News Article

Matters of Import: Drop Matching And Dragon Evolving In Puzzle & Dragons Z

Posted by Kerry Brunskill

This 3DS smash proves there is life after microtransactions

Puzzle & Dragons is popular wherever it’s available, but perhaps in its native Japan most of all. GungHo’s cash cow not only has regular tie-ins with big franchises like Monster Hunter, Taiko no Tatsujin and Hunter X Hunter, but has also generated an extensive range of merchandise to go with it — there’s even an arcade game in the pipeline, too.

But just how well can a mobile game do when the developers decide to pit themselves directly against "real" games and charge ¥4000 (£23/$38 USD – that's the Japanese eShop price) for something that its target audience can already download and play for free on their phones?

As it turns out, very well indeed. To date Puzzle & Dragons Z has sold over a million copies in Japan alone and garnered a much-coveted Platinum award from Famitsu, scoring a total of 36/40 in their cross review.

Naturally a straight port wouldn't have gone down very well with paying gamers, and as a game originally intended to be played in short frequent bursts on the go it certainly couldn't hold someone’s attention for any length of time if left as-is — which is why GungHo sensibly decided to create an entire world and story to frame the familiar drop-matching gameplay.

At first glance this new setting doesn't feel new at all – in fact it feels a little too close to Pokémon for comfort. After choosing the gender and name of the main character you’re called down from your bedroom by your mother to meet your friends, and then you all head off to the town’s friendly neighbourhood research lab, get handed your Dragon Tamer Card and receive three elementally-aligned baby dragons to get you started.

The Paradox Organisation — think Team Rocket — show up and hatch their evil plot, breaking the world up into jigsaw-shaped chunks and naturally the only people who can help return everything to how it was before are you, your friends, and your recently-acquired fluffy sidekick of mysterious origin. Thankfully this is all set up quickly and is out of the way before there’s much chance to dwell on it, and once the game gets going there’s far more Puzzling and Dragoning on offer than there is "Pokémon-lite".

GungHo hasn't altered the main gameplay too much from the smartphone version – the basics work as they did before — but the game is far prettier on 3DS and has been completely rebalanced to offer a smooth and fair ride as a single-player RPG experience.

Puzzle & Dragons Z has been a huge success in Japan and — perhaps unexpectedly — deserves all the praise and sales it gets. Gamers often treat smartphone and free-to-play games with mistrust, and in many instances this feeling of unease is justified. However, this 3DS version of Puzzle & Dragons is far more than just a social game on a cart and GungHo should be praised for carefully balancing the need to do something different without destroying all the things that made it popular in the first place.

Puzzle & Dragons Z is expected to launch in the west at some point this year.

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User Comments (26)



BakaKnight said:

This situation remember me of the recent angry bird review, only this time the portable free game received a real big update during the port for justify the new price.

Really hope we will see Puzzle and Dragons Z here in Europe, the gameplay sound fun and the story... maybe is the classic old silly monster/whatever taming thing, but I'm not ashmed to admit I love those stories



alLabouTandroiD said:

Anything bringing new life into puzzle games is a good thing in my book.
Quite sure i'd buy a European version of this.



Felioth said:

Looks like a fun games.... I love puzzle games with a twist! And i love RPGs so... I would really buy this if it was possile



Slapshot said:

Thanks for the article Kerry.

I've been playing Puzzle and Dragons on iOS for a good six month now - I've probably dropped well over 100 hours into. It's about as hardcore of a game as it comes on the platform and well deserving its praise.

GungHo Online is no stranger to home consoles though. It's been developing games since 1998, so it comes as no surprise that the transition from mobile to console was done properly, seeing how that's where the majority of its experience is.

I'm excited to see Puzzle and Dragons Z land on Western shores. My $40 USD can be considered to be already spent.



Kaze_Memaryu said:

I really hope that europe will be included as well. GungHo might even fare better here, since we haven't seen a localization of the smartphone version either - just some terribly cheap ripoffs.



rjejr said:

Makes sense to copy Pokemon, and adding RPG elements helps, but will there be DLC challenges? That was a big part of the app game. I played for a month before moving on to I Need a Hero.

Anybody complaining about the Pokemon-;ite (not saying the reviewer did, it's an obvious copy) should watch some Sat morning cartoons - Pokemon, Digimon, Yu-Gi-O, Beyblades - they're all the same.



Damo said:

@Slapshot Thanks for the comment! I think Kerry's point was adapting the concept to consoles was the challenge - she never questioned GungHo's history as a company. Trust me, Kerry knows her Japanese developers



Slapshot said:

@Damo Oh, I wan't questioning her in the knowledge, not even in the slightest. I was just elaborating a bit on the developer's past a bit - I've seen a lot of crazy reactions to this title being released around other sites, almost all of which make it clear that these people have no idea that this developer is primarily a console developer.



Zach777 said:

Eye wissh peepul wood prufreed they're pousts beefour pousting. Derpaderf, I can right, yay!



Damo said:

@Slapshot No problem!

I personally cannot wait to get my hands on this. I've been enjoying the smartphone version but have avoided the IAPs thus far. The fleshed out RPG experience of Puzzle & Dragons Z appeals to me more, and the presentation looks gorgeous. I'm actually surprised that people aren't getting more hyped for this, to be honest.



Slapshot said:

@Damo The only real reason to purchase anything in the mobile version is for when you get to the point that you need to upgrade your monster capacity. Spending money on the Rare Egg Machine is a complete waste of money, seeing how the ratio of gods to 3-star garbage drops is entirely too high - a $5 game of chance is a bit ridiculous IMO. Thankfully, GHO does a good job of dishing out stones for consecutive logins and monthly events.

I too am looking forward to this landing on the 3DS. If it wasn't for the region lock, I'd already be having a blast with it. Haha



AcesHigh said:

@Damo Count me in on the hype train! I'm really excited for this "Pay-to-Play" (Sorry, I"ve played too many LA gigs...) version of a free-to-play game. There are SOOO many great iOS/Google Play games that would be amazing if the bean-counters left the developers alone to just make great game play experiences for their consumers. Spirit Stones is one that I was totally hooked on but have already dropped because newer games like SMB3DW and Zelda: ALBW give you everything you need to properly experience the game for one price. No egregious grinding required, limited game-play time limits or other constant IAPs required to get the most out of it. Sadly, those free-to-play games don't get much of a shake from me once the difficulty curve ramps up to the point where you HAVE to make in-game purchases. I'll stick to the traditional model of buying complete games. I truly believe these free-to-play games are a fad. Eventually the business models will circle back to traditional, albeit cheaper to develop games.



CureDolly said:

I had this game for Christmas and have been playing it to death! I have put in 59 hours 29 minutes so far! By the way, if you have a Japanese 3DS and download the demo (which is very generous - I played it for over 5 hours and it had me hooked) it is really good to find you have the option start the retail game from your demo save file.

That really indicates the game's polish to me. GungHo's president says he wants to have outsold NIntendo by the time he retires. Hubris perhaps, but the company is really serious about making a top-class game. And Pazudora IS a top-class game.



Godstrike said:

I just want to be the first one to say this but ... that hair seriously the one kid looks like he has a pikachu tail for hair



Godstrike said:

I just want to be the first one to say this but ... that hair seriously the one kid looks like he has a pikachu tail for hair



Godstrike said:

I just want to be the first one to say this but ... that hair seriously the one kid looks like he has a pikachu tail for hair



Godstrike said:

I just want to be the first one to say this but ... that hair seriously the one kid looks like he has a pikachu tail for hair



User1988 said:

I'm already a fan of the mobile version of this game but those gameplay videos make the retail version look so great! Looks like they really put time and effort into enhancing it.



Kitsune_Rei said:

I for one am excited for this and will be really disappointed if it doesn't reach the US. I would think we have a good shot since we have the Android/iOS version? The 3DS version looks like they basically took the gameplay I liked and made the graphics more beautiful and dropped in a smoother RPG element to it to enhance longer play sessions.

Also everyone seems to glance at the colored gem board and say "Oh another Bejeweled clone". While there is gem-matching, this game and strategy are NOTHING like Bejeweled. It took me a while to get used to. You actually hold a gem and use it to push other gems around, and then once you let go everything is set in place. You can ponder the board as long as you want, but once you lift and gem and start shifting others around, you have a limited time before the layout is set. It makes a lot of food for thought to clear as much of the board as you can in one go.



CureDolly said:

@Kitsune_Rei Absolutely right. This is one of the most innovative enhancements of the match-3 style of gameplay since the genre was invented.

And it really is a nice little RPG with a fun plot and a lot of humor.



Relias said:

Oh I love this game on the phone. It's a little like Dragon Quest meets Puzzle Quest. (Both of which is awesome) I hope this comes to America. If it does they can shut up and take my money.



Sir_Teabag said:

never seen or heard of this game before but it looks really fun, insta-buy for me when/if it comes to the u.s.



k9d said:

This post isn't tagged puzzledragonsz. Should be so it shows up with the related news. Thanks for the substantial post.

I'm with the others waiting for a west release date. My hopes are high since GungHo CEO told siliconera a west release was planned.

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