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Backlog Review | Dusk Diver

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This time around I take a look at the flashy and fun Dusk Diver by PQube and JFI Games! So, let me tell you a story, just sit right there, about lions and bats and porcelain bears.

The Tron of Taipei

Recreating true to life locations is a fascinating approach when designing a game. It grounds the setting of the game in reality while giving the developers the opportunity to showcase the beauty of the world we walk around in. Even if they tend to embellish it a bit with. You know, with alternate dimensions, the supernatural and Tron-like visuals. The question is, how far is too far and how far is not far enough?

Well my dear backloggers, this time around I’ll be taking a look at the game that takes us on a trip to the “Harajuku of Taipei”, where the Chaos Beasts never sleep and the streets run brownish-white with Bubble Cafe Lattes – Dusk Diver! So pack up your ceramic bear statues and don’t forget to take along extra lollipops because it’s time for another Backlog Review!

Taiwan’s Taipei

Developed by JFI Games, Dusk Diver is a third-person action game that takes place in the bustling Ximending district of Taiwan’s capital city, Taipei! Where the developers painstakingly replicated each avenue, along with many of the actual storefronts and vendors found on every corner of every street! And like the famous Harajuku district of Tokyo, you’ll never want for anything in Ximending! Whether it’s food, electronics, anime, manga or clothing, it’s all within your grasp. 

And the coolest part is being able to walk its streets and take in all of its sites without having to buy a plane ticket to Taiwan! Though it may inspire you to do so in the future.

The Guardians of Youshanding of Taipei

In Dusk Diver, you play as Yang Yumo your everyday high school student, who after having a run in with the burly, lollipop loving, Leo discovers there’s a whole other world right under her nose. A world sustained by a mysterious substance called Dragon Vein Stones, overrun by Chaos Beasts hungry for its power, and protected by the great Kunlunian Guardians. A world known as Youshanding!

But, holding back these persistent foes is no small task! So, recognizing her latent powers, Boss (a talking ceramic bear), recruits Yumo! Not only to help keep the streets of Ximending (and its mirrored image Youshanding) clean, but also keep her little convenience store running like a well oiled machine! I mean, how else is a poor highschool student supposed to afford all of that manga?

Taipei’s Animeification of Ximending

Truthfully, the slice of life concept mixed with the whole “otherworld threatening to encroach upon the real world” underpinnings, could easily have come straight from the synopsis of the next big anime on Crunchyroll! And once I jumped into Dusk Diver, I found it evoked many of the same feelings I would get when watching one. At least when it comes to similar modern anime.

That is, a stilted episodic story, padded by a strange obsessions with everyday life shenanigans and anime exposition that doesn’t ever seem to lead anywhere. Then, when the writers discovered they needed to tie up some loose ends, the game abruptly and magically pulls it all together at the last possible moment. Leaving you wondering what the heck just happened as the credits roll! Of course, you kept coming back for more because it’s weirdly alluring and it had that guy with the glasses in it.

What helps though, is that Dusk Diver is a video game! So you get to interact with the characters in the world, explore the nooks and crannies of Ximending, and brandish your controller inorder to kick butt during the battle sequences! And for the most part it’s a joy to play! Especially because the action is emphasized by Dusk Diver’s stunning neon soaked graphics and a cast of characters that are silly and fun!

However, the unfortunate part is that this all becomes repetitive as the game progresses. I keep wanting to compare it to Bayonetta or Devil May Cry because it has many of the same gameplay hooks, at least on the surface. But even with the addition of your companions (which is one of my favorite parts), your move sets never feel varied or interesting enough to make combat engaging! And right up until you finish the game Yumo seldom feels as powerful as you’d like her to be.

Taipei’s Mario 64

Generally, your goal in Dusk Diver, is to find Dragon Vein Shards which you’ll use to enter fissures that have opened up in the world. Similar to how you would collect stars in Mario 64. And in order to close them you’ll need to defeat all the enemies found within. From there, you’ll beat that dead horse a few dozen more times until your brain goes numb and the word monotony loses all meaning. The catch is, each mission you find yourself in, whether it’s a side-quest or main objective, lacks variety! You’ll be running around the same areas, with the same scenery, fighting the same enemies. Well, some will have different colors and new ways to annoy you, but you get what I’m saying! 

Luckily, the tedium is broken up a bit with the ability to wander the streets of Ximending to help its denizens and vendors by completing various tasks. This also includes “relationship quests” with each of your companions. Which when completed typically reward you with experience (used to level up your stats), more Dragon Vein Stones and the occasional costume or piece of concept art! And in the case of the relationship quests, you’ll unlock a new mission giving you the chance to acquire a new ability for your companion. 

The only real problem with this is that unlike games like Dead Rising where you can literally enter every single store, try on clothes (regardless of how inappropriate) and use random items as weapons – Dusk Diver just kinda feels like a living diorama. Where the store fronts are just facades and all you can really do is talk to the owner and buy their wares from the curb. I mean there’s a benefit to that since each food item will grant you bonuses, but other than the occasional cut scene, you never get to see the real meat and potatoes of this impressive city!

A Diamond in the Rough… of Taipei

From an eagle eye’s view, Dusk Diver is a fantastic and entertaining game with eye catching graphics, intriguing characters and flashy action. But once you dig a little deeper its dry repetition unfortunately starts to rear its ugly head. Dusk Diver has so much potential and I think if just a few things are improved, like a bigger variety of enemies, mission types and scenery as well as a more interactive city to explore, then it could easily compete with some of the best games in its genre. And here’s hoping JFI Games gets a second chance with a sequel because I think they really do have something special.