Arknights, the enormously successful tower defense game, does something special in the crowded field of gacha games: Some of the most common characters in the game can help clear difficult levels that their rarer counterparts can’t. By giving the consolation prize characters unique niches, Arknights builds up a more nuanced, dynamic gameplay meta compared to other games in its genre.
Most gacha games like this, as you strive to build an effective team, have very underwhelming three-star units and extremely powerful five-star units, meaning you’re always striving for the more powerful characters in order to succeed. No matter how pretty the designs for low rarity characters are, I usually end up shredding them for extra resources or ignoring them for years. Gacha is a genre where the resource grind is most of the game, so it often doesn’t seem like a sound investment to build up my common characters. It’s a shame, since many of them in games like Dragalia Lost and Fate Grand Order have incredible character designs and voice over. Gameplay usually wins out when the power disparity is so wide.
However, these neglected characters truly shine in Arknights, where the gameplay mechanics allow common characters to outshine more powerful characters in their niche. Rarity in Arknights often corresponds with a higher play cost: In order to use any character, you have to pay out of a pool of points that regenerate over time. If your lineup is exclusively made up of rare characters, then you might not be able to use any of them until the enemy is already at your base. There are maps where I needed an easily obtainable character that I might have shredded in any other gacha game.
And that’s really refreshing. I was stuck on one of the main chapters for days, where the map required me to assassinate all of its mages while keeping costs low. A friend asked if I remembered to strengthen Melantha. I was confused; she was a common character that I regularly summoned for free, which turned me off her immediately. My knowledge of gacha genre conventions had kept me from seeing her true potential.
Melantha is a beatstick. Where my rare characters failed to hold the line against the powerful mages, she slaughtered them. She had no other talents—unlike my rare characters with tricky gameplay abilities, her only notable traits were high attack, a massive health pool, and a cheap deployment cost. My only regret having given her my resources was that I hadn’t done it sooner. Melantha is the MVP of difficult content.
After she helped me clear that difficult map, I started to take my low-rarity characters more seriously. There were maps where my common mage was the only character who could assassinate aerial enemies in time. One of my common lancers had respectable defense, which helped her tank waves of enemies until I could bring out her more powerful teammates. Investing in my cheaper units opened up entirely new gameplay possibilities.
It’s fair to say that Arknights’ unique gameplay allows it to more easily incorporate low-rarity characters into the meta, but I wish that more gacha games were doing more to make their common characters viable. When so many low-rarity characters have beautiful voice acting and designs, it’s a shame that most players will rightfully view them as consolation prizes, or never give them the attention they deserve.
Even the interns of a paramilitary security organization deserve to shine.