Puzzle & Dragons: The Curious Case of Premium Spin-Offs of F2P Hits
Posted: in Press
By GungHoAdmin on January 26, 2017
Mobile gaming has long since overtaken the other gaming markets in Japan, and the result is that a lot of the most popular modern gaming IPs have their origins in the mobile market. We're all used to seeing cherished old console franchises trotted out wearing free-to-play skins on mobile, but in Japan, the opposite case is beginning to happen.
I'm not surprised it was GungHo that took the first step. I've talked a lot about the big mobile successes coming from publishers with little prior experience in the traditional gaming market, but that doesn't quite fit when we're talking about GungHo. The company is relatively new and has its roots in social networking, but its 2004 partnership with (and eventual acquisition of) Game Arts added a lot of experience in the traditional gaming market to GungHo's pool. So when GungHo revealed at a fan festival in May of 2013 that Puzzle & Dragons would be getting a 3DS spin-off, it seemed like less of a shock and more of an inevitability.
Titled Puzzle & Dragons Z, the game released in Japan on December 12th, 2013. It's an interesting example of how one might change a game built entirely around monetization through microtransactions into a full-priced, done-in-one experience. GungHo basically took the puzzle combat and team-building mechanics and dropped them into a Pokemon-inspired RPG. They also adopted the mobile version's method of portraying dungeons, so you won't be doing much exploring. The infamous gacha random draw system for getting new monsters has been largely removed, with enemy drops picking up the slack. Things like daily dungeons and events are handled through a separate NPC, and on the whole, it's a lot easier to build up and evolve your party. The story is pretty dull, and you can tell they were angling for a multimedia thing with the inclusion of an "adorable" sidekick monster. It's also kind of easy. One gets the impression that the game was designed for very young kids, without much of a budget put into it. That's fair. It's not like anyone knew how it would go. It went very well, though. The game ended up selling over 1.5 million copies in Japan, which is quite impressive for a 3DS game without any prior base on the platform.