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Four Things That ‘Dragalia Lost’ Does Well, And Four That Need Improvement

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Nintendo and Cygames’s collaborative mobile title, Dragalia Lost, has been out in the US, Japan, and select other territories for over three weeks now, and in that time has earned $16 million in revenue, beating out the launch Nintendo’s own Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp. Players have since had the chance to grow accustomed to the action-RPG systems in play, as well as participate in a full-scale raid event that lasted over the course of ten days.

However, it’s more difficult to judge these sort of free-to-play, gacha-style mobile games compared to traditional console titles. This is due to how a lot of the enjoyment derived will vary based on each player’s luck, and also how these are living games with content added on a regular basis. That said, there are still some reasonable conclusions can be drawn at this point about Dragalia Lost. Here are four things the new IP does right in the context of the mobile market, and four things it needs to improve on if it wants to have legs beyond its successful launch.

Well Executed

1. Stellar Presentation

The most obvious aspect of Dragalia Lost to even someone who hasn’t played the game is just how good it looks and sounds. Despite the chibi art style, each character is portrayed with a level of crisp detail that gives each one a distinct appearance from the last, even at a glance. Flashy effects punctuated by short voice quips give weight to character skills and attacks that up the intensity of battles. Even the menu UI pops across the board with vibrant colors, irregular shapes, and jovial music.

Dragalia Lost Home Screen

The numerous vocal tracks featuring Japanese singer DAOKO (well known for her “whisper rap” style) are rather astonishing, and create a distinct feel-good vibe that makes even browsing the in-game shop a joy. That these vocals can be turned off for those who don’t care for them shows a level of commitment Nintendo and Cygames are making to ensure this title’s success not just within Japan.

2. A Story Actually Worth Something

Story isn’t usually a priority for mobile games. Cygames’s own Grandblue Fantasy is one of the rare exceptions, and fortunately, Dragalia Lost seems to be following suit.

The tale of a chosen prince rising up to fight against an evil empire is a well-trodden one, and Dragalia Lost doesn’t pretend otherwise. At first, it feels like the story is just going through the motions to check off items on a list of plot points. Partway through, however, the narrative does see a moderate shift. While it’s not an earth-shattering plot twist by any means, this shift is executed in such a way that actually instills some amount of dread and foreboding. The outlook doesn’t look great for the party by the end of chapter six (which is all that is currently available), making future installments in the story an exciting variable to see unravel next.

3. Lower Rarity Units Can Get the Job Done

All too often in gacha-style mobile games developers will make the rarest units so far and beyond in power as to render lower rarity ones almost (if not completely) unusable. Grandblue Fantasy is especially guilty of this, with the vast majority of content essentially requiring a full team of five-star units to remain competitive with other players.

Fortunately, Cygames doesn’t seem to be following that model in Dragalia Lost. Nearly all the content currently available in the game can be reasonably cleared with a team of 3-star and 4-star adventurers (there are no 1 and 2-star adventurers). Even for the one quest that can’t — High Midgardsormr Trial — the number of successful runs is so low it’s unclear if it’s even meant to be beaten this early on in the game’s lifetime.

Dragalia Lost Ryozen

The purely cooperative style of play in Dragalia Lost means players aren’t constantly jockeying to have the edge over one another. While it’s entirely possible that player-vs-player elements can be introduced down the road, there is currently no indication of this, especially when Grandblue Fantasy had them right from the start with its MVP system. While natural five-stars will always hold that special allure, a victory with a team of three and four-star heroes is the same result, and Dragalia Lost provides players a game structure to do just that.

4. Just Plain Fun

The most important aspect of any game in any genre on any platform remains “Is it fun?” The answer here is a firm “Yes.”

With the exception of one particular drawback (see below), Cygames’s solution for creating an action RPG on mobile devices is rather elegant. Being able to swipe and tap anywhere on the screen and not limit oneself to virtual buttons makes for a more comfortable experience than one would initially think. The joys found in deftly evading attacks and exploiting openings to punish foes are present in full force, and the aforementioned presentation takes those feelings of triumph to heights not often seen in mobile games.

This carries over outside of combat with the Might system. Attack, HP, skills, equipment, and many other aspects all factor into a character’s overall combat capability, represented as “Might.” Making this number increase through various enhancements and improvements provides a distinct sense of progression and gratification that complements the flow of the game.

Room For Improvement

1. Press and Hold Inputs

For the most part, Dragalia Lost has done a good job at translating action-RPG controls for use on a phone screen. The one aspect it falters on severely, however, is whenever the game requires you to press and hold the screen. This is most relevant during combat when trying to execute a Force Strike — a charged attack.

Dragalia Lost Movement

Force Strikes are the most efficient way to break enemy guards, as it would take a substantial number of normal attacks otherwise. However, the game will often mistake a touch and hold gesture as a touch and slide one, resulting in your character moving instead of charging an attack. This is especially frustrating in the heat of frantic battles, where it’s important to break guards as soon as possible.

This even carries over into regular menus outside of combat when attempting to press and hold a character or item to view their details, as the game often mistakes this for the player wanting to scroll the menu instead. If Cygames and Nintendo really want to sell the possibility of an action RPG on mobile devices, this issue needs to be addressed.

2. Bad AI Companions

There’s no way to sugar coat this. The AI controlling your three other party members when playing alone is bad. Really bad. This wasn’t so much an issue during launch and the first raid event, as there were ways to compensate by playing in co-op. However, the current Halloween event has quests that are required to be played solo, and that’s when the stupidity of the AI is on full display.

The AI demonstrates little to no sense of self-preservation. When targeted by an AoE attack, they will always wait until the very last moment to even attempt to dodge out of the way. Half the time they don’t, and the other half they may be in an AoE so large that it’s too late to get out anyway. With healing being an arguable luxury in this game, that makes it very difficult to keep your team members alive, especially when they take an attack to the face right from the start of a quest.

Understandably, there is a fine balance between making AI companions suicidal lemmings and making them invincible supercomputers. They are just not up to snuff in Dragalia Lost. Either the AI needs to be tweaked to at least be able to dodge simple attacks effectively, or future solo quests need to be tweaked to compensate for their ineptitude.

3. Cumbersome Crafting

This isn’t referring to the process of collecting crafting materials; yes, procuring them is a bit of a grind, but it’s a reasonable grind for a game such as this. It’s the crafting process itself that is too bloated for its own good.

Dragalia Lost Crafting

Crafting a high-tier weapon is a multi-step process that involves making a large amount of lower-tiered weapons first. Those low-tier weapons must then be fused together into a single weapon with an increased maximum level. That fused weapon must then be fully leveled up using other fodder weapons and materials. That max-leveled, low-tier, fused weapon can then finally be upgraded to a weapon of the next tier. And that’s only for the first to second tiers, let alone the third tier!

Even if a player has all the materials necessary to craft the highest-tier weapon, the sheer process to do so is so unnecessarily long and laborsome. Navigating through the multitude of menus takes much too much time, and for a platform of gaming that is supposed to fit into one’s own schedule, that’s not a good thing. The requirements for high-tier weapons are fine and don’t need to be changed — the process of actually making them just needs to be streamlined.

4. Character Fighting Variety

This last point isn’t much of an issue now, but can potentially turn into one in the near future if not addressed. There are currently eight different weapon types in Dragalia Lost, and they all handle quite differently from each other. They each have a feel that is unique and distinct, and that helps keep combat fresh.

The potential problem comes from the characters that share weapon types, as they use the same basic attacks. All bow users have the same range, all dagger users have the same speedy strikes, all staff users have the same projectiles, and so forth. The uniqueness of each character stems from their active skills, but seeing as the vast majority of them serve the same purpose of “deal damage to the enemy,” that doesn’t go very far. While the fine details may differ, the general purpose of these attacks causes many characters of the same weapon type to blend together.

Dragalia Lost Home Screen Cafe

The reason this isn’t a problem now is because the pool of characters is limited, and most players will be working with only a modest portion of that (unless they’re big spenders). As such, the sameness of the characters within the same weapon group won’t be readily apparent for most part yet. As the game grows and more units are added, however, this could prove to be a problem.

If Dragalia Lost doesn’t find a way to differentiate future characters in meaningful ways then it runs the risk of losing player interest in upcoming content. One thing Grandblue Fantasy did exceptionally well was creating characters with battle mechanics that fit a niche all their own — or at least different enough from others to still be unique. Hopefully, Nintendo and Cygames will take this into consideration when creating new units in the future.

Heralding from the rustic, old town of Los Angeles, California; Matthew now resides in Boston where he diligently researches the cure for cancer. In reality, though, he just wants to play games and watch anime, and likes talking about them way too much. A Nintendo/Sony hybrid fan with a soft-spot for RPG’s, he finds little beats sinking hours into an immersive game world. You can follow more of his work at his blog and budding YouTube channel below.

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This Heart’s on Fire: ‘Death Stranding’ and Heartman

‘Death Stranding’ has no shortage of your standard Kojima weirdos but one that almost no one is talking about is the eccentric Heartman.

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Death Stranding Heartman

*This article contains spoilers up to and including Chapter 8 of Death Stranding*

Over the course of Hideo Kojima’s wildly ambitious Death Stranding there are a whole cavalcade of intriguing and intoxicating characters for players to meet and acquaint themselves with. From the guy with the weird goalie mask to the lady with the magical umbrella, there is no shortage here of your standard Kojima weirdos but one that almost no one is talking about is Heartman.

Portrayed by writer-director Nicolas Winding Refn, best known for Drive, Heartman brings the game to a dead halt when you finally meet him face to face in chapter 8 but the reprieve comes as a welcome comfort to the player. Having just crossed a treacherous mountain range and survived a second trip to Clifford Unger’s war-torn beach, most players will welcome a little down time, and Heartman is there to provide it.

Death Stranding
It’s immediately clear that Heartman’s home is something special from the moment Sam walks through the door. Lit with a ring of holographic fire, the foyer of the mansion is immediately welcoming in the hostile environment of the snowy mountains. However, it also has a sort of clinical detachment to it. This is by design, as reality for Heartman is merely a distraction — downtime to be filled.

Yes, Heartman comes with the tragic backstory players will no doubt be expecting but, like most of them in Death Stranding, his is a real treat. Delivered partly through voiceover and partly through flashback, Heartman reveals how he lost his family to a terrorist attack while in the hospital for a heart operation. When he flatlined during the operation, though, he was able to find them on the beach before being whisked away back to reality.

Obsessed with finding them again and joining them, Heartman now spends his life in 24 minute intervals: 21 minutes of life, 3 minutes of death. Every 21 minutes Heartman journeys to the beach by flatlining himself with a personal AED, only to be resurrected 3 minutes later. During those 3 minutes though, where time is altered by the elastic effect of the Death Stranding, he seeks out his family and makes observations on how the beaches and the after life work.

Death Stranding
Bizarre as all of this is, it makes Heartman a truly fascinating character. Since his life is mainly confined to 21 minutes at a time, he has collected hundreds of books, movies, and albums which can be experienced during that tiny window of time. His study is brimming with them, stacked on the ceiling high bookshelves that surround his work area. Also in the study are eerie recreations of frozen corpses, old family photos, and a host of other curiosities, each of which will earn the player likes from Heartman for noticing them.

Of course, this is the most interesting part of the meeting. As Heartman continues to explain his theories, a counter occasionally appears in the bottom corner of the screen, showing how long Heartman has before he will flatline again. When the moment of truth finally comes, he lays himself down on a chaise lounge, turns over a golden hourglass and dies before your eyes. As the Funeral March begins playing from an old record player, Sam must keep himself busy for 3 minutes while he waits for Heartman to return to the land of the living. It’s a truly brilliant moment, as a counter appears in the bottom corner again, and the player must simply take in Heartman’s eccentric home from a first person perspective for 3 minutes uninterrupted.

What would be boring as sin under the wrong direction becomes a welcome moment for the player to just sit and absorb this strange, yet comforting, place. Then, after three minutes have elapsed, Heartman reawakens and picks up from where he left off as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. He even breaks the 4th wall as he continues to talk, swatting away the timer when it appears on screen again and adding likes to your counter in real time.


There’s really nothing like the meeting with Heartman in all of Death Stranding — but then, there’s nothing like Death Stranding really in the realm of gaming either. With its long periods of walking between haunted destinations and its deliberately cryptic mythology, the game is like a series of tone poems and intellectual treatises mashed together into a post-apocalyptic courier sim.

Heartman then, with his heart-shaped lake and pink-lit study, is just one more piece of Kojima’s mad puzzle here but what a piece he is. Who would have thought the most normal looking member of Death Stranding‘s bewildering cast would end up also being one of its most interesting? Certainly not this writer. Still, Heartman and his eerie, purgatorial existence make for one of the nicest surprises in the game.

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Five Best New Pokémon Designs from ‘Pokémon Sword and Shield’

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Much like Pokémon Sun and Moon before, Pokémon Sword and Shield is an adventure full of fascinating surprises. Some of those many surprises across the Galar region are the new pokémon you will come up against. While many of the designs in the eighth generation were a sorry sight to behold, here are five that should stand the test of time as welcome additions to the ever-growing franchise.

Flapple

When I first encountered an Applin, there was a stark realization across my mind that Pokémon had ran out of ideas. Here I was, with my then Sobble, about to fight an apple with eyes. It was about as baffling as the ice cream cone back in Black and White, which looked as if it was designed by a child. But for not the first time, I was wrong, and instead of becoming three apples or a pear, Applin actually has a fantastic evolutionary journey.

Throw a sweet apple at Applin, and it’ll evolve into a Appletun, which is an interesting evolution in its own right. But when you throw a tart apple in its direction, it evolves into something so much better, with the result becoming the Flapple we see above. A tiny dragon using the broken apple it burst out of to flap around in the air is a creative concept to say the least, and certainly helped to change my early judgement on the apple core pokémon.

Sirfetch’d

Farfetch’d has been an unfortunate pokémon ever since its illustrious debut on Pokémon Red and Blue. A weak pokémon that was rare by virtue of being delicious, Farfetch’d has been a pokédex filler ever since. Luckily, in the Galar region, the Farfetch’d are a little more feisty, with a new typing to match.

With a little patience and a shovel of goof fortune, you can evolve your Galarian form Farfetch’d into Sirfetch’d if you manage to deal three critical hits in one battle. The odds are increased if you catch a Farfetch’d holding a leek, and then further increased at level 55 when your Farfetch’d learns leaf blade. For what it’s worth, the hard work does pay off. Sirfetch’d is a fantastic design and suits the theme of Pokémon Sword and Shield honorably. The evolution that Farfetch’d always needed has been worth the two decade wait.

Galarian Corsola

For all the demonic ghost pokédex entries and back stories, the Galarian form Corsola hits most close to home. While the change is largely a new colour and a sad face, the reasoning can be a little more tragic.

There are no secrets about the destruction of the coral reefs across the world due to climate change. It only takes a change of a degree in temperature for the coral to expel the algae that gives them their unique colouring and become the bleached white. While the coral isn’t dead immediately, if left in that state, it does eventually starve to death. Hence Galarian form Corsola represents more than the sum of its parts, and its a clever message Game Freak has left in Pokémon Sword and Shield about the destruction of our ocean ecosystems.

Grapploct

Ever since Hawlucha, I have a bias towards Mexican wrestling pokémon. They’re fantastic. Clobbopus and Grapploct are no exception, and the only reason I’ve chosen Grapploct over Clobbopus is because of way Grapploct swam like a hungry Olympic swimmer to announce my destruction.

While its base stats are actually average, the confidence it showed to pursue me on my journey across the sea certainly left a stain. The design of Grapploct itself is so consistent with fighting type pokémon that it’s one of the least lazy designs in Pokémon Sword and Shield, and for all the prayers to Arceus, there are some hopelessly lazy designs in this generation.

Corviknight

This is going to be huge statement that might rile up a number of pokémon fans, but for me, Corviknight is the best designed bird pokémon. The whole concept fits the brief, from the armour on its head, to its seamless fit into the inspiration behind the region.

It’s no secret that the Galar region was inspired by England, from the train system to the architecture, there are pieces of Ol’ Blighty everywhere in Pokémon Sword and Shield. Some of those influences are seen in the pokémon themselves, and none express that more than Corviknight. The raven has a lot of folklore behind it, particularly its presence in the Tower of London. It is said that if the ravens were to leave the tower, then the destruction of England is imminent. As such, not only does Corviknight look like a formidable bird pokémon, it actually has a clever reason behind its design.

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‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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