When the meat of Dragalia Lost was revealed about a month or so ago in a special Nintendo Direct, I felt fairly underwhelmed by what was on display. The story seemed cookie cutter, the overall aesthetic didn’t grab me, and the gameplay looked pretty banal. Nothing about the concept seemed particularly fresh or innovative, and it all felt a little too vanilla for Nintendo’s first mobile original IP, and their first collab with Japanese mobile game behemoth Cygames (the folks behind money-sucking monstrosities such as Granblue Fantasy).
So color me surprised that I’ve dedicated most of the waking 24 hours post-launch to playing this game. Some of my initial assumptions about Dragalia’s originality does still hold true, but the game shows that as far as mobile titles go, sometimes you just need some solid execution and quality to stand out in a market inundated with low-budget efforts.
As somebody who went trawling for mobile games to play recently, the first thing I picked up about Dragalia Lost — like with Nintendo’s other mobile endeavors — is that the UI doesn’t look like crap. In fact, it pops quite a bit with style and color, appearing almost western comic-booky (which is an unorthodox fit for a fantasy setting, but darn it, it works somehow). The game also drip fed tutorials at a steady pace, easing you into the complex list of things to build, upgrade, and fuse without hanging you out to dry. It doesn’t sound like much, but these two aspects alone make the game a million times more appealing than other gacha experiences.
The plot of Dragalia Lost follows a player-named prince of a kingdom known as Alberia, who — after seeking to make a pact with a wyrm — finds himself branded a traitor as his kingdom is taken over from within. There are a lot of other disparate elements of intrigue, but overall the storytelling is a very strange beast; the world-building is somewhat extensive, but all of it feels rather tropey or even cliché. Obviously, most don’t play mobile games for rich plots, but I was still hoping for something a little more substantial. That said? Still better than FEH’s.
Things are marginally better as far as characters go, though I wouldn’t describe that aspect as the game’s strong suit either. As all gacha games go, the quality of writing between them varies a lot, and you’ll end up with some you like and some you don’t. Each character comes packaged with little side stories that you can read at your leisure to flesh out their personalities, though they tend to be pretty basic and inconsequential. Personally, I actually find myself enjoying the core supporting cast of Elisanne, Ranzal, and Cleo a decent bit, as they get a good amount of screen time, and thus time to flesh out their smaller traits. Unfortunately, the dull-as-dishwater protagonist (self-inserts, yaaaay) doesn’t help much, making me wish he was either silent or actually had an ounce of personality.
I mentioned that the art style of Dragalia Lost didn’t impress me much when I first saw it, but I feel much warmer on it now. Just like the UI, everything is very colorful and pops in a way that doesn’t feel glaring or overly saturated. A lot of the character designs are anime, sure, but there’s a surprising variety in skin tones and facial designs for the style, and the dragons are all pretty cute. The music stands out too, featuring heavy lyricism courtesy of Japanese artist Daoko, and the home menu theme is just boppin’. I suppose it’s not the most inspired aesthetic, but it coheres well and has an identity, which is enough.
Of course, none of that matters if the game isn’t suited for a mobile title, but Nintendo and Cygames managed to make an ideal experience for your phone. Dragalia plays like a very basic action-RPG, with simple taps to attack and swipes to dodge. You can activate skills, swap characters, or call in a support with the touch of a button while exploring very simply designed levels. The most outlandish aspect is the ability to transform into a dragon, which you can do after building up a meter — as a mighty drake you’ll deal lots of damage to a much wider area, and can also unleash more powerful skills.
The end result is mostly thoughtless, but in a good way. The game runs very smoothly (for reference, I have a Galaxy S8) and generally strategy isn’t a concern until boss time, which even then is mostly about timing when you use your skills/transformations. You can go through a level pretty quickly as a distraction, or dedicate yourself to grinding with more interesting team combinations — the game allows for both, which I find essential to making a good mobile title.
Dragalia’s biggest worry to me is the biggest worry to any in its genre: the gacha. The way the rates fall here, there’s only a 4% rate of getting a 5-star on any given roll, and a mere 1% chance of getting a 5-star playable character. The “featured” characters, dragons, and wyrmprints (equippables) only have a 0.5% chance of dropping. These are among the lowest rates of gacha RPGs, and that can lead to frustration. Despite those odds, my personal luck has fared well — I’ve gotten several 5-stars, including two on my very first full roll, and many people I know have reported similarly. But the stated rates are still troubling.
That worry is somewhat alleviated by the game’s generosity with its gems (wyrmite) — normally they come at the speed of molasses, as you’d expect, but you can collect a ton by playing the game’s co-op mode, which essentially gives you a single summon for each round played. It’s easy to rack up wyrmite this way, especially since the currency used for co-op is different from normal stamina. While I imagine the trickle will slow down eventually, at the moment it’s pretty easy to sink a half-hour or so in and do a full ten roll.
There are more particulars I could get into — the multitude of ways to level up, the several weapon types, even the little castle sim elements — but on the whole Dragalia Lost is a pretty good way to waste your time. I’d say it’s worth giving a try for a little bit just to see if it gels with you in any way. While I can’t speak for how the content will turn out going forward, the launch appears to be going smoothly, and reception seems largely positive. If this is only the first thing Nintendo and Cygames have to show us, I’m very curious to see what their future efforts bring.
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