Attack the Backlog: Delving further into Dusk Diver (#2)

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After kicking off Dusk Diver before Christmas, I was intrigued by it — though I didn’t feel like I’d quite got a handle on it just yet. The basic action certainly seemed appealing, the narrative setup was interesting and the characters were fun, but I got the distinct impression I still had a fair bit to learn about the game.

This feeling continues even after my second session with the game — though I suspect Dusk Diver is one of those games where things will click into place after a while, and then you’ll be absolutely away. While you’re initially fumbling around, though, it’s fair to say that the game doesn’t necessarily reveal everything you might want to know right away — at least partially because initially you don’t really need to know it.

One thing that I found initially tricky to adjust to, as you’ll see from some repeated sequences in today’s gameplay video, is that even right at the beginning of the game, there are some things you simply won’t be able to achieve. Specifically, in Dusk Diver’s case, each of the main self-contained “missions” plays host to several hidden “shard” objects, which come into play later in the game in order to unlock additional stages. It appears that in most of the early missions, there are generally three shards to find: one that is pretty straightforward, one that is a little off the critical path to the end point, and one that is actually impossible to reach until later.

As you explore the stages, you’ll get feedback from the other characters as to when you’re near one of these shards — but it doesn’t appear on the map or get particularly highlighted in the environment or anything. Consequently, you’ll find yourself having to look around at all angles in order to spot where the shard in question is — and in some cases figure out how to reach it.

One interesting thing that this brings to light about Dusk Diver almost immediately is that despite the fact its early-game combat feels quite like other fast-based Asian 3D beat ’em ups such as Senran Kagura, there’s a much stronger emphasis on the verticality of the environment, while other titles of this ilk tend to unfold on a relatively “flat” map despite appearances.

Dusk Diver

For example, in the first stage of Dusk Diver, you may well find yourself searching around for the third shard, much as I did in today’s gameplay video — until you realise that it’s stuck to the side of a building (see above), far above your head and emphatically completely out of reach with your current set of abilities. It’s relatively unusual to have to look up in a game like this, so it’s easy to miss; once you do notice it, though, that gives you an idea that you should perhaps be looking in directions other than just straight ahead now and then.

Dusk Diver’s second main story action stage highlights this particularly, too; while initially unfolding at ground level, an event occurs partway through the level that necessitates ascending to the rooftops in order to find a trigger item in order to proceed. In this way, the game demonstrates very clearly that you absolutely are not going to be confined to ground level for the whole game — and in fact, the levels are quite likely to feature some fairly devious arrangements the further you progress.

To emphasise this further, one of the shards in this second stage is positioned in such a way that you can only acquire it at a specific time by making use of the “3D” nature of the environment. You’ll see this shard towards the start of the level, but as you approach it, you’ll find your path blocked by the kind of barrier you usually see when there are enemies around. But there are no enemies — so how do you get it?

Dusk Diver

Go around the other way, of course; head up onto the rooftops as you’re supposed to while following the critical path of the level, but at one point instead of summoning a bridge to create a path over a gap between buildings, you need to actually drop into that gap — which conveniently places you right next to the shard in question and reveals the enemies who are maintaining that troublesome barrier.

Only trouble is, if you don’t make the connection between that gap between buildings and the location where the shard is — an easy enough connection to make if you pay attention to the map — then you can easily miss this shard completely, because once you summon the bridge, you can’t get rid of it again.

Thankfully, since any stage in Dusk Diver can be replayed at any time, if you make a mistake like this you can always go back and try again — and it’s worth trying stages more than once anyway, since blasting through them more quickly unlocks additional rewards that can be worthwhile. I think the thing that today’s session taught me more than anything, though, is that it’s probably okay to just proceed along with the story for a bit, then come back to these earlier stages for the missing shards once I have an ability that will allow me to reach them. I’m anticipating something like a super jump or wallrunning ability — though it remains to be seen at this point.

Today’s session did introduce one new ability, at least: D.ARMS, which is a powered-up form for protagonist Yumo that can be triggered when collecting enough of the “TP” resource to fill a gauge shaped like her flaming hair. While in D.ARMS mode, Yumo changes costume (much to her embarrassment — although compared to some other action game heroines her new getup is actually relatively modest) and is able to use much more powerful attacks. Using this is by no means essential to beat the stage’s boss, but it certainly helps.

Dusk Diver

Although in the grand scheme of the game I don’t feel like we achieved a lot in today’s session with Dusk Diver, I came away from the experience feeling like I understand the overall structure and design of the game a bit better. And that, in turn, will help me to enjoy it more going forward. For one thing, I now know for sure that it’s worth proceeding on with the story to unlock things rather than fastidiously attempting to clean up every possible side objective the moment it appears — because some of those side objectives are literally out of reach until later.

With that in mind, we should hopefully make more rapid progress from here — and despite our relative “stagnation” today, I’m still having a lot of fun with the game. I dig its style, I like the characters a lot and the core action is really satisfying. I can’t wait to see how the game builds on these systems as it progresses — so check back next time and we’ll take a closer look at how things develop as we continue through its story!

Dusk Diver is available now for PC via Steam, Nintendo Switch (physical and digital) and PlayStation 4 (physical and digital). Screenshots and game footage from the Switch version.

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Pete Davison
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