Articles | The Mobage Experience (2019)
Early into 2018 I was besieged by a horrendous new string of financial and housing troubles. Sprung by a not terribly surprising albeit highly destructive series of misdirections and lies, our landlord decided to sell the house immediately after telling us they weren't going to. Months of non-stop work, dealing with last-minute illegal walkthroughs, and then contending with the feverish demands of the new owners awaited. While my productivity plummited and I had extremely little time to sit down and rest I ultimately brought out my tablet given to me by my bank - a Samsung device from 2014 - that had previously only seen use as a notepad for cat drug timings during the hour-to-hour crisis of 2015.
As part of the WoW rant series and in general curiosity, I decided to try out some of these phone games that were reshaping the American industry. In some cases I was pleasantly surprised, but in most I was simply disgusted. In this article I will discuss three games in particular - Fate: Grand Order, Puzzle And Dragons, and Azur Lane, though I'll mention a handful others. They're pretty interchangeable.
The phone game, or the "mobage" as they are sometimes called, are primarily known as "Gacha" games. Gacha is literally gambling, and all phone games that use a monetized model, as well as PC ports of those games such as World of Warcraft and Overweight, rely heavily on the concept of wasting the player's time through extremely biased RNG. The difference between Blizzard and its mobage ancestors is the psychology and upfront fees, but the same scummy behavior still very much applies even in games you pay an exorbitant amount of dimdums to actually play.
The business model of mobages is only slightly deviant from the Blizzard model employed in Overweight. To be fair, it takes a high IQ to spend money on loot boxes.
As the growing exposure of predatory marketing from the American game's industry leads them to clash with gambling authorities, Blizzard quickly reels from any legislation that mandates exposure of actual drop rates. Like similar companies, Blizzard would rather remove their game or the ability to receive loot boxes at all than expose the reality of how rigged their system actually is against giving you anything desirable. Mobages don't typically have this luxury since they originate from first-world countries and not America. More absurd is how popular these games are despite the odds being exposed.
Most mobages are an entirely new dimension of sinister over Overweight, however. Nothing stops you from losing braincells to Overweight once you drop the extremely high bank of $50 for a casual multiplayer-only ARPG with 2001 technology and netcode reminiscent of Diablo 2. Similarily, once you pay the upfront fee of World of Warcraft it's quite realistic to manage all of your game time with in-game currency. World of Warcraft is also a mobage, and the fact you can pay monthly for it in gold is still a loophole - someone still has to pay Blizzard to buy gold for the game, which is the equivalent of buying mobage stamina that only allows you to interact with an extremely miniscule amount of the game's content. Ergo, it's actually a worse system than mobile phone games, and this system is only recent. Furthermore, World of Warcraft timegates resource and gear acquisition, except you pay upfront to own the game and pay monthly to play it at all, making it even more of a toxic exploitation of casuals than titles such as Overweight. Experimentations with such drop systems began as early as Diablo 2, in which newer staffing that replaced Condor's (comparatively) more professional team repeatedly added excessive levels of biased RNG against favorable drops - something cemented in World of Warcraft through the warforging and randomized stat systems that would later see addition to the shovelware known as Diablo 3. That said, World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 are such easy and empty titles that the full breadth of their content can be experienced in about ten to twenty minutes without any monetary investment.
Mobages, however, typically require gambling to even have a chance of succeeding and breaking into the actual content of the games. Such is the case of Puzzle and Dragons and Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius, both of which are in such a ludicrous power creep arms race that most prime gacha awards from merely a year ago are of little to no worth today.
Ultimately, the goal of mobages is to get young players into gambling addiction. Following the same guidelines set by casinos across the world, pretty lights, auto-fellation and what firms officialy term "ceremonies" are all carefully tuned to appeal to what an associate dubbed "Adrenaline addiction" - the addiction to the very act of opening loot boxes, not necessarily receiving anything in return. Both systems prey upon the same mentally degenerate market, the only difference between casinos and gacha games is one is regulated and one isn't.
Thanks to a ruling in China - one of the largest markets for these titles - we get to see the drop rates for most gacha, and it's a doozy even in very generous games like Azur Lane. But I'll get into that in a moment. To truly understand the absurdity of gacha and recognize the bait and switch tactics of these games, as well as the value of power creep to their developers, we should really start from the top.
The Phone Game
Although Asian internet has always been regarded to be superior to its American counterparts their competition was once a close one - particularly when Koreans charged per the hour. This was also responsible for the rise of the PC Bang - internet cafes, similar to Arcades except exceptionally cheaper. Apparently, some games to this day still charge hourly as well.
While Koreans now enjoy first-world internet, the age of pursuing online time as a median for forcing micro transactions was a concept that stuck. In an early XXE you may recall some footage of the Korean MMO Aion which mostly involved large numbers of individuals perpetually jumping or moving into walls. This was due to a summer event in which RNG loot boxes were awarded every 15 minutes or so of being logged in. A typical example of a game being localized for the West that didn't bother to actually change anything - this was simply to encourage people to pay more using RNG loot as an incentive. Furthermore, many items within Asian MMO's are "temporary" to entice you to stay online more. Americans simply stuck pennies or sticky manga pages into their space bars and went to sleep, but the temporary fodder persisted in the Western versions, much to the dismay of everyone involved. Furthermore, many loot boxes in these games also feature such temporary items. Imagine that - paying for temporary appearances! Precisely what happens.
Nowadays, with internet being considerably more available in the East, the tactic has simply changed its color rather than progressed with technology. With functional internet users would prefer to stay on their favorite game and grind, as was often the case. Mobages offer no shortage of grind, enough so that Blizzard and similar companies adopted their tactics into RNG-driven daily/weekly lockout content you already paid for. Blizzard merely popularized the concept of lockouts by proving that they, as an establish brand, could be unimaginably scummy and still get away with it. By forcing a large chunk of Western degenerates to endure predatory and unfair game design and desensitizing them Blizzard opened Pandora's box of psychological warfare and consumer abuse. Arena.net pushed even further by adding in an invisible weight system to drops that gutted all drops in the world if you killed monsters for more than an hour or so in Guild Wars 2, and World of Warcraft moved on to introduce a "Drops per Hour(s)" on top of heavily biased PRNG, all designed to take advantage of people willing to grind by deceiving them with success when in reality they were simply being railroaded by an excel sheet the marketing department provided that said "people are willing to spend X many hours to grind this so make sure they always spend at least that much time". Mobages take this even a step further, and one constant you'll see through all such titles is the Stamina system.
Puzzle and Dragons has the most unforgiving Stamina system in all of the games I've played, and employs as many dirty tricks as the game engine allows to deprive you of it.
PAD is the only mobage I've played that features Multiplayer. Most games only allow you to take a Friend's leader unit for the support slot (and typically rely heavily on them, especially in PAD's case, since the friend unit gives you a second Leader skill that stacks with yours). Since HKS was just starting off he had absolutely nothing that synergized with my team. It was impossible to do most beginner-level content with him. Even after he got high rarity units the complicated nature of their leader skill still greatly inhitibted my ability to help him progress - dungeons I found effortless with a random friend's Zela were virtually impossible with his otherwise extremely powerful Rushana. Incidentally, these games tend to randomize who actually shows up on your available supports list, or if they show up at all, which can make many fights entirely impossible simply because the game doesn't want to show you the support you need even though they've signed in recently. Throw in extremely limited friend slots, expandable via real money, of course, and you often have ridiculously toxic experiences before you even can get into playing the game. Hey, at least MP in PAD offers half stamina costs for dungeons - so timed dungeons you can actually do can be farmed a little bit.
A common and very sinister tactic that games employ, especially PAD, is to be vague or outright mislabel the difficulty of content you have access to. A Legendary dungeon in PAD can vary wildly in difficulty, presenting either no challenge or regularly instantly killing the player with the same team. Furthermore, most dungeons at the midgame feature a variety of gotcha's - instant-kill attacks that trigger either randomly, after certain turns, or at low health - or mechanics that only extremely specific teams have a chance of overcoming, such as "Damage Voids" that reduce any attack that deals over X amount to zero whilst also 1shotting you after 1-2 turns, therefore invalidating 99% of teams. There is extremely rarely any kind of warning for these, and most teams can't tank them even when outleveling the dungeon massively. A lot of these attacks also circumvent or overwhelm most defensive cooldowns in the game by hitting multiple times (avoiding DR at max HP only e.g. Green Odin) or by simply doing enough damage that passive DR offers no chance of mitigating it.
Early on most of the games are mind-numbingly easy, and will overflow the stamina you get from leveling up (PAD does not) and thus bait you into thinking progression will continue to be smooth. Events in most games are typically inaccessible for new players by virtue of being high level or power creep in general. FF Exvius is particularly bad for this, especially with the introduction of 7star units prompting events to be increasingly more brutal even in lower difficulties. Of course, farming lower difficulties in Exvius is worthless for players at any progression level since you don't get anything out of the meager returns you get from those stages.
I was told this difficulty was termed "Technical" for a reason - it was an asian concept of employing a difficulty only capable of being approached by very specific teams or strategies (teams in this case, since PAD and Exvius both have no strategy and are 90% luck). The concept isn't necessarily bad in itself, but given the chances of having the compositions necessary to challenge much less defeat many of these "Technical" dungeons - all content past the beginning stages - in any reasonable amount of time are extremely miniscule. Furthermore, if you don't reference an external source of information, you stand precisely zero chance of making headway into midgame in PAD. Exvius exclusively relies on Gacha RNG - the approach to content never changes: Debuff, buff, push kill switch, rinse and repeat forever. PAD is more involved in that it requires some asian finger skills to manage the game board, but those skills are still worthless if your team isn't up to spec.
As you can probably tell, you can interchange almost any of these games' titles and you will get the exact same experience. PAD is an exception mostly because of how much mandatory data is only accessible via a third party wiki and how willing it is to instantly kill you out of the blue. Most games don't even tell you what most things effecting numbers actually do, obscuring it as much as possible to try to bait you into wasting time on poorly educated decisions concerning your stamina and resources.
FGO claims this fight is level 70, but with a good support Servant even new players will have no trouble with this event. In comparison, I stood no chance at all of completing level 80 Exhibition fights in the previous Nerofest event. The exception between PAD and this game is those ultra-high difficulty fights costed only 1 stamina because it was expected you'd probaby lose them. You can't get units from fights in almost any Gacha game I've played, so fights are almost always only for resource grind. Very few games have story, and it usually isn't much. What FGO lacks in story it more than makes up for in event dialogue, though.
Once you lose the dungeon you are, of course, prompted to use the Gacha currency to revive your team and try again. FGO lets you burn all of your Command Spells (Daily cooldown to restore just one, and you need all 3 to have this option available) instead, while Azur Lane offers you no re-attempt at all. PAD wikis offer many hysterical stories of individuals burning up to 40+ stones on a single dungeon. A single Magic Stone in PAD is valued at $1 USD. Yes, people paid over $40 to brute force their way through a dungeon that probably didn't give them anything meaningful in the end anyways.
The only offset for this insanity is most games give you the gacha currency for free as well - in extremely carefully timed intervals, and in very limited quantities. When you start you're usually given a free Gacha roll as well - in the case of FGO, you can't get high-rarity units from it, and only very specific 4stars are eligable. One of those 4stars is Heracles, whom is quite desirable, so most experienced mobage players will re-roll their account until they get him since the chances of getting better without dropping bank in any reasonable time period are nearly non-existent.
Fate:Grand Order is held aloft only by the standing power of the Fate franchise. For reasons inexplicable this franchise is one of the most dominant Japanese brands at this point in time, and FGO is extremely popular in japan despite being widely regarded to have the most expensive and most unforgiving Gacha of all the games I've played thus far. I've spent months saving stones for Ishtar and I have around 200 - a large chunk thanks to a severe maintenance compensation earlier in the year. That's enough for about 6 10summon rolls. My last 6 10summon rolls never even saw a 4star servant enter my pool, much less a 5 star. Only with summoning tickets have I gotten lucky, and I've used well over a hundred of those, so the odds are still against me.
Each gambling platform typically features its own currency to diminish the value of native real-world currencies as much as possible and "devalue" the value of your currency to your subconsciousness. It's more pleasant to look at "30 Saint Quartz" than its real-world value of ~$35 USD before tax (with the "Bonus" SQ included) - enough for a single 10 summon in FGO. That's enough to buy an entire game you could spend more than 200 hours with. You'll find in no cases are the conversions remotely sensible much less realistic - in no way is the content worth more than $1 tops to a consumer, but somehow these games push insane prices and succeed - nay, flourish. It takes 5 Magic Stones to pull a typical Gacha machine (some are more expensive) in PAD and the odds of you getting anything meaningful are virtually non-existent. Not only are the drop lists flooded with fodder to ensure the lowest possible chance of getting something productive, but the chances of reaching the rarity echelions to see possibly productive rolls to begin with are astronomically tiny.
Most phone games I've played are deceptively complicated, boasting far more depth than you'll find in an MMO, but in order to access this depth you'll need a steady supply to the latest units and (usually) items for those units. Rarely do these games let you get away with just getting the one hyper-rare Gacha unit, either - you usually need multiple of them to unlock their full potential. In Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius nearly all units that aren't capable of being upgraded to 7 star are worthless for desirable event grinds, and those require duplicate drops. This ensures that "Beginner's Luck" and the common practice of re-making your account for more favorable early rolls doesn't allow players to escape the power creep bait and switch. In all games units, drops or otherwise, are divided by "Rarity". In a few games, such as Exvius, you can meaningfully upgrade low rarity into high rarity, and in Fire Emblem: Heroes it's quite realistic to snag a valuable unit at low rarity from certain events and then upgrade it into becoming very strong. In all games this is accounted for in drop chances and many strong units will only drop at high rarity values to ensure the least possible chance of getting them - the "Rarity" is a bait and switch mentality, making you think "At least I got this good unit at low rarity and can upgrade it!" - the upgrade capability for 7stars only comes from 5 stars in Exvius, and I've yet to see a 5 star in 4 months of rolling tons of free tickets and gems - including 30% 5star tickets. Literally every single unit I've gotten from those rolls has thus been worthless since I never saw a high-rarity base. You are not simply rolling for a chance to get a unit, you're rolling for rarity, and then in some cases the actual kind of object you receive (FGO heavily biases against units), and then the unit. This means the developer can tune the drops in a way to stunt progression as much as possible. The time-gated world drops in World of Warcraft are a super basic, easily peer-reviewed example every player can attest to, and once you recognize these patterns you'll see them all the time in mobages as well. It isn't simply RNG - it's PRNG with weights. The % drop chances therein are highly likely to just be a single layer of the formula that was forcibly exposed by law; the actual chances would look very different.
Many of these games feature "Rate-Up's" - but these are almost always only slightly increased odds of receiving certain units once you reach the one-in-a-hundred or so chance of getting that rarity to begin with. 1.4 is "better" than 0.67% on paper, but 2x nothing is still nothing in practice. Casuals tend to focus on the "Rate-Up" rather than the "1.4% from 0.67%". The game simply offers the escapism of buzzwords to help the mind get away from thinking.
Getting ideal units isn't just about reaching some progression barrier. It's often about convenience as well. Stamina is an inconvenience carefully socially engineered into apologism, but it isn't the only one.
Mobages are really about trophy waifus, but we'll talk about gameplay for the moment.
Puzzle and Dragons is a connect-the-dots game. The more you connect in one turn, the more damage you deal - and sometimes trigger some benefits along the way. When you move an orb you move others into its previous location. A very common style of game, or so I've heard, but it was my first experience with it. It took about five months of daily play to get accustomed to making 4+ combos regularly. I'm not a fast learner. With my original team I had a leader whom offered a sizable (4.5X) damage boost for just matching three colors of a specific type at once. I worked nearly a month to upgrade her to her Reincarnated form so it just required two. PAD has one more dimension to this, though, and one that ultimately made or broke my team - you need a friend's support leader to synergize with your own. The ideal candidate was a duplicate of the leader you used. With two Hakus I could reach an astounding 18X or so damage multiplier for just matching two of most color types. Only once I had these units could I start tackling some beginner dungeons - months after I had started.
When HKS started he rolled some very high-rarity units from the June Bride event, notably Rushana. In order to access her damage multiplier you needed to form crosses of five identical orbs - multiple crosses. This is sizably more difficult than just matching a few rows of three varying orb types. With a friend support for her you could reach colossally high multipliers - in the hundreds - but only once in a blue moon. Otherwise, her damage was utterly worthless. Each beginner dungeon was a chore for him if not outright impossible due to "board trolling" - engineered orb spawns that are suboptimal. PAD balances the orbs that appear on the board as you clear it based on difficulty and on multiplayer. With extensive testing we both noticed a marked shift towards suboptimal, if not excessively worthless, orb spawns when we played multiplayer or high-level dungeons. Since your success relies heavily on orbs related to your units being available this kind of PRNG skewing adds a level of artificial difficulty that makes an extremely frustrating game even more frustrating to play as you progress. It tunnels you into relying on Active skills - which require very specific units, most of which are Gacha-only.
Incidentally, the units he rolled were a trap because they'll never see upgrades added in later patches and will only get weaker and weaker as time goes on - just like the extremely vast majority of dungeon drops. I worked for a month with my strongest team amassing the resources necessary to get Myr - one of the mascot characters - to the second highest possible level. It required doing dungeons at the peak of my team's power level, a team that far exceeded any benefit Myr's upgraded forms offered. To get her final evolution, where she might be useful, I need to do an Annihilation-difficulty dungeon - well beyond my power level and regarded to be the most annoying of all dungeons in the game by many - that had a one-timed limited availability! Furthermore, I need to do the most mechanically difficult dungeons in the game - solo - without ever using a single stone, to get another material.
High difficulty requirements for evoing trophy waifus is quite alright, but PAD's excessively hostile progression design makes free to play a chore at the best of times and excrutiatingly painful otherwise. I've reached a brick wall I can probably never progress past unless I'm willing to spend thousands of dollars because, despite how strong my team is, I can't get any stronger without a lot of simple luck.
My PAD team features a very strong Gacha-only unit, Zela, as the team leader. The rest of the team is a mix of Gacha drops and dungeon drops. The right-most - Hera-Beorc - is a Beginner unit whom hardly holds a candle to the capabilities of the others. To the left of her is Michael - a very alluring trap. His sole purpose in existence is to headpat the team back some health at the end of my every turn and sometimes turn orbs into more useful colors. Ideally, I'd have Artemis - another Gacha unit - who features an ability that increases Wood orb drop chance for a while. Exceedingly useful. HKS got her to drop, but of course you can't trade those units.
Zela offers an extremely easy to use leader skill which creates colossal damage bonuses right out of the gate. What really makes her broken is her "Awoken" skills, however. She has the standard desirables - Unstunnable and some skill disable resist, but she is also one of the few units that features three stacking damage boosts.
The games offers you no insight into what these do, but they're actually multiplicatively stacking self-damage buffs - 2x each. Thanks to her ultra-powerful Active ability, and the multiplicatively stacking leader skills with a friend's Zela, it's quite possible to hit 60-80million damage per leader on demand once the skills are available. There is nothing else I've yet to see outside of the wiki that even comes close to this team's strength, but high-end dungeons are still impossible despite their health values rarely exceeding 150 million, simply due to mechanics. Keep in mind that she's merely a 7star - there's 8-10 stars in this game that aren't as strong.
It took until I had fully upgraded Zela's awakenings, and found a friend Zela, that I could even make the attempt at Myr's Legend Plus dungeon. The reward was a comparatively worthless Myr whom required a month of grinding upgrades to reach the stage where she could one day be upgraded into a potentially useful unit, and only if I could do a dungeon of far greater difficulty that is not even available - amongst a myriad of other silly things. The only reason would be the trophy waifu, as Myr would struggle to be as useful as Zela, especially given her leader skill requires a cross of Hearts and a high combo to make use of - a significantly more difficult and situational playstyle than just spawning and matching a few short rows of green orbs.
As a comparison, the Rushana that HKS runs requires three crosses and a massive combo to reach a "mere" 30million combined for his entire team. The only saving grace is Rushana's leader skill makes the board a little larger, so accomodating individual crosses is more realistic, but three requires either luck with respawning/falling orbs ("Skyfall") or an existing board with impeccable placement and skill. In comparison, I only need 3 sets of 3 orbs which is very easy to arrange if they already exist, or can be spawned with one of my substitute abilities (Again, Artemis would be perfect since she both makes wood orbs and increases their spawn rate). Two sets of 3 wood orbs alone is enough to 1shot most bosses in mythical dungeons, while 3 will annihilate Legend and Mythic plus in most cases. They don't particularly look like they should, since you only see a measily 6x or 12x multiplier on the orbs when they animate. The actual numbers on the units tell a very different story, however.
PAD is hardly linear in its power values, and hiding the information from the player is one of the tricks companies like GungHo and Blizzard do to ensure maximum possible expenditure of resources, time, and money to self-discovery of basic gameplay elements rather than just telling you how the fucking game actually works. Extremely few leader skills in PAD even hold a candle to Zela's, offering at best one source of damage multiplication (Her combo bonus and Wood bonus stack multiplicatively with themselves and with the friend leader's bonus, whereas Row bonus awakenings are apparently only Linear stacking). Thus, the small values here are actually excessively more powerful than the vast majority of single multipliers that offer up to 7 or even 9x damage simply because of the way they stack, which, of course, isn't exposed to the player. Furthermore, her active ability removes one of the most powerful abilities enemy units have - Locks, which prohibit changing orbs with skills - and then turns the board into a perfect mix of healing and wood orbs plus hands you two combo bonuses for nothing, almost guaranteeing meeting the 7 combo requirement for her Awakening damage boost. Not to mention she also reduces damage innately - not by a lot, but it makes a huge difference at Legend & Mythic Plus.
Even during the actual combo process the vast majority of the numbers are hidden from the players. Seemingly out of nowhere a 12x combo doles out several digits more than a 18x combo. Without a third party resource you'll have a hard time figuring out how and why, and even then it takes a lot of manual research.
PAD's progression, to a point, is defined entirely by how much damage you can do on demand. Since so many enemies can 1shot you, you absolutely must be able to 1shot them first. With leaders like Zela pushing the numbers into values considered absurd even a few years ago in the game's history, the company's answer was to entirely nullify damage values as a progression mechanic - rather, punishing you for doing too much damage. How much is too much? Often times, values even beginning teams will easily reach with 1-2 combos.
Here's an example of one group in a dungeon I am having difficulty with.
In this fight there are three opponents - two Dragon Fruit, which give you 1 turn of leeway after hitting them before they 1shot or 2shot you, and then the hyper-kawaii Tamadra which will 1shot you on the second turn of the fight. The problem is the Tamadra - you can't easily nuke it, since it has 50,000,000 million Defense and nullifies damage above 50. You'd need to do 50,000,001-49 damage to deal more than 1 damage. I have defeated this group before, but failed to kill the boss afterwards because it simply nullifies your damage entirely if it's above 800k - ergo, the damage you need to exceed the Tamadra's defense and 1shot it means you're doing far too much base damage to hurt the boss afterwards. Normally, the way it works out is you need 3 turns of attacks to kill it but only get 2 turns. What you really need is two % health damage abilities - called Gravity's - with at least one being 25%. The problem with these is I don't have them on units that are very strong. Hera's various forms have them, but Hera is weak and stunnable. Fights preluding this one are filled with year-long stuns, and I sacrifice a great deal of damage and survivability to exchange for Hera's. Furthermore, I can't blitz my way to the Tamadra - Gravity skills have a notoriously long charge-up period. There are skills that delay enemy turns, but changing my party composition leads to problems elsewhere...
After the Tamadra there's several difficult fights against bosses with, yep, damage voids and 75% damage reduction everywhere, whom also deal insane damage. You're either extremely tanky and can take those hits or you deal enough variable damage to both nuke the tamadra and then 2round the 800k void Cerberus and deal with the 7 turn 75% reduction on the final boss whom nukes you if there's ever a poison orb on the board. There's also Mortal Poison which, as its name entails, is rather dangerous orbs that the boss spawns on the board.
I can run a team comp using mixed units for varying damages to stay below those damage values needed for the fight after the Tamadra, but then I can't nuke my way to them and die anyways. I can run my Haku team - it rarely goes to 1 mill damage and so I can meet the void requirements on the boss after the Tamadra, but that team will rarely kill the Dragon fruit before they blow me up as a result.
It's a frustrating dungeon with very specific requirements that becomes infuriating mostly by extent of it being reliant on what I have available as units. If I had my Myr fully evolved and a friend Myr - I've never seen a Myr show up on the player list - her leader skill's damage reduction, when stacked, might be enough to survive the Tamadra. I can't use Multiplayer, or stone my way through the dungeon, because the Trigod mask - one of the requirements to evolve Myr fully - requires doing this with no continues and solo. The entire reason I'm doing the dungeon to begin with - the dungeon itself offers no rewards of any value despite its exceedingly high difficulty. Speaking of difficulty, this dungeon says "Legendary" in its name but is very clearly Mythical Plus tier, and I can clear many Mythical Pluses.
In a standalone consideration the dungeon is rather interesting. It adds a bunch of concepts and ideas to the game beyond just "Nuke this before it nukes you". It takes preparation and planning. However, the rewards for the dungeon most certainly don't match the challenge, and the preparation is entirely dependant on what you've rolled out of the gacha. Every attempt costs 99 stamina - failures set you back half the day to try again. Waiting is horrible, and after a few dozen attempts I simply gave up.
The Creep Game
As observed with League of Legends and Blizzard DotA, power creep sells. The new hero that is both super cute and retardedly overtuned will net both the soyboys and the baseball cap twisters. It doesn't matter how you get their money, only that you get it.
All of these games have a very, very specific kind of user in mind: the Whale. I'm not entirely sure where the term Whale comes from, but "Whaling" is the act of burning money on gambling. For example, a "Whale" in PAD may start the game, see something he likes, and burn a thousand dollars rolling for it. Sadly, this number is not an underestimated one. I had a discussion with a whale last year. She was a neet whom lived off the vast riches of her parents, which made it easy for her to spend money. A coin which she had inherited from a parent's business meeting was valued at over $900 - she profited into it and burned it on gacha. By then she was accustomed to these vast expenditures - all in the name of getting a token husbando or waifu. The problem was, of course, that even with these unbelievable expenditures she didn't always get what she was after.
To me this is pretty nuts. For $900 you could fund the production of a game of comparable quality. Most of these gacha games started very small and then exploded. Azur Lane, a Chinese shmup-esque sidescroller featuring shipgirls, was miniscule a year ago and today news of an anime alongside its recent EN release has reached my ears. Azur Lane is incredibly unlike PAD and FGO in many respects, however, and it is for this reason specifically I chose to write this article.
Of course, the 70-80 million damage of Zela in PAD was an unheard of number some years ago. In much the same vein of people laughing at me when I said Onyxia would eventually be soloable back when she was then-current content, power creep exists everywhere there is numbers and money to be had. Bigger is always better, and there's no simpler way to invalidate old content than just make new content bigger. Since new content thus has to compete with the power creep of new units, the arms race will very commonly outpace older material.
The thing is, though, creep occurs not just in terms of unit power. Let's have a look at my inventory in PAD for a moment.
First, you'll notice I have a lot of shit. Almost all of it is incidental upgrade materials, evolution materials, or materials to assist in the chance of leveling up a monster's skill. There's one or two that give experience when fused to a unit. Some are for Latent Awakenings, which add a small passive effect, such as Damage Reduction, to specific units. You know what they really are, though? Micro transaction creep.
You may have noticed at the bottom right where it says "Cards: 194/195". This is the current/maximum inventory, evidently. To expand the inventory by 5 slots it costs a magic stone. To fully expand your inventory it would cost you well over a thousand dollars to accomodate the new changes. "New changes"? Yes! They recently expanded the inventory from five thousand to six thousand... because people have spent this much money. Before you think that much space is not necessary, it most certainly can be. There are achievements that give substantial rewards for housing large numbers of unique units, and fully upgraded units. Since upgrades are usually also units which didn't even stack until recently you'll find yourself quickly ramping up inventory costs, especially if you're doing something like I was - looking to evolve Myr, whom required a variety of other evolved units as materials. The costs added up - even in their completed states, you need 5 slots just for the unit gems to get the second final form of Myr, and they certainly don't stack. Add that into the "I need subs for Myr and I need to hold onto stuff for her final form in case I can ever get Kheela and the Trigod Mask..." and just for this one team alone I'm hoarding 20+ spaces worth of shit I can't do anything with yet, maybe ever.
Inventory space in any of these games is a constant clusterfuck. Final Fantasy Exvius hands you gold rewards as "turtles" to sell instead of straight up giving you gold just so you are forced to cycle through menus and get annoyed by the inventory popup every single time to try to encourage you to spend money on more space. The only reason PAD has so many upgrade materials is to waste space and that's it. PAD occassionally has events that hand you random medals for exchange - EACH MEDAL IS ITS OWN FUCKING INVENTORY SLOT! MOST MATERIALS STACK, WHY THE FUCK NOT MEDALS?
How convenient for this event to appear after the anniversery gave you a bunch of free stones! Just like the retarded 10-stone Gacha machine that gives the exact same rewards 5-stone gacha machines gave a few months ago. Fuck off.
In titles such as Diablo 2, inventory management was a part of the roleplaying experience. The key was to make it a conscious action to take part in but not frustrating or tedious. In Dragon's Dogma, you could use your interns to help your inventory management. In Skyrim, your follower was a quantum pocket that could carry an entire castle with them provided they didn't mysteriously become unclickable and fuck you out of everything they held for the rest of the game or you didn't just up and crash before saving after the exchange. In mobages, the inventory is an excuse to prompt you with micro transaction ads. You can't use Gacha, you can't play the game, you can't do diddly fuck. You can't say "Stack stackables and auto-vendor or ignore everything else", there's no mail-delivery like in World of Warcraft, you are flatly cockblocked at every turn. Even worse is that since the netcode is transaction-based rather than a stable connection you have to constantly wait an excessive amount of time between every menu transition for the game to reconnect. If you're playing for free and unwilling to devote your precious free gacha coin to inventory space you have a tremendous amount of popups, waiting, and selling of individual rubbish, and then more waiting ahead of you.
Exvius is the absolute worst inventory disaster I've ever seen in a game. It takes what is a tireless irritant and turns it into some of the most demotivating upkeep you can imagine.
Exvius tends to hand out more free pulls than the other games mentioned thus far. It does not, however, offer comparable odds. Exvius has what is possibly the most toxic and punishing of gacha in all of the examples of this article - even worse than the famed FGO. It also devours insane amounts of disk space, a major issue when the business practice of scam firms like Google is to prohibit the use of SD cards for data to push planned obsolescence.
Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius deserves a special mention for a variety of reasons, especially when discussing creep. Exvius pushes out new, almost entirely irrelevant characters nearly every week or two. With the rare exception, all get added to the general pool - but the RNG is still a PRNG that is lopsided to favor very specific results. Unlike several other gacha games in this article, rolling a character below 5stars in Exvius is almost entirely worthless in 99% of cases. The 1% of cases is if you can get their Trust Master Reward with any degree of reliability - by having duplicates or RNG-driven Moogle drops from very specific rolls, of course - and if that Trust Master Reward, being an item or equippable ability, is any useful.
To have success in Exvius, you require the following -
1.) - Rolling a good 5star character. These are the only rarity that can upgrade into 7 star.
2.) - Rolling that exact same character a second time. This is necessary to upgrade them to 7 star.
3.) - Rolling that exact same character an additional two times. This is necessary to get the 7 star Trust Master Reward (TMR), which is generally their biggest power spike.
4.) - Having successfully rolled enough specific other high rarity characters to get their TMR's that make the 7star unit more viable.
5.) - Having been strong enough to farm events at the absolute highest level non-stop to get the extremely high cost items and abilities from them to round out your units. This requires all of the above and a lot of luck.
6.) - Having reinforced your items with RNG-driven enhancements from limited time special events on Stamina cooldowns. Furthermore, when reinforcing an item you can't use it - so if you needed it to make your one unit strong enough to clear, tough luck - grind more units before bothering.
FGO and PAD, which I would consider extremely RNG-reliant games, have much less reliance on RNG to get into places where you can clear more than the most beginner level content. Exvius is a pure stat-driven grind - all of the various unit and TMR grinds amount exclusively to bigger numbers, and the combat never actually changes; debuff the enemy, buff yourself, nuke it, repeat. FGO and PAD both evolve somewhat as you get more powerful units, though (PAD to a much lesser extent). Furthermore, Exvius' friend system allows you to only use a friend's leader once per login of that player, if even - usually it won't show you the highest level units on your friend's list, anyways. A year later, and I still can't even put a dent in the upper level of difficulties for events in this game.
Compared to FGO and PAD, where you really only need the one unit to make you viable, and FGO especially, where 5star units are a luxury and not a necessity, Exvius is by far the most unforgiving and hateful of gacha games I've yet to encounter.
That's not to say that FGO or PAD are worth playing if you hope to get what you want, however.
Having played FGO nearly daily since I first started it over a year ago, I've blown more than 700 Saint Quartz, hundreds of summon ticks - all the free materials I could get including clearing all but two of the story maps up to the end of the first Grand Order - and I have only ever gotten a single 5star servant. While Ishtar was one of the ones I had started the game hoping to acquire, it was truly depressing to see over a year's investment of dedication to the game yield nothing else. King Hassan, Merlin, Okita, Tamamo and others elude me to this day.
Despite my awful luck in FGO, the only fights I could not complete without either my own group or abusing friend servants is special, free-cost exhibition fights from Nerofest. Furthermore, once you get a waifu - like Ishtar - you don't need to rely on any more RNG to make them as good as they can be. Grails to level cap break them come from story and events, you'll have more than enough good CE's by the time you get one (many come from events as well), and exp is easy, if not tedious, to farm. The only really tough thing is skill leveling, which tends to be a slog, but isn't mandatory to make use of them. Duplicates raise their Noble Phantasm strength which, while useful, isn't really a big deal for most 5stars.
Meanwhile, in Exvius, due to the insane delay between navigating menus I can't even be bothered to clear my inventory to play the game. It's just not worth my time.
Each of the Gacha games have brought something interesting to the title. Exvius' graphics are by far the best of all of the games, and their animations are far superior to anything in FGO or otherwise. FGO has writing in it, though, and isn't a mistranslanted mess like the others. In fact, much of the event dialogue in FGO is legitimately amusing, if not questionably legal in the West. As far as gameplay is concerned, though, despite some games exhiting reasonable tactical depth, none of them seek to explore very much. PAD is the only one with multiplayer, and all of them are cancerously locked behind heavily biased RNG that often leaves you wondering how the business manages to stay afloat.
The reason why I chose to write this article is because of a newer, Chinese-made mobage that recently entered the Amerikan market. It brings with it a whole host of different approaches the tried and true concept, changes that are worth documenting.
Oh, glorious Chinese-crafted unmoderated chat. I've been waiting ever since Town Square in Starcraft to meet you once again! AL is worth the time even if it's only to immerse yourself in the degeneracy of real-time reddit.
Azur Lane is a waifu collection game based on very loose shmup-styled gameplay. Most importantly, the gacha resource is actually easy to acquire, it can be nearly impossible to blow all of your stamina in a single day without major effort, and many of the best waifus can be collected through drops. That's right - AL is more of a game than any of the previous games depicted thus far.
Dread is a regular of the colorful Azur Lane community and represents the best Reddit has to offer the internet. Every night for months he's been culturally enriching us plebeians. What an outstanding young man!
Azur Lane, unlike FGO and others, has exploded into popularity at the near flip of a hat thanks to its userbase feeding off of a similarly-themed but comparatively malicious shipgirl-based game, Kentai Collection. Only around a year after its Chinese and Japanese releases has it been pushed to the global market, with a great deal of growing pains to come as a result.
While many of the waifus are still acquired through gacha-esque rolls, the resource used to fuel the gacha is much easier to acquire than any other game I've thus far played, and the drop rates are way higher. As opposed to FGO's biased 1% vs CE, AL's 5star drop rate is usually 7%. There's only a single ship I've missed out on since I've started.
That said, the drops can be rather merciless and take true dedication to farm. This is something you interact with, though, so the experience is still more positive than just rolling the dice and losing endlessly.
Ashigara spawns in the one tile somehow accessible to units, next to the cleverly hidden dog. The Dorm generates EXP for girls in it automatically, based on how much furniture you own. Only the most rare pieces of furniture are real-money only, and the EXP is also free.
Azur Lane has many things in its favor. Its maps and CG are high quality, it has auto-play, and the PvP is a stupid amalgamation of retarded circumstances, RNG, and AI vs AI all of which is silly if not taken seriously. Given all of this is entirely free and the system in general nurtures even extremely aggressive playstyles like mine, it's clear that AL is going to reshape much of the mobage market and approaches to it to come. It's a mobage that at least, in some respects, attempts to be a little less malicious towards its users.
The worst drop for me was Yuudachi. She took over a month of off and on farming. At least the drops you get from her stage - those purple plates -, as well as the exp are useful for the entire game, so the farm isn't pointless if she doesn't drop. Maya was also really bad, taking almost two months to get to drop, though I didn't farm her as easily during that time. Most drops, including Akagi, Kaga, Jintsuu and others took at most two weeks of off and on grinding.
At the time of this writing, this is the most cancerous composition to run in PvP. It shreds evasion and invalidates all front-lines and attacking faster and striking harder than any other group can even complete with, with the only viable competition being a mirror match. PvP, however, is an AI vs AI match with unfair advantages for the attacker and you can quit the match at any time without consequence - so it's a total trainwreck that needs to be rebuilt for the game's health. PvP matches give you exp and some resources for resources and a few ships, so it's worth doing even if you don't plan to gear out a group for it.
PvP in this game is extremely stupid, but also incredibly exploitable. It isn't really PvP - it's pushing a button and then jumping ship if it looks like you're going to lose. It needs to be reworked ASAP, but the developer seems to be uninterested in making it more interesting, which is a shame given how much potential the game has.
HKS, running a cat-themed frontline, stands absolutely no chance against my group. He first encountered my group before acquiring Amagi, and despite many attempts he was never able to destroy even a single backliner in my group. When he ran into me a second time later on, though, he was able to defeat my team over the course of 10-20 attempts thanks to the sheer luck of where torpedoes went when they were launched, where the units moved, evasion avoiding certain hits, etc. When I run into his group, though, the match is virtually impossible for me to lose due to the Attacker having a 20% damage boost. Even if I get extremely bad RNG on where my ships send their damage I am guaranteed to win by extent of the largely unavoidable damage I will do from bombers, which spawn damage directly on units and deal damage to the opposing team when they hit the edge of the screen. In reality, there is no group in the entire game that legitimately challenges my team as an Attacker. If I stand to lose it's exclusively due to poor RNG, and that's just not how you design a PvP system. Yet this is the simple flavor of how many of these games do PvP - Exvius lets you control your units, but the turn order is RANDOM, your maximum damage is fixed to three-digits and your opponents are AI controlled that focus on sustain and healing above all else. A truly agonizing and unpleasant experience.
You'd think that with the concept of these games being played on the internet on a phone that multiplayer would be a bigger deal. Instead, the only player interaction you have within AL is chat or private messages - and that's way more than what PAD, FGO and Exvius have. AL's overworld with enemy groups being individual units you attack to instigate battle with seems a no-brain for co-operative gameplay. Yet there is no hint they ever intend to explore the idea.
The inventory in AL is way less of a clusterfuck, too. You'll only feel pressured to expand dock space if you feel like collecting every shipgirl.
AL's counterbalance to its strong points is that the real money currency is almost impossible to acquire for free about you've cleared the story maps. Only a single event has yielded a pittance of Gems since it launched to EN, and other hand-outs are from the EN localization fucking up things and pushing the wrong patches to live constantly. This means that skins, dock expansions, dorm expansions, marriage rings (which increase ship stats) and other quality of life things are extremely hard for free users to get. Furthermore, due to the rapid rate of EN receiving content from China as the developers try to match the content of the games, it's impossible to get the furniture tokens necessary for choice pieces from every dorm set before it expires or a new one or three pop up for an equally short time as the last. Meanwhile, JP and CN servers have been in a content drought for months, seeing virtually nothing except for the rare re-run until very recently. AL also has virtually no writing whatsoever - the devs completely gave up on putting dialogue into the main story only a few short chapters in, and most of the events only have a few generic pieces of poorly-translated text.
Farming Jintsuu on release day, pre-danger levels, was tough, but I developed my own compositions and strategies that worked very well. Getting her to drop felt legitimately rewarding, unlike gacha luck - or the lack thereof - from the other games I tried.
While AL is a very easy game, some parts of it do require some strategy and planning. It's a more interactive game than the others discussed earlier, though you can autocombat the entire thing fairly comfortably as well.
My time with Mobages - the industry-leading entertainment software of both the East and the West - has lead me to hate the human race more than I ever imagined possible. The sheer rapid decline of quality content, drive to improve, and desire to learn has helped a generation of delicate feelies-driven cuckolds construct an echo chamber of solid diamonds to surround themselves in complete degeneracy. The fact that gambling regulations haven't slapped Blizzard and their Chinese cousins with fines across the board affirms how utterly out of touch government bodies really are with the corporations that serve them, and how far marketing and business is willing to go to steal money from children. Above all, it reaffirms that no matter how low quality entertainment gets, and how much more you end up paying for less, apologists will continue to doll out daddy's purse for the most momentary distraction from the utter banality of their meaningless lives.
Though many of the software discussed in this article have points that can be made about individuals amidst their development standing out, such as FGO's writing or AL's waifus, they are as a body an insanely destructive force that has helped erode the values of the human being from their own consciousness. That the very concept that makes these games financially viable - selling low-resolution still images for an average of more than an average game with 100+ potential hours of playtime behind it 20 years ago - and the fact that concept does not simply exist, but flourishes, is a testimony to the hatred man has for mankind. It is a testmony to man's own self-hatred and violent self-flagellation, and the genetic stagnation of evolution. It has been an enriching and eye-opening experience - while I often heard about the voracity and sheer ridiculouslessness of the much-lauded "Phone Game" and its maliciousness towards those with severe mental disabilities, to actually experience it is quite the ordeal.
This is it. End of the line.