Dusk Diver Review: Diver Down

Dusk Diver originally released in 2019, and was developed by JFI Games, a seemingly obscure (or perhaps just small) game studio from Taiwan. I wasn’t able to find much info about the studio other than that they worked on a mobile card game called Bound Strike at some point. A direct sequel, aptly titled Dusk Diver 2, was released in 2022.

Dusk Diver focuses on high school student Yang Yumo, on her summer break in the Ximending district of Taipei, Taiwan. During an average shopping outing with her friend Yusha, the two are suddenly transported to an alternate version of the city, known as Youshanding, and attacked by monsters called Chaos Beasts. Yumo is assisted by Leo, a stone lion Kunlunian Guardian from the spirit realm. In the heat of the action, Yumo borrows Leo’s spirit energy and fends off the monster threat, but finds herself unable to re-disperse Leo’s powers back and maintain her non-fiery-haired normal form. After being introduced to Boss, a mysterious researcher Guardian trapped in the form of a ceramic bear, Yumo reluctantly agrees to work for Boss’s convenience store in exchange for possible assistance in returning to her normal self. As Yumo becomes more involved in investigating supernatural incidents in Ximending, she’s later joined by two other Guardians: Bahet, a bat Guardian slowly learning the ways of the human world, and La Viada, a fish Guardian and popular model and actress.

Just tell people you’re working on your Promare cosplay.

Dusk Diver is a beat em’ up action game with some adventure aspects on the side. Yumo can perform basic hand-to-combat combos to build up her TP meter. The meter can be spent to summon the Guardians, who can perform more extensive and specialized attacks: Leo wields a pile bunker for powerful, focused attacks; Bahet uses a scythe for AOE attacks that can pull enemies close; finally, Viada employs a variety of guns to pierce enemy shields and can set delayed traps. The gameplay necessitates summoning the Guardians liberally since Yumo’s basic attacks can only do so much damage-wise. Expending higher amounts of the TP meter allows Yumo to briefly wield the Guardians’ weapons for even stronger attacks. Lastly, Yumo has her D. Armament meter; when full, she can transform into a Symphogear-esque battle suit, execute powered-up attacks, and use unique finishers for massive damage.

The other half of Dusk Diver revolves around exploring Ximending, completing side quests for various NPCs, and eating at various restaurants. Most of the side quests are glorified fetch quests, but they give players ample opportunities to explore the city. Many of the restaurants and locales featured in the game were taken wholesale from their real-world equivalents, reminiscent of the Yakuza games and their usage of various Tokyo haunts. The Guardians have different food preferences, and eating at their preferred spots increases their friendship ranks, which opens up further side quests that can unlock more Guardian skills.

Apparently Coldstone in Taiwan has superior offerings, like cakes shaped like Sanrio characters.

Dusk Diver is a fun and charming little romp…if you’re willing to be patient with an equal amount of jankiness. This is not a big-budget action game from Platinum, it’s a smaller-scale effort from a team with clearly limited resources. The combat in the game is Musou-esque, focusing on taking down waves of enemies and wearing down tankier monsters. At times, the combat can get very repetitive, and it doesn’t mechanically shine until all of the Guardians are unlocked. Swapping between the Guardians on the fly based on the situation is pretty fun and satisfying, especially when you use them in tandem to rack up a combo groove and wipe out tons of monsters at once. Still, it’s noticeable when the combat isn’t as smooth as it could be. A good example would be the dodge system. If Yumo times her dodges correctly, she can enter the ‘Just Dodge’ state, where time is temporarily slowed and her TP meter is greatly filled, similar to Bayonetta’s witch time. Sometimes the timing frame for a successful dodge was difficult to gauge, which was frustrating in boss fights.

Dusk Diver also has some noticeable performance issues. The worst offender would be the Ximending overworld, since the game has to load a lot of background NPCs, and there’s visible chugging. In a later story chapter, Yumo must activate several environmental weapons in Youshanding that create controlled explosions to attack enemies. The game spawns a LOT of enemies during this event and eventually Yumo has to mandatorily fight several Chaos Beasts near the end. The constant enemy spawning caused extremely bad lag during the fight, and I was scrambling to clear the screen of enemies as quickly as possible. On that note, I also had the game full-on crash a couple of times. I’m not sure if the game was not optimized well for a docked Switch, or if the PC/PS4 versions also have this issue.

It’s very hard to take good combat screencaps but I assure you, it’s pretty fun.

Despite the performance issues, I found the exploration aspect of Ximending to be the most enjoyable aspect of the game. I’m not knowledgeable about Taipei’s hot spots, but it was genuinely refreshing to be able to walk the (virtual) city streets and take in many of the unique shops and restaurants. Honestly, Dusk Diver made me realize that it would be pretty easy to take Yakuza’s base exploration formula and apply it to different settings. While the sidequests got a bit repetitive, the character dialogue was pretty funny and offers extra personality insight. One of these moments includes Yumo offering chaos shards (the items dropped from enemies) to a local tailor for cutting material instead of, like, scissors. The group doing errands for a bubble tea chain in exchange for free drinks and helping to reunite some brothers who do Sentai poses are all neat little moments in the game. While the overall plot of Dusk Diver is a series of action anime cliches, the main cast is pretty delightful, especially with how they interact with each other. Leo acts as the gruff uncle figure with a heart of gold, Bahet is the naive dude from a rich family, and Viada serves the free-spirited big sister role. With Yumo acting as the befuddled yet altruistic protagonist, the main characters work off of each other very well.

Pros: Combat can be fun and satisfying, especially when all the Guardians are available and can be swapped on the fly. Exploring Ximending is genuinely interesting, since Taiwan is not a locale typically featured in video games. Sidequest dialogue is funny and surprisingly charming. Central cast of characters are a delightful mix of personalities and have enjoyable interactions. Game is short enough to beat over a long weekend.

Today, Bahet learns about the obnoxious and creepy dudes at conventions.

Cons: Has really noticeable performance issues, ranging from chugging in the overworld to nasty lag during combat. Musou-esque fighting can get quickly repetitive. Combat mechanics are clunky and not as fluid as they could be. The actual sidequests are mostly glorified fetch quests and aren’t mechanically diverse. Lacks some QoL features in the overworld like fast traveling and/or a map that has all of the points of interest in one place.

Dusk Diver is available for the PC through Steam, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. Dusk Diver is very much a diamond in the rough, but underneath the jankiness are some fun ideas and charming characters. Hopefully, the sequel refines the game a bit more and lets the best parts shine.


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