Divine Gate – Deconstruction
Pop Quiz: What is the most Lucrative mobile game in the world right now? Candy Crush Saga? Wrong. Clash of Clans? Wrong again.
The correct answer is Puzzle and Dragons by Japanese publisher GungHo Online Entertainment making upwards of a cool $75M a month. So when I heard that GungHo were releasing their new game Divine Gate on Android in Japan it was only natural to dust-down my Japanese books, boot up my Samsung S4 and get playing!
Here’s my analysis of the game.
Divine Gate uses the same core loop and sub-cycle as Puzzle and Dragons. Not a real surprise given that the game has been a phenomenal success and a top grossing app in Japan for over a year. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
The player visits a town and takes part in a series of battles (Actions). Upon successful completion of the Town, they are rewarded with XP, Soft Currency and new Cards (Rewards). Doing this enough times allows the player to level up and they can visit new towns, increase their Stamina (allowing them to take on Towns that require more stamina), add more friends and increase their Card Inventory (Expansions).
90% of the game (it’s actions) are a series of battles. Players choose a Town to visit and try to find it’s Divine Gate.
Once a player has entered a town, they are represented by a Chess piece on a 2D board and their goal is to move to the Key, which opens the Divine Gate.
The player can move to any square that is adjacent to their current square, and every time they move, the square they land in is revealed (the square flips over like a card). The player then either receives Treasure (Soft Currency) or encounters enemies they need to battle.
★ = Higher chance of finding treasure / gold.
★ = Higher chance of encountering enemies.
★ = Equal chance of getting Treasure or encountering enemies.
The higher the number ★, the higher the value of treasure/gold or more powerful the enemies encountered are.
The player is free to move around the grid as often as they like, but every move they make consumes 1SP. Once all SP are used up, any additional movement takes away 20% of the player’s total HP. The Player can never lose all HP in this way though, and will stay at 1HP.
When the key is collected, the player is greeted with a really cool message and an animation of the door opening.
The player then needs to move to the Divine Gate, where they will face a boss. Defeating the boss completes the Floor of the (Dungeon?) in the Town. To begin with all Towns have 1 floor, meaning that after defeating the boss the area is clear, but as the player progresses, Towns can have multiple floors making the game progressively harder.
Most of the moves the player makes on the game board result in a battle. A number of enemies (up to 5) appear for the player to defeat.
Battles are turn based, with either the player first and then the turn order changing from one side to the other in sequence. Sometimes a “Back Attack” will occur, meaning the enemy attacks first instead, as a little bit of variation to the sequence.
When it’s the player’s turn to act, their attention is drawn to the bottom 10 squares, divided into two rows. The first row has a selection of elements of different colours that are randomly distributed. The player’s goal is to drag these elements into the boxes above, with each box holding up to 5 elements before they are full. As an additional complexity, the player is better off dragging elements of the same kind into the same box as the more of the same element that are matched, the more damage an attack will do.
Once the player starts dragging, a timer counts down. It seems like the player has overall 6 seconds from making their first match to make as many matches as they can before time expires. At the end of that time period, their team will do damage to the enemies. The amount of matches of various colours make up the number of “hands” that are matched. For example, the player could end up matching 2 green hands and one red hand. Depending on the make-up of their team, their team deals damage, in this case Their green team members would attack twice and their red team members would attack once. If they have no team members of the matched hands, then no damage is dealt at all! This makes team composition important as the meta-game evolves over time.
The most interesting thing about this battle system is that it’s fast. This alone makes it feel very fun and adds an automatic risk vs reward element into the game. The faster the player goes, the more damage they can do but the more likely it is they will make bad matches and reduce their overall damage output.
The UX (User Experience) when making matches also feels awesome! Dragging elements feels fun, and then depending on the number of matches that are made, the team member who is making the attack scrolls in from the right hand side and makes a real impact (Thud!). It genuinely feels like you are attacking the enemy team and it encourages you to make large combos and to keep going. We often use the term juicy to describe really full-on satisfying User Experience and Divine Gate succeeds brilliantly in this regards. Many Japanese games such as Rage of Bahamut have terrible UX, so it’s great to see that Japan can make a high quality game.
Sub-cycles: Evolution and Fusion
This wouldn’t be a Japanese card battle RPG if it didn’t have two of the staple mechanics of the genre, Evolution and Fusion. Players can evolve members of their existing team by finding a pre-determine set of cards that are found through Gacha and random drops in levels. Evolving a card turns it into a brand new type of card with upgraded rarity and better stats and sometimes new abilities.
You can also choose to upgrade any character / card you have with Power-up Fusion. Here you sacrifice existing cards that you own to boost the XP of other cards you have. This means that every time you acquire new cards from drops / Gacha, even if you do not like the card you acquired, it has a use for you and your team. This makes every action meaningful and keep the game fun. Again the UX is really good when a Level-up or fusion occurs, and I particularly love the “God Bless You!” message which is shown every time a character is sacrificed.
Social features in this game are very similar to Puzzle and Dragons. When you go into a Town to fight monsters, you can bring in one person from your friend’s list to accompany you, which is the lead character of the player you request. If you don’t have any friends, the game will generate a list of real players and you can choose to take an anonymous player with you. If you successfully complete the Town, you are given the opportunity to send that player a friend request.
Every time you use a friend, they receive social currency which they can use to play the “Friend Scratch” which is this game’s social Gacha mechanism. You can only use a friend to accompany you once per login. However, if you login again later in the day, you can use that friend again, providing they too have logged in again since you last played. This creates a social reciprocation / re-engagement cycle which encourages players to keep playing the game over and over.
Strangely, Divine Gate (and Puzzles and Dragons) does not allow you to connect to Facebook to make finding friends easier. This is a huge area that could be improved as with the high quality and immense fun that this game provides, I am sure that many people would pick it up and appreciate having requests from strong players. However, there is a code entry system that can be used to add known friends so it is possible to add a friend you know in real life.
The ability to take a powerful Friend is very useful as if you are having trouble clearing a certain Town, you can take a powerful ally in who could turn the tide of battle in your favour.
A new feature in Divine Gate is that Evolution and Fusion are now Social. To Evolve or Fuse you have to select a friend to complete the action. For Evolution you also need a specific character type to help the Evolution, making it harder to find a person or team that can help you Evolve the character you want. This will be interesting to see how it plays out as potentially this could be a brilliant way to make the game go viral as players go on real life forums and websites to find someone to help them. A very clever idea! My only recommendation would be to add a global chat or forum accessible in-game so players are facilitated in the ability to do this.
One aspect of Game Design that Japanese companies have completely mastered are events. Mobile and Tablet games these days are Live-Service, meaning that players expect new content and experiences to keep them interested. Divine Gate has events that appear every day with different challenges that are presented to the player.
Some events require more stamina than usual, meaning that a player cannot even access the event. These events work as motivator for long-term retention as it makes the player want to keep playing until they are at a point where they can take on the event and see what it’s all about.
Events also frequently have increased drop rates of rare items. Thus to complete Evolution for certain characters, you need to take on these events and beat them. This means the need to get better monsters for your team, and spending money to continue if the level is failed.
Divine Gate uses the same monetisation method as Puzzle and Dragons. This seems fairly innocuous at first but is actually very well crafted and put together.
Players can buy “chips” in different packs. Interestingly they can only buy chips. There are no other forms of currency that can be purchased. However, the secret to high levels of player spend are that these chips are so good and so worth having.
Chips can be used whenever a level is failed to resurrect your team and give you full HP. This is the same method used in arcade games from the 80’s and 90’s and mean that you can always complete any level – if you are willing to pay.
Players can also use a chip to expand the number of friends they can use. As friends can be used for Battles, Evolving and Fusion, it’s useful to have lots of friends on your list, so this is a worthwhile perma-buff to have.
You can also spend chips to increase the number of units you can carry at any one time. As you progress, you get more and more rewards (cards) from winning a quest, meaning that you run out of capacity quickly. You can always sell spare cards for Soft Currency, but as some of these cards are needed for Evolving, having a larger capacity is worthwhile.
Divine Gate uses a Gacha system as it’s predecessor Puzzle and Dragons did. This time round the Gacha is known as a “Scratch” and uses the metaphor of a lottery scratch card. A Gacha is a random chance to get a card, but the distinction is that the Rare Scratch guarantees the chance of getting at least a “rare” (3* or above) card, whereas the Friend Scratch is likely to give you a 1* card. You get to play the Friend scratch by accumulating friend points which are generated when another player uses your character. Thus, the more friends you have, the more likely it is your character is used and the more Friend Scratches you get.
It’s interesting that GungHo changed the visual metaphor for the Gacha in this game. Personally, I believe that the Gacha in PAD is really fun! You have to pull the arm down on a Dragon and you are greeted with a really nice animation and musical sequence. Regardless of the result, it makes you want to do it again and again which is great for monetisation and retention.
In Divine Gate, the sequence although easier to understand (it’s a Scratch Card like the Lottery), it’s not nearly as fun to do. I wonder if this will make any different to the success of the game, but it’s something that I would look to improve.
Divine Gate is currently only out on Android, and I assume that GungHo are currently soft launching it to balance the game economy / progression. It’s currently already started out very strongly and I believe this will be a top 10 grossing game in Japan. However, it will suffer the same fate as PAD in the West in that it will pick up a dedicated audience, but it’s too “core” for the mass market to play. A problem that it won’t face in Japan.
One thing that does surprise me is how similar this game is to PAD. Whilst it does look very different, is of much higher quality and has a new battle system, the game is ultimately about collecting a team and evolving / fusing to make it better. There is still no PvP or GvG elements which I thought would be the next logical step for GungHo to take with their games. This means that there is a high chance of cannibalisation as this game will appeal to many of the same players who already play PAD, and its unlikely that players will pay the same amount of money for two games if they are quite similar.
Summary (A Personal Opinion)
– Excellent Battle system that is fast to pick-up and incredibly fun to play!
– “Juicy” UX that gives the game a real feeling of polish and quality.
– Adding social elements to Evolution and Fusion is clever and fun.
– Evolving and Fusing mechanics are fun and rewarding.
– No Facebook integration to make it easy to find / add friends.
– No PvP or GvG features.
– The UI is still confusing in some areas, although the presentation is very good for a Japanese card battle game.
– A lack of being able to see friend’s progress / overall world progress. The small images of towns are nice, but the feeling of progression is nowhere near as satisfying as the Saga framework used in King games.