Dragalia Lost had so much going for it. Not least of which was that it was Nintendo’s first foray into creating a new IP for mobile devices. Developed in partnership with one of the giants of the space, CyGames, it was a generally well-received and respected JRPG.
Now, though, everything that went into that game is about to be lost forever.
Nintendo and CyGames have announced that the last new “content drop” for Dragalia Lost will land on March 31, at which point active development for the game will cease. The final campaign will wrap in July, and while the servers will remain active for a while, the companies have already promised that their lives will come to an end soon enough.
The problem here is not that active development on the game will cease, of course. That happens in the natural course of any creative work, and isn’t a problem. The problem is that the game will be rendered completely unplayable once the servers are flicked off.
I’m not writing this because it’s a first. This kind of thing has been going on for years now. I personally stopped playing mobile games back in 2016 when Chain Chronicle – a game I genuinely loved – was unceremoniously shuttered (admittedly I did dip back in for Fire Emblem Heroes, but I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity to dress Lyn in a swimsuit and wedding gown). I’m writing this because it’s the best reminder that we’ve had in some time that these games are a waste of work and time for everyone involved, and because they’re becoming more common, we’re going to be losing more and more art.
It is a reminder, in other words. Dragalia Lost only ran for four years, and was backed by two of the biggest names in the business. It is a game that had a fortune of creative energy poured into it, including some of the most stunningly beautiful art that you’ll find on mobile. And all of that is going to be gone. It’s not just that the developer is ending support for it. It’s going to be purged from existence. All of that work is going to be like it never existed.
Imagine of Yoshitaka Amano’s stunning art from Final Fantasy was burned out of existence five years after it was drawn because Square Enix decided it was no longer worth anything to them. But beyond that, imagine if we did that to art galleries or film. Imagine if you weren’t able to watch films that were older than four years because they were no longer actively generating money. Imagine if art galleries tossed out everything after an exhibition.
A subscription service like Netflix or Game Pass might do lousy things by walling off art and then deciding down the track that it’s no longer of interest to them to keep it on their servers, but even if Netflix were to decide that I should no longer be able to watch the final two Rurouni Kenshin films, there’s always piracy. Piracy doesn’t really protect people from live services once those stop spinning money, though. Anything that absolutely relies on some server being left on to be accessible is art that is doomed to be lost.
To be blunt, think about your favourite game that relies on servers and has no offline or single player mode at all. Whether it’s Genshin Impact, Fortnite, Apex Legends or League Of Legends. At some point – probably before you’re ready for it – your favourite characters and all the time you put into them will disappear from history. The narratives will be like they never happened. Your heroic victories as provable as a tree falling deep in a forest with no one to witness it. You will have nothing to show for your time in those games, and, even worse, neither will the people who made the game.
These trends are only going to accelerate. There’s too much short-term money in doing this for publishers and corporations to care that at some point the art is going to be binned. The games industry, in particular, is hell-bent on adopting NFTs (with film, television, and others not far behind). Those things are even more volatile and liable to just disappear overnight.
So, use Dragalia Lost to remind yourself to never play these games. It’s not just that you shouldn’t spend money on them, but you shouldn’t go to the emotional energy of engaging with them, finding favourite characters, and paying attention to the story. All of that is going away, and any emotional investment that you have in them is nothing more than wasted energy.
Now, Nintendo and CyGames, do the right thing and make a proper version of this game that will be playable in single player, without relying on servers, into perpetuity, and preserve the art and work that so many people put into it.
While I hope that these “short life-span” games do not come to dominate the gaming space, I’m surprised that you think of a game like Dragalia Lost as a “waste of work and time for everyone involved” and “a waste of incredible art”. Is art rendered pointless if it has a limited lifespan? Is all performance art, completely performed in one night, after which all the props and set are broken down and destroyed, a “waste” of all the performers’ and production staff’s time, energy, creativity? I have had a lot of friends in the dramatic and performance art spheres throughout my life, and the temporary/occasional/ephemeral nature of their art is part of what excites them so much and drives them to give their all to each performance. Those one-time performances exist to stimulate the audience & to allow for a unique kind of expression from the artists, and for many of them it is really cool that weeks later that performance only exists in people’s memory.
So I’m not going to fight a battle for limited-life mobile games, they’re not generally my thing (I do really enjoy Genshin Impact). I’m a physical-first retro-gamer with tons of games from 30-40 years ago in my collection that I love to play again and again. But this Dragalia Lost artistic project — which several of my friends have enjoyed a lot, and which many artists have poured their creativity into — is not rendered a “waste” because it will not exist in 2025. It’s merely a different kind of creative project, a different kind of game that some of us can choose to enjoy, and some can choose to skip. And at any rate, its artistic legacy will be recorded by fansites on the web; its art will not be forgotten; the enjoyment will stick with fans of the game forever.
You are right that live performance only exists in the moment. But we’re talking about very different mediums here, and the transitory nature of theatre, ballet, or whatever, is a major part of the experience itself. The chance to see Rudolf Nureyev dance, or Ian McKellan perform Shakespeare, right there, for you in that moment, is the foundational building block of those artistic experiences.
When the artistic medium is orientated towards the art being repeatable (i.e. you can access it when you want to experience it), it’s a different matter. Just this week Martin Scorsese’ film preservation project was reported as saying 90% of films made before 1929 have been lost (https://nofilmschool.com/missing-movies). That’s not the beauty of the art form. That’s a tragedy. Games are the same. If we can’t preserve the experience of playing them, then ultimately they are doomed to be forgotten, and that, to me, for this particular art form, is a waste for all involved.
I agree that it is a colossal disaster that the oldest films are mostly lost — a tragedy in fact! As a fan of older films, I feel this loss to my core.
However, I stick to my guns that the art, creativity, enjoyment of a game like Dragalia Lost is not cancelled by the fact that it has a limited life span. Some games we can keep and play for decades, some we can’t. I had a great time playing arcade games as a kid in the ’80s — they’d be in the arcade for a year or two and then disappear forever. We happen to have the technology to play those ROMs in MAME now … but that’s not what the original game designers were planning. They were planning for those games to be playable for an ephemeral moment: a few years at a few arcades, before disappearing forever. Some of my best gaming experiences ever! And MAME is not what saves those developers’ efforts from being “wasted”. My experience and the experience of countless other eager gamers in those ’80s arcades is what created those games’ un-erasable and untarnishable legacy.
Of course, all that being said, game preservation is hugely important! And clearly games like Dragalia Lost are among the most at risk for having no playable presence in the “preservation community” 10-20 years from now…