It's a phenomenon in Japan, and a veritable force to be reckoned with in the US. And now, Puzzle & Dragons finally sees a version released in Europe.
However, the free-to-play match-three, dungeon crawling, RPG hits European shores in a significantly different form: a retail 3DS game with a static version of the mobile original - Puzzle & Dragons Z - and a bundled Mario-themed variant.Dragon's den
Puzzle & Dragons Z sees you take on the role of a brand new dragon tamer being thrust into a world saving scenario.
It’s certainly not the most original story, and dialogue and events very quickly enter the realms of clichéd, as well as some dangerously close Pokemon similarities, but it drives the experience well enough forwards to give context to your actions.
This is a very different approach to its mobile origins, where a narrative wasn’t present at all.
On your quest to save the world from begin torn a sunder by the oddly named villain Dogma The Charismatic Destroyer, you must venture forth with your party of friends and monsters, and secure puzzle-shaped landmasses called World Pieces.Reminds me of a puzzle
This generally involves fighting battles, which are fought through a match-three gems system focused around three elements: fire, water, and earth. You create a party of up to five monsters, each with their own elemental alignments, and by creating rows or columns of three or more of an element’s gems creatures aligned to them can attack.
The more gems matched, the deadlier the attack and the more foes you can target. Additionally, if the element opposes your foe’s you’ll do extra damage to them. Finally, combinations of gems matched in a single turn can allow multiple monsters to attack from your party.
It’s a clever and compelling melding of classic match-three and turn-based combat that’s highly satisfying to play and more complex than it may seems. Your party of monsters must have a leader, and depending on which monster you choose determines different abilities and passive traits you can activate in battle.Gem and the holograms
Gems can be moved freely across the six-by-five grid, however they juggle the other gems around as you move them, allowing you to create the kind of combos you’ll need to deal devastating damage. Furthermore, another gem type added to the mix heals you, so performing a move that both damages your foes and heals you simultaneously is a prize tactic.
Puzzle & Dragons Z is, however, missing a great many features, some of which are key to the mobile version’s success. Some elements, such as the social component which allows you to bring in another leader from a player’s monster party to compliment your own, is recreated through Street Pass, but IAPs are out.
On paper this doesn’t sound like a detriment but it’s clear Puzzle & Dragons was built with a free-to-play model in mind, and the changes to the formula here sully the experience somewhat.
The removal of a stamina bar that restricted playtime in the mobile version is certainly a plus, but the mobile’s dungeon rotation for grabbing rare monster-evolving tokens is now replaced with an immense grind with poor drop rates.
Even the addition of a narrative proves a barrier to enjoying Puzzle & Dragons’ strongest component: the combat. And roster has also been reduced from over 1000 to a mere 100 monsters.Wahoo!
The Mario-themed version does introduce a few features that Puzzle & Dragons Z lacks and its mobile form contains, such as awakened skills, multi-attribute monsters, and a turn-based skill system that has monsters wait a number of turns before certain skills can be activated.
Additionally, the Mario theme is visually crisper and more detailed; however, it’s also less appealing. There’s simply no Mario equivalent of the incredible dragons you can evolve in Puzzle & Dragons Z, and some rough, pixelated edges and dull maps and cut scenes can’t undo its aesthetic variety and charm.