Dragalia Lost: Missed Opportunities

No game is perfect. Nothing is perfect, not on this world, anyhow. But you can try your best. Or at least make an attempt at all. It can be disappointing when you enjoy a thing, but come across an example of that thing which didn’t have the effort you’d expect in it.

Just for example, I’ll use burgers. I happen to like Carl’s Jr. burgers. Like, a lot. They’re my favorite of the big chains’ burgers, for sure. I had good examples of good burgers from many different stores, across several states in the U.S., so I know a good Carl’s Jr. burger isn’t a fluke. But I’ve also had bad examples of burgers from this joint, in multiple places, some consistently. I’ve noticed it’s all about the effort put into it. You’d think that there would be a lot of standardization in a burger from a big, national joint, and you’d be right. No matter how disappointing the burger is in itself, it always has the same flavors, because the ingredients are standardized, and cooked in a standard way. No, the difference comes in the effort made to put it all together right. If things are sloppy, in a way they’re not supposed to be (“if it doesn’t get all over the place, it doesn’t belong in your face”…), the overall burger experience is significantly lessened. If all the lettuce is on one side, if the patty is a quarter hanging out of the bun, if the sauce is all in a clump in the middle, all those things can be destructive to the burger. And it doesn’t have to be. Just a bit more effort, and the product could be great, even superlative. (And it’s one thing if I’m customer #500 in the hour; I understand that, but if a store gets things wrong consistently, there’s a culture there, or at the very least a systemic problem.)

It’s the same thing with stories. I know, not everyone is a good writer. Not everyone has to be. I’m certainly not. But there’s a reason I don’t write for games – I’m certainly not paid to do it. There are so many examples of good writing, that one could expect that things might be better, in certain circumstances. Or at least that things would be decent. I’m of course talking about Dragalia Lost here: it’s in the title of the post. I’m not expecting something great here, especially from a phone game, but I’d like something that represents some effort. I know that this game can do good stuff – I’ve experienced it. But the main story, especially the most recent chapter, leaves a lot to be desired. To explain why, I’ll have to summarize the story a bit, so forgive me if you’re already familiar with it.

The story begins with the Main Character, Euden, the 7th prince and youngest heir to the throne of the kingdom. Euden has a younger twin sister, Zethia, but she’s the dragon pope, and has relinquished all claim to the throne. MC is called to adventure, stuff happens, his dad the king gets possessed and is eventually killed by the Big Bad, who happens to basically be the devil in this country’s religion; and then Big Bad possesses Zethia, who takes claim to the kingdom in her father’s place, and renames said kingdom to what boils down to Devil’s Empire, as far as this country’s history and religion are concerned. MC fortunately has a nice abandoned castle he happened to come across, which becomes the base, which is fortunate because he’s been branded as a traitor prince (as he was fighting the possessed king at the time said dies). The other heirs are out running their own thing, either as governors or generals (except the 6th prince, who fills the role of useless wastrel). Also, around this time the military teams up with the already ubiquitous monsters to basically terrorize random villages, because, you know, the Devil is Evil and all that. And we know that the Big Bad is currently in a weakened state and is looking to regain its true power.

Now, just in that, you should be able to see some interesting possibilities. How did the no-claim Zethia take over? What gives her legitimacy? What do the other siblings (and actual claimants) think about this? What do the people in the kingdom think about their country being renamed to Evil Empire? What about the other surrounding countries, what do they think of this new development? What will happen to the Traitor Prince now? And there are other things, for sure.

Now, we do get some at least partial answers to these questions. Whether they’re satisfying or not is up to the individual player’s tastes. And the situation does change over time, at least subtly (as in, the game doesn’t bring attention to the changes, they just change). Euden is explicitly tested, and develops as a ruler, as he takes his base (and the refugees flowing in from all those attacked villages) an declares his independence from the Evil Empire. Things get safer for him and his in the surrounding areas (at least when direct combat with monsters or evil troopers isn’t happening) – at first he was being hunted down in town, but later he can move about freely. He gets allies. He encounters his siblings and tries to get them on his side.

We have a complicated situation, so I expect that the writers wouldn’t go for a simple answer for everything. But that’s exactly what happened in this last chapter. All the siblings are brought together with the Devil, and they all side with the Big Bad. We already know they have their own motivations, and things might get more nuanced in the future, but for now we’re back where we were at launch: the prince arrayed against everyone else.

Now, I wasn’t expecting Game of Thrones here. I wasn’t even expecting Crusader Kings. But some depth would have been nice. Not returning to effectively the same place we were half a story ago would have been nice. Giving the siblings some better motivation to joining the actual, literal, unequivocal evil Devil being would have been nice (even if it was just “I’m afraid of that guy”). Even MC’s motivation could have been better: not just “I’m a siscon so I can go with you as long as you’re possessing my sister!”, but something even so simple as “your past actions don’t match with your present words, Satan” would have been an improvement.

Now, none of this is unsalvagable. We could be given satisfying results and explanations for all this in the future. But as for right now, it kinda sucks. And it couldn’t have come at a worse time, with all the hype that’s been built up, combined with the slow month otherwise, the low sales, and other expectations being dashed.