Dragalia’s solid gameplay loop makes the experience greater than the sum of its waifus.
I don’t play mobile games. I have nothing against them, and I’ll get drawn into truly unique experiences like Pokemon Go or online board games, but I’ve always steered clear of the freemium gacha games that dominate the App Store’s “Top Grossing” page. I avoided Dragalia Lost’s Direct and marketing campaign for that very reason, but I found myself free on launch day and decided to check it out. I got hooked.
Dragalia’s lengthy download screen excited me with flashy anime cutscenes. Characters and icons bounced in time to DAOKA’s soundtrack in menus. The flick of a switch replaced the American voices with the obviously superior Japanese cast. Bright colors, depth-of-field effects, and a steady framerate impressed on both an Android phone and a basic iPad. Production values were high, and I worried I’d foot the bill.
As the predictable (and skippable!) story unfolded, the combat’s depth grabbed me. Tapping, sliding, and swiping darted my character across the screen. Well-timed specials wreaked havoc on waves of enemies, and a dragon transformation finished them off. Each character’s unique weapon, element, and special combo kept me searching for a favorite and striving for the perfect team of four. I eventually settled on a spry archer as my main and pumped him full of stat-boosting quest rewards.
Story missions and achievements doled out plenty of Wyrmite, the currency for gacha summons and time-skips. A tenfold summon guarantees a rare pull and features (predictably) the rockin’-est jam on the soundtrack. I had enough free currency to perform what felt like a dozen tenfold summons before finishing the story. Repeat character pulls give a currency spendable on promoting a character one rarity level, so even weak favorites are viable team members. Wyrmite rewards definitely slowed as levels got harder, but nothing ever felt insurmountable. While my team may not be top-tier meta or anything, I comfortably completed most of the launch content without the pressure to spend money.
Stamina and co-op are so generous that I’m still not sure how they work. Leveling up refills your stamina bar and co-op-granting “Getherwings.” I think I played for ten hours straight without noticing the stamina system. My levels-up are beginning to slow now, and harder levels require more stamina, so I occasionally see my stamina bar dip below full. Jumping into a co-op room instead uses, like, one or two Getherwings, a seemingly infinite resource I’m sure will dry up eventually.
In co-op, other players replace your three AI team members. Co-op appears to run pretty stable, even on weak internet with other players dropping. My roommate and I played through chunks of the story together and complete revolving side-missions almost daily. A unique code every time someone creates a multiplayer room makes the friends list seem underutilized.
The campaign does reach an end-point, but definitely not an ending. The kingdom remains lost, and the lead character looks to face down his seven siblings, most absent from the story so far, for control of the kingdom. Promised updates should keep players popping in occasionally and together in progression. The second weekend after launch debuted a limited-time event starring an exclusive character, dragon, and equipment, and these new levels quickly dominated the multiplayer rooms. The event introduced raid battles, which pit four teams of four against a massive enemy — and a timer — proving Dragalia Lost still has some post-launch tricks up its sleeve.
I still get lost in Dragalia’s messy menus, but I’m getting there. The tap-and-wait castle town still seems empty, and I’m often worried I’ll accidentally feed an upgraded item to a weaker one. I don’t know which dragons to use, other than my only 5-star. The seemingly endless stream of waifus fawning over the main character is quite tropey (and totally not my style), but side-stories at least attempt to flesh out characters. Those stories don't include any combat but do drop a bit of extra Wyrmite.
I first tried to judge Dragalia Lost on how money-hungry it was but instead grew as a gamer. Dragalia Lost proves free-to-play isn’t the demon I thought it was. With a ton of content, deep, fluid gameplay, and top-notch production, Dragalia Lost is worth every penny a player spends on it. See you in co-op!