Yostar and Hypergryph’s mobile tower-defense game, Arknights, remains the only gacha game I can confidently recommend to people — and trust me, I play a lot of them.
Arknights is mostly a single-player puzzle game, each level of the game has at least one set solution to beat it. The characters that you can roll for in the gacha system are the units you place down to beat the incoming swarm of bad guys. Each character has a unique set of abilities and are divided into classes, like medics or snipers. The thing about Arknights that makes it so nice is that each level can be completed using the low-rarity units. You don’t need that shiny, new, super-rare six-star unit to clear it.
There is something ridiculously satisfying about being stumped on a hard level, not knowing how to beat a new boss or get past a certain wave of enemies, and then figuring it out. Unfortunately, the game doesn’t see new levels or events often, but that downtime can be used to take a break from the game or farm materials to power up your characters.
Tons of other gacha games have a multiplayer competitive element to it, forcing you to roll for new gacha units to avoid being left behind. However, Arknights’ only multiplayer features involve helping out your friends by letting them borrow your units or sending them items they need to earn some cash. There isn’t anything competitive, and players who don’t have the game’s rarest units aren’t dragging their friends down.
Compare that to a game like Nintendo and Cygames’ Dragalia Lost, where endgame items are nearly impossible to acquire unless you and your party members have the best team compositions.
With a bit of grinding and powering up, I can effectively beat the hardest levels in Arknights with nothing but low-rarity characters. Having the rare SilverAsh unit, who decimates half the map when powered up, certainly would help clear out the levels easier, but I’m not gated from harder content because I don’t have him.
The game’s difficult Contingency Contract events do shake this up a bit. Only players with the rarest units will be able to beat the hardest levels, but a majority of players are able to get the event rewards, as long as they power up their characters. While the last few levels of Contingency Contract will be too tough for most players, the only thing players will miss out on are bragging rights.
That being said, I roll in Arknights’ gacha when I see a new cool character. Oh, Ch’en is a cool dragon girl who uses a sword? I want her on my team. Maybe I already have a guard-type character, but I want this one because her specific aesthetic appeals to me. That being said, if there’s a new character whose design doesn’t tickle my fancy, I pass.
The art plays a big role in how I play the game in general. After playing Arknights for nearly nine months, I have a team of characters who I can clear most content with, but I’m still logging on daily and farming materials to upgrade other characters I have. Why? Because when you upgrade them, their art evolves and becomes super cool. Seeing that art change and turn into a beautiful portrait of the character showing off their abilities gives me a huge rush. It’s rewarding!
Maybe that is a trap that keeps me logging in everyday, but my continuous upgrading of older characters I’ve neglected also keeps me from rolling in the game’s gacha. I don’t really need the new super strong area-of-effect melee character; I already farmed the materials to upgrade the lower-rarity version.
Arknights is also fairly straightforward. You can level up your characters, but there’s no extra additional things for me to have to funnel materials into. Games like Genshin Impact or Granblue Fantasy feature summons, weapons, and other equips for characters that you also have to level up. If you want a strong team, you’ll have to put a ton of time and energy into making sure you not only have a strong character, but a strong summon and a strong set of weapons. While these games overwhelm me with a seemingly endless list of things I’ll be powering up for the rest of my natural life, Arknights only has characters and their skill levels to upgrade.
But Arknights is still fairly young. The original Chinese version has only been around for a year and a half, and the English version released in January. The game has introduced the dreaded idea of “limited” units that can only be pulled from the gacha during specific times, so it’s not like this game is completely free of gacha sin. Free-to-play mobile games often come with menacing and problematic systems to force players to spend, and some of these features only start appearing after a year or two of the game’s life cycle. But, for now, Arknights is the one I feel confident enough in to suggest to my friends.