by Tanner Kinney
Disclaimer: This review is of the Android version and was conducted on a Samsung Galaxy S6
Mobile gaming is, and has for a while been, the new wild west of video gaming. However, we aren’t talking about the lawless, stand-off at high noon, romanticized wild west that Flash gaming was. Mobile gaming is the wild west where everyone is trying to rob and scam you until you die of dysentery. There are so many devious mobile games that seemingly only exist to dupe naive kids into spending their parents money on games with titles like Strange Rope Hero or Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery. At the very least, with more competent developers entering the mobile gaming scene, we start to see more quality, fleshed-out experiences that only nickel-and-dime you a little bit.
Nintendo, for instance, has been putting out a number of solid mobile games that don’t feel like extreme cash grabs to a casual player. Super Mario Run was a solid game, Fire Emblem Heroes was surprisingly good despite a lack of depth, and Pokemon Quest might actually be my favorite of the bunch because of how well designed its progression is. I’ve also heard that Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was pretty entertaining, despite not having played it myself. Now, with Dragalia Lost, Nintendo has proven that despite making a quality game, they too can aggressively nickel-and-dime you like every other mobile developer on the market.
A fable of dragons with stellar presentation
Dragalia Lost is essentially a JRPG experience, except now a mobile game. The story isn’t too wild or complex, but has enough fun characters to make it worth watching the cutscenes for the freemium currency. The story revolves around Prince Main Character going on a quest to recruit all six dragons of Alberia so he can have the power to stop his evil father from destroying the realm. Along the way he meets Elisanne, a lady knight who loves cute things, Ranzal, a rough and tumble mercenary, Cleo, who is nerd-bait rabbit waifu, and the only good character with Luca, a basically shirtless archer pretty boy. The main cast actually gives me a lot of Tales vibes, with each cast member having their own quirks and butting heads like a group of adventurers should. It sure is a massive improvement from the non-characters that Fire Emblem Heroes had in its story.
Along with the main story and characters, each of the adventurers obtained through the game’s gacha system are all fairly detailed as well, each with their own stories and personalities. They remind me a lot of the Blades from Xenoblade Chronicles 2, where each new unit is fully customizable and can even be played as during combat. A personal favorite of mine is the mad scientist Kleimann, who essentially just travels with Prince MC to perform horrible experiments. His voice seals the deal for me, considering in combat he just screams “RIPPER” and laughs maniacally.
Graphically the game also matches this JRPG-style, again being very reminiscent of Xenoblade to a degree. The consistent 2D art-style for all of the units is much appreciated, especially when compared to Fire Emblem Heroes. Each character is loaded with detail and there really isn’t one I don’t like. The in-game 3D characters look like they’d belong on a Nintendo 3DS title, but it works for a game this size. The soundtrack is the only real low-point of the presentation, containing a strange style for a lot of songs that doesn’t really gel with me. It’s pleasant enough to not have to turn off the music, but nothing that gets stuck in your head (aside from maybe the menu theme).
Anime Diablo-em-up on the go
Dragalia Lost’s actual gameplay is actually kind of incredible, or at least 90 percent of it is. Okay, probably more like 70 percent, but that’s still passing! Quests in the game throw the player and three allied units in a small dungeon, where the party must then battle their way to the end with a very Diablo-lite combat system. Swarms of fiends stand in your way, and you must cut/shoot/magic them down. When compared to other games in the genre on all platforms, it’s nothing special if a little above average. Compared to other mobile titles however? This game is an incredible feat and definitely worth giving a try. When it works, the game feels super fun and satisfying to play, as you mow down waves of enemies to gentle J-Pop. The length of the dungeons is also very solid for a “pick up and play on the bus” sort of game. Additionally, as you progress, the game actually starts to grow some fangs and provides a nice (lean) meaty challenge.
This is, of course, when it works. The biggest thing working against Dragalia Lost is the platform it is on. Imagine playing Diablo, but you have one ability and can only control it with one of those weird one-button mouses that Apple uses. If it wasn’t for the brevity of levels, the game would likely become stale and definitely become frustrating. Since Dragalia Lost is controlled entirely through the touchscreen, all of your combat maneuvers are essentially tied to a joystick that also functions as a button. Tapping the screen to attack works, and combat rolls (generally) work. Movement is very finicky, with the game sometimes registering “drag-and-hold” as “tap” or “swipe.” The focus attacks, required to break enemy shields, work about 20 percent of the time. The game has trouble registering the difference between “press-and-hold” and “drag-and-hold.” If your finger is registered as moving at all, you end up just walking into enemies and usually dangerous attacks. It’s frustrating, and makes fights that would be relatively simple with an actual controller much more unfairly difficult.
Along with story quests, there are also online co-op quests you can do. Or, at least you can do them once you perform the right pagan rituals to get the thing to work. If you’re like me, you might have gotten stuck on the “co-op event tutorial,” where the game softlocks in a loading screen upon trying to create a co-op room. This prevented me from playing for roughly five hours until I messed with my phone settings in the right way to get it to work. It’s the modern day equivalent of flipping switches on your Atari until you get the right video feed, and it is absolute madness that it isn’t fixed as of time of writing. At the very least, once you actually get into co-op, it is loads of fun playing with other people and having everyone spam the “NOPE” emote constantly.
The Gacha question
Now, the first question a sensible person has when seeing a free-to-play mobile game is “how will this game try to steal my money/bombard me with ads.” For what it’s worth, at least in my experience, Dragalia Lost is entirely ad-free, much like the other Nintendo mobile titles. It also gives a decent amount of freemium currency at the start, which is much appreciated. The freemium “wall” is really decided by how good your Gacha pulls are. With some good luck, you can get through a lot of the game on the backs of a couple of rare adventurers/dragons. If you get unlucky though? The “wall” approaches suddenly, and is near insurmountable without paying some money to speed up the grinding/upgrading process.
So then, how does the premium currency fair? Well, I’m glad to say that Dragalia Lost has one of the worst cash shops I’ve seen in a major mobile title. Let’s compare it to Fire Emblem Heroes, their other major mobile title. For a full pull of units entirely through premium currency, it costs $15. A little pricey, but this guarantees five units of varying qualities, depending on the types of summonings you can do. A “ten-fold summoning” in Dragalia Lost requires you to pay $31. That’s right, for the price of two indie games you can get the chance to be disappointed by the Gacha system. This isn’t even including all of the other “value packs” that are just as egregious and, inevitably, necessary to make any progress without doing serious grinding. That’s just the nature of these kinds of games, and it’s sad to see a game as solid as Dragalia Lost weighed down by mobile gaming greed.
The cherry on top? The freemium currency and premium currency are identical in value. The same can be said about Fire Emblem Heroes, but at least you don’t have to take out a third mortgage to pull the same cleric three times.
Featured Image: Droidgamers
‘Dragalia Lost’ is everything great about JRPG’s combined with everything horrible about mobile games. The characters and art-style are both wonderful, and the gameplay itself is fun and addictive. However, the game is bogged down by a sub-optimal control scheme and horrendous progression that walls you the moment you really start getting into the game. It’s definitely worth a try, but once it starts demanding cash, tell it to get lost.
Tanner is a Film and Media Studies major and a Digital Media minor. His Neo Yokio review won a second-place CSPA Golden Circle award for the 2017 semester. He enjoys playing JRPG’s of any variety, regardless of how obscure and strange it is. Tanner is also the host of Byte at the Movies, the premiere movie discussion live-stream.