Having lived and worked in Taiwan for over half a decade, I was very excited for the release of Dusk Diver on Nintendo Switch, PS4, and PC. The hack-and-slash title from JFI Games looked promising, and video game developers based in Taiwan have surprised the gaming community with recent gems like Detention, Devotion, and OPUS: Rocket of Whispers.
So does Dusk Diver live up to my expectations? Well, it’s complicated.
Let’s get this out of the way: if you’ve ever visited Taipei, especially the Ximending District (which is the setting of this game), then you definitely owe it to yourself to play Dusk Diver. Gamers have played through replicas of Tokyo many times in games like Yakuza and Persona 5, and we’ve all experienced New York through Spider-Man’s eyes in his countless video game adaptations and in GTA IV, or Hong Kong in Sleeping Dogs. But this is the first time we’ve seen Taipei depicted in a fully 3D video game environment.
And the depiction is spot-on. Everything from the MRT entrance, to the lines of shopping outlets, the police stations, a black bear statue, right down to a convenience store lobby is perfectly represented here. JFI Games received permission from lots of local businesses to include them in the game, and the results are well worth it. You’ll see many familiar Ximending sights faithfully reconstructed in digital glory.
And when it comes to the art design, Dusk Diver knocks it out of the park. The stylish anime characters can tangibly draw positive comparisons to well-known visually pleasing games like Astral Chain and the previously mentioned Persona 5.
Story-wise, the game is solid as well. You play as Yang Yumo, a high school girl who’s trapped between dimensions: Ximending in our reality, and its supernatural counterpart Youshanding. Most of the action takes place in the phantom-filled realm of Youshanding, while Ximending is described as a “crossroad of ancient and modern” that attracts both the chaos-driven phantoms of Youshanding and the gods of a third dimension, Kunlun, creating a rift in the space-time continuum that threatens our very reality.
Eh, on second thought, maybe the story is a bit convoluted. The basic plot is Yumo has to defend the city from demons. It’s actually the dialogue that’s solid. A lot of the humor in the script lands, and the interactions between the strong cast of characters is enjoyable. The interdimensional insanity also makes more sense when you actually play the game.
It helps that Dusk Diver is fully voice-acted in Japanese and Mandarin. It also features subtitle options in English and Korean.
However, the gameplay isn’t nearly as satisfying as the graphical presentation or dialogue. Like many Musou-style games (ie: Dynasty Warriors), the gameplay is rather repetitive. You’re basically hacking and slashing your way through hordes of enemies from one destination to the next. It’s a modern-day River City Ransom beat ’em up. Granted, it does try to mix things up with light and heavy attacks, and you do eventually gain the ability to use special attacks by filling up a SP gauge to summon three different supernatural guardian buddies to strike your enemies with a simple press of the R trigger.
Fans of Musou games will feel right at home. And maybe even non-Musou fans will find it entertaining. However, even if you can accept the repetitive gameplay aspects as you battle through Youshanding, you’ll probably find it harder to enjoy the tedious fetch quests in Ximending. Sure, it’s a novelty to explore at first, but tracking down items in the shopping district doesn’t exactly make for a riveting experience. Oddly enough, the framerate noticeably drops as you walk around Ximending, too. It just slows everything down. Honestly, it brings back bad memories of the Knuckles and Rouge segments of Sonic Adventure 2 on the Dreamcast/Gamecube. Not exactly a piece of gaming history that needed to be emulated.
Dusk Diver could have also benefitted from a better variety of locations to play around in. Ximending is great and all, but even in the real world you’d get bored if it was the only district of Taipei you visited on vacation. It would’ve been nice to see other parts of the city, like Songshan, Nangang, Neihu, Tapei Main Station, Shilin Night Market, Tamsui, the list goes on. Or better yet, to explore other cities beyond Taipei, such as Hualien or Kaohsiung. That’s understandably a tall order to ask for, but one can always dream. I’d like to see what the developers could do with a bigger budget.
Still, Dusk Diver will keep you busy if you can overlook its flaws. With plenty of unlockable costumes, skills, and artwork, you’ll find no shortage of reasons to replay levels over and over again if you want to complete everything it has to offer. The funny and well-designed characters also hold a lot of appeal, and as lacking as the gameplay may be it still manages to be addictive if you get locked into its groove. There’s a reason Dynasty Warriors is such a popular franchise with everything from One Piece to Zelda spin-offs. Sometimes it’s nice to just relax and plow through a field of baddies.
On that note, does the good outweigh the bad enough to justify buying Dusk Diver? Since it’s currently listed below the average retail price for a new title, I think it’s worth it for any fans of Musou-style games and for those who have either lived in or visited Taiwan. For everyone else, you can find more polished gaming experiences elsewhere.
Dusk Diver – Score: 3.5 out of 5
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