Because when you pour 1,000 hours into something, your thoughts on it become all kinda of mixed and muddled!
This post is part of a series on the mobile action RPG by Nintendo and Cygames, Dragalia Lost. For additional context, please read the earlier installments of this series.
Natalie Rambles About Dragalia Lost:
Chapter 1: Story and Aesthetics
Chapter 2: Systems, Gameplay, and Progression
Chapter 3: Quests, Events, and Endgame
Chapter 4: Summoning, Monetization, and Gacha
Chapter 5: Love, Loss, and Gripes
Chapter 6: Dragalia Digest and Developments
Note: This post was finalized on September 14th, 2020. Any changes to the systems, mechanics, and so forth announced or implemented after this date are not reflected in Chapters 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5.
Chapter 5-1: Dragalia is Dead
An older fellow once told me that it is the fool’s err to become invested and committed with online-only video games, and for one simple reason. Because they will all die eventually. Online only games depend on central servers, require momentous work to revive, and while some games were saved from the ordinarily lethal fate of a server shutdown, they are exceptions to the rule that online-only games will die. And online-only free-to-play mobile games are the most common death there is.
Dragalia Lost will die. It may die in a quarter, a year, or a decade, but rest assured, one day the servers will go down, and nobody will be able to play the game… unless there exists an end-of-life plan. And based on the history of Cygames and Nintendo, there won’t be. The game will be unplayable, and all people will be left with is its datamined code, art assets, and a plethora of gameplay footage. From that, somebody could try to revive the game, but, in all likelihood, they won’t succeed.
With all this in mind, allow me to posit a query:
“If a game is going to die, why even bother playing it? Why not just stick with games that won’t wither and writhe away as time marches on? Why not only become attached to games that can be easily replicated or emulated?”
I asked myself this question many a time in my youth, back when free-to-play games and mobages were a joke amongst the “hardcore gamers” I associated myself with. But eventually, I found the answer to this question, and it was ever the simple one.
People play online only games because they’re fun. Because they provide an enjoyable experience. Because they enjoy the gameplay, aesthetics, story, or any combination of things about the game. Even when these games do shut down, those who played them still have their memories. They still have the records of them playing the game, and they got to experience it before it was shut down. And while I want nothing more from this game than for it to be preserved in some shape or form, I do not regret the time or money I put into it, because I had fun. Because I enjoyed its gameplay. Because it has lovely stories, gorgeous art, interworking systems, and left a mark on me after spending over a year, and well over 1,000 hours, on this title.
And if I ignored the game, if I dismissed the game outright because it was online only, I would not have been granted this opportunity. I would not have learned to love it. I would not have discovered its wondrous soundtrack, I would not understand its compelling systems, and I would not have discovered the scattering of voices I’ve found in digging into the community. I would not be writing this post. I would not have come to love and admire Dragalia Lost if I had not played it and stuck with it, and now, it has been steadily edging into the pantheon of my favorite games of all time. Even though Dragalia Lost will die, and by the time I am old and gray I will assuredly be unable to play the game, my time with it has been etched into my mind.
Chapter 5-2: Armchair Financial Analyst
This is a side note more about the community than the actual game, but I want to take the time to comment that nobody actually knows what numbers Dragalia Lost needs to be making to be considered a success. You can poke around Sensor Tower, Game-i, and take information from sources that derive data from App Annie all you gosh darn like, but unless you work for Cygames, you probably don’t know what metrics they use to denote whether or not a game is successful and worth keeping around.
Also, keep this in mind, pin it to ya kneecaps, that we be in a pandemic, brah! Nothin’ be poppin’ like it should, ‘cos people ain’t got jobs, and if ya ain’t got no job, ya ain’t got no green to gacha. All revenues be down, and fiscal 2021 is gonna be rough for losta folks, ‘cos the global economy be swishin’ in die toire.
So toss your hyperbolic nonsense down the drain, because you don’t got the credentials, brain-smarts, or EXP needed to do a serious financial analysis of this game, and Cygames as a whole. Y’all pillow-sniffin’ cowards prolly don’t even skim the Integrated Reports!
Chapter 5-3: Menu Improvements
Seeing as how I have talked about the bulk of my thoughts about Dragalia Lost in the prior section, I am mostly left with the real major nitpicks I have, and the bugbears that I am bearing after playing this game so gosh darn much. And number one on that list is probably the second most used screen in the entire game, the Quest screen. This screen has gone through several iterations over the life of Dragalia Lost, and it shows. Not in the sense that it is unusable or anything so extreme, but the way it is arranged does not make a whole lot of sense when you stop and think about it. For the sake of illustrating this point, see below for a mock-up comparing the current Quest layout and my proposed revision:
Here is a list of the reasons why I made the changes that I did:
- As mentioned in Chapter 3-3, the designation of calling every quest outside of the Main Campaign an event can be confusing to players, given what the word event is defined as and usually means in the world of gacha games. As such, all labels using the word event have been changed to a more descriptive alternative. Except for the accurately named Special Event label. The designation of “Gather Resources” and “Challenge Quests” exist mostly as placeholders, as I do not have a better idea of what to call the quests grouped under them.
- Void Battles were removed from the Special Events section and placed underneath The Imperial Onslaught. This is because Void Battles are primarily usedto gather resources, are recurring content, and are on a difficulty level above The Imperial Onslaught. While Void Battles may classify as an event, as they operate on their own schedule, none of the content in them is in any way limited, as it is all perpetual and cycles.
- Event Compendium was brought under the recently concluded event, as it makes the most sense for an archive of events to be grouped together with the ongoing events. Because they are all events. However, it is of the least urgency, as the content is limited, so it deserves to be at the bottom.
- Dragon Trials and The Imperial Onslaught are no longer lumped into the same section as The Mercurial Gauntlet, High Dragon Trials, and The Agito Uprising. This is because Dragon Trials and The Imperial Onslaught are accessible by the player early on, and are a core part of all players’ daily rotation. The Mercurial Gauntlet, High Dragon Trials, and The Agito Uprising are not.
- I would like to see The Mercurial Gauntlet be moved off of the main Quest screen list and relegated to the vacant lower-left corner of the Quest screen. Regardless, it is not a quest to be repeated, and it has little place amongst the likes of the Elemental Ruins and High Dragon Trials.
- I used an older version of the banner for Advanced Dragon Trials, because I think it better conveys the idea of fighting all 5 High Dragons, instead of just High Midgardstormr.
The item and material screens of Dragalia Lost are similarly a hodgepodge of iteration and revision. While they were once sensible, an influx of new materials have caused them to become clutter. In order to combat this, I have three suggestions:
- Assign every material or item a designated space on the inventory screen to make it easier to take stock in what the player has, even if they are still gathering materials.
- Segregate items, materials, and resources into more direct and descriptive categories.
- Combine the Items and Material screens into a single list for ease of use.
In order to illustrate what the Item screen could look like, I have prepared a mock-up. Please note that all category labels are placeholder descriptors, as is the arrangement of categories. I based it off of the sorting method currently seen in Dragalia Lost, but I made a few creative decisions to better illustrate the progression system. Also, I sort of gave up with items that did not clearly fit into a clear category and threw them to the bottom. Because really, where else are Talonstones supposed to go?
Chapter 5-4: Event Compendium – Dream Remix
One of my biggest problems with Dragalia Lost when it first launched was the fact that there existed content that was only accessible via during time-limited events, and while the game did have a habit of reviving events, it lacked a way for players to revisit and enjoy the story, gameplay, and rewards of a given event at their choosing. However, I pushed that criticism aside after the First Anniversary Dragalia Digest debuted and announced that the developers were working on a way for players to replay past events at their leisure. 6 months later, on March 27th, 2020, the Event Compendium launched with 3 facility events for players to enjoy and accumulate Might with.
In the following 5 months, only 2 more events were added to the Compendium, both of them facility events, and there exists no reliable schedule as to when new events will be added to the compendium. Or when raid events, which were announced for the Compendium during the 1.5-Year Anniversary Dragalia Digest, will be added.
Now, I know that this is not necessarily a big priority to the development team, as the Event Compendium is content that dedicated players can breeze through in a few days, and does little to draw in newcomers. Plus, between putting out a new raid/facility event, a new glory event, a new raid/facility/collab event, and reviving an older event every month, it’s not like players are really aching for event content to gnaw their teeth on.
However, I have been playing this game for over a year, and still have not been able to experience everything, because certain characters, stories, and overall content is locked behind these events. Furthermore, because Dragalia Lost has been growing more branching and ambitious with its narrative as of late by pushing out sequel events, events that tie in with the broader narrative, and concluding events with sequel hooks. As the Event Compendium feature is starting to feel necessary for new players to keep up with the lore. Also, it’s nice to have non-essential quests that bear considerable rewards in exchange for play.
So I want more quests in the Event Compendium, but how do I propose the developers go about doing so? Well, they can start adding raid events to the Event Compendium, and once that precedent is established, they can begin adding one new raid or facility event every month. Why every month? Because this game operates on clear monthly cycles, and with this game’s current content distribution rate, they can afford to put one event into the vault every month while still having an ample library for event revivals.
I mean, even if we ignore the glory events, collab events, and other events, the game still has been home to 24 events, only 5 of which are in the Event Compendium. If they started adding one a month in October 2020, they would have still a nice buffer of 19 events for revivals, which I think would be plenty sustainable. And in the event it stops being sustainable, or the schedule gets screwed up by a collab event, then just take a month off and resume the cycle when things are normalized.
That all sounds simple enough, but let’s talk about some bigger hurdles. How should the developers go about bringing the raid events to the Event Compendium? Well, let’s begin by establishing that multiplayer simply does not work within the Event Compendium.
The multiplayer in Dragalia Lost depends on a lively playerbase, quick match times, and players continuously returning to quests to accumulate the spoils of battle. This is why you will typically only find lively co-op in ongoing time-limited events, harder Void Battles with double drops, the Master difficulty Imperial Onslaught quest with double drops, Standard/Expert High Dragon Trials, and Standard/Expert Agito Uprising.
By introducing new multiplayer centered content, the developers risk two things. Fragmenting the playerbase for these popular co-op quests by giving the raid events better rewards, or creating content that simply goes unplayed because the rewards are lacking. And if raid events were introduced in the Event Compendium as multiplayer content, one of these two things would almost certainly happen. Also, the Event Compendium is supposed to be persistently available content, but it is not persistent content. Once players clear an event in the Event Compendium, they have little reason to return to them. Like the majority of the early-game or lower difficulty quests.
As such, I think it is best to approach this problem by asking how the developers can convert raid events into single-player content, and I have two possible solutions in mind:
My first solution is to rebalance the bosses of these archived raid events and make it so that a single team of 4 can clear content originally intended for 16 adventurers in total. This would probably be the most straightforward solution, as it would mostly require numerical adjustments, but it would also rob the fights of their splendor, as you would no longer have a small army of adventurers wailing on a super boss. The RAID boss would just become a BIG boss
While my second solution would be to have players enter Raid Battles with their team of 4, and a pre-set team of 12 AI adventurers. This is probably the best solution, as it allows the player to feel like they are leading a massive army to battle, but in implementing this solution, there are multiple things the dev team would need to consider. Would these 12 AI adventurers have fixed stats based on the quest selected or scaling stats based on the player’s might? Will they act depending on what the player does, or take initiative on their own? Would the AI shapeshift into a dragon throughout the battle, even though the AI never shapeshifts?
Beyond this, there are other things to consider. Blazon summons would likely be reshuffled to offer more reliable rewards, and have a hard reset limit. Super rare drops would be cut, just like they are in archived facility events. The Emblem system could… pretty much remain exactly as it is. As for the friendship system, where players must use a new character to make them a permanent member of their roster, they could either keep that as is, or just removed entirely since there is no longer any time limit for accumulating friendship points.
Now, when the Event Compendium was originally announced, it only specified that raid and facility events were coming to it. However, I believe that pretty much every other event could also be brought over to the Compendium… barring some reworking.
Story Events: I failed to mention these in my event overview due to the simple fact that I do not see this style of event returning or remaining in its current form. Only two of these events were ever released, Valentine’s Confections and Stirring Shadows, both of which did not offer quests for players to complete, but instead had players accumulate an event-specific material by completing and playing other Quests. Said event-specific material would be used to unlock chapters in a story and items in a Treasure Trade.
It is a very similar concept to glory events, and it is precisely because of these similarities that I believe these story events should be similarly fleshed out with their own series of copy-pasted quests that only abstractly tie to the associated story. The story itself, associated artwork, and even event-specific material can all remain the same, but everything about how one gets the materials would be new.
…And beyond this approach, it would be tricky to add these to the Event Compendium, since players accumulate materials whenever they clear any quest. …Unless they cap off the number of materials players can get to the exact number needed to unlock every story and everything limited in the Treasure Trade. That would also work!
Simple Events: So far these have only been two of these so-called simple events, Sweeping Retrospective and Ascent to Eminence, both of which served the same purpose. To provide players with the ability to accumulate common upgrade materials and Rupies at a faster rate than one could accumulate them otherwise. They are ways to grind more efficiently, and as such, I don’t think it would be wise to make them part of a permanent line-up. Worst case scenario, they invalidate other content like Avenue to Power and Avenue to Fortune. Best case scenario, they are just kind of pointless and offer little value beyond the story tied to these events.
Actually, scratch that. Ascent to Eminence had zero story to speak of. Sweeping Retrospective did, and it was super hecking cute, but it was a short New Year’s themed celebration that I do not think really has a place in the Event Compendium. If anything, it should probably just be converted into a Castle Story or something.
Glory Events: Okay, these are SUPER easy to archive. You take the event, remove any co-op functionality, remove all time limits… and you’re good to go! Or at least I wish it were that simple, but with the introduction of glory events, the developers made certain missteps and earlier events would require revision to match the quality standards met by glory events going forward. However, those revisions would mostly involve changing numbers and relying on foundational changes to how these quests operate, so I do not think it would take a lot of work to add these to the Compendium. Which I think is where they belong, as the content simply lacks the legs necessary to keep the audience engaged if any of them were to be revived.
Notte’s Slumber Shot: For their 2019 April Fools special, the dev team thought it would be fun to create a scrolling ship shooter mini-game featuring the main character Notte as she flies through the sky, shooting fiends, and fighting a boss at the end. It was a cute and fun little diversion… but there is no real reason why it was removed from the game. Players didn’t have much reason to play it beyond novelty, but hey, it’s a feature that some people enjoyed and now they can’t until Cygames decides to re-run it again… or puts it away in the vault for people to enjoy for the rest of Dragalia Lost’s existence.
Wagabound Pupper: For their 2020 April Fools special, the dev team thought it would be just delightful if they added a dog to Dragalia Lost, and… that’s what they did. For a single day, they put a dog in the game who would appear on the home screen, could be fed fresh and nutritious bread, and you could play with him by taking him on walks in a small forest, play fetch with him, and enjoy a basic photo mode while doing so. There was a lot of work put into it for such a disposable bit of content, but during its epilogue chapter, and a subsequent update from the developers, it was revealed that the dog would return and play a bigger role in… something. But until then, please make this event available again and available forever, Cygames. Because it was cute, fun, and made me happy to see a happy little doggo walking aside my favoritest adventurers on the home screen
So in conclusion, it would be neat if Cygames put more content away into the Event Compendium because they put a lot of work into this content, and I would like to both play the content I missed, and for future players to be able to revisit some of the lovely scenarios and quality event quests of yore, rather than relying on whatever the current ongoing event is. …Also, players can more easily obtain elusive materials via Treasure Trade and such, which just makes the game all the more free-to-play friendly and generous in general.
Chapter 5-5: Dragalia Evolution
Now, I have other minor, petty, and foolhardy gripes I could spew to close this chapter out. I could go on about how the Shadow element became wildly overpowered. How the weapon crafting system needs to be reworked. How certain things do not feel especially well balanced in the game as of now. Or how the Encyclopedia feature still has not been added to the game, despite being teased so long ago.
However, the first three of those quibbles are set to be fixed with a version update due out later in September, and an update regarding the Encyclopedia, and many other things, is expected to happen leading up to Dragalia’s second anniversary later this month. And this… is something that I love about Dragalia Lost so nearly and dearly. The fact that the more I play it, the more time passes, the better the game gets (generally speaking). Since the game’s launch, the developers have been adjusting, reworking, and rebalancing the game, and while they did screw up in some stellar ways (see Chapter 3-6), the game is inarguably vastly improved over its 1.0 release.
Knowing that this is the case, and clearly seeing that Cygames, above much else, wants to make this a good, enjoyable, and rewarding game for players of all skill levels, is the main reason why I have stuck Dragalia Lost for so long, and why I continue to do so. Because it is a live service where, as a player, I feel like I am being constantly serviced. It is a game where I am delighted by its story, presentation, gameplay, and interwoven progression systems. None of which is truly harmed by the same sense of greed and avarice common amongst most other live services of this nature, amounting to a title that I want to financially support because it brings me joy.
It is a title that I have come to love deeply over the past year, one that probably taught me more about game design than any other singular game I have ever played, and one that I plan on playing until I can’t. Until it goes offline and dies. But even then, it will still hold a special place within me. For the stories it told, the characters it created, the bosses I battled, the goodies I accumulated, the fun I had, and the fact that this was the first, and likely last, online game I became deeply invested in.
Thank you Mr. Lost for the vibes, the memories, and the funsies. Thank you the DL community, y’all be good people for a bunch of gacha-loving degenerates. Thank you to the people who run the Dragalia Lost Wiki, without you this post would not have been possible. Thank you Cygames for making such a dope game with your years of experience. And thank you Nintendo for ponying up the green for this project and telling the folks behind it to make the game so gosh darn generous.
Chapter 6 will be published on September 30th and will reflect on the changes and announcements revealed during the September 2020 Dragalia Digest, which will detail plans to celebrate the game’s second anniversary and bring with it several announcements that may change the game’s very foundation.