"I never imagined myself thoroughly enjoying a mobile game, yet I've fallen in love with Dragalia Lost."
Disclaimer: This review is based off of Patch 1.5.1, which was the current patch when the game released in the reviewer's home country of Canada.
When Nintendo announced their collaboration with DeNA for mobile games, nobody knew what that might mean for The Big N entering the mobile market. After releasing two successful mobile games (Pokémon Go and Fire Emblem Heroes) and two not-so-successful mobile games (Super Mario Run and Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp), where would Dragalia Lost fall on the scale? Created by prominent mobile game developer Cygames, this is Nintendo's first original mobile game IP. In 2018, we gave Dragalia Lost our Mobile Game of the Year award. For me, it was time to find out what captivated my fellow editors so much.
The story of Dragalia Lost positions you as the young prince of a nation, tasked by the king with forming a pact with a dragon to gain access to a sacred shard that will prevent monsters from entering the kingdom. You have the ability to form pacts with dragons thanks to the power of your ancestor, who made pacts with dragons to seal away a powerful demon. After reaching the shard, your father suddenly turns evil and kidnaps your twin sister, Zethia. She is the descendant of the first goddess, blessed with almost infinite mana, which is the force that rules over the land. Before she is taken away, Zethia tells you to make as many pacts with dragons as you can, as you are the chosen one that can form multiple dragonpacts. You make it your goal to do as Zethia says: forge as many dragonpacts as you can, and try to rescue Zethia from your father.
Now, I can't claim to be any kind of mobile gaming expert, but I wasn't expecting the story to be as good as it was. It's not anything mind-blowing, but it's a story with some meat on it, though at the time of this review, it's still incomplete. Cygames is dangling the resolution of the story in front of players right now, and that will entice people to continue playing. The end of Chapter 6 creates a second arc to the story, so there can easily be another five or six chapters put into the game before they finish the narrative. The most recent chapter, Chapter 8, came out just last week as of this review's posting, and Chapter 7 was released in December of 2018, three months after the game's initial launch. This is kind of disappointing, as I hoped they would have a clear vision of the story and release chapters on a regular basis. From what has been told so far, I'm really into the world and characters they've created. I just hope I don't have to wait a year or more to see the end of the story.
The prince gains his main allies within the game's first two chapters: the Paladyn (note: not a misspelling, this is how it's spelled in the game) Elisanne, the mercenary Ranzal, the healer Cleo, and the archer Luca. These aforementioned characters are likely to form the core of your early parties, but you won't hear me complaining. These five characters are fairly strong in their own right. They come at four stars, cover all elements, and represent all four classes. Four stars is higher than the majority of characters you will summon, which means if you happen to get some bad luck early on, you won't feel like you've already fallen behind. Since there's one character for each element (five characters, five elements), you have the range covered. Elements increase or reduce damage depending on your character. Wind beats Water, Water beats Fire, and Fire beats Wind. There's also Light and Shadow, which are good against each other. There are four types of units: attack (skills are all offense-based), defense (higher HP with defense skills like shields), support (buffs), and healing (restores HP and cures status conditions). Creating a balanced roster will go a long way to ensuring your success. In addition, maps are tied to certain elements, so specialized elemental rosters will help you clear them faster and easier.
The game itself plays like an action RPG, with screen taps for your basic attacks, swiping on the screen to dodge, and skills to choose from on the bottom. This works well, for the most part, but sometimes the game will read that I'm swiping when all I'm doing is trying to get my character turned around to fight an enemy. Things get more complicated when you face enemies that have shields you have to break through. The "Force Strike" ability, which is used to break shields, is performed by holding your thumb down on your character to charge it, and then pointing it in the direction you want to attack. It's awkward to do all of this with your thumb. Even moving around is sometimes a pain, since your thumb might obscure vision of the action or will need repositioning after the fight is over.
There are plenty of ways to upgrade your character, from simply leveling up to giving them better equipment, like weapons and "wyrmprints" (equippable items that give you an HP and strength increase, as well as at least one skill). There's also the "mana circle," which is a kind of skill tree. This circle grants HP and strength increases, as well as new skills to be learned, in exchange for mana. You earn mana by defeating enemies, getting rewarded for daily logins, using helpers on missions, and completing daily quests. You do need materials for learning and upgrading skills, which you can earn in elemental quests.
Speaking of quests, there are a lot more besides the main campaign. There's a lot to grind for, as one might expect from a mobile RPG. There are quests for getting more money (rupies), experience-boosting crystals, elemental orbs, weapon-crafting materials, and dragon parts. As you go further into the campaign, more and more of these quests open up to you. There are bonuses to be earned daily from finishing these quests as well, so there's an incentive to play every day to make sure you get the most value out of these quests. In addition to these special quests, there are occasional events that offer opportunities to get rare materials for those willing to grind. If you need help doing some of the harder quests, don't worry. Dragalia Lost features online co-op, where you can pair up with players around the world to complete quests together. The process is seamless and the game rarely has connection issues.
There is also an element of town building with the Castle Grounds. The prince and his companions take up residence in a castle after Chapter 1, and this becomes your base of operations. You can build mines to mine rupies, a dragontree to collect dragonfruit used to level up your dragons, and elemental altars to power up your adventurers. You can upgrade these facilities as you, the player, gain levels and play through more of the story. The Castle area also gives you access to adventurer and dragon stories, where you can learn more about the characters you recruit and how they interact with the main cast. Since there's only so many characters in the main story, this is a good way of getting to know your summonable companions.
As someone who has experienced gacha gaming firsthand in Fire Emblem Heroes, I went into Dragalia Lost expecting the worst. Thankfully, Dragalia Lost is fairly free-to-play friendly. There are plenty of opportunities to get the in-game currency called "wyrmite:" daily bonuses, beating maps for the first time, viewing story segments, and completing in-game achievements. Wyrmite is chiefly used for summoning, but it can also be used to increase your builder count for your base, restart failed maps, speed up base development, replenish stamina, and more. The currency you can get using real-life money is "diamantium," which has most of the same functions as wyrmite, and that helps keep the game free-to-play friendly. There are some things in the in-game store that can only be purchased with diamantium, and there's also a discounted daily summon you can only perform with diamantium. So while it is nice to have a little bit of diamantium, it's nothing that will break the game open. I did buy a little bit myself, as it came in a starter pack that probably saved a few hours of grinding.
The thing that makes Dragalia Lost not free-to-play friendly is the extremely low summon rate for 5* adventurers (your main controllable characters) and 5* dragons: a mere 1%. A future update will increase this percentage to 2% apiece and will also remove wyrmprints from the summoning pool, which currently sit at a 2% chance and are easily the least desirable of the three 5* summon possibilities. Dragalia Lost does increase your rates for every 10 summons without a 5*, but it resets back to normal after you get a 5*. I can easily recount getting my "pity rate" up, receiving a wyrmprint, and then wanting to throw my phone out the window. There is a way to get 5* adventurers and dragons through regular gameplay, but it takes a lot of patience and grinding to get there. Thankfully, another future update will decrease the amount of grinding required to get the materials needed for upgrading adventurers. It is great to see Cygames listening to the player base, which is upset with the low summoning percentage and grinding in general.
The game runs well, and if your phone/tablet isn't up to snuff, there are options that can lower the graphics for a smoother experience. I played with the best visuals and had a smooth experience on my Galaxy S8. At its full graphics, the game looks pretty good for a mobile title. Some more facial expressions on the 3D models would have been nice, but everything else is good. The 2D models are well drawn and their colours really pop off the screen.
Dragalia Lost features dual audio, a welcome feature for both English and Japanese dub lovers alike. Both have good voice acting, so it's up to your own personal preference which one you would like to go with. There are more voiced lines in Japanese as opposed to English for some reason, so if you would prefer the (mostly) fully voiced version of the game, you will have to play with Japanese audio. Most of the music in the game was created by Japanese singer and songwriter Daoko. Her songs quickly got me addicted to the music, helped by the fact that the characters bob their heads to the beat when you're on the home menu. The battle themes are also pretty good, particularly the music used during events.
As someone who has always dismissed mobile games as time wasters that could never stand up to games on consoles or PC, I am eating my words a bit. With the mobile games I played before, I just went through the motions and never really cared much for them overall. It's different with Dragalia Lost. I feel invested in the game, and I can easily take the time out of my day to dive back in. Cygames shows why it's one of the kings of the Japanese mobile game arena; I never imagined myself thoroughly enjoying a mobile game, yet I've fallen in love with Dragalia Lost. The game has its problems for sure, but it has a charm that can't be denied. If you're looking for a new mobile RPG, I suggest giving Dragalia Lost a chance.