There was once a time where consumers and Nintendo alike claimed that the company would never move into the mobile gaming space, but as times have changed, the Big N has decided that perhaps a few games wouldn’t hurt. It’s rather fascinating to see how Nintendo’s strategy in the mobile space has altered over time, with there being a gradual shift from bite-size, console-style games to more 'gacha' and microtransaction-oriented titles that are more in line with typical mobile game standards. Dragalia Lost - a new IP from Nintendo made in partnership with Cygames - is the most ‘mobile game’ game to come from Nintendo so far, but it also stands as its most engaging and enjoyable one on the platform.
Dragalia Lost takes place in the fictional land of Alberia, a place where humans and dragons live together. The royal family of Alberia possess a special ability that allows them to form pacts with these dragons and shapeshift into them at will, and the plot follows the seventh (nameless) prince of Alberia and a motley crew of party members as he embarks on a journey to form pacts with the great dragons of the land. Although the plot isn’t exactly riveting, it’s rather staggering how in-depth the developers have chosen to go with this world; every single character, dragon, and equippable item has its own story to a certain degree, and these all play into the overarching lore. Each character and dragon is fully voice-acted, too, and though the performances range in quality, they're much better than we usually get in mobile games.
Gameplay follows a Diablo-like ARPG format in which you view characters from an isometric perspective and guide them through mini-dungeons filled with loot and monsters. Combat and movement is kept simple, as you tap to attack, drag to run and swipe to dodge. As one would expect, it never quite feels as tactile or responsive as using sticks and buttons, but there were very few times during our review where this control set up actively hindered play. Though most enemies are merely fodder that drop much-needed materials, more powerful foes have attacks that are usually telegraphed by a red zone appearing on the ground and rapidly filling in with a colour; you have to move out of the zone before it fills to dodge the attack. This system helps to keep the combat moving at a fast pace, as a standard battle becomes a delicate dance of ripping up enemies while diving to safety from the constantly appearing red zones.
Beyond basic weapon strikes, each character has a series of unlockable skills and abilities that can be used at any point in battle once their respective gauges fill up. These have a broad variety of usage, such as healing or strength buffs or special attacks that are good for crowd control, and each character has unique skills that help to differentiate them from the pack. On top of this, party members can be equipped with a dragon, which they can transform into after filling up a gauge. When you hulk out like this, your character doesn’t take any damage and doles out plenty of punishment with the dragon’s might, but the drawback is that the transformation only lasts for around ten seconds. Though skills and dragon powers aren’t anything groundbreaking, they do a good job of giving the simple combat system more depth while rewarding those who take the time to create a well-synergized team.
Much like in the Fire Emblem series, there’s a 'rock-paper-scissors' structure to combat, with each enemy and ally being one of five elements; light is super effective against dark and vice versa, while fire beats wind, which beats water, which beats fire. Characters can also wield one of eight different weapon types, each of which has a distinct feel, although generally, it seems that the ranged weapons are less effective than the melee ones. Regardless, this weapon and element variety helps to lessen the feeling of repetitiveness that inevitably sets in; different missions require different elements, which ensures that you’ll be trying out many characters and weapon configurations.
In terms of content, Dragalia Lost features potentially dozens of hours of entertainment; the main campaign takes about five to ten hours to clear in total and then there’s a variety of endgame content on offer for those who are willing to grind. Missions and battles are gated by a metric called ‘Might’ which tallies the sum total of a given team’s stats, and players that wish to access the missions offering the rarest material drops and experience jumps will need to spend quite a bit of time working on upgrading various separate elements of a team to bump up that Might number. As one would expect, there are diminishing returns on this front the farther you go; maxing out character levels is a herculean task that either requires weeks of dedication or some deep pockets.
Although Dragalia Lost’s gameplay is primarily experienced through dungeon crawls, a significant portion of your time will doubtless be spent micromanaging team assets to get the best numbers. Weapons can be crafted out of materials you collect in missions, and these can then be levelled up themselves to be crafted into better weapons. Similarly, you can separately level up dragons and 'wyrmprints' (equippable cards that bestow unique buffs) by combining them with weaker variants in a process called ‘Unbinding’, which raises the given item’s max level cap. It’s a lot to handle - even more so when you factor in the sheer volume of characters, wyrmprints and dragons that you get from summoning - but the game does a great job of gradually introducing elements to you as you progress through the campaign.
On top of all this, you also have a ‘Halidom’ to manage, in which buildings can be constructed that provide passive buffs which benefit your whole team, such as gold mines that regularly produce Rupies, the game’s main currency, or elemental shrines that boost the health and strength of matching characters. As your player level increases by playing missions, new buildings are gradually unlocked and level caps on existing ones are raised - although once again, you’re likely not going to reach those caps given the enormous amount of resources and real-world time required to upgrade. The Halidom admittedly feels like a rather tacked-on feature, no doubt included to help drive microtransaction sales, but the value that it offers to a well-rounded team is nonetheless significant.
In case you haven’t gathered, Dragalia Lost is a rather complicated (perhaps unnecessarily so) RPG, but it excels in making all these disparate elements easy to understand and, most importantly, rewarding. There’s always something that Dragalia Lost dangles in front of you, be it the opportunity to promote a character up a star rank or a high-level mission that’s just outside your max Might, and this constant dangling keeps you pressing ever forward. For example, Daily activities distribute rewards to players who check in every day, and there’s a constant barrage of events going on which offer up exclusive items and fun missions, like raid battles against gargantuan bosses. Best of all, most of these goals are easily achievable by a player who doesn’t want to spend any extra money on the app.
The presence of microtransactions is certainly felt in Dragalia Lost, but it never becomes overwhelming; there’s always a relatively reasonable alternative to those who don’t want to pay up. This is due in part to the generous distribution of 'Wyrmite', a virtual currency that’s good for nearly everything which would require real-world money. Every time you clear a mission for the first time or unlock one of the hundreds of in-game achievements, a small bit of Wyrmite is awarded to the player to spend as they see fit. For example, if you don’t want to stump up a few bucks to try summoning that shiny new character being offered for the latest event, you can pay for a summon with the Wyrmite you’ve earned by playing naturally. Granted, players who spend real money will always have an advantage, but Dragalia Lost feels fair in how it treats 'free' players; there are very few instances where it feels like a non-payer doesn’t have a fighting chance.
For those of you that prefer social gaming, Dragalia Lost features a surprisingly robust online experience that helps to pad out the experience. A separate, rechargeable currency called ‘Getherwings’ governs co-op play; spend a few Getherwings and you can enter an online lobby in which up to four players from around the world can participate. In our experience, matchmaking is pain-free and fast, and although there’s no voice chat, a system of preset stickers can be used to call out basic commands and requests. Considering the rather poor AI that typically runs the other three members in your team, playing a tough mission on co-op can make an enormous difference to the outcome, and the smoothness of the experience makes it a welcome inclusion.
From a presentation perspective, Dragalia Lost is a stunner, going for a vibrant and colourful art style that integrates comic-book elements to add to the fantasy themes. Character models and animations are about on-par with a polished 3DS game, and various sounds like 'FZZT!' and 'HaaaAAA' emphatically flash across the screen as swords flash and characters dance. Environments are surprisingly detailed too; although the same basic themes are reused for many dungeons, little features like frogs hopping off the main path into a nearby pond show that Nintendo level of quality. The same could be said of the stellar soundtrack, consisting of a variety of catchy J-Pop tunes that match the rapid-fire pace of the gameplay. Although it would be nice if there were a little more diversity in the soundtrack - one can only listen to the main menu theme so many times before it becomes a bit grating - what’s on offer here is solid and matches the game’s themes well.
If you’ve never been much of a fan of gacha-style mobile games, Dragalia Lost is hardly going to change your mind. With that being said, this is a remarkably well-executed ARPG for mobile devices; surprisingly in-depth lore, easy to pick up gameplay and oodles of customization options make this a game that’s easy to sink hours into, and the generous distribution of free virtual currency helps to keep the microtransactions to a minimum. It may not be anything groundbreaking, but Dragalia Lost is a release worthy of the quality associated with Nintendo’s name. You really should give it a try.