Puzzle & Dragons (PAD) is a puzzle / RPG hybrid published by GungHo Online in 2012.
The core game consists of a 5x6 board of Orbs of varying attributes, including Fire, Water, Wood, Light, Dark, and Heal. The player is allotted several seconds to drag their finger in a continuous motion so as to rearrange the board to form as many matches as possible (minimum 3 in a row/column). If your team has monsters of the orb you matched, damage will be dealt in the corresponding attribute. More matches lead to more combos and a higher damage multiplier. Matched orbs will disappear and new orbs will drop in from above.
To clear a dungeon, all enemies in each floor must be defeated. Depleted HP is replenished upon matching Heal Orbs. Monsters will fight back after a certain number of turns, and you will lose if your HP drops to zero.
Every individual monster has a great deal of depth and many features to fully optimize. Monster stats increase as their level increases, which is achieved through Power-Up Fusions (“feeding” monsters to other monsters). Furthermore, upon reaching a level cap, most monsters can evolve to more advanced forms, granting different Skills and higher stat caps.
Monsters have unique Active Skills that assist the player in overcoming obstacles. These Skills start off on cooldown, and charge after every turn the player matches orbs. Skill effects are wide reaching and touch upon many game aspects, including changing orbs to a certain attribute or delaying enemy attack timers. Furthermore, evolved monsters have innate Awoken Skills which can either optimize combat or provide extra utility.
Expanding more on teams, each team consists of 4 members headed by 2 Leaders, yours and a friend’s (can be IRL friend or online stranger). Monsters each have a cost value that corresponds to their rarity, and any single team is gated by a cost budget that increases with player level. This serves as a “not-enough-badges” wall, curbing instant progression from new players who might “buy” multiple rare monsters and attempt to stack them all into one team.
Each monster has a Leader Skill that will amplify the entire team’s effectiveness. As such, a wide variety of team strategies exist, each with their own orb matching strategies. Players are given multiple team slots so that different teams can be built and adapted to specific dungeons.
Clearing dungeons is the primary method of progressing in PAD. Each clear grants XP, and leveling up grants a number of bonuses, most notably an increase in maximum Stamina (more on this later). Dungeons also drop monsters and Coins for further team building.
The difficulty scaling is fairly well developed. Beginners will be able to learn the ropes in Normal Dungeons, where monsters usually consist of non spectacular grunts, mini bosses, and bosses. As players begin to refine their teams, Technical Dungeons provide further challenges. Monsters will begin to alter the board composition or disrupt members of your team directly. Bosses will also have special powers and conditions that require some forethought to beat.
An extensive rotation of Special Dungeons is also available, providing both extra challenges and opportunities to obtain a wide cast of exclusive monsters. These include weekly dungeons that spawn evolution materials for upgrading your team, or EXP nuggets for quickly powering up monsters. Challenge Dungeons are especially difficult, and can have built-in restrictions, such as needing a team with all 5 attributes or lacking Heal Orbs.
Co-op Dungeons have also been implemented, where a player can work with a partner in real time to clear a dungeon, alternating turns to match orbs. Difficulty and monster HP are appropriately scaled upwards due to the extra team’s worth of skills available for use.
No direct PvP system currently exists, although occasional timed Ranking Dungeons allow you to compete against other players for high scores.
Brief lore exists revolving around certain archetypes, as well as a 40-episode anime spinoff series that isn't too shabby.
The primary currency of PAD is the Magic Stone, which has a wide range of uses. The main purpose is to crank the Rare Egg Machine (REM) for a chance at a rare monster. This system is known as a gachapon, pulling one at a time from a large pool of monsters at random. Do note; this is essentially gambling; a player can pull over a hundred times and still fail to obtain their desired monster. Nevertheless, viable teams can be built from most Gods, with free Stones given out all the time.
Pulling is encouraged through the occasional Godfest, during which certain archetypes/lineups gain an increased drop rate over the usual filler monsters. Certain powerful monsters are also available only during Godfests, smaller lineups known as Godfest Exclusives. Once in a blue moon, users will be able to vote on who will appear in the lineup for a Player’s Choice Godfest, a highly sought after event with a strong selection of powerful monsters.
Magic Stone usage is not restricted to monster acquisition; expansion of storage space and friend list also require Magic Stones. Additionally, the player can choose to revive themselves in a dungeon for 1 Stone a pop, allowing for harder dungeons to be cleared with sub-optimal teams.
A major boon for PAD is its kindness to non-IAP players; there are a plethora of ways to earn Magic Stones free of charge by merely playing the game. These include a quest system, clearing a dungeon set for the first time, event/seasonal dungeons, free giveaways, or even simply by logging in.
Several secondary currencies/resources include Stamina, Pal Points, Monster Points, and Coins.
Stamina is perhaps the most important, as every dungeon requires a certain amount to enter. Higher difficulty dungeons require more stamina and are unlocked as the player levels up and reach the required threshold. Spent Stamina will recharge at a rate of 1 every 3 minutes. Alternatively, your Stamina can be entirely refilled at the cost of 1 Magic Stone.
Pal Points are obtained by using Friend Leaders. Using Leaders from your friend's list grants more points than strangers, encouraging a network of companions with similar strategies. These points are used to pull the Pal Egg Machine, a softer version of the Rare Egg Machine. Rewards are usually tailored to monster progression and given in bulk.
Monster Points are earned whenever a monster is sold; REM pulls grant a significant amount compared to regular monsters. Monster Points can be used to purchase incredibly powerful monsters that cannot be obtained elsewhere, but this currency is directly related to REM pulling and thus Magic Stone spending, favoring IAP players.
Lastly, Coins are obtained from clearing dungeons and are needed in the monster evolution process, but can also be used to purchase lucrative dungeons for a limited time.
The sheer amount of artwork in this game is staggering. Thousands of unique monsters mean a ridiculous amount of visuals to take in. Of these, some are original goodness, like Tamadra and its various forms, but PAD also draws from religions and mythologies of all cultures, such as Roman, Norse, and Egyptian gods. From the lowly dungeon grunt to a flashy archangel, many monsters in PAD are given gorgeous artwork that embody the sentiment “attention to detail.”
The puzzle board itself is no slouch, with flashy effects when matching different orb configurations, unique to each element, no less.
The musical score is nothing short of riveting. Some tracks instill a sense of wonder as you explore the unknown, while others are cheery and upbeat. Entering the final floor immediately shifts into a more serious tone, creating an atmosphere of tense focus as you attempt to take down the dungeon’s boss.
One complaint could be that any and every piece of art is only 2D, that standard dungeon backgrounds haven't changed at all over the last 5 years, or that there’s no voice talent involved whatsoever, but these do not detract from the game’s charm in the least.
Since playing the game revolves around Stamina, the player is encouraged to check back every so often after enough Stamina has recharged. Certain evolution materials and XP dragons are sequestered to their day of the week, making sure there’s always a dungeon you’ll find useful.
As previously mentioned, players level up by clearing dungeons, increasing their maximum Stamina. This, in turn, allows the player to run more dungeons in a given sitting, leveling up further and so on. High-level players enjoy a massive Stamina pool to work with, as well as extra team slots to adapt to any dungeon. Systems like Quests and monthly Challenge sets increase the replayability factor even further, making sure the player always has a goal to achieve.
One criticism may be that there are too many dungeons to keep track of (external websites help mitigate this), meaning that one off day may mean you miss said dungeon for a good while.
The act of logging in itself also grants substantial Magic Stones at certain milestones, with veterans enjoying a bonus after their 1000th login day.
This title has survived for over five years in no small part to its seemingly endless amount of content. I am in the aforementioned 1000 day club and still have new dungeons to clear.
However, this acts as a double-edged sword; new players will easily be overwhelmed by the massive amounts of information, with little to no in-game assistance. Thus, it falls upon external websites / apps to aid in explaining subtler game aspects(don't sell your Gold Dragons!) or tracking dungeon schedules.
As touched on before, the game difficulty scales well with player skill over time. Those who have built up endgame Awoken / Reincarnated monsters will find that each dungeon floor will have a boss with millions of HP, 2nd stages, or other nasty effects that will truly test your puzzle skills.
GungHo has also shown its commitment to implementing both significant systemic and quality of life changes, such as reducing Stamina recharge rates from 5 minutes to 3 and making temporary hourly dungeons permanent additions to daily lineups.
Collab events with various franchises also ensure wacky new monsters, ranging from Bleach to Final Fantasy to DC (that’s right, Batman all the way to Superman).
Puzzle & Dragons (PAD) is best described as a puzzle / RPG hybrid, accessible to new players yet retaining a high skill cap. As far as match-three puzzle games go, PAD truly captures the sentiment “easy to learn, hard to master.” No matter what point you’re at in the game, you’ll always feel challenged and have a target.
Stunning visuals and in-depth monster designs mean that the game both looks and plays fantastically. The RPG-style progression complements the scaling puzzle difficulty very nicely; a combination turns a simple game to into a part of your daily routine.