Nintendo don’t tend to release new intellectual property all that often, so when they come up with a totally new setting and characters, it’s fairly noteworthy. After the company’s success with free-to-play mobile tie-ins such as Fire Emblem Heroes, Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp, and of course Pokemon GO, Nintendo partnered with developer Cygames to create Dragalia Lost, a gacha-style JRPG produced specifically for mobile devices.
Dragalia Lost has been available in Asia since last September, but has finally become available in Australia. From a financial point of view, it seems to have paid off, considering it has already generated $75 million, making it more profitable than either Super Mario Run or Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. That said, how is it as a game?
Dragalia Lost takes place in the fantasy kingdom of Alberia, where humans and dragons live alongside one another. The royal family of Alberia is able to form pacts with dragons, and gain the ability to shape-shift into them. You play as a prince of Alberia, who travels around with a ragtag band of misfits as you meet dragons and form pacts with them to gain power.
The writing isn’t especially deep, but it is pretty impressive how much effort Nintendo put into the presentation. Most characters are voiced in English, and many of the cut-scenes are fully animated. Of course, the downside to that level of polish is a large file size and frequent lengthy downloads, so make sure you have a good internet connection and lots of storage space on your phone.
The actual gameplay is kind of Diablo-esque, where you control a party of up to four members as you tap on enemies to attack them and swipe to move. Whilst the combat is rather simplistic and could stand to be more responsive, it’s all fairly intuitive and migrates the ARPG combat to a mobile device pretty well. It does however take way too long to add any kind of challenge, which could certainly be a problem for bringing in new players. It was a long time before it took more than 5 or 6 seconds to defeat a boss, and the levels themselves are rather repetitive and short. Whilst most games of this type do set into a kind of rut eventually, that shouldn’t be happening in the first hour of play.
Of course, a free-to-play game has to make its money somewhere, and I’ll give credit to Dragalia Lost in that I never felt pressured to spend any money. It does that somewhat annoying thing that many free-to-play games do where there are multiple tiers of currencies that all do different things. You unlock new characters and items via a sort of loot box system, but the drop rates for different tiers of items are available in the menu, which at least makes things a bit more transparent. Also, it is a nice touch that there is a limit on how many micro-transactions can be made per week; it’s a small effort, but it could be genuinely helpful for players who have difficulty moderating their online purchases.
I really liked the soundtrack, but if you’re not a fan of peppy J-pop, it might not be for you. It also has maybe my favourite “summoning sequence” for opening random items ever, with awesome whip-pans and catchy music to make unlocking new characters and items really satisfying. Admittedly, the RNG system may be why I found the game so easy, as I unlocked a 5 star character in my very first summon, which maybe tilted things my way a bit too much early on. It is clear that Nintendo have put in the effort to make Dragalia Lost appealing, and it seems to be paying off.
That said, Dragalia Lost left me a little cold in the end. Even though the aesthetics are some of the best on mobile devices, the actual gameplay is really simplistic and failed to hold my attention for long. I found the simple story pretty charming, but the gameplay ended up being reduced to just tapping on enemies until they died, and pressing the dragon transformation icon to instantly win. By comparison, other Nintendo mobile spin-offs like Super Mario Run and Fire Emblem Heroes do great jobs of translating the fundamentals of their main series’ gameplay to mobile devices without compromising on complexity.
Dragalia Lost will likely appeal to fans of mobile gacha games, but the simple gameplay and short levels may turn away more hardcore fans of the dungeon-crawler genre. Fingers crossed that Diablo: Immortal is able to bring the multiplayer dungeon-crawler to the mobile platform more successfully.