Thursday, April 23, 2015

My Experience With Mobile Games: Puzzle and Dragons

Why did I write this article? Click here.

Puzzle and Dragons was one of the first mobile games I played. It was recommended to me by a couple of friends when I started my quest to find decent mobile games and it's by far the game I've played the longest since as a result. In addition, despite the fact that the game has an in-app purchase system that apparently makes Gungho a decent amount of cash, I chose to avoid them due partially to disparaging remarks regarding how exploitative mobile games can be but also to see how far I could get before feeling like I have to spend money (the temptation struck a grand total of once and I didn't give in to it). As a result, this review will be done from the perspective of someone who strictly avoided throwing any money at the game, which arguably makes the fact that I'm still hooked on the game after over half a year an even bigger feat by the developers.


Puzzle and Dragons mixes match-3 gameplay with RPG elements to craft something that seems quite unique. While some RPG elements are pretty generic, such as the HP, Attack, and RCV (short for recovery, which affects how much matched heart blocks heal for) stats for Monsters, others, such as the Fusion system, which involves consuming monsters to level up or otherwise empower monsters (through skill ups, awakenings, and evolution), seem quite innovative. The gameplay is also different from a typical match-3 game since instead of swapping the position of two orbs, a player can drag a single orb all over the 5x6 grid via touchscreen to manipulate the position of many orbs at once, creating multiple matches before the time to drag runs out and the enemies take their turn. By making orb movement work in this manner, there is a significant skill component since a player can match many sets of orbs and create chains of matches through good orb positioning.
What the game looks like while in a dungeon. How many possible matches do you see?
The game features many dungeons that the player takes their team of monsters into alongside a friend's leader monster. The floor of each dungeon has a specific Stamina cost associated with them, which regenerates at a rate of once every 5 minutes. Stamina serves as the limiting factor for how much a player can play before they have to wait for it to naturally recover over time or pay a Magic Stone, the premium currency, to fully replenish it. This is unfortunately rather typical of a good number of games, particularly mobile games, and may be unattractive for players who want a smooth, seamless experience that they can access any time.
A list of "Normal Dungeons." The top one, Legendary Earth, has one floor that requires 99 Stamina to enter.
Collecting monsters is an important aspect of the game since it allows the player to build a stronger team either by collecting monsters to fuse and level up the current monsters or using them because they are more attractive to use. Monsters can be acquired from dungeon runs and various egg machines, two of which are always available to use. The two egg machines are the Pal Egg Machine and Rare Egg Machine. The former machine awards a wide range of monsters and requires Pal Points to use, which are acquired naturally over time through gameplay assuming one plays regularly and brings players on their friend list into dungeons with them. The latter machine requires the premium Magic Stone currency and can award powerful monsters exclusively obtainable from the machine.
My monster box at the time of this writing. Note that despite the cap of 320, 300 slots of which I opened up with 60 Magic Stones, it is almost full.
Players also get stronger by gaining ranks, which is done by gaining experience from completing dungeons. Upon ranking up, the player's stamina is fully replenished and they earn an additional benefit, such as increased maximum stamina, team cost, or friend list space. Team cost ensures players can't stomp the entire game with teams of extremely powerful monsters (likely gotten from the Rare Egg Machine), though it is forgiving enough that when players rank up enough they can build said teams or. Team cost, while an annoying limitation at times, effectively smooths out the progression curve and helps prevents major sequence breaking (though it is still possible).
The main team I use at the time of this writing. Note that it nearly reaches my current team cost cap (Total Cost) at a modest rank of 167.
Overall, Puzzle and Dragons has solid gameplay that allows for a player to develop skill and a strong team of monsters over time. However, players may find they have to spend a lot more time than anticipated due to the Stamina system limiting how many dungeons they can enter.


While the game doesn't have much of a story unlike its 3DS counterpart, it starts off reasonably well and has a set of tutorial dungeons to ease new players into the experience. The interface is simple, responsive, and easy to understand. More recent updates added additional visual and auditory cues to in-game mechanics, making it easier for players to understand what's going on (such as if a monster's passive effects activated). One complaint I have regarding the interface (in the English version) is that there's no way to look up Ultimate Evolutions in-game without significant trial and error to the point it's better to use a third party site.

While the game's design is rather simplistic, graphical assets look smooth across the board. Attacking, especially with mass attacks that hit all enemies, looks incredibly satisfying for instance. Monster artwork is quite decent in particular and gets more elaborate for higher rank monsters. However, some of the artwork can be on the suggestive side, resulting in players jokingly referring to some characters as their waifus.

Overall, the presentation of Puzzle and Dragons is decent, though a few things could use improvement that'll hopefully be addressed in future patches.


Magic stones are the premium currency in Puzzle and Dragons. They can be used for a few things in-game:
  • As mentioned above, 1 Magic Stone can be used to fully replenish stamina at any time
  • When a player is defeated in a dungeon, one can spend a Magic Stone to continue.
  • 1 Magic Stone can be spent to increase Monster Box capacity by 5 (initially starts at 20). 
    • The same can be done for the Friend List after increasing reaching 50 maximum friends at rank 67.
  • 5 Magic Stones can be spent on a Rare Egg Machine to acquire a monster of 3 stars or above. Not all of these monsters are great but a high number of very powerful monsters exclusively come from the Rare Egg Machine at low rates.
    • Occasionally, there are other Rare Egg Machine variants that (so far) also cost 5 Magic Stones per monster or "pull." These usually have a smaller pool of monsters, all of which are generally exclusive to that particular machine.
A picture of the shop. All the buttons except the bottom one directly involve Magic Stones.
Based on the information above, the Magic Stone system is a bit pay to win, since a player can buy a ton of Magic Stones and effectively never lose in a dungeon. However, the pay to win factor isn't too great for the following reasons:
  • Magic Stones are rather expensive. A single one costs about $1 USD and while they cost a lot less in bulk, that's quite a bit to ask just to have one continue in a dungeon or the like.
  • There is no PvP in Puzzle and Dragons, meaning that just getting powerful monsters doesn't imbalance the experience for other players.
  • A player can't just buy a ton of Magic Stones at the start and simplify progression instantly due to team cost restrictions, as mentioned above.
    • It is worth mentioning, however, that buying many monsters at the Rare Egg Machine can be effective once the player has played a significant amount, though by that point the player may have acquired many strong monsters through normal play.
  • Magic Stones are easily acquired through normal play. Clearing all of the floors of a dungeon awards one Magic Stone and there are quite a few dungeons to clear, including new ones that get added regularly.
    • In addition to this, once the player progresses far enough, they unlock Challenge Mode, which allows the player to re-run a dungeon using monsters from their Friend List. Clearing all of a dungeon's floors in Challenge Mode awards another Magic Stone, effectively doubling the amount of obtainable Magic Stones from Normal and Technical dungeons.
  • Gungho often hosts events that give out Magic Stones daily. These usually last around 10 days out of every 14 (at least lately), meaning a player can easily accumulate a lot of Magic Stones just by playing every day.
  • If a player plays for enough days (does not need to be consecutive), they are awarded Magic Stones. This reward can be earned multiple times.\
The price of Magic Stones as of this writing.
In short, Magic Stones are easily obtained through normal play and the high price discourages purchasing of them. Even when conservatively spending the stones (as explained in the Tips), a player's progression won't even be marred that much. In fact, Magic Stones have very minimal effect on progression early on in particular.


While the above sections may have already determined whether you want to play Puzzle and Dragons or not, here's a few additional points worth considering:
  • The game doesn't have too many musical soundtracks, but they're alright and (at least for me) don't seem to get too repetitive.
  • The game is (thankfully) largely ad-free. There's just a banner announcing some updates on the title screen.
  • From the technical side the game is very lightweight from what I can tell. Aside from some stuttering when many mass attacks are fired at once, there's no notable performance issues.
    • In addition, if one happens to kill the application or it crashes for some reason while in a dungeon, the game will usually continue from that point when relaunched, preventing players from getting screwed out of their Stamina.
  • The game does require a player to be online to initiate a dungeon or do numerous activities such as fusing and selling monsters. The dungeon, however, can be completed offline up until the ending screen that shows what rewards the player got.

Aside from the tips provided in this guide, I have a few additional tips:
  • Puzzle and Dragons is a surprisingly complex game, so it's almost certain you'll end up needing some information at some point. This site is an excellent resource for looking up said information such as event times, monster stats, etc.
  • If you intend to spend money on the game, wait until you've played the game for at least a couple of weeks since, as mentioned above, the effect of Magic Stones isn't going to be that significant until one acquires some ranks.
  • Out of all of the special daily dungeons, the weekend dungeon is probably one of the most important ones to do early since when starting out, you'll be pretty coin starved. Once you reach later points in the game, you won't be worrying about coins as much since you can farm them in the hundreds of thousands at a time (for example, I have roughly 30 million coins as shown in screenshots above).
    • If you really want to farm the weekend dungeon, prioritize acquiring this monster as soon as possible (wait until a Godfest featuring her).
    • The dungeon is also a good source of experience, especially at the higher difficulties, though keep in mind this dungeon is also open when Tower of Giants costs half stamina to enter (as explained in the guide linked above), which is dramatically better for grinding rank.
  • There will occasionally be special dungeons that will stay active for several days. These dungeons usually have a couple monsters that will help progress through the early and midgame. If you can enter even the lowest difficulty, consider doing so.
    • This is especially helpful when you get stuck trying to beat a Normal or Technical Dungeon, which will probably happen from time to time.
  • If you're about to rank up and have a lot of Stamina, do the daily dungeon (excluding the weekend dungeon) since they don't award a lot of experience but may have drops that you need. This advice will become irrelevant once Gungho releases Stamina Overflow for the English version.
  • My ID is 306737383 if you're interested in having a friend with a reasonably powerful monster. Keep in mind that due to rank differences it's unlikely you'll be able to use my monster for a while.
    • You can also comment below this article if you have any questions about the game.

As one of the first games I played on mobile, Puzzle and Dragons delivered an experience that has consumed many hours and hours of my time. While I wouldn't recommend spending any money on the game and hope for some improvements, particularly in the form of bringing the English version up to date with the Japanese version features-wise, I would recommend this game to almost everyone. Players who might like this game in particular are those who enjoy a bit of strategizing and team-building with their quick match-3, RPG-like gameplay. This game, as mentioned above, is not for players who like to spend hours and hours at a time playing unless they are willing to break it down into several shorter sessions over the course of the day.

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