After taking a little break from Dusk Diver over the new year period, I was excited to get back to it. The game so far had proven intriguing, if a little slow to reveal exactly what sort of game it was, and I enjoyed spending time with the characters and exploring its world.
After discovering in our last session that pursuing “100% completion” from the outset was probably a fruitless endeavour — at least to begin with, when Yumo and her Guardians don’t yet have access to all their abilities — I resolved to just get on with the game today and let it take me along to wherever it was going. I had a very enjoyable time as a result, with this particular hour of play featuring plenty of different things to do.
Let’s take a closer look!
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So far our progression through Dusk Diver has been mostly linear. We’ve uncovered a bit of story, then protagonist Yumo has gone into a dimensional rift to kick the snot out of some Chaos Beasts, then things continued to move along. Last time we saw that occasionally optional side missions pop up and provide opportunities to earn more items and skill points in the action stages, but for the most part it was straightforward onwards progression.
Today, the game introduces something new: Links. In terms of game lore and mechanics, these involve Yumo drawing power from the people of Ximending to beef up her D.Arms ability — in practice, the more sidequests you do, the more powered-up this special transformation ability becomes.
These sidequests contrast with the optional side missions in that they’re not always action-based; sometimes they simply involve interacting with the residents of Ximending and fulfilling their requests, though sometimes they end up pulled into a dimensional rift and need rescuing.
You can probably skip a fair few of these sidequests if you want to, but they’re worth doing for several reasons. Firstly, they provide a much better sense of what sort of place Ximending is as a core setting for Dusk Diver, and help to establish the relationships between Yumo, Leo and the various other characters in the game. As the story progresses, it’s clear that further characters will enter the mix, and seeing how they handle Ximending’s residents is doubtless going to be quite interesting — and humorous — to see.
Perhaps a more compelling reason, though, is the fact that several of the sidequests we take on today actually unlock new gameplay elements and features in Dusk Diver. Notably, following up on a mission about a supposed “Tao Master” eventually unlocks the ability to pay in-game money to locate hidden Dragon Vein Stone Shard items around Ximending, and helping a temple staffer out with an issue unlocks the ability to get your fortune told.
In other cases, completing sidequests causes more shops to open around Ximending, allowing you to purchase a wider variety of food items for buffs, as well as building up your friendship levels with Yumo’s Guardians.
On that note, today we also see that, as expected, levelling up said friendship levels will trigger events and special missions along the way. Again, these can lead to helpful items, unlockables and simply new insights into the story and characters, so they’re very much worth pursuing.
As for the action stages we play today, most of them are relatively straightforward combat scenarios in which you run, beat ’em up style, from the start of the stage to the finish, beating up enemies along the way — but there are a couple of interesting exceptions.
For one, there are stealth-style missions in which you can sneak around many of the Chaos Beasts in the stage; these are implemented simply through a combination of visible sight cones on enemies and certain special foes that appear suddenly in front of you and raise the alarm only if they actually see you moving. This is a nice little twist on the stealth formula that ends up feeling more about rhythm and careful observation than ducking for cover.
Elsewhere, one of the sidequest missions involves passing through a door that rather inconveniently slams shut any time you try to approach it. Yumo provides a hint about “slowing down time” but the game doesn’t explicitly tell you what to do; the solution here is actually to make use of the game’s “Just Dodge” mechanic — which causes momentary slow-motion — by leaping out of the way of the bullets a far-off enemy is firing at you while being close to the door. It’s a clever little mini-puzzle, and further evidence that Dusk Diver’s action stages are about more than just button-mashing your way through hordes of enemies.
The combat itself is starting to get a bit more challenging and varied, too. More powerful Chaos Beasts are starting to put in more regular appearances, necessitating frequent use of Leo’s guard-breaking summon attacks and Yumo’s powerful special moves.
Effective fighting also involves keeping a good combo maintained on squishier enemies, though, because the higher your combo count rises, the more bonuses you get to things like SP recovery, allowing you to use summons and specials more frequently. The “quick dodge” move is also great for chaining combos together; you can unload on one enemy, slide over to another, beat them up, slide over to another and then finish off with a whopping great special when positioned appropriately.
Combat is pretty consistently satisfying — helped along a great deal by the exaggerated physics on the enemies, who typically go flying after a kick in the knackers from Yumo — and it’s nice to see new enemy types being gradually introduced with each new stage. A particular highlight today was the giant bat boss enemy that concluded the main story chapter — lots of fun to fight.
Judging by the fact that Dusk Diver is still introducing new mechanical and structural elements into the mix, it still feels like we’re relatively early in the game despite already being up to Chapter 5 of the main story. I suspect from hereon, though, each new chapter will feel a bit more “substantial” as we have more to do at any one time. I suspect we’ll see much more of the “Link” sidequests and the optional side missions from hereon — and perhaps we’ll finally get our hands on the abilities we need to reach those inconveniently placed Dragon Vein Stone Shards in earlier missions!
We shall see. It’s been a fun journey so far, so I’m looking forward to seeing more.
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