We learned this week that X-Drive Unlimited, the Symphogear mobile game, will be shuttering its global server in July - having just launched in February. But the JP server will keep going, as it’s a big hit there. So what exactly happened to the English release that bombed it within three months? Well, as it turns out, the management of the global server was something of a disaster, and I’m here to break it down.
I’m a massive Symphogear fan, possibly the single most devoted one in Ani-TAY. I love the series to pieces, but I’m also the first to point out its flaws. And while this game has many, many flaws, I’m only going to talk about the flaws specific to the global release - any balancing issues or predatory practices present in the Japanese release are their own can of worms, and the game continues its march over there in spite of them. So here’s what went wrong with the global release:
They launched events hilariously out of order. Nobody’s super sure why they chose to do this, given that the stories follow an in-universe timeline, with events referencing previous events even when they’re set in separate timelines. They started with a collab event concurrent with the JP server, then skipped around back and forth after that with zero regard for the flow of the story.
The global server launched several months after Season 5, the series finale. Its main story, however, was in the exact same state as when it launched in Japan: in between seasons 3 and 4. The JP server launched the 3.5 interstitial story as its first event, which we’ve yet to see six events later, while they started adding Season 5 main story content last month.
And if you thought those were a mess, the gacha is an absolute nightmare. Each event has lasted 2~3 weeks (as opposed to the solid month of EVERY event on JP servers), and each has its own event gacha banner. But there’s also the static Normal Gacha and Friend Gachas.
But there’s also two or three other gacha banners running at any time. Characters’ birthdays, one character’s X-Drive at a time, event banners from future events with zero context... it was totally ridiculous. Each of these rolling banners lasted TWO DAYS.
There was no rhyme or reason as to which banners were coming, and at best we got 12 hours of advance notice to a new banner. Several of the banners were limited, of the type that usually either run once a year or once EVER - except they’d bring them back for two more days a week or two later. sometimes. For certain banners. We still haven’t seen others return.
On top of all that, they made the baffling decision to include certain systems from much, much, MUCH later in the game. The Limit Unlock system, which allows you to increase the rarity (star level) of your units, was included at launch, despite only coming three years into the lifetime of the JP server. With it came two different methods of obtaining the necessary currency, both of which are long-ass fights at endgame difficulty, and NOBODY is ready for it at launch, not even the whales. It makes players feel like they’re constantly running behind, and breaks the balance in nasty ways.
Look at this utter nightmare of a release timeline:
There’s a funny thing about those advanced battle for limit unlock currencies: one of them uses is own separate stamina bar, and the other is only available 12 hours a day. But that type of battle isn’t the only thing with its own stamina bar, oh no. There’s a “normal” bar for main quests and growth material fights, an Event stamina bar, a PvP stamina bar, the aforementioned Advent stamina bar... oh, and each refills at a different rate, has its own consumable to refill it, and may or may not fill when you reach a new player rank. Any time a bar is full, you’re wasting stamina, so the game ends up being more than a full time job to play “optimally.”
Keep in mind that each card is its own completely separate unit (so Twin Phoenix Hibiki, Gargantuan Spear Hibiki, and Berserk Hibiki are three separate units), each needing to be raised separately - and you need 6 copies of a thing to make it competitive, which means it’s often easier to do with a 4* unit than a 5*. The constantly shifting gacha banners combined with all of this means the PvP balance was absolutely screwed from day three or four, and that’s before they introduced the Challenge Cup several months earlier than the JP server did after launch. Did we mention PvP is one of the only reliable methods of obtaining gacha currency once you’ve exhausted the main story? There’s NEVER enough, especially at the breakneck pace those banners kept coming. The fact that Memoria cards (the equivalent of FGO’s Craft Essence) were in the same pool, and the rates greatly resembled FGO itself, also bottlenecked the path to power.
The paid content was absolutely nonsensical. $40 got you a ten-pull. (For reference, in GBF, $30 is a ten-pull, and each thing has WAY more value overall.)
But aside from poor value, the shop just flat-out didn’t work right. They had an item in the shop called the Commander’s Support Box. For a small fee ($4~$5 depending on your national currency), you’d get a small pittance of gacha currency immediately - not quite enough for a 10-pull - and a smaller bit every day for a month, for a grand total of about one-and-a-half 10-pulls. Unfortunately, while the in-game shop page for it was active and the game tried to advertise it to you every time you weren’t in a battle, the actual BUY button didn’t exist. There was some text there instead that basically amounted to “This button will arrive as soon as we get our collective heads out of our asses. Thanks for your patience.”
But perhaps worst of all, the shop didn’t support Euros. The entire European market had to resort to various types of shenanigans to play and/or pay, which in turn meant many of them just didn’t bother.
The core gameplay just isn’t engaging enough to cover up all of these management missteps. I love the story to death, and it hits all the right beats of action, drama, emotion, and comedy, but the autoplay mechanics make it boring and the game in its western state of existence actively works against you in terms of getting strong enough to actually engage with the more interesting content. It’s a better time investment to just watch the stories in YouTube clip form, and it looks like the playerbase agrees with me on this. It’s all rather unfortunate, as among other things, it means we’ll never see many of the what-if universes or the banter between former enemies, let alone having easy access to some of the frankly awesome original songs that come in later events.
Western fans are gonna go right back to connecting to JP servers, or reading translated summaries of events from Reddit, and that’s just not how Symphogear is supposed to be presented. RIP, XDU Global; your foreign masters exploited you to death. Fudou was right...