Crapping out

Gambling games are a difficult thing to remove from their money-burning context. Strip the stakes, the lights and sounds, the booze, and the vibe from a game of roulette and all you have is an activity where you name a number and then get sad when the ball doesn’t land there. As a result digital gambling alternatives often end up as awkward shadows of their usual selves. DAGURI: Gambling Apocalypse is fully aware of this potential issue, but rather than steer into the skid it careens directly into it at full speed and then asks if you want to load your save.

Lying to your better drawn girlfriend is probably not the best choice, bud.

You play as Daguri, the hero of an RPG that happened before this game. For his service to the land he was given 50 million, which he then promptly squandered in the casino with almost as much interest. How much cash you have on hand and how much you owe depends on the difficulty level you select, as well as your interest rate on your likely horrific amounts of debt. There’s also a variable health penalty for staying up through the night, but unless you’re playing on Apocalypse difficulty (which you should not do) it will never matter.

So what do you actually do? You, uh, you gamble. To its credit the game offers a wide variety of ways to lose money. Most of them are things you likely already know (blackjack, a variant of cee-lo, horse racing, 3 card monte that’s just a scam, etc.) but there are a couple notable additions, like being able to mine crypto or grind video game lootboxes for sellable items. There’s an in-world CCG that you can compete in for cash, but it plays like a bad autobattler and I wouldn’t recommend it. You can even get some passive income flowing, up to and including sending your girlfriend to labor in the mines. Look, debt is a problem for everyone in this household and everyone needs to pitch in.

Booyaka booyaka – six one mine.

There’s an omnipresent problem with all of these minigames: RPG Maker. Presentation is everything in a game like this and DGA just doesn’t have it. Most of the games are resolved inside dialog boxes. No dice chucking animations, satisfying deals, or even sound effects. Slot machines are already only played by the depressed, the elderly, or the depressed elderly. Imagine them being reduced to nothing but symbols appearing in a text box without a single DING DING DING to provide dopamine and you’ll have a good idea as to how the game’s gambling feels. In a word, it’s dire.

Other games that are focused on gambling often add in some additional agency. High risk cheating mechanisms, ways to manipulate your odds, opponents with tells that you can leverage, something. DGA offers none of these. Instead it very openly encourages you to reload your saves. Gamble, lose your money, hit continue, repeat until your debt is paid or you get bored. Since your interest climbs every day you can’t really afford to take your time, which eliminates the option of risk-taking and working your way back up entirely. The only reasonable way to gamble is by playing high/low for as much money as possible and loading whenever it fails, and that sucks. Fortunately I found another way to make money through the most powerful gamble of all: starting a work-from-home business and being my own boss.

You call it “Sepia, the Arbiter”. I call it “a mortgage payment”.

For all its varied economies of items, auctions, cryptos, and horses, supply and demand is a concept DGA completely ignores. When I realized this I began my ultimate scheme – reselling trading cards. I would buy hundreds of boxes of the awful in-game CCG, tear the packs open, and sell the contents on the aftermarket for a significant and reliable profit. You don’t even waste time like you do during most of the gambling because time is paused while you’re in menus and all packs are technically opened there. Considering the in-game clock moves about 10 minutes per real life second, this was a godsend when beating the game on hard. The only risk in this process was giving my left hand an RSI or wearing out my Z key from mashing through the textboxes.

Once I figured out that the CCG players in this world were insatiable gluttons with deep pockets the world was my oyster. I could stake millions on a game of roulette without flinching, buy a max-power chicken for the cockfighting minigame, or most lucratively, buy all the world’s graphics cards using the leverage and mine crypto to set up a nest egg so massive that I’d be set for life. Money was literally no object, which meant I could try everything else the game’s world had to offer and live life to the fullest…if there was anything else to do. Turns out having infinite money doesn’t make the incredibly boring games on offer any less incredibly boring. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t funny to beat the game as a cardboard crack dealer, but satisfying? Not remotely. 

At least this got a cackle out of me.

In a way I appreciate DGA’s ability to strip the joy out of gambling completely given its repeated warnings about the dangers of the game’s content, but when that’s the entirety of your gameplay it feels a bit misguided. This doesn’t really work as a collection of casino games, its message isn’t focused enough to serve as edutainment, and its one joke runs its course after the intro cutscene. I didn’t mind the wonky translation or occasional bouts with RPG Maker jank – those are elements I’m perfectly accustomed to – my grievances are with the game itself. Do I appreciate the concept of an anti-gambling gambling game? Sure. I just wish I had more fun playing it.