A Swan Song For Dragalia Lost
Trevor | November 30, 2022
Last night, Dragalia Lost reached end of service. This article serves as a eulogy for a forgotten—and curiously good—mobile game.
Cygames’ Dragalia Lost has existed on my phone in some capacity for almost four years now. While my participation in the game has certainly drifted in and out, I always made an effort to check in on the ol’ Bonglord Estate and see how things were going.
You may be wondering about the name there. More on that later.
Around March of 2022, Nintendo made a startling announcement. Draglia Lost is going away forever. After chapter 26 is complete, that’s it. Dragalia Lost is joining Toontown Online and LawBreakers in the great cloud in the sky. The old server farm upstate.
While I diligently participated in every limited time event in Dragalia Lost, I've been far less diligent staying on top of the story over the years. This isn’t because I don’t enjoy it, mind you; it's simply because it’s a huge time investment, one which only gets larger with each unfinished chapter. In an effort to optimize the limited amount of time I allot mobile games per day, I always focused on the time-sensitive content. After all, the main story would always be there, waiting.
But now? Now, the end of service looms. The main story became time sensitive content.
So I embarked on a quest. A quest to see the end of Dragalia Lost before the world is snapped from existence. Thanks a lot, Thanos.
The Journey Begins
First off, allow me to quickly get you up to speed. Judging from Draglia Lost’s looming EOS, most people reading this either haven’t played, or stopped playing years ago. Here’s the rundown.
You, a self-named protagonist, is the seventh child of the royal Alberian family in a world of dragons and magic. When your sister Zethia is kidnapped and possessed by a mysterious villainous spirit, you embark on a mission to rescue her. Along the way you amass a whole throng of allies, your own region of land to manage, and a whole bunch of dragons who form “pacts” with you.
See, in the world of Dragalia Lost, it's not uncommon for dragons to form pacts with people, allowing them to call upon their strength in battle. You, however, possess the mysterious ability to make pacts with multiple dragons, a power most do not have. Story-wise, this means enemies undergo DBZ-style transformation sequences to ramp up difficulty. Gameplay wise, this gives you a bunch of dragons to morph into once you’ve built your special bar enough. And business model wise, this gives Cygames lots of money as people do gacha pulls for powerful dragons to turn into.
Now. About the name of my estate.
See, back when I started Dragalia Lost on the suggestion of Roguelike Correspondent Fugimax, I thought I’d try it out for a month at most, then stop forever. So I made a gag name, one which has now stuck for four years. Sometimes I regret it, but when it leads to great moments like this:
I can only be so upset.
From this point forward, there will be spoilers for Draglia Lost. I’d say “stop reading if you want to see for yourself,” but by the time you read this it’ll be too late. Hell, even if you'd started a week before EOS, you'd have to spend a small fortune just to catch up.
More on that soon.
There and Back Again: A Dragon’s Holiday
Step one, of course, was to remember what the hell was happening in the story.
The (heavily curated) tale so far; In order to rescue Zethia, Prince Bonglord amasses allies and bolsters his kingdom. The drawing of allies encomapses roughly the first ten chapters of Dragalia Lost. The key players are:
Notte, the semi-obnoxious faerie guide character all J-RPGs seem to require.
Elisanne, a Paladyn warrior from the church who aligns herself with Prince Bonglord.
Ranzal, a fierce but fun-loving mercenary.
Luca, a Sylvian archer and prankster.
Cleo, maid attendant of your home, the Halidom, who has served and maintained it for hundreds of years.
And finally Mym, A.k.a. Brunhilda, the wyrm of fire. Upon defeat, she is smitten with Bonglord and assumes a human form, Mym, in an attempt to court him.
Her and Elisanne proceed to spend many moments pining after Bonglord in their own ways. Mym by being unbelievably forward;
And Eli by fuming with jealousy from afar.
Back to catching up.
Now, I mentioned earlier Dragalia Lost existed on my phone for four years. Sometimes, all I did to justify that existence was log in, accept the daily rewards, and quit. If you do this every day for a year in a mobile game, you will have an absurd stockpile of items. I mean, an absolutely stupid amount.
Once I got back to it, I had about 950 smithwyrm hammers, which are used to skip the waiting periods on building construction. More on that later. I also had 9000 experience crystals, used to throw at units for quick levels.
This made catching adventurers up to the necessary power levels absurdly easy when jumping back in around chapter 9. From chapters ten to thirteen, it was smooth sailing.
And you know what? The story is good.
I tend to expect little from mobile game storylines. They’re often fairly basic power fantasies with some silly diegetic explanation for why you, said hero, are uniquely equipped to summon helpers from elsewhere. As mentioned previously, Dragalia ticks this box right out of the gate — Bonglord is the only one anyone knows who can have a multitude of pacts at once with dragons. However, Dragalia ends up bucking the usual Mobile game power fantasy trend in increasingly escalatory ways.
Namely, Bonglord can lose.
At the end of chapter ten you finally catch up to your possessed sister, who is infused with the soul of the great villain Morsayati. All your siblings who rule other regions of Alberia are assembled alongside to finally face her, but. BUT.
After seeing the confrontation, your siblings arrive at a stark and demoralizing conclusion. They decide you cannot win, and instead ally themselves with Morsayati to protect their respective kingdoms. For the next few chapters, the allies you’ve spent all game uniting turn against you, forming a monolithic empire.
After all your work, all your struggles, Bonglord has come up short. You and your remaining friends in the Halidom now stand alone.
From this point forward, I was hooked. I’m used to mobile games giving into player power fantasies over and over, so even this simple subversion was enough to keep me compelled. To be fair, even before this point, I was already somewhat surprised at the level of care in rhetoric in Dragalia Lost. When Bonglord meets his other siblings, they often have profound musings to challenge his naive views.
Except Emile. Emile just sucks.
There’s shockingly good political and philosophical suppositions at work. Every character has a nuanced, complicated outlook on the world that informs their decision-making, or how they percieve one to be a "good" ruler.
Again, except Emile.
From this point forward, the story only got better. However, we can’t get there yet, because I’m trying to capture the full experience of catching up on a mobile game.
And in order to find out what happens next, we had to deal with some typical mobile game nonsense first.
Welcome to the Roadblock
I would’ve loved to continue enjoying the story. I really would’ve. But something starts happening around this point in the story, something I would actually call offensive.
It goes like this — a villain shows up from a new secret order called “The Agito”. You fight them once. Then they do their DBZ-style power up by shouting ”FERAL SHROUD, EXPAND!” and everyone freaks and says, “here they come! Get ready! This will be our toughest fight yet!”
Then you return to the main menu where you’re greeted by one of the main characters who says, “woah there Bonglord, before we fight Celia, we need to upgrade the Bramblybook Den in the castle to level fifteen!”
Then the game dumps a quest with about five-to-seven steps into your quest log and locks your progress until all steps are complete.
At first, this wasn’t too much of an issue. After all, I had four years of items stocked up. It took maybe fifteen, thirty minutes tops to tap on all the right things to make the problem go away. But, for the sake of argument, let's pretend I didn’t have all those things. Here’s what the full process would’ve looked like.
Step One — build the initial building. This is a very easy step. The required materials drop as part of the main story, and our build time is a paltry 10 seconds.
Step Two — Upgrade the building to level fifteen, as per Elisanne’s instructions. With each upgrade, not only do the required material get rarer, but the time to complete gets longer too. I had a stockpile of 900 smythwyrm hammers, which skip the build time entirely.
If I didn’t, here’s how long just upgrading from level twelve to thirteen alone would take.
Yeah, that’s not hours. That’s a counter for days. Literally a day and half between upgrades. And remember, we need to get to level fifteen. You’re looking at almost a full week before advancing to a new chapter. Even if you popped back in after time away to catch up before EOS, if you haven’t been at least collecting your daily rewards, you’re totally hosed.
Now for the real freemium jackassery — there are five of these roadblocks between chapters ten to fifteen.
More importantly though, let’s pretend the upgrade process was simpler and less of a literal timesink. They are still flawed on a more fundamental level. These roadblocks completely undercut pivotal conflicts and undermine tension. The only reason they exist is to try and get you to spend money to make the roadblock go away. At most charitability, they justify and reward players who’ve kept up on the base building aspect of the game, or at least have logged in every day like me to collect an assortment of rewards. At least charitability, they are shameless and brazen attempts to squeeze money out of you once you’re invested in the narrative.
Either way, this was the worst part of the race to the finish line. While smythwyrm hammers remained in large supply, after five of these roadblocks, I was fast running out of all other upgrade materials.
As previously mentioned, the next set of villains are a mysterious group known as The Agito. The whole lot of them seem to know some kind of secret about Bonglord, one they allude to many times. The fights against The Agito mark a stark increase in Dragalia's difficulty.
The next chapter, the biggest of bombs drops. One which undermines the entire plot.
You are not of Royal Birth. Bonglord was switched with the actual seventh scion of the Alberius family.
You have no right to rule.
Even though you are finally successful in rescuing your sister, your victory is swiftly undermined when the true seventh son, Nedrick, emerges from the shadows and kidnaps her once more.
Everything tumbles apart from here. Your allies become unsure if they should even stick with your burgeoning empire. Everyone’s confidence is shaken, especially Bonglord’s. With the news out, your own citizens even begin to revolt, breaking down the gates of the kingdom you’ve spent years building.
From here, your siblings come in and right the sinking ship that is your own empire. With your own nation now under the rule of your brother, Bonglord and company set out to discover the truth of his birth.
At this point, it became very hard to stop playing Dragalia Lost. I couldn’t believe this mobile game completely undermined its entire premise for the sake of the story. With Bonglord and company unmoored, it felt like anything could happen.
Ends up I wasn’t even in the thick of it yet.
Enter The Progenitor
After a long hunt for Nedrick, your sister, and your meaning for existence, the gang finally uncovers Nedrick's true goal. Ends up he cares not for the royal family, his birthright, or anything of the sort. His true aims are much higher. In typical J-RPG fashion, Nedrick seeks to slay a God.
A being known as The Progenitor seeks to eliminate causality from the world. They’ve watched us use our free will and have decided we squandered the right. It’s time to strip us of the power of choice and mold our every action instead.
This leads to, quite literally, an impossible battle. Your crew tries to strike him down over and over, but time simply rewinds.
The group is forced to retreat and try to uncover a new means of assault.
After many more struggles, the gang discovers an answer. The Five Greatwyrms and their Auspices (their pact-bound humans) have the power to nullify The Progenitor’s abilities. For the next few chapters, while The Auspices and their dragons train to prepare for the big day, the rest of your team seeks to try and keep The Progenitor’s meddling to a minimum.
At one point, you are given a glimpse beyond the fabric of your own reality to discover The Progenitor’s aims are larger than your own world. He is erasing entire universes, one by one, and seeks to centralize them all to ease his burden of observation.
Finally, the day comes. Your Auspices and Greatwyrms bring all to bear against The Progenitor, now masquerading under the name "Xenos".
And in the end, you fail.
Dragalia is Lost
When the next chapter starts, all that remains of the world is the Halidom.
Every city you’ve been to, every ally you met, the friends and families of your loved ones, have all been wiped from existence. It’s just your immediate crew now, floating in a cold abyss. The power of the Auspices managed to protect only this little slab of land while everything was sundered into the void.
After some despair, the gang finds their resolve again. Even if you are all that’s left, you can at least still fight The Progenitor to the last, and try to ensure this future universe will still have some measure of free will.
You march out from the Halidom to face The Progenitor one last time.
It’s here I hit another significant roadblock in two forms; Otherworld Sutr, and then Xenos himself. The difficulty spiked tremendously here. Despite my best efforts, I could barely get either of these mandatory bosses down to half.
So it was time to use it all. I put the smythwyrms to work and upgraded every single stat-boosting building I could to their maximum level. It took almost thirty minutes of tapping the same series of buttons over and over.
And after that, guess what?
Yup, it was still hard as hell.
Ends up there was an entire roguelike dungeon update I missed a while back, one which provided some important upgrades for your adventurers.
So, after many hours grinding out these new unique wyrmprints, I returned to trounce Surtr and Xenos.
And still barely beat him. The end of the game pulls no punches.
Finally, I reached the conclusion of Dragalia Lost, and as the game had managed to surprise me all along, it surprised me once more.
In order to restore the world, Bonglord must erase himself from existence. It’s a sacrifice only he can make, thanks to his special pact-forging powers.
And you know what? You do it.
The world as you knew it is reborn, but now Zethia and Nedrick run the show. Your friends and loved ones are returned, but none of them remember you ever existed. But even so, they all still feel a mysterious sense of loss and grief. Just as the game ends, however, a mysterious and familiar figure emerges from the shadows to introduce themselves. Whether or not anyone remembers your face is left ambigious as the credits roll.
It’s a bittersweet and fitting finale to a game that, at every turn, has been willing to undercut a typical power fantasy with profound consequences.
Brevity is the Soul of Missing Out
I’ve done my best here to capture the broad strokes of Dragalia's story, but in doing so I did have to excise a tremendous amount of enjoyable side content and character motivation. There’s side stories involving more minor members of the cast, characters who become key players further in I waylaid in the interest of time, and even entire storylines for every single person who joins your army, no matter how minor they may be.
After five years of service, it’s unbelievably hard to capture every addition in a swan song. But, to be blunt — I shouldn’t have to.
A Final Requiem
Now, I get it. There are plenty of games out there that simply can’t work without the eternally online aspect. All the battle royales and MMOs of the world require interaction with others to actually play. To remove the online aspect is to remove the game itself.
Here's the thing though — 95% of the content in Draglia Lost isn’t like that at all. Aside from raid events, very few interactions required the presence of others. And, with a strong enough team, the early stages of said raid events were entirely soloable. It was only the additional difficulty levels or special limited-time raid events which really required grouping up. While enjoyable, these raids could almost certainly be re-tooled for a solo experience, or alternatively, cut from the game without detracting from the rest of what's on offer.
The real tragedy of Dragalia Lost is when you cut away all the freemium bullshit, there’s still a game here worth playing. If you could excise it like a benign tumor, you’d have a fun action-adventure RPG with a rich (albeit sexually repressed) cast of JRPG characters. On a technical level, you have decent hack n’ slash gameplay, bosses with actual mechanics, sharp artwork, and music far better than any mobile game deserves. There’s also political drama, romantic pining, betrayal, dark despair, sacrifice, and love. All of which could be downloaded and enjoyed by players for years to come without the need of any online component to maintain at all.
To quote a sentient android other than Laxi: “All of these moments will be lost, like tears in the rain.” And there’s no reason it needs to be. In a perfect world, Dragalia Lost would be repackaged and sold without all the rat race and hamster wheels. Everything the developers worked on could be experienced, enjoyed, and admired for years to come, with no need for an EOS date that snaps Bonglord Estate, Elisanne, Cleo, and Mym out of existence.
Dragalia Lost is a victim of the new era of live service gaming. A rich and lively world gone forever because a line somewhere didn’t go up enough. Does it make for a smart business decision to cut your losses and move on? Absolutely. But it doesn’t make the loss of Bonglord and his friends any less tragic.
I write to you today to make it known Draglia Lost deserves to be remembered. In a sea of dime-a-dozen freemium experiences going up in smoke, I've no doubt Dragalia will be counted as another among them — and it shouldn't be. It had more heart than half the mobile games on the market put together.
I, for one, will light a candle and wave a phone flashlight in the air in remembrance of Dragalia Lost.
For now, the only Dragalia Lost content I can offer is this collection of comics compiled on the Nintendo website for as long as they remain up.