How to enjoy gacha games without destroying your wallet
The world of free-to-play mobile games can be a dangerous place. Many of our favorite franchises are represented on mobile, such as Dragon Ball, Fire Emblem, and even Marvel. However, if you want to collect all your favorite characters in these games, you might need to spend some money. Like… a lot of money.
We discussed loot boxes at the height of the Star Wars Battlefront II controversy, and gacha games are functionally the same concept. By definition, a gacha game (derived from “Gashapon” vending machines) is any game in which you acquire characters and/or items via randomized “pulls,” a la trading card booster packs. You’ve probably heard horror stories about “whales” in these types of games, such as the guy who spent $16,000 playing Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius or the guy who spent $70,000 in Fate/Grand Order. That said, many of these games do offer hours of content that can be enjoyed freely with a little foresight and intuition. If you’re looking to learn the tricks of the trade, then you’ve come to the right place.
Whether you want to hear a J-pop star rap the Fire Emblem theme in Dragalia Lost or want to revisit your favorite obscure jRPG franchise, here are all the tips you need to enjoy any gacha game you want without losing your mind (or your wallet).
Disclaimer: Gacha/loot box mechanics in video games should be considered gambling, even if they aren’t legally. This guide was written to help non/low-spenders, but these tips are not fail-safe. Resources for anyone concerned about playing or spending compulsively will be linked at the bottom.
Step 1: Check the rates, manage your expectations.
Before you play any gacha game, you’ll want to do some research first. I know, that doesn’t sound fun, but trust me, it’s important.
Many gacha games like to tantalize players with beloved characters from popular franchises, but actually getting them takes a lot of luck. Gacha games typically divide their characters into three different rarity tiers, with the rarest typically having a 1%-3% chance of dropping per pull. Due to a policy change by Apple in 2018, all games with gacha mechanics are required to disclose their drop rates in some fashion. In other words, a quick Google search will give you the numbers you need and get your expectations in check ASAP.
Step 2: Consider Rerolling.
Now that you know about your game’s low drop rates (they’re always low), you’ll want to know about rerolling. Many gacha games will get your proverbial feet wet by giving you enough resources to do 10-20 pulls within the first 10-30 minutes of gameplay. Players looking to game the system like to take advantage of this by starting their account over and over again until their first pulls yield a ton of rare drops without needing to pay for them. This is what gacha gamers refer to as “rerolling.”
The methodology for rerolling in each game varies, so you’ll want to search for the name of your game followed by “reroll guide” to know how to do this properly. In some cases, rerolling may be too much of a pain to be even worth the rare characters that you wind up getting out of it. However, if there’s a specific character you really want, taking some hours to reroll might be preferable to spending hundreds of dollars depending on your luck.
Step 3: Don’t stress over energy.
Most – but not all – gacha games balance their gameplay around energy systems. You’ve probably seen these in mobile games, but to summarize, energy is a mechanic used to limit how much you can play a game in a single sitting. Paying a stage consumes energy, and once you’re out, you’ll have to wait for your energy to replenish in real time. You could spend premium currency to refill energy, but you’ll want to save that for more gacha pulls.
This system seems to make you play the game less, but the opposite is true: energy systems actually make you play more. Moreover, energy encourages you to play in shorter bursts throughout the day to make the game part of your day’s routine. Maximizing your energy is fine when you have the time, but it shouldn’t be a detriment to your real life. Besides, many games shower you with energy when you start playing to help you sink your teeth into the gameplay. Play at your own pace, and you’ll wind up enjoying the game more in the long run.
Step 4: Strategize around banners.
Unlike trading card games that are separated by expansions, gacha games add new characters to an ever-growing pool every two weeks or so. To compel players to keep pulling, these units are typically featured on a limited time “banner” that increases their drop rate relative to other units of the same rarity. Consider this your metagame of planning what units to pull for.
The harsh reality is this: you shouldn’t gun for every character in a gacha game unless you spend serious cash. However, you can save your resources for banners featuring characters you really want. Similarly, if a banner features two or three super rare characters and you happen to pull one of them, you should probably stop pulling on that banner. Split banners typically divide the boosted drop rates among all featured characters of the same rarity. If you want to make the most of your resources, you’ll want to maximize your odds of pulling new characters as much as possible (unless you want a duplicate, of course).
Step 5: Beware power creep.
Power creep is the dark side to almost all gacha games. For those unfamiliar with the term, power creep is the process by which new characters and equipment in a video game become outdated as new, more powerful characters and equipment are added. So yes, that super awesome character you blew all your resources to pull could be outshined by a better character a few months later.
Remember: outdated does not necessarily mean useless. A character you pulled can stay massively useful to you, even if stronger characters have been released. However, if you’re tempted to spend real money chasing a specific character, it’s important to keep power creep in mind.
Step 6: If you plan to pay, set a budget.
Look, there’s nothing inherently wrong with spending money on a gacha game. If you have some expendable cash, and a game is giving you a lot of entertainment, then it can feel nice to get some extra goodies and support the developers. However, unless you just won the lottery, you’ll want to set hard limits on yourself.
When you’ve spent all your in-game resources and didn’t get the character you want, your brain is going to be desperate for that dopamine rush. And in this state of mind, it becomes shockingly easy to drop way more cash than you’d ever be comfortable spending. Limiting your spending to a set number per month helps offset this, especially if you don’t spend while you’re actively pulling. Many gacha games offer a subscription purchase that dishes out the most bang for your buck over the course of 30 days. If you want to be a low-spender, grab that and never look at the cash shop for the rest of the month.
Step 7: Check in with the community.
If you’re struggling in a gacha game, it’s tempting to believe the solution is to spend money on better units. However, the real solution might be just talking with other players!
You’d be amazed at the in-depth theorycrafters that popular gacha games attract. From people sharing reviews of units to guides on how to beat ultra hard content with common units, connecting with fellow players is arguably half the fun. Many Japanese gacha games are also a few months ahead of their English counterparts, which helps a game’s community prepare for units and content that are to come in the immediate future.
Step 8: If you’re not having fun, stop playing.
When enjoyed properly, gacha games can be a lot of fun. However, as we’ve discussed in this article, gacha games are also designed to be uniquely addictive. Their gameplay systems are created to be habit forming, and the dopamine rush of getting rare characters is much stronger than you’d expect. This might encourage you to play more than you normally would, and you’ll find yourself playing out of compulsion, not fun.
Video games are meant to be fun. Sure, you get your occasional Ocarina of Time water temple, but no game should feel like the water temple every day. There’s no harm in taking a break from a game. Even if you’ve spent money on it, don’t let the sunk cost fallacy keep you playing something you get no joy out of. And hey, if you still want that gacha rush, consider games like Super Dragon Ball Heroes World Mission or Xenoblade Chronicles 2 that feature gacha-style elements without any microtransactions. It’s all the fun of a gacha without any manipulation!
In short, play games that make you happy. Spend money on games if that makes you happy (and within your budget of expendable income). The tips in this guide are designed to help enhance the joy that these games bring. But no game is fun forever, and if you exhaust the fun a game can provide, then it’s okay to move on to something else. Your time is worth it.
If you fear your gaming habits might be hurting you, you’re not alone. There are people out there to help you, no matter the issue. The following resources come courtesy of the r/gachagaming subreddit:
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Hotline: 1-800-662-HELP (4357)
On-Line Gamers Anonymous: https://www.olganon.org/home
Signs of Gaming Addiction: https://www.foundationsrecoverynetwork.com/gaming-addiction/
“I Spent $15,000 on Gacha Games”: https://www.reddit.com/r/gachagaming/comments/b2fopn/i_spent_15000_usd_on_gacha_games_i_got/