Attack the Backlog: Dipping into Dusk Diver (#1)

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It’s been a busy few weeks so I haven’t had a ton of time to dip into the ol’ backlog — but having ticked off Double Dragon Neon to my great delight, I thought I’d start up something else that was reasonably short-ish alongside the more long-term project of Trinity Universe — which will likely be back in the new year.

I pondered what to try next, and I settled on Dusk Diver, a release from a while back that I always thought looked interesting, fun and stylish, but which I didn’t really know a whole lot about. I checked how long it supposedly takes to beat, and you’re looking at somewhere between 8 and 15 hours depending on how thorough you are with it — perfect for our purposes here.

Anyway. Let’s take a look!

In Dusk Diver, you take on the role of a girl named Yumo, who, while out wandering the streets of Ximending (a Taiwanese district rather reminiscent of Shinjuku in Tokyo) with her friend Yusha, finds herself inadvertently sucked into another dimension and beset by Chaos Creatures. Saved from a sticky end by a gangster-looking man called Leo, she discovers that she had found her way into Youshanding, an unstable dimension born of the intersection between the ancient and the modern found in Ximending — and a place which the gods and creatures of chaos are battling over.

Leo accidentally transfers some of his power into Yumo while healing her, turning himself into a little cute lion figurine, and Yumo’s hair into a flaming mass of magical energy. As you might expect, this also equips her with formidable fighting powers — so she reluctantly takes on the job of beating the snot out of Chaos Creatures in her free time, occasionally stopping to stock shelves and work the cash register in the convenience store the local guardian gods run in Ximending.

It’s a thoroughly appealing setup, and, as I previously noted, delivered with an immense amount of style. The presentation of the game blends elements of Atlus’ popular Persona series with aspects of Acquire’s Akiba’s Trip franchise, and the whole thing is just massively appealing to look at. The Ximending scenes are filled with vibrant colour and life, while the Youmending scenes are riddled with sinister, otherworldly, chaotic energy. It’s a great contrast.

Dusk Diver

One thing I was curious about with Dusk Diver was exactly what sort of game it was. I was picturing a sort of action RPG type setup, similar to the aforementioned Akiba’s Trip, but from the hour or so I’ve played so far at the time of writing, it appears to be a bit more rigidly structured — in particular, it places a hard divide between what looks like more freeform gameplay in Ximending, and what I’d describe as 3D beat ’em up gameplay in Youmending.

In the latter case, your expeditions are split into discrete missions, and in each mission you have various objectives to complete. Along the way, there are various things to smash in order to get loot as well as several hidden collectible “shards” — which look as if they will be used to unlock further missions later in the game — and at the conclusion of the scenario, you’re given some rewards and a ranking based on how long it took you to get through the whole thing.

As you might expect, the most substantial rewards come from a speedy “S” rank, though you can replay any mission you like if you missed a hidden shard or want to try something different along the way.

Dusk Diver

Combat seems enjoyable thus far. Dusk Diver makes use of the typical modern action game formula of having two main attack buttons — one for weak, combo-able attacks and one for stronger combo finishers, with different moves occurring in the latter case according to how many weak attacks preceded them. There’s a quick dodge/dash button, including a “Just Dodge” mechanic that slows down time for a short period if you dodge with perfect timing; interestingly, if you trigger this there’s actually a reasonably lengthy cooldown period before you can trigger it again, meaning you can’t abuse it.

Special attacks can be pulled off by either summoning Leo, who will temporarily regain his humanoid form and perform a powerful attack, or by making use of a guardian god’s weapon; the latter option is a more “cinematic” kind of attack that tends to have an area of effect. Both types of special attack cost SP, which can be quickly replenished simply by bashing enemies, or by picking up the blue orbs dropped by defeated foes.

The rapid pace at which the SP meter fills means that you can use special moves a whole lot, and this makes combat quite spectacular — though the “super special” animations might get a little tiresome after a while. Hopefully this will be alleviated by a wider selection of companions to base the special attacks on.

Dusk Diver

The normal attacks are by no means useless, however — and it seems as if different companion characters will provide Yumo with different benefits when using their own special attacks. Leo, for example, can use his attacks to break enemy super armour and bash through certain otherwise indestructible obstacles; at the time of writing I haven’t yet discovered any other companions, so that’s something exciting to look forward to.

In the hour or so we’ve played so far, we’re yet to see any character progression, so that’ll be a job for next time, I reckon. So far, though, Dusk Diver seems like a fun time — striking presentation, likeable and attractive characters (the protagonist is in tights, for those who appreciate such things!) and enjoyably weighty, satisfying combat. Seems like a winner to me — we’ll see in the coming days if it can keep things interesting as things progress!

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Pete Davison
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