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Feature Article

Nintendo's Dragalia Lost Might Forge A New Generation Of RPG Players

It's pretty smart to release this as a mobile game.

Nintendo's newest IP, Dragalia Lost, is a mobile role-playing game that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. You start the game as a young prince who must find a dragon to bond with so that he can become powerful enough to save the kingdom from a growing demonic threat. Joined by his younger sister, and eventually a diverse group of over 60 other party members, the prince grows stronger by taking on quests, completing missions, and killing bosses.

Despite being a mobile game, Dragalia Lost has dozens of mechanics, ranging from party management to dragon rearing. Unlike most triple-A RPGs where a majority of the game's systems are thrown at the player in rapid succession over a daunting two-hour opening--I'm looking at you Xenoblade Chronicles 2--Draglia Lost introduces each of its mechanics slowly. There also aren't many cutscenes in the first hour of the game. Although some of the story elements are detailed early on, the game spends a majority of its start having you play in small strikes that reinforce the lessons from the tutorial. By the time Dragalia Lost starts pulling you out of the gameplay to show you a lot more cutscenes, you've got a fundamental understanding of the controls.

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It's all pretty intuitive. By the end of the demo, I had played the first 45 minutes of Dragalia Lost and was quickly swiping through all the features that had befuddled me before. What struck me most about Dragalia Lost's opening hour was how the game had been designed for two different types of players: RPG veterans and newcomers to the genre. Every lesson has two levels. You can listen to one of the characters explain something and then just go do it, or you can listen to one of the characters explain something and then let the game show you what they mean.

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For example, every character has their own advantages and weaknesses, weapon type, and multi-tiered skill tree. You can also equip different items to your characters and dragons, build different types of shrines in your castle, raise new breeds of dragons, and plant a diverse assortment of healthy herbs in your garden. Which characters you have on your team can also affect how your entire party can attack, defend, or heal, and certain enemies are easier to deal with when using specific weapons. These are all of Dragalia Lost's simpler to grasp mechanics that are introduced within the first hour or so.

You can micromanage it all. You can pull out the spreadsheets and start comparing the percentages if you want. But if any part of the game is too confusing or just not something you want to do, you can ask Dragalia Lost to do it for you. At the push of the button, the game will maximize your characters' abilities based on team dynamic and even change your roster if there's a better lineup available to tackle the next mission. You lose some of the challenge if you continuously do it, but it's a simple and welcome fix if you're struggling.

Dragalia Lost's opening hours reminded me a lot of the earlier Pokemon games, specifically Generations I-III. What the player needs to know--catching Pokemon, battling, and type advantages--is detailed out, but the more nuanced mechanics--different balls and every specific type advantage--are hidden away in optional conversations. A Pokemon veteran can tackle Brock with their Squirtle no problem, but a newcomer can ask around town and learn from one of the folks near Brock's gym that Water- and Grass-type Pokemon are your best bet against someone who solely uses Rock-type Pokemon, as well as where these type of Pokemon can be found. The game teaches you about type advantages whether you want to or not, and newcomers can rely on optional systems to slowly learn the vast assortment of type advantages.

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Similarly, in Dragalia Lost, you eventually encounter enemies that rely on shields to protect themselves from initial attacks. When you first confront them, Dragalia Lost teaches you how to use the game's main character to perform a Force Strike, a move that when perfectly timed can instantly destroy a shield. Knowing that you have a character who can quickly take down shields is all the information you need to beat the harder enemy mobs and bosses down the line. You can identify other means of dealing with powerful targets yourself or ask the game to give you hints and help out. Combat is fairly straightforward to figure out if you've played other RPGs, it utilizes several interlocking rock-paper-scissors features, but the game details how all types of advantages work if you're still learning to juggle multiple in-game systems.

Dragalia extends this to all its features, which is most helpful when balancing your four-person party, managing every characters' multi-tiered skill tree, or choosing the correct fighter for handling a particularly troublesome enemy. Dragalia Lost wants you to have the game experience you want, whether you're looking for complex RPG mechanics, straight story, or something in between. I left my time with the game's demo with a smile on my face and eager to play more, which is not common for me when it comes to RPGs.

Releasing a game like Dragalia Lost to the huge audience on mobile devices is a smart choice. This makes it more accessible to a wider audience, especially kids or people who don't normally play games outside the Apple or Google Play stores. Dragalia Lost has goofy humor, an easy to follow story, a colorful cast of characters, and really catchy music. I can see it finding a foothold in the non-RPG crowd and helping new players discover the joy behind micromanaging complex video game mechanics.

Dragalia Lost launches on September 27 for Android and iOS devices.

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