every day to keep them regular, and it is nice to receive a small dopamine rush for doing a task for checking something. I love checking in on little things like this and getting new things. It is one of the quintessential pleasures of my life. However… when a system demands and expects this of its users, then it stops being fun and becomes manipulation.
Live services are designed to keep bringing users back, to teach them a deluge of lingo, terminology, and minutiae, all in order to create a relationship with the player. A relationship that eats up their time, attention and, eventually, their money. Live services are designed to make players think that spending money is supporting the service and its developers. Designed to take up so much time that the money seems worth it, given how long the player is looking at and using characters. And designed to keep them coming back over, and over, and over again, until they have bespoke time in their day dedicated to the live service. All with the promise of something new… until the promise stops.
Going through the final four months of Dragalia Lost, a period of absolutely nothing new to look forward to, it became painfully obvious that I was just going through the motions. Doing things for the sake of doing them. Because if I don’t do them… then I will never be able to do them ever again. I would have stopped playing during this time, but I persisted, because I knew that, after those four months, Dragalia Lost would be gone forever.
Live services are designed around the idea that time is limited, that players need to take action now, or things will be lost to them. And I utterly hate this. It coerces players to invest far too much time into something, deprives them from playing, or doing, something else. It keeps them locked in, consumed by a fear of missing out. Because unlike a drawing, a video, or an image, this cannot be easily preserved by the end user.
Limited content, dailies, stamina systems, gacha— they are all manufactured scarcity, artificial FOMO, and cheap tricks used to keep people staying around. There is no design or technical reason why anything in a video game needs to be limited like this. This model has been around for so long and been used so much that I’m sure plenty of people don’t even see it, that they consider it banal, a matter of doing business. But it does not need to be. Games do not need to be designed like this. And I’m pretty sure that most seasoned designers would agree that they shouldn’t.
‘Oh, but live services offer regular updates and games generally get better over time as content is added,’ I hear a hypothetical straw person say. Well… okay, let’s go over this argument.
In this modern era, games often go through long ‘active development cycles.’ They are released and subsequently iterated on for years, getting new features, characters, modes, mechanics, and overall stuff over the period of years. From smaller games like Dead Cells and Stardew Valley to many AAA titles released these days, post-launch content has been thoroughly normalized. Whether this is achieved through early access, season passes, or just plain old free updates, this can be done, and there are no rules saying how it needs to be done.
You can increment and update a game without making it ‘online-only.’ You can make a game with progression systems and multiplayer that does not depend on a central server. You can create a game with a cast of hundreds, with oodles of events, without using a live service model. Nothing that is good about live services is exclusive to live services.
Live services are… the worst way to design a game. They waste players’ time with routine busywork for the sake of engagement. They grind players down until they either start spending money or become so fatigued that they drop the game. There is absolutely no way a model like this does not endear a culture of crunch, as there are constant due dates and deadlines for every department. And, worst of all, the vast majority of titles that use this model are rendered unplayable or half-functional after service ends.
Live services are a sickness upon the games industry, and one that is only growing as corporate power consolidates, budgets balloon, revenues rise, and the average player is trained into becoming a mere payer.
Chapter 1-6: I Will Never Become Invested In An Online-Only Game Ever Again*
As the title to this segment indicates, after my experience with Dragalia, I have made the decision to never become invested in an online-only game ever again. Unless I can play the game without a persistent internet connection, I will not play it for a significant length of time. I do not care how popular it is, if it relates to an IP I feel strongly about, or anything of the sort.
I will allow myself to try online-only games, similar to how I invested 40 hours into Genshin Impact back in January 2021. But I will never have a relationship with a game similar to the one I had with Dragalia Lost. Because I had my heart broken once, and I do not want it to be broken again.
The only exceptions to this personal rule are as follows:
- If an online-only game has an ANNOUNCED end-of-life plan, and I like the look of it, then I would be willing to play it and support it monetarily.
- If Cygames or Nintendo ever revives Dragalia Lost in some way, shape, or form, whether it be a Dragalia sequel or clear spiritual successor, then I will play it.
Beyond that, I am done. I am so sad that this happens. Ao upset that I lost something so special to me. And the only thing that could fill up this gaping wound in my heart is an offline and preserved version of Dragalia Lost. Which is never going to happen.
…But if, by some act of divine intervention, it does, if an offline version of Dragalia is released, and is not a butchering of some manner, then I will do something generous. I will spend $400 on additional copies of this title as part of a giveaway and donate an additional $200 to the Dragalia Lost Wiki. Mark my words. I am many things, but I am not a liar.
Chapter 1-7: The Real Dragalia is the Friends We Made Along The Way
Dragalia Lost never had a particularly large community. Most of these mobile RPGs don’t. But based on my experience, based on the various YouTubers that covered it, the Dragalia Lost subreddit, and the general vibes of the community, I would say that the game was home to one of the most wholesome and welcoming communities in gaming.
Part of that is because it is small, part of that is because of the general vibes offered by the game itself, being so bright and bubbly, and part of that is just personal bias, remembering the good stuff over the bad. But there was a lot of good stuff.
I loved checking in on the subreddit whenever new content dropped, sitting back as people withered in hype and dropped mad analyses.
I loved watching the laid back analysis videos by Dragalia Foundry while doing my dailies before going to bed.
I loved seeing the dedication and skill of the artists who produced fan art or created their own original characters.
I loved the fact that, at least for a few weeks, the game had a podcast where Dragalia creators chatted about recent announcements, content drops, and theory-crafted about where the game could go from here.
I loved the folks who did meticulously detailed analysis of endgame bosses, producing some incredibly informative guides that highlighted the mechanical depth of the game.
To a lot of people, this communal involvement, this ability to associate and communicate with a tightly knit group of people passionate about the same thing— That is what made Dragalia Lost special. The real Dragalia was the friends they made along the way. However, this is something that I did not experience for myself.
While the door to the community was always open to me, I never dived in. Why? Because of my nature. I am a deeply introverted person who struggles with group discussions. I am more than personable when someone contacts me, and I trust them enough to be myself. But friends are few and far between for me, and I never had a true discussion about Dragalia Lost with someone else… Until September 2022.
This was when a friend of mine decided to start playing Dragalia Lost. She quickly fell in love with the game, experienced “mental damage” from the story, and became the number one Morsayati stan for reasons too complex to explain here. I was more than eager to draw on my extensive knowledge of the game so she could enjoy it before it all came to an end just three months later and… It was a great time. I helped her with any questions she had, carried her through co-op to blow past the early game, offered tips and pointers at the drop of a hat, and drew upon my extensive knowledge of the game.
It was something that I rarely ever experienced, and I’m glad that, even if it took me until the last minute, I found someone who I can share memories of Dragalia with.
That is good for me but, for everyone else, you have Farewell Alberia. A fanzine from the Dragalia Lost community, featuring interviews, fan fiction, fan art, and just a lot of send-ups to the source material. Sadly, I have not gone through all of it, as it is over 200 pages long, and the full resolution version of the fanzine is so large that all of my PDF readers struggle to display it. Farewell Alberia is a testament to the love of this community and how special Dragalia Lost was. A reminder of the bonds that were forged during these four long years.
I shall never forget you, Dragalia Lost community, and I only wish I appreciated you more while I had the chance.
Vio Rhyse Alberia!
Chapter 1-8: Heartbreak to Productivity and Archival Pursuits!
On August 31st, The Verge released an article entitled The Ticking Time Bomb of Modern Free-To-Play Games. An article about, specifically, the impending end of service of Dragalia Lost, but more broadly about the ever common trend of online-only games shutting down. It is a good article and a good rundown on how companies have been handling these shutdowns over the past few decades, so check it out. I can wait..
I was directed to this article by the Dragalia Lost Subreddit, read it a day after it went live, and as I neared the end, I noticed something deeply familiar about the following line:
This is the case for Natalie, who spent 15 hours a week and over $200 on the game over its lifespan.The Ticking Time Bomb of Modern Free-To-Play Games by Alicia Haddick
As I read that bit, I instantly recognized that highly specific information. That “Natalie” was me. I filled out a survey a few weeks prior, from one Alicia Haddick, the writer of this article, and I entered that exact information.
This article presented me as the bitter and disillusioned fan who was deeply distraught over the loss of something special to her, and this… this really struck a chord with me. Being highlighted by such a large publication, having my name mentioned alongside Sei of the reverse engineering team and archive project. It inspired me to help in the archive project by the Dragalia Lost community. …But I was not happy with the direction the project was heading in based on the communal spreadsheet, so I copied what they had done and started my own damn archive project.
I bought 2TB of Google Drive storage, fished out my 4TB external HDD, started mirroring everything the archive project had produced, made a series of naming conventions, and renamed EVERYTHING. I also had to learn how to properly compress video files, but the community redirected me to the glorious FFmpeg Batch Converter and the blessed command line “-c:v libx265 -c:a copy -x265-params crf=25.”
With this structure in place, I began compiling a list of gameplay I wanted to record, resulting in a list of 269 regular quests, 37 events, 64 Kaleidoscape runs, and 250 main campaign segments. Which, cumulatively, amounted to over 125 hours of gameplay footage. All of which is in addition to recording almost 3 months of daily quests and logins, resulting in nearly 200 hours of recorded footage.
For story stuff, I just copied over what the communal archive was able to prepare, and filled in the gaps where I could. I did not have native recordings for Yukata Cleo, Sharpshooter Sarisse, Summer Mitsuhide, Yukata Lathna, Vania, or Saiga. But everything else? I got it! Over 260 hours of story content… Yes, really. You might think it is wrong for me to take people’s footage and put it in my own archive…. But it’s an archive. It doesn’t matter who is doing it, so long as it gets done!
Now, that sounds like a lot, but lemme tell you, what I did is NOTHING compared to the hard work of Dart, who diligently and relentlessly cataloged the ENG/ENG, ENG/JP, and JP/JP versions of all adventurer stories. Which is… utterly insane. For the record, the total run time for all adventurer stories is about 135 hours.
So, what did I ultimately do with all of this? I am currently in the process of uploading everything to Archive.org. I threw them $100 for the trouble of hosting this 400GB collection of files, and I should have everything uploaded before the end of 2022.
In the meantime, I will be keeping all footage stored safely on both Google Drive and my HDD. However, I would also be willing to send up to 5 fellow archivists physical storage devices containing all of my footage. …Mostly because flash storage is still super cheap, and everything should fit on a 512GB MicroSD Card.
Chapter 1-9: Archiving Love & Hate
Now, the process of archiving all of this footage was an immensely frustrating one. iCloud is one of the worst interfaces I’ve had the displeasure of dealing with. My 64GB iPhone regularly lied to me about storage space and wound up destroying HOURS of recorded footage. However, by doing this, by replaying through every scrap of content available in Dragalia Lost, I gained a new appreciation for the game.
I genuinely forgot how inventive and strategic certain Void Battles were. How The Imperial Onslaught actually did have some mechanical depth and strategy to it. And just how much work was clearly invested in so many quests that most players just auto battled their way through.
Dragalia Lost, as a whole, is a fantastic overhead action RPG— one of the best examples of the genre after the mid-2000s Ys games. From the very start, it had a lot of ideas before most content became centered around bosses. Bosses that, per my re-analysis, generally fall into the realm of excellence, housing a lot of unique attack patterns to learn and avoid. …But some of the gimmicks were clearly implemented to prioritize newer adventurers. Especially Rise of the Sinister Dominion quests…
On the same note, going through this content with ragtag and deliberately non-optimized teams also made me realize just how bad the power creep has been throughout the game’s life. How outright bad so many characters are. How deeply, fundamentally, busted the game is in some way. And how many little things were cast by the wayside as the game kept growing. Irrelevant difficulties, irrelevant quests, irrelevant wyrmprints, irrelevant dragons, irrelevant afflictions or skills, irrelevant features, the list goes on.
Dragalia Lost is a game that did a lot. One that has a messy development history behind it. One that would necessitate a detailed restructuring before it could truly be revived without giving newcomers the stink of something being deeply and fundamentally wrong. This inspired me to produce a bootleg-ass game design document for a hypothetical offline single-player version of Dragalia Lost, which I have dubbed Dragalia Lost V3 Re;Works.
…But despite starting this project in May 2022, I still am not even close to being done.
Why is that the case? Well, the answer lies somewhere between writing my seventh novel, writing a bunch of smaller stories, going through tax season, getting COVID, reviewing Press-Switch v0.6a, and reviewing Student Transfer Version 7.
When will Dragalia Lost V3 Re;Works – A Design Document Experiment be done? I do not want to make any promises, but I will say… it will come out sometime in 2023. I do not like making promises, but I can guarantee that much, and I do! Ride or die, heaven or hell, so long as I breathe, I will make this so!
Chapter 2: Dragalia Lost – Year Four
Okay, I said my goodbyes to Dragalia Lost and talked about my thoughts on live service, but that is not enough here. Since my last Ramble on Dragalia Lost, since October 2021, a lot of things have happened in Dragalia Lost, and I have quite a lot to say about them. But first, let me revisit a topic that I simply love to talk about, the weapon system.
Chapter 2-1: The Developers NEVER Knew What To Do With Weapons
Now that Dragalia Lost is done, let’s have a LONG retrospective about how the game handled weapons, because this was a major source of a lot of mechanical woes, grinding, and overall confusion.
Core Weapons (September 2018 – February 2019)
When Dragalia Lost first launched, weapons were divided into six categories. 1-star weapons, 2-star weapons, 3-star weapons, 4-star weapons, 5-star weapons, and 5-star elemental weapons. The progression was linear, with 5-star elemental weapons being the goal.
Well, I say linear, but it actually required players to craft multiple copies of identical weapons and combine them in order to create better weapons. For example, in order to get the 5-star flame-attuned sword, players had to first obtain 5 copies of the tier 1 5-star non-elemental swords, combine them into 1 copy of a tier 2 (T2) 5-star non-elemental sword, and combine five T2 5-star non-elemental swords into one 5-star elemental sword. Also, you had to make sure that you were forging the correct T2 5-star non-elemental sword, because there were two variants for every weapon type. Yeah, let’s just say that the game had a weapon upgrade flowchart system for a reason.
This was all a cumbersome way to amass power, and one that was staggered due to the game’s artificial gatekeeping of player resources. To obtain T2 5-star non-elemental weapons or better, players needed a resource known as Twinkling Sand, which was originally only rewarded during time-sensitive events, thus making them impossible for players to farm. This stalled player progression, and… it sucked pretty hard. It meant that players had to wait long stretches of time before insignificantly boosting the powers of their weapons, and had to make frequent decisions about what weapons and elements should or should not be upgraded.
Void Weapons (February 2019 – October 2019)
This persisted as the norm for weapons up until February 2019, when the developers introduced Void Weapons. Unlike the original Core weapons, void weapons were not necessarily linear. There were hundreds of them, upgrading them was a massive hassle, the progression system was lousy with exceptions, and dozens of new weapons were added every month. This was all made worse by the fact that players only had a set amount of weapon storage, meaning they routinely had to clean out their weapon inventory by dismantling weapons, all while following sprawling flowcharts of progression.
However, Void Weapons were ultimately more of a highly staggered progression blocker that players had to surpass in order to obtain the Void Dragon weapons. The Void Dragon weapons were two-tier elemental weapons that were weaker than 5-star Core elemental weapons in most instances. The only exception was when fighting against the bosses of the endgame content of the time, the Advanced Dragon Trials, where these weapons dealt up to an additional 30% damage.
This was by no means ideal, as the game was lousy with worthless weapons, but it was a functional grind… And then the developers decided to add another layer after the first anniversary.
High Dragon Weapons (October 2019 – December 2019)
High Dragon Weapons were introduced in October 2019 as a way of boosting player power dramatically and served as the primary goal for endgame players. They were significantly stronger than the 5-star elemental core weapons, and had the (up to) 30% damage boon of the Void Dragon weapons. In a sense, they were the next logical step in weapon progression… but the developers royally botched up their introduction.
Void Weapons were released in waves, with new content coming once a month, and being fairly easy for players to clear, even with suboptimal set-ups. High Dragon Weapons, meanwhile, were ALL released on October 11, 2019 along with two new difficulties, Expert and Master, for the Advanced Dragon Trials. Both of which featured drops used to craft these 40 different weapons, all of which had two tiers. This naturally caused a colossal clamor amongst the community, as they felt the need to farm these quests repeatedly in order to get as many High Dragon Weapons as possible. However, this grind was exacerbated by two factors.
Firstly, these quests were profoundly difficult. This inspired the community to develop reliable compositions to amass clears, which in turn led to gatekeeping, with players only wanting to run team comps they were familiar with. This was already a major problem with the standard difficulty Advanced Dragon Trials, but it got far worse with the introduction of Expert and Master.
Secondly, as these quests were introduced, the developers thought it would be a good idea to also introduce Time Attack Rankings. These rankings rewarded the fastest clears with undisclosed rewards… and immediately made the community even more hostile to others. As progression was now also a competition.
While these weapons were indeed good and powerful, they simply were not worth the effort to some players, and I personally did not bother trying to forge High Dragon Weapons until months after their introduction. … And months after their introduction of the next series of weapons.
Agito & Chimera Weapons (December 2019 – September 2020)
After making a mess of High Dragon Weapons, the developers decided that things needed to change yet again. This lead to the creation of two new series of quests, each of which with their own family of 40 weapons: Chimera Strikes and The Agito Uprising.
Chimera Strikes were the final echelon of Void Battles, and drops from this quest could be used to forge Chimeratech weapons. Chimeratech weapons were far stronger than the 5-Star elemental Core weapons, but weaker than the High Dragon weapons and newly introduced Agito weapons. They offered a massive bump in DPS for non-endgame players, and remained a staple part of the game’s progression up until its very end.
Their main gimmick, aside from being strong, was giving players a passive strength buff after their HP dropped below 70%, ultimately giving them a permanent 20% strength buff for the rest of the quest. Which was huge considering the numbers the game was working with at the time. Also, unlike other weapon types, they did not require any time-limited materials to craft. You just needed weapon materials from The Imperial Onslaught, a routine daily quest, and Chimera Strikes themselves.
Agito weapons, meanwhile, were introduced as the first series of 6-star weapons, which was reflected in their stats. They were not only stronger than both the Chimeratech and High Dragon Weapons, but came with a unique skill. The skill itself varied from element to element, but the gist was that they switched between offensive and defensive effects, giving players access to extra damage or security. …And in the case of the AI, both, as they loved to switch between the two all willy nilly.
From the launch of this weapon family in December 2019 to the final release in August 2020, Agito weapons provided something for players to work toward, developing and upgrading them as quickly as the content came out. But with a two month buffer before they had to move onto the next element. It made for a breezy and more casual farming environment, and one where players were able to comfortably make progress with their repertoire… before everything was reset one fateful day in September 2020.
Weapons 2.0 (September 2020 – December 2021)
With the Version 2.0 update, the developers of Dragalia Lost chose to drastically overhaul the entire weapon upgrade system. The roster of over 1,200 weapons was simultaneously expanded with a new weapon type, but culled down to a modest 256 by year end. Weapon merging, tiers, and progression trees were a thing of the past.
There was no longer a weapon inventory to be concerned with. Weapons were no longer drops from quests. 2-star weapons were cut… beyond a single tutorial weapon. And the upgrade system was replaced with something that, while initially confusing, was far simpler and straightforward than the spaghetti-like mound from Version 1.0 to 1.23.
Furthermore, this new weapon system came with two boons. The abilities once instinct to Void Weapons were now applied to every weapon in the player’s arsenal once unlocked. Meaning that weapon switching was no longer required or encouraged, and you could deal an extra 30% to High Dragons using Chimeratech weapons. Thus making the once imposing Advanced Dragon Trials a walk in the park compared to what they were just a year ago.
The second boon was weapon bonuses. Passive boons that could upgrade the HP and strength of all adventurers of an applicable weapon type by a total of 22.5%. Which was quite the upgrade, and a good incentive for players to craft the High Dragon Weapons. Even though they were virtually useless at the time, upgrading all of them gave players a 6.5% boost in strength and HP for every adventurer. …That is a significant number. At least it was for me.
That being said, there were three problems with this new system.
One, the rupie (common gold coin currency) costs for upgrading weapons were increased from v1.23 to v2.0, thus making rupies the one resource players were perpetually lacking. This led to a cottage industry of auto-play compositions for quests that featured a team of adventurers equipped with Gold Fafnirs. Dragons that, while incredibly weak, gave a +50% modifier to rupies earned from quests. With a team of four Gold Fafnirs, quests that would normally reward players with 100,000 rupies would reward them with 300,000 rupies.
Two, this system required hundreds of Twinkling Sand, a non-farmable material mostly distributed via events, to fully upgrade all weapons. Fortunately, the game addressed this by giving players access to 10 Twinkling Sand as weekly bonus rewards for clearing Advanced Dragon Trials and The Agito Uprising quests, and made them more common in general.
Three, the Void Weapons were a complete mess to upgrade. The developers kept the same general material requirements for upgrading Void Weapons. This was seemingly fine… but the upgrade requirements were so convoluted that I wound up making my own calculator to keep track of what I needed to farm. Which itself was a royal pain in the rear, given how abysmal the Void Battles drop rates were from launch to Version 2.11. When the developer multiplied the drop quantities by factors of 5 to 50. Which meant it still might take 10 runs of a quest to get the material you want, but instead of only getting 1, you would get 50. It’s stupid, but it worked.
Primal Dragon Weapons (December 2021 – EoS)
From September 2020 to March 2021, Dragalia Lost players were able to neatly polish off their weapon arsenal, unlock everything, and walk away with a set of powerful weapons. The game was manageable, lagging players caught up, but when the next wave of endgame content, Rise of the Sinister Dominion, launched in March 2021, everything changed.
One of the central boons of the Agito Weapons was how they granted players access to buffs. But one of the staples of Rise of the Sinister Dominion was Curse of Nihility. A debuff that nullifies most buffs, including those given by the Agito weapons, making their skills less than useless.
The developers knew this, continued throwing Nihility into most new content, and eventually heeded the desire for weapons with Nihility immune skills and abilities with the Primal Dragon Weapons, released from December 2021 to June 2022.
The Primal Dragon weapons were less of a direct upgrade and more of a side-grade. Their stats were only marginally better than the Agito Weapons, and the biggest difference was their skills and abilities. While Agito weapons had some variety in their skills/abilities, Primal Dragon Weapons were all cut from the same cloth.
Their passive ability extended combo time by up to 2.5 seconds, and while their skills were a copy of the High Dragon weapon skills, using these skills would grant adventurers two buffs. A generic 20% strength buff for 15 seconds and a Nihility-immune Primal Dragalia buff for 90 seconds, boosting their strength by 15% and attack rate by 5%. Which was very… tame. In non-Nihility content, this led to a minor change in DPS, while in Nihility content, this made them objectively better, but not by a ton. 15% is nice, but it’s just 15%.
I genuinely have no idea why the developers were so conservative with this new series of weapons. While they possibly didn’t know these were going to be the final weapons in the game, I would have liked for them to be the ultimate weapons. Something that took everything from the Agito Weapons and wrapping them under one uniform weapon set. They could have done this by adding more effects to the Primal Dragalia buff, but they just didn’t. …I guess they didn’t want to add another layer of power creep…
In summation, the developers tried a lot with the weapon system but, even in the end, even with the final series of weapons, I don’t think they knew what they were doing. They were constantly going back on their ideas, and while they had the opportunity to end things on a high note, they played it safe, for the first time in the game’s history. If Dragalia Lost were ever to be revived… the weapon system would need to be overhauled from the ground up, yet again.
Chapter 2-2: The Primal Dragon Trials
While I was critical toward some of the endgame bosses in my 2021 Ramble, I will admit that they were unique and memorable encounters with a lot of little quirks to learn and fun mechanics to play around with. Yes, a lot of them did incentivise new adventurers over older ones, but I can play back all of these fights in my head and easily name the unique mechanics of every single one of them.
…I cannot say the same about the final batch of endgame content, the Primal Dragon Trials. These were the follow-ups to the original endgame content, the Advanced Dragon Trials. Fights that were burned into the memories of many first year players due to how incredibly difficult they were, and the mechanics unique to each fight. By comparison, the Primal Dragon Trials were the most underwhelming batch of new endgame content ever added to Dragalia Lost.
To me, the problem with these fights is that they did not really introduce new mechanics that required players to change how they approached the fights. Instead, they felt more like a remix of existing concepts and content.
The humanoid phase of these fights were largely derivative of other humanoid fights in the game, with relatively simple patterns and typically only one tricky element to understand. Midgardsormr had the tornadoes. Mercury had the homing attack that inflicted frostbite. Brunhilda had the barrage of overlapping lava puddles. Jupiter had the circling lightning. And Zodiark had the shotgun blast that was basically a one-hit kill.
When shapeshifted into their primal forms, their kit largely consisted of an absolute deluge of attacks. Filling the screen with purple markets to avoid, which only occasionally did enough damage to fully drain a health bar. This culminated with the introduction of a group of blacked out adventurer spirits who doled out various signature attacks. A move that was super cool to see as a long-time player, especially given the variety of the adventurers represented. But mechanically, the adventurer spirits also boiled down to ‘avoid the purple stuff while trying to safely hit the dragon.’
Midgardsormr kicked things off, and the first remarkable thing about his fight is probably surging tempest. An attack where players had to place a tornado across the arena, and then use the tornado to either dodge a follow-up attack, or fling themselves directly into it. It was a cute idea and a nice risk reward system that required prior planning and anticipation. Sadly, after this section near the start, the fight transforms into a game of avoidance. With Midgardsormr pushing out an onslaught of powerful attacks. Winds that throw adventurers into tornadoes, filling the screen with purple attacks, sending a homing instant kill Halloween Melsa at them. It was intense, but it also felt like there was no solution other than to try to clear the fight before these sections, which was possible even on day one, or pray that things don’t explode.
Mercury is the tankiest of the Primal Dragons, having literally twice as much HP as the other ones on master difficulty. Despite this, I actually find her to be strangely manageable. There is a lot of running away from large AOE attacks while trying to chase her down and keep up the DPS. Adventurer spirits’ skills feel like they last longer than any others. And tidal call is one of the most aggressive AOE moves in the game, while being fortunately simple to dodge. She feels like she should be imposing but, either due to my team compositions or just dumb luck, I don’t consider the fight to be hard. Just mildly annoying and a bit long in the tooth.
Brunhilda felt like the most demanding Primal Dragon fight. More than any other fight in this line-up, dispel is a requirement, given Brunhilda’s tendency to apply two defense buffs every minute. The mixture of Brunhilda’s alternating AOE attacks, the wide range of the adventurer spirits, and the swing of death from Child Ranzal make the fight chaotic and visually confusing. While the red hot souls are a neat idea for a DPS and variety check, they, and Brunhilda’s Surtr shield, feel like recycled additions made to artificially inflate the difficulty. And it definitely worked, as this is the questline that gave me the most trouble. Partially due to the death traps, partially due to the chaos, and partially due to the fact that water is probably the weakest element in Dragalia Lost.
Jupiter was one I was dreading, because of how much of a disaster factory High Jupiter can be. Instead, I got… Asura 2.0. High Jupiter stays in the center of the arena after the first stage of the fight, and then proceeds to do two things: Send adventurer spirits out to use skills that send you away. And launch slow moving electrical attacks that encourage players to find a safe spot and deal damage, rather than run away. Voltaic shells and twisting fulgor are cool echoes to elements from the ADT fight, but it lacks the same chaos and energy, and makes for a very ‘stop and go’ battle.
Zodiark… is my favorite of these fights, as while there is an absolute barrage of stuff to avoid, it all moves by so quickly. The orbs that gravitate to the cursed gate of death, the stationary flames that shoot out strength down debuffs. The circling pillars of chaos flame. The spirit adventurers who disappear after only a few seconds. And the gushing waves of AOE attacks that Zodiark launches, before prancing about to the other end of the stage. It all forces the player to be on the move, dodging and weaving their way between attacks, chasing down this dastard as he keeps chipping away at adventure health reserves. It feels like things are constantly happening, and I think that is what these fights were truly going for.
In any other game, I think I would consider all of these to be great boss fights, but Dragalia set the bar high for what boss fights should be, due to the game’s overall design. Bosses in Dragalia are meant to be fought hundreds of times, via solo, co-op, or auto, and to make them more engaging, the developers had a tradition of adding oodles of little mechanics and tricks for players to learn. Avoiding contact between adventurers, hunting down orbs of power, or just throwing in ads who will blow up in your face if you don’t kill them quickly enough.
I theorize that the reason this did not happen again is because the developers knew EOS was coming when making these fights. This knowledge, the lack of new adventurers, and the potentially reduced team likely led them to take a more conservative approach with these fights. Both in regards to difficulty and design.
Instead, I weirdly came to like the Legend fights from Rise of the Sinister Dominion more. They are on some mad bullcrap and damn near require specific teams to waddle through all of their crap. But I think I have fonder memories of them than I do any of the Primal Dragon Trials. …Probably because it took me several hours to lab my way through those, and I got my first clear on every Primal Dragon Trial within an hour.
Chapter 2-3: Sticking With It Until The End
Something that I will forever respect about Dragalia Lost is how the game ended. The game did not suddenly croak and die. The story was not left incomplete. And there were not oodles of untapped potential splayed across the floor, trampled into the linoleum by the heartless rubber soles of executives. Instead, it ended. Not in as glorious a manner as I would have wanted, but in a way that I respect and, in retrospect, the devs did a lot with what little remaining time they had.
They made staple characters like Emile, Valyx, and Phares playable… and super fun. They finished introducing all 5 humanoid Greatwyrms. They added Nina the shopkeeper as an adventurer, which I thought was super cute. They added a final batch of OP adventurers with Sheila, Bondforged Prince, Origa, Bondforged Zethia, and Gala Nedrick.
They delivered the aforementioned Primal Dragon Trials. Yes, they were the worst of the four stratas of endgame content, but goldarn it, they did it! They delivered what they promised, and I would be lying if I said I didn’t have more than a bit of fun with them.
They delivered an absolute banger of a final event with Advent of the Origin. An event that told a story with an epic scope, reverence for what came before it, and some much appreciated character progression for prince Euden, his sister Zethia, and the rescued Origa. It meshed surprisingly well with the direness and depression that came with EOS, and made me feel that, even if the game was going to end, it would end with a bang!
On that note, they brought this winding 4-year-long story to a close with a conclusion that did everything it truly needed to do. All major arcs were wrapped up. The final chapter gave everyone a moment to shine. The ending was a bit too vague for some, but it felt like it did the story justice and aligned with the goals of the characters and core themes. But then there is the final boss.
The devs, insane people that they are, gave the game an utterly decadent ending sequence. A six-stage final boss battle, spread across two quests, featuring new music, some of the best QTEs to ever grace a mobile game, with unique mechanics and ample visual splendor. They even brought back in-engine cutscenes, which we had not seen since the very start of the game! It was amazing, and I loved the fact that the hardest version of the fight took me 30 minutes to complete.
Now, there were plenty of things I would have liked to see. Playable adventurers for Volk, Ciella, Kai Yan, and Tartarus would have been amazing. Beast Ayaha & Otoha, Beast Kai Yan, and Beast Tartarus would have all been amazing, and probably weird, additions to the dragon roster. I am a bit peeved that Atlas, the brother of Prometheus, Menoetius, and Epimetheus didn’t show up. And I spent a month secretly hoping that Primal Mercury, Primal Jupiter, and Primal Zodiark would all come home with the launch of their new boss battles.
…Cripes, I just said I wanted 4 adventurers and 7 dragons. Throw in Summer Elisanne, Halloween Prince, and some other crap and that’s like half a year of new content. Sure, the models and animations are mostly there, but it takes more than that to make something work. Stupid greedy Natalie…
There were also plenty of plot threads that were not followed up on. The Syndicate arc never got its conclusion. The Lovecraft lore had room for a third event. Archangel Metatron and the ‘true forms’ of the angels were never delivered. Ex Machina and The Abyssians were introduced and promptly forgotten about.
There is a lot that could have been done and, for as much as I liked the story, I would be lying if I said it was bereft of pacing, focus, or lore dumping issues. Let me put it this way, I would be shocked if the final story is the one the dev team had in mind when the game launched with chapters 1 to 6. It is far more likely the story went through several revisions as writers and producers clashed about what the game should be. You can just tell just based on certain things that happen during the latter half of the campaign.
The sudden shift in antagonists during Chapter 14. The wishy washy development of Euden. The fixation on using the campaign to advertise new adventurers and dragons (which nobody liked). The fact that it took over a year to learn the secret to Euden’s identity, and another year for it to actually matter. It was clear that things were going on in the background and things were being rewritten and reworked.
But even if things were imperfect, it was still a good story, a grand story, and a story that was brought to a truly satisfying end.
Chapter 2-4: Generous… Until The End
Something that will eternally bother me about the end of Dragalia Lost is how it handled its final months. Since the April 2019 update, Dragalia Lost has had a reputation for being one of the most generous gacha games around and, as someone who picked up the game in August 2019, I have to agree with that. Freemium summoning materials were provided regularly, mana spirals made older units more viable, and the game also offered players over 50 free summons every quarter or so.
However, following the 3.5 year anniversary in March 2022 and leading to its EOS in November 2022, the game drastically cut back on this generosity. Summoning resources were distributed at a reduced rate. There were no free summons offered after April 2022. And they chose to only rerun three events a month, further reducing access to summon materials. …Also, they chose not to run multiple events at once to give people more resources, for some bloody reason.
Now, they did make two incredibly generous gestures during this span of 8 months. Prior to the release of the final content update, on July 19, they distributed a massive amount of materials to players. Thereby allowing them to craft weapons, obtain the High Greatwyrms from the treasure trade, and generally be in a pretty good condition to tackle most content in the game.
Now, this did not include any eldwater, a resource needed to upgrade characters. Nor did it include any Chimeratech weapon materials, which players need to craft before they can craft certain weapons. However, this was still a great gesture that allowed just about any player to clear the campaign, and it remained active until EOS. Meaning that new players, like my aforementioned friend, were able to reach the ending within just a few months.
The second gesture was a gift of 1,200 diamantium on the fourth anniversary, leading up to the final Dream Summon Special, thereby allowing every player to purchase one permanently available unit of their choice. It was not the best timing, as this happened after the diamantium shop closed, and I know players were saving diamantium for this, but that’s a nitpick.
However… they could have done a LOT more. After the game’s premium shop closed on August 30th, I honestly expected the developers to start giving things away willy nilly, but aside from the bonus 1,200 diamantium, that was pretty much it.
No daily free tenfold summons. No bonus eldwater so players could upgrade their roster. No distributions of just stupid amounts of wyrmite. No changing the summoning pool to feature all non-collab characters. No updating the wyrmsigil limit to 200, like it was for that one 2021 Halloween Fantasia showcase. No upgrading the base 5-star appearance rate from 4% to 6% for every showcase, not just the gala showcases.
There… was a LOT they could have done! They had the potential to end the game with a bang… in multiple ways, as the summoning theme is called BANG! But they didn’t! They. Just. Didn’t!
Chapter 2-5-0: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers
In December 2021, Dragalia Lost introduced Enter the Kaleidoscape. A roguelite subgame where the player selects one adventurer from their roster and embarks on a journey through a semi-randomized dungeon with the help of their Gold Fafnir buddy. Once in the Kaleidoscape, they battle bosses, fend off groups of enemies, gain EXP, amass equipment, find consumables— all the usual trappings of the genre.
It sounds simple enough, but my thoughts on this mode are a bit more complex, as I spent hundreds of hours playing it. Rather than just go through it with a couple adventurers, like most players, I went through this mode with all 279 adventurers in my roster. But more than that, I did an additional 64 runs for archival purposes, resulting in over 350 successful runs of this mode.
If that sounds insane, that’s because it is. If I had to rank my top three most played games, it would be: Dragalia Lost, Fire Emblem Heroes, and then just Enter the Kaleidoscape! As someone who invested so many hours into this mode, my feelings on it are a bit more complicated. However, I can summarize my thoughts within a single sentence:
Enter the Kaleidoscape is pretty good for an early access title that received two significant updates, and was then abandoned by its developer.Natalie Neumann – Queen of the Kaleidoscape
The mode is light on content, awkwardly balanced, has some less than stellar integration with the rest of the game it is attached to, and is pretty darn repetitive after a few runs. However, nothing about it is done incompetently. The core of its gameplay systems are quite fun and feel good. And this mode is a great showcase of the variety of skill sets the developers created across a roster of 298 adventurers over the years.
I liked the mode quite a lot, and it, more than any other piece of content, made me really appreciate the gameplay of Dragalia Lost… But boy did certain things get on my nerves. So let’s get anal retentive, dig deep up this mode’s guts, scrape out the crap clogging up the pipes, and plop that poop on a pedestal! ‘Cos we ain’t entering these 88 chambers with the rest of the clan, or returning to ‘em with ODB. We’re Kaleido-scaping these suckas!
Chapter 2-5-1: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Floors
Kaleidoscape was first known to the players via a series of datamines from December 2018. I would post the exact sources, but I was not playing at the time. In those datamines, players found map elements that looked to be for a mode with randomized floor layouts. A typical element of the roguelite and roguelike genre. However, this is something dramatically harder to do with 3D games over 2D games, and requires the creation of a more sophisticated map editor algorithm. So, instead of devoting resources to that, Dragalia Lost instead went the economical route. By which, I mean they recycled maps used previously in the main campaign.
This is definitely not a bad call considering the sheer volume of maps present in Dragalia Lost. Without reviewing my footage to count, because I do not have time for that, I would say the main campaign has at least over 100 unique maps. Looking at the events, I would say there is another 25 worth, as a lot of early events had maps specifically created for story-relevant quests, meant to be played once and never again. And let’s not forget how it is always possible to rework or kitbash existing assets in order to create new maps. Changing the time of day, changing the starting position, and flipping around the map itself can all do wonders to disguise the fact that you are recycling content.
In other words, the developers of Dragalia Lost had a lot of potential maps they could work with… which is why it is more than a little upsetting that the mode only had so few. After reviewing five 60 floor runs of Kaleidoscape, and cross-referencing with information on the Dragalia Lost Wiki I have reached the following conclusions regarding the floors:
- There are 12 bosses that can be encountered on floors 1 to 19, which take place in a collection of randomly selected environments, some of which are only used for these bosses.
- There are 11 bosses that can be encountered on floors 20 to 39, 41 to 44, 46 to 49, 51 to 54, and 56 to 59. These all take place in an environment specific to the boss.
- There are 5 bosses that spawn on floor 40. The High Greatwyrms: High Midgardsormr, High Mercury, High Brunhilda, High Jupiter, and High Zodiark. These always take place in the Greatwyrm arena maps from the Advanced Dragon Trials.
- There are 4 bosses that spawn on floor 45. The humanoid forms of The Agito: Volk, Ciella, Ayaha & Otoha, and Kai Yan. But not Tartarus. Originally, it seemed that this was a result of his unique team-based mechanics. However, these mechanics were adjusted to work with solo content with Astral Tartarus Assault from the onslaught event A Dazzling Defense, so I dunno why he got snubbed. These always take place in the Agito arena maps from the campaign and The Agito Uprising.
- There are 4 bosses that spawn on floor 50. The beast forms of The Agito: Volk, Ciella, Ayaha & Otoha, and Kai Yan. The Agito encountered here will always match the Agito encountered on floor 45. These always take place in the Agito arena maps from the campaign and The Agito Uprising.
- There are 4 bosses that spawn on floor 55. The Fallen Angels from Rise of the Sinister Dominion: Fallen Angel Ramiel, Fallen Angel Gabriel, Fallen Angel Uriel, and Fallen Angel Michael. Fallen Angel Raphael cannot be encountered, presumably due to the unique strength orb mechanics and the DPS requirements to increase attack power. These fights always take place in the Rise of the Sinister Dominion arena.
- The final boss on floor 60 is Bahamut, based on the fight from Chapter 22 / 3-2: Bahamut, but adjusted into a unique fight with mechanics unique to Kaleidoscape. This fight always takes place in the boss arena from Chapter 10 / 6-1: The Netherwyrm’s Roar.
- Aside from Floors 3, 10, 20, 30, 40, 45, 50, 55, and 60, players have the ability to encounter one of many common floors. Per my analysis, I have determined that there are 8 different arena floors, where the player must defeat all enemies to progress. 1 treasure room floor, as I count the variants with 1 or 2 gold slimes as a single floor. And 38 exploration floors, all lifted from the main campaign.
…Okay, so how many floors is that? Well… counting every boss as its own unique floor, there are 88 floors. This is a mode designed around 60 floor runs… and there are less than 100 ‘unique’ floors! If you are playing this mode, you are almost guaranteed to see repeated floors within a single full playthrough. And that’s just… not a good design for a roguelite. They should have had a LOT more floors.
I understand that these floors needed to be adjusted and reworked to function in this mode, and new enemy spawn systems had to be developed. But once you have a system implemented, and assuming you have a workflow established, it should not be that difficult to add additional maps. You would just need people to do the work… and that is something Dragalia Lost likely just did not have at the time.
Chapter 2-5-2: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – The Gold Fafnir
In addition to not having much in the way of floors, Kaleidoscape is also lacking much variety in gameplay. It really is little more than fighting enemies, fighting bosses, collecting weapons and wyrmprints, gathering consumable shared skill tokens, and selecting dragons to add to a roster after clearing boss floors.
All of which offer the illusion of variety, but there is a reason why all of my recorded footage sees me making the same decisions over and over again. Because after enough trial and error, I pretty much determined what were the best answers for every situation. What do I mean by this? Well, let’s go through things systematically. Starting with the Gold Fafnir helper character.
The Gold Fafnir is the only friendly NPC in Kaleidoscape, and they aren’t particularly useful. Instead of acting like a Torchlight pet or a Monster Hunter Felyne, the Gold Fafnir does not truly attack enemies to help the player. Instead, he simply flutters behind and around the player, using a single skill the player selects from the beginning of a run.
These include Fafnir Fix, a basic, if weak, HP regen skill that keeps most adventurers alive as they fend off bosses and waves of enemies. Fafnir Flurry, an AOE damage skill that deals chip damage to anything in its range, which is helpful for healers, who are often lacking in terms of DPS. And Fafnir Hustle, which boosts adventurer movement speed by 10% and is… almost completely useless.
As you can imagine, there is not a whole lot to choose from here, and the choice is obvious. Fafnir Fix for adventurers without a native healing skill, and Fafnir Flurry for everyone else. This is not a meaningful decision, and the Gold Fafnir does not feel like a good teammate. He just watches the player and contributes to the action every 20 or 30 seconds if he thinks he’s needed. His heals are life-saving and his skill damage can be the difference between victory and success, but the numbers he is sporting are so small, he feels like he is doing as little as possible. If he used all three skills, that would be a different story. But he doesn’t. Next!
Chapter 2-5-3: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – The Dragon Roster
In Kaleidoscape, players can amass up to a roster of 8 dragons, which are obtained by clearing boss floors. Once dragons are in their roster, players gain the ability to shapeshift into them 2 or 4 times, at the cost of the dragon gauge, and are granted a passive ability. These fall into pretty much two categories. Affliction immunity and stat upgrades.
Starting out, I was a big supporter of the affliction immunity dragons, as players are exposed to every ‘generation 1’ affliction here. Burn, stun, sleep, paralysis, blindness, poison, curse, freeze, and bog. Of these, the most dangerous afflictions in the mode are freeze and bog. Freeze immobilizes the player for a few seconds, and can only be removed by being struck by another adventurer’s attack, or by waiting for the affliction to go away. Normally, this does not seem like an issue, but there are mini-bosses, or Menaces, who can inflict freeze and beat you while you’re down. While bog halves the speed and defense of adventurers, making it twice as hard to flee and twice as easy to die.
Other afflictions can be a problem, but that is only because the High Dragon and Agito bosses use incredibly powerful versions of afflictions like burn and paralysis. So powerful that they can leave the adventurer with 1 HP once they expire. This can somewhat be avoided by abusing shapeshifts during these battles, but still represents a threat during the player’s first few runs.
Next we have the stat boosting dragons, who I have more mixed feelings about. In Kaleidoscape, if you ever get overwhelmed by regular enemies, you can always run away or abuse i-frames while the Gold Fafnir buddy heals the adventurer and their skills regenerate. This, the fact that a lot of bosses can feel like DPS races with weaker adventurers, and the fact that more DPS means faster clears, has endeared me to more offensive builds in this mode. To the point where I can pretty much make a tier list of every possible dragon ability.
S Tier: Dragon Damage +50% (assuming adventurer can shapeshift into a dragon), Freeze & Bog Res +100% (assuming adventurer does not already have freeze res)
A Tier: Strength +15%, Critical Rate +20%, Attack Rate +10%, Critical Damage +40%
B Tier: Skill Damage +15%, HP +4% & Strength +5%, Strength +5% & Defense +7%
C Tier: HP +4% & Defense +7%, HP +8%, Defense +15%, other affliction res abilities
D Tier: HP +4%, Recovery Potency +80%
Also, in my experience, dragon forms do not matter a whole lot. Nimis and Midgardsormr Zero are easily the best, due to their dragon skills, but I never used dragon form as a factor in my Kaleidoscape run
Chapter 2-5-4: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Shared Skills
In Kaleidoscape, players collect shared skill tokens by opening chests and defeating enemies. These, as the name implies, are consumable items that let players use the shared skills of other adventurers. Both to make their trek through the Kaleidoscape more manageable, and make up for traits they may be lacking with their kit. There are only 21 different shared skill tokens, which fall into a few distinct categories, so let’s go through them, worst to best.
Temporary Buff Skills:
These include Pride of the Forge and Smith Shield. Two skills that offer very temporary increases to strength and defense, but the buff itself is tiny (15% strength and 25% defense) and the effect is so short (15 seconds) that I rarely ever used them. It is honestly surprising that these skills are even in this mode, as stronger versions of similar skills are available. Such as Halloween Odetta’s Wonderful World and Patia’s Sparrow’s Guard.
Most Damage-Dealing Skills:
This ranking might seem odd, as these seem as if they should be good ways to deal out damage quickly, but… they’re not. Kaleidoscape has a universal nerf on all skill damage, causing skills to do only 40% of their usual damage when on any floor other than a boss floor.
This issue is made worse by the fact that shared skills only do 70% of the damage of their original incarnations, making these tokens feel… almost pointlessly weak. The design is also a bit confusing to me as, in Kaleidoscape, adventurer skills fill up automatically, meaning you can use their skills far more than you could in other content. And why would you use a (likely) weaker consumable shared skill when your adventurer has a rechargeable skill ready to use?
This is a standard healing skill with no regenerative properties, but it also buffs the adventurer’s strength by 15% for 60 seconds. This buff does not stack, but it does lead to a significant uptick in DPS, while also restoring HP.
Dispel is an effect that removes a buff from a target, and became a major part of Dragalia Lost’s gameplay meta sometime in early 2020. In Kaleidoscape, Kai Yan, Ciella, 3 of the Fallen Angels, and Bahamut all make the use of defensive buffs that need to be dispelled if the player wants to deal decent damage. These buffs are so strong that if you enter these fights with no source of dispel, then you might be screwed.
In Kaleidoscape, there are four shared skill tokens with dispel: Perfect Order, Candy Cane Offensive, Road to Glory, and Splendid Spring. The best is Perfect Order due to its AOE and high hit count, and worst is Splendid Spring, as it has a long attack animation that leaves the player vulnerable to damage.
Akashic Repose is a skill that heals the adventurer, applies a 15 second HP regen buff, boosts their strength by 15% for 60 seconds, and grants them an overdamage buff. Overdamage is an offensive buff that adds an extra hit of damage to all of an adventurer’s attacks, including standard attacks, skills, and force strikes. This extra hit of damage is based on 50% of the adventurer’s strength when the skill is used, and… is incredibly useful for both hit-count and DPS purposes.
If that lengthy description was not clear enough, Akashic Repose is, quite simply, the best skill in the entire mode. The tokens for it are well worth hoarding, and if the player ever finds a weapon with Akashic Repose as a weapon skill, there’s a near 100% chance it is better than any other weapon in the player’s inventory. It is disgustingly overpowered next to everything else, and that makes it really exciting when you get the chance to use it, as it is like turning on easy mode. Especially if you pop off an Akashic Repose before shapeshifting.
In addition to these shared skill tokens, Kaleidoscape also allows the player to bring any two ‘initial shared skills’ into Kaleidescape with them. This is an attempt at adding some variety to the mode… but it actually does the opposite. In Kaleidoscape, permanent buffs are highly valuable, as they can last for an entire run. The most beneficial permanent buff is easily an HP Up buff, as provided by the skills Umbral Assault, Naturopathy, and the RNG-based Custom Concoction. Why are HP buffs so good? Because they let players be more reckless, make healing skills more effective, and make the runs faster in general. The designers could have given players access to any one of these three skills in the mode but… they decided not to.
So… that’s the ultimate strategy for Kaleidoscape. Hoard Akashic Repose and dispel skill tokens, use them when you need them during boss battles, and bring HP Up shared skills when you start. It’s boring but, as someone who went on 350 successful runs in this mode, I’m confident in saying that this is the best approach.
Chapter 2-5-5: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Lopsided Loot
Oh dear, the equipment. In Kaleidoscape, players can equip one weapon and three wyrmprints. Weapons come with HP and strength boosts and up to one weapon skill and ability, while each wyrmprint comes with far smaller HP and strength buffs, along with up to one ability.
First, let’s talk about the HP and strength stats. These are two things that used to be important during the first 4 months of Kaleidoscape. But with the Floor 60 update in April 2022, the level cap was increased from 80 to 100 and the stats of adventurers changed dramatically. At level 80, all adventurers have the base stats of 10,670 HP and 12,990 strength. At level 100, these base stats are 19,270 HP and 21,590 strength. This represented a massive boost in strength for players… but the same boost did not carry over to weapons, which were unchanged by the April 2022 update.
Under the level 80 cap, the highest strength weapon, a 5-star weapon with 0 HP and 4,850 strength, would represent a 37.3% increase in strength. But under the level 100 cap, the same weapon would only give a 22.5% increase in strength. This made weapon stats feel pretty trivial, especially after increasing the Fafnir Upgrades, bringing the already tiny boost down to 18.7%. As for wyrmprints, the cap is 400 HP and 500 strength, so they were pretty much always trivial.
In other words, equipment stats are somewhat helpful when they have larger numbers, but they are not that important, because the devs patched them into irrelevance.
Next, let’s talk about abilities. Some weapons and wyrmprints carry an ability, and for weapons, these abilities are generally fine. Overdrive and broken punishers for bosses, critical damage boosts, dragon time boosts, attack rate up, bonus damage to enemy types, etc. All are fine, none are bad, and while 150% dragon time is just stupidly overpowered, that makes it a treat whenever you find a weapon with it.
For wyrmprints, it’s more of a mixed bag. Slayer’s strength is the best ability in the entire mode, as it is a strength buff that lasts for an entire run. Strength, defense, HP, critical rate, dragon damage and such are all pretty standard and the percentages looked about right. Combo time can last up to 10 seconds for some reason beyond my comprehension. Flurry strength is capped at a measly 6%, when the normal cap is 20%, thus making it fairly useless. But then we get to affliction punishers.
There are 10 unique affliction punisher abilities in Kaleidoscape, which is a terrible idea considering most adventurers only have access to one, maybe two, afflictions. The odds of getting an affliction punisher wyrmprint with an affliction the adventurer can natively inflict is incredibly small. While all these afflictions are available via skill tokens, it simply requires too much chance and planning to actually make use of these abilities. Plus, the punisher bonus is only a measly 15%, when punisher wyrmprints were always 20% to 30%
Playing armchair designer, I can see a pretty clear solution to this issue. Instead of giving an ability for every major affliction, there should be a single ‘Afflicted Punisher’ ability. A version of this ability already exists as an adventurer ability for Regina and Origa, so I doubt it would have been that hard to implement…
Weapons also sometimes come with a shared skill, but the roster is a reduced version of the 21 shared skill tokens, and the same tiers apply.
S Tier: Akashic Repose (Overdamage, HP regen, 60 second 15% strength buff)
A Tier: Candy Cane Offensive, Perfect Order, Splendid Spring (Dispel with good AOE)
B Tier: Impeccable Service (Healing and 60 second 15% strength buff)
C Tier: Shanao Strike, Study Break, Bursting Fury (Damage dealing skills with minor effects)
D Tier: Pride of the Forge, Smith Shield (15 second 15% strength and 25% defense buffs)
Chapter 2-5-6: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Fafnir Upgrades
As a roguelite where progress is wiped every run, there is naturally a persistent upgrade currency and a shop where the player can purchase permanent upgrades for all adventurers.
There are two currencies in Kaleidoscape. The first, dawn amber, is incredibly easy to obtain thanks to the expedition feature, where you wait 8 hours and get loads of dawn amber for free, but the second, dusk amber, is a bit trickier. Dusk amber is obtained only by defeating enemies and bosses on floors 31 to 60, and the drop rates increase as the player descends to lower floors.
I originally thought these reward rates were a bit steep, but the floor 60 update basically doubled the dusk amber yield per run, going up from around 600 to 1,200. Which, in turn, made the grind a lot more manageable… as it only required about 100 runs to fully upgrade everything. Well, 100 runs before considering the monthly treasure trade, which had a positively excellent selection of limited time goodies. If you want to see the math, look at the wiki’s page.
As for the upgrades themselves, they are… pretty simple. Increase base stats, increase resistance by enemy type, increase EXP yield, and increase the drop amounts for the upgrade shop currency. These cap at 15% or 20%, which is this magic sweet spot where upgrading feels deeply impactful and useful, and while the costs scale high near the end, so does the power of these passive boosts.
Thes Fafnir Upgrades are fully functional and make the mode significantly easier, but they also kind of suck, and for two reasons.
Firstly, instead of having a universal defense stat, there are seven different enemy type resistance stats to upgrade. This makes defense upgrades far more expensive than offense upgrades, and strikes me as a way for the developers to artificially elongate the amount of time players spend in this mode.
Secondly, these upgrades are super boring. They could have included so many neat little things to increase the power of adventurers in the form of permanent buffs. Such as slayer’s strength, slayer’s devastation, striker’s strength, resilient offense, unyielding offense, striker’s skill, ascending skill, dragon’s claws, dragon’s scales, or dragon’s skill. But they just went with the simplest and most straightforward route possible. HP, strength, critical rate, critical damage, force strike, and recovery potency.
Chapter 2-5-7: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Character Balance
When going through the Kaleidoscape, there is this almost hilarious distinction between good adventurers and bad adventurers. Good adventurers have skills that pack a punch, passives that endear an interesting play style, and generally feel powerful when going through enemies. Others however… are kind of a chore to play as.
This mode, more than any other, really emphasized just how limited certain adventurers are. How weak their skills are, how they lack what eventually became standard elements, and how desperately this game needed another Version 2.0-like rework. Or rather, a Version 3.0 Re;Work…
Going through this mode with some characters was, quite simply, not fun. And I like to think that much is clear upon looking at gameplay footage for characters like Grace, Delphi, and Gala Emile who are some of the most ill-suited to this mode. And while I can agree with the argument that crummy gag characters are kind of warranted in a mode with a roster of this size, that does not make them fun to use.
Just off the top of my head, Pietro, Nicolas, Zace, and most of the original run of healers were a goldarn chore to play as. Their kits lack anything interesting and their skill damage numbers are so low they often feel more useful as a source of i-frames and AOE than damage.
I don’t want to ignorantly say that increasing some of these numbers would make this mode, and gameplay with these characters in general, more fun… but it would. I played 500 bloody hours of this mode, so I think I would know.
Chapter 2-5-8: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Portrait Wyrmprints
In addition to being a fun diversion, Enter the Kaleidoscape also offered players a form of permanent progression. The first of this is a treasure trade where the two currencies, dawn and dusk amber, could be exchanged for valuable items such as sunlight stones to unbind dragons or omnicite to upgrade adventurers. However, the biggest draw was the Portrait Wyrmprints.
Portrait Wyrmprints, or PWPs, are special wyrmprints that hold up to two abilities and are… pretty much the best wyrmprints in the game. As in, one PWP can be as good as two 5-star wyrmprints. By boosting strength, critical rate, skill damage, and critical damage, they opened up additional slots for DPS-based adventurers. HP and skill haste made healers better at their job. Stuff like dragon damage, dragon time, and dragon haste was useful for… certain builds. And the new ‘hitter’ abilities were an interesting addition, albeit with some odd design choices.
The problem with PWP is not that they are not good enough. They are pretty overpowered if anything. However, between the good boons and abilities, there is a lot of crap, and the drop rates are… we’ll get to them. But first, I want to go over every ability that PWPs can have and assess their usefulness.
Slot 1 Abilities:
- Strength: This is a universal boost to all damage done by an adventurer, and also improves the power of healing abilities. In the regular wyrmprint pool, strength boosts are always conditional, requiring HP to be full or over 70%, but PWPs offer strength unconditionally and can reach the cap of a 20% strength boost. This unique factor , and the universal appeal, makes strength the overall best ability for a PWP to have.
- Skill Damage: This is a useful ability for all adventurers with damage-dealing skills, but it is also not especially desired in a PWP, as there are so many other options to boost skill damage. 5-star wyrmprints that boost skill damage by the cap of 40%. A combination of the 20% skill damage 4-star wyrmprint A Small Courage and one of the seven Dominion wyrmprints. Or just two 20% skill damage Dominion wyrmprints. Not a bad ability to have, but there are too many alternatives to make it especially desirable.
- Critical Rate: Critical hits boost overall DPS, so it is useful for most adventurers. However, every weapon type (except staves) has a wyrmprint to boost critical rate by 12% or 14%, for an ability that caps at 15%. However, these wyrmprints take up either a 4-star or 5-star slows, and a critical rate PWP can work better depending on the build.
- Force Strike: This is only useful to certain adventurers whose kit heavily relies on force strikes, namely rapid-fire manacasters. Force strikes can be useful, and are good at shredding the overdrive gauge on enemies, but rarely act as a source of DPS.
- HP: The only regular wyrmprint that boosts HP is a 5-star wyrmprint that boosts HP by 8% and PWPs can boost it up to the cap of 15%. This makes HP PWPs the best source of HP in the entire wyrmprint library, and a useful ability to give to healers, as increased HP means increased healing potency. …And they are also a good way to bulk up adventurers for auto play.
- Dragon Damage: Dragon damage is only relevant to adventurers when shapeshifting and the ability does not affect dragon drive units or certain unique shapeshifts. There are a lot of exceptions, but the general rule is that there is only one adventurer who benefits from dragon damage and dragon time on a single team. As such, there is a limited appeal to boosting dragon damage. Furthermore, the affinity system gives adventurers increased dragon damage if they have multiple wyrmprints with a dragon affinity. Most of which are related to things like dragon time, dragon damage, and shapeshift-based buffs. As such, if you want a stronger shapeshifted form, it’s probably better to use regular wyrmprints for dragon-based abilities, and use PWPs for more general DPS-related buffs. Like strength and critical rate.
- Dragon Haste: Dragon haste is a quirky ability, as only the highest dragon haste equipped on a team of adventurers is effective. So if you have one adventurer with a 10% dragon haste PWP and 13% dragon haste PWP, the entire team benefits from the 13%, and the 10% is functionally worthless. As such, dragon haste is not a particularly desirable PWP option, especially after the release of the 5-star 15% dragon haste wyrmprints released with Advent of the Origin.
Slot 2 Abilities:
- Skill Haste: While typically used on buffers and healers, skill haste is a useful ability for virtually every unit in the game, as skills lead to more damage, higher DPS, and more i-frames. At its best, it eliminates the need for a 4-star or 5-star wyrmprint.
- Skill Prep: This similarly helps adventurers use their skills, but skill prep is generally only sought after for specific auto compositions. Technically useful for most adventurers, completely worthless for the 17 adventurers who start each quest with 100% skill prep, but it can free a 4-star or 5-star slot in a pinch.
- Defense: This can be useful for general survivability and auto builds, but not much else. Adventurers are pretty bulky once fully upgraded, and the maximum 10% defense buff does not offer much in the way of protection.
- Critical Damage: Much like critical rate, this increases the DPS of every adventurer, and critical damage is typically the fourth DPS item to boost when preparing a wyrmprint kit. After critical rate, affliction punishers, and strength. Definitely one of the better slot 2 abilities for DPS units.
- Recovery Potency: This is only useful to healers, and even for healers, this is generally unnecessary. Recovery potency, in practice, does not have a significant impact on healing, and skill haste is a better secondary ability in most instances.
- Dragon Time: Dragon time is only relevant to adventurers when shapeshifting, and the ability does not affect dragon drive units or certain unique shapeshifts. There are a lot of exceptions, but the general rule is that there is only one adventurer who benefits from dragon time on a single team. As such, there is a limited appeal to boosting dragon time.
- Drawbacks: These are abilities that offer dramatic tradeoffs in exchange for powerful abilities and, conceptually, are an interesting way to add depth to PWPs. In execution, they are pretty boring, and are always locked to a specific weapon and element, limiting their useability and appeal.
- Steady Hitter: This boosts skill damage by 40% and lowers critical damage by 40%. Every skill-damage-based adventurer benefits from critical damage, so this ability is pretty stupid in my opinion, and I never actually used a steady hitter wyrmprint because of it.
- Easy Hitter: Boosts strength by 20% and lowers force strike by 50%. This is great for adventurers who rarely use force strikes, and AI-controlled adventurers, but I typically avoid them for certain weapon types where I force strike a lot. Such as bows, blades, and especially rapid-fire manacasters.
- Lucky Hitter: Boosts critical rate by 15% and lowers dragon damage by 18%. This is great for backline adventurers, or adventurers who do not shapeshift, plain and simple. Critical rate is a direct and meaningful DPS buff, and dragon damage means nothing unless an adventurer shapeshifts.
- Hasty Hitter: Boosts skill haste by 15% but lower skill damage by 20%. This is a strangely generous drawback, but I rarely actually used this wyrmprint. It is great for adventurers who do not have damage-dealing skills, but there are only about 30 of those in the entire game. Most of whom are healers and adventurers who are functionally useless in endgame content.
In short, there are some highs and lows here, with a few universally useful abilities, some situational ones, and others that kinda suck. But there are a few more things about PWPs that I should mention. How PWPs are obtained, managed, and the ‘drop rates’ for certain abilities.
PWPs are primarily earned by going on runs of the Kaleidoscape. When the player gets past floor 50 in Kaleidoscape, they are awarded with 5 PWPs, which will typically have high stats locked to an element or ‘max level’ stats locked to an element and weapon combo. If the player fails a run before reaching floor 50, they get fewer PWPs, and ones of a worse quality.
PWPs can also be earned by sending four adventurers out on an expedition, where they are unusable in Kaleidoscape for up to 8 hours, and the player is awarded with dawn amber and PWPs. However, these PWPs have weak abilities, if any at all, and are utter crap compared to ones obtained by reaching deeper floors in the Kaleidoscape.
Unlike regular wyrmprints, players have a finite inventory of 500 PWPs, and can exchange unwanted PWPs for an arbitrary 10,000 Rupies. This might sound like a lot, but if you remember the fact that I went on over 350 successful runs, then I would have earned at least 1,750 PWPs. This meant I had to do extensive PWP inventory management and let me tell you, it sucks.
I wound up creating a stupidly elaborate and index-infested spreadsheet to manage my inventory, and manually logged every PWP I earned. I had to open up the PWP in-game, navigate to the second page that listed the abilities, and enter both the names and percentages associated with the abilities. It took me untold hours to do, and I hated it.
Oh, but that was only the first part. When my inventory got a bit too full, I would go through my spreadsheet, flagging bad, inferior, or unwanted PWPs as ‘Trash’ and then go through the process of selling them in-game. Which itself required me to filter through the PWPs by ability, and manually selecting them, one-by-one, until I got rid of 100 to 200.
The lack of in-game tools to find bad PWPs is a major oversight, and PWP management is so bad that, if you are dedicated to this mode, you pretty much need to use a spreadsheet. It would not be so bad if PWP inventory count was unlimited, but it’s not.
PWP Drop Rates:
The best part of maintaining a diligent spreadsheet on drops is that you can pretty confidently determine drop rates, and whoever did the drop rates for PWPs is a DASTARD!
Now, if I asked you what the rates for specific abilities were, you would probably guess they are pretty uniform, right? The odds of getting any given slot 1 ability should be 1 in 7, and maybe something adjusted for slot 2, to accommodate the drawback abilities.
For expeditions, you’d be right. I only have a small pool of data, with 362 examples, and there is some variance, such as how I got 54 PWPs with skill damage and only 36 with HP. However, it appears that the appearance rates are identical no matter the ability.
For the full Kaleidoscape runs, I have a larger sample pool of 1770 PWPs, and the data is pretty damning.
For Slot 1, the appearance rates for strength, skill damage, and critical rate are all approximately 4% each. While the appearance rates for force strike, HP, dragon damage, and dragon haste are all around 22%. As a reminder, the best abilities are strength, skill damage, critical rate, and HP. While dragon damage, force strike, and dragon haste are niche abilities… but there is a 66% chance you will get one of them. …Yeah.
Slot 2 abilities are a lot better though. Pretty much everything is uniform, with the exception of the four drawback abilities, which each have approximately half the appearance rate of other abilities… And even these halved appearance rates are at least 50% better than the appearance rates for strength, skill damage, and critical rate on slot 1.
I cannot fathom why the developers thought that the best slot 1 abilities should be subjected to such reduced rates, as it made the act of playing for good PWP needlessly frustrating. I guess it goes to show you how much you can screw up a good thing by changing a few numbers.
Chapter 2-5-9: Kaleidoscape The 88 Chambers – Why Is This Here?
Much like with the Alberian Battle Royale, Enter the Kaleidoscape is a mode that really does not gel with the structure of Dragalia Lost. Dragalia Lost is a gacha game with a prolonged progression system where players need to come back for days, weeks, and months to amass upgrade materials, resources, and adventurers to use in quest. But this is a mode where their progress in the main game is irrelevant, many starter adventurers are viable, all adventurers are fully upgraded, and the player gets rewards that make the main game significantly easier.
I cannot help but think that Kaleidoscape was supposed to be something more. Something grander. But development staggered, delayed, and ambitions went unchecked, resulting in a mode that, while fun, is pretty underwhelming and flawed.
I can imagine all of these grand ambitions the developers might have had for this mode. It might have been envisioned as this seamless single-player and co-op adventure, where players would meet up with one another as they went on their journey, choosing to team up as they go deeper into the dungeon. It feels like it was meant to be this grand send-up to everything the modelers and designers of Dragalia Lost had created, including every boss, map, and bit of content they could have crammed inside it.
I believe this mode was meant to be something special, but… it never had the opportunity to grow into that, and was left as it was. Complete, yet lopsided and repetitive. Something good… that was abandoned before it could reach its final form.
Chapter 2-6: Thank You, Mr. Lost
I know that a lot of what I have produced about Dragalia Lost here has been me criticizing the game. However, I hope that the amount of work, words, and analysis I have offered here, and in prior years, have demonstrated my love for this game. I love its story, I love its writing, I love its character, I love its gameplay, I love how it looks, I love how it sounds, I love everything about it, and I love it to bits.
I know the loss of this game is going to affect me emotionally for days and weeks to come. It has been a part of my routine and my life for the past three years, and I don’t want to see it disappear and die before my eyes. However, I do not want to end this article with sorrow, and would rather end it with appreciation. With thanks to… everyone.
To the developers at BlazeGames, I thank you for all the work you put into Dragalia Lost. While you are often not credited for this game, I know you were the core workforce behind it, and what you were able to create is a testament to the genre, and all around excellent.
To Cygames, I thank you for bringing this project to life and putting so much faith and so many resources into it.
To Nintendo, I thank you for publishing this title, because if not for your seal of quality, I would have never taken a second glance at this game.
To the localization staff at 8-4, I thank you for delivering one of the most delightful English scripts I have ever seen for a Japanese game. Your localization efforts are among the best in the industry, and I thank you for demonstrating the power of a less ‘faithful’ script.
To the Dragalia Lost community, I thank you for being so pleasant and for your continued dedication to the game. You made Dragalia Lost feel even more special, and I hope you all find things to bring you joy and satisfaction in the upcoming new year.
I will never forget you, Dragalia Lost. Though you may be gone and locked away, never to be played again, you shall forever live on in my heart and mind. You have taught me so much about game design, balance, and the emotional connections that one can have to not only games, but art in general.
I first started playing you as a lark, as a novelty meant to take advantage of a new toy. But as the days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned to months, you became one of my favorite games of all time.
And for this, for everything, I must say… Thank you, Dragalia Lost.
This Post Has 2 Comments
Thanks a lot for this for this glorious post. It perfectly describes everything I loved about the game and the lasting impact its had on players. Dragalia was a game full of life and there’s nothing else like it on the market. Hoping in vain for a sequel one day.
Thank you for your kind words. Dragalia was a very special game. While a sequel would be nice, I would rather see the game as it was retrofitted and remade into a single player title. There is simply too much content to let it all go to waste.