Taking a trip to Taiwan’s Ximending
Small background information about Dusk Diver. The game was an Early Access game on Steam and lies on the side of Indie games when it comes to budget, so keep that in mind when it comes to your expectations.
Video Games have to lead us to all kinds of locations around the real world. The all-time crime drama classic Yakuza lead us to Kamurocho, a fictional version of Kabukicho. Akiba’s Trip featured the Otaku mecca Akiba. Root Letter: Last Answer brought us to the land of Marriage Shimane and even came with real photos!
This time the Taiwanese Developer JFI Games and Co. are bringing us to Taiwan’s Ximending. A lively city that reminds you of Akiba’s Trip or Kamurocho.
Dusk Diver is an Action-Adventure RPG with a battle system akin to the well known “Dynasty Warriors” Series also known as “Musou” which is translated as Peerless or Unparalleled where you fight against a big amount of enemies at the same time.
But how well does this mixture of an Action-Adventure RPG work?
- Ximending is a fresh location...
- Easy Gameplay with optional depth
- Good pacing with laser focused story
- But it's lacking in detail what makes it unique
- Only one playable character
- Characters stories could be more fleshed out
The dangerous side of Ximending: Youshanding
It’s Summer Vacation time and it should have been a normal leisurely day for Yumo and her best friend Yusha in Ximending. Little do they know that everything is about to change for our protagonist Yumo. In a coincidence both cross the world to the other side of Ximending: Youshanding. A world filled with dangerous monsters called Chaos Beasts.
Without mercy, Yumo gets immediately attacked by one of them and is gravely wounded while Yusha fainted from shock. Luckily, a local Guardian God or Kunlun called Leo heals her only to find out that she actually is absorbing his powers turning him into a cute form.
With his powers robbed by Yumo, it falls into her hands to fight off the Chaos Beasts and save Yusha, which worked out without a hitch.
Though, there’s one unexpected thing. Yumo isn’t able to control her powers and therefore keeps absorbing Leo’s powers. To find a solution to this issue they have to go to their HQ, which is nothing other than a simple supermarket. The owner is Boss who is the Boss of the local guardians and… a ceramic doll? There’s reason for that but that’s a story for another time.
The solution is a pendant but nothing comes for free and it’s hellishly expensive. In the end, they come to an agreement. Yumo has to work it off by helping at the supermarket and beating up Chaos Beasts to keep Ximending safe.
The story of Dusk Diver is laser-focused on Youshanding. Don’t expect any long expositions for Yumo, the guardians or other characters. You do get some tidbits in their interactions, just nothing concrete like a chapter or special backstories. They show some interesting personalities like the Ximending veteran and food lover Leo, naïve but earnest Bahet and calm but feisty La Vieda. But your investment into them will be limited to just that.
Further questions about them and Yumo are staying open.
Extra Notes: Taiwan‘s Ximending
Ximending is supposedly a famous shopping district in the Wanhua district of Taipeh, the capital of Taiwan. Personally, I have absolutely no idea about it, which made it even more interesting.
Kamurocho in Yakuza paints a red light district. Akihabara oozes Anime/Manga and Idols. Root Letter’s Shimane shows some nice locations like a Shrine. So what does Ximending offer?
Here’s the bad news, after finishing the game I still had no idea. I saw nothing special within the story except maybe a small temple and a lot of different food. The latter improves your Bonding levels with your partners and gives you buffs for the next Mission. So is it the food?
After a little bit of asking around my relatives, it looks like Ximending is indeed known for their culinary arsenal. The issue is, Dusk Diver doesn’t manage to whet that appetite. Yes, I did see some Asian funky food like Chicken Feet or the infamous stinky Tofu (it stinks like sewage btw.) and more. However, that was only because I knew them.
Assuming that Dusk Diver is trying to sell us the Ximending experience as a tourist, it unfortunately, didn’t work and rather comes off as a generic Asian shopping mile.
The important locations don’t pop out enough and are at best mentioned or shown in passing. I’m not even sure which shops are authorized.
It really needed more pop when it comes to showing it off. When it comes to things like this it’s important to shill it like you mean it because people are interested. Another point is the fact that the games are an opportunity to take a snapshot of the present in case things change.
Gameplay & Controls
Like many games of its kind, Dusk Diver has two phases.
Ximending as a hub
No need to talk about the controls here. Instead, let’s talk about what you can do
- Side missions to improve your D-Arms Level
- Eating food to increase your Bonds with the partner Guardians and buffs for the next mission
- Gacha for costumes and gallery
- Buying items from Boss that helps you out while fighting
Yumo and her Kunlun partners
You strengthen this special partnership in two phases. The bonds have their own levels and you have to fill up the gauges by fighting together or eating their favorite food. When it’s full you can go to a special location for some heart-to-heart eating that unlocks a new Food opportunity and Training Mission which is required for the real level up.
The Training Mission works the same as a normal mission except you’re locked to the Kunlun you’re bonding with. Once you successfully finish it you get a new move for the respective Kunlun.
Dragon Vein Shards
A Dragon Vein is an item from the Chinese fantasy genre. To make a guess, these kind of Veins are usually named after the Four Symbols (the mystical Turtle, Tiger, Dragon and Phoenix). To make it short, it’s some kind of natural energy source for magic/energy.
In this case, these Dragon Vein Shards are required to enter the dimensional cracks to Youshanding.
These can be found in either Youshanding or in Ximending. Those that you find in Ximending are also netting you 50 XP.
I recommend you to find the Daoist Sidequest later in the game because he can show you all the available shards on the map… for a fee.
Special Note: I never had an issue with having enough Shards to enter Story Missions. Ergo, not a bad gating mechanic and more of a collectable.
Dusk Diver decides to use a different kind of leveling up system. You get XP by finding Shards or finishing Main Missions. All Main Missions also offer a Dragon Vein Shard for finishing in S Rank.
So how do you use the XP? It works as a currency to invest in your status points. It’s important to note that the Kunlun also have their own stats which are power and TP gain. More about TP later on.
The further you are in the story the more Side Missions are available. Technically, they are all running on the same flow: Go from A to B. In some cases you will have to fight off some monsters in Youshanding but it’s rather an exception than the rule. Ximending is small enough to prevent frustration from setting in and your Targets are in the Map within the Link Menu.
Main Missions are purely linear with different spots of entry into Youshanding.
Ximendings alternative Version and it’s dangerous inhabitants will offer you some challenges with the occasional puzzle or platforming.
Like the typical Musou game, you have two buttons for attacking: Light and Strong Attacks. Light Attacks offer fast attacks that go from one hit to another which is like an automatic combo. You can input Strong Attacks that end the attack sequence with a special attack, which depending on which part of the Light Attack sequence you’re putting an end to.
Different attacks will offer different uses, e. g. some put the enemy in the air, another makes you blast forward in a line, another lets you barrage them with your fists for maximum damage. Depending on the situation, you might prefer one over another, which leaves some room for optimization.
This might be one of the most important moves in the game because not only is it used defensively for some invincible dodging but also the ability to cancel your attacks into it. Leading to brand new possibilities. The normal player can stick to the defensive options, while action-heavy fans can increase their offense with it.
There’s another advanced special function for it.
By dodging an attack just before it’s about to hit you slow down the time, which is comparable to Bayonetta’s Witch Time. Take that opportunity to dish out a lot of damage.
Not only is this great for creating an opportunity within danger but it also gifts you three SP!
This is one of the two special bars. You can fill it up by successful hits or Just Dodges. In the beginning, you’re limited to a maximum of three. You can increase the maximum stock by another three by leveling up the stat.
The SP gauge will be something you want to keep your eye on because this is where the offense gets going and adds something unique to Dusk Diver
Summon (1 SP)
You will start with Leo and expand your choice of partners that will be available at any time by using your D-Pad later on. The attacks they use to appear on the field will depend on your prior attack before the summoning and this is limited to the heavy attack ender. The light attacks will always have the same attack.
Keep in mind while one of your partners can’t be summoned multiple times at the same time you can still switch over to others for some stacked firepower. Though it requires some additional dexterity and planning.
Special Attack (3 SP)
Depending on your current chosen Partner you will unleash a very strong special attack. Each of them has its own specific use. For example, Leo has high damage output but narrow range which is optimal for enemies with much HP when they are open for attacks. Couple that with D-Arms and you have some devastating firepower.
TP and D-Arms
Aside from SP, there’s also TP which is generated by using Summons to attack or just getting Yellow Orbs from item boxes. What does it do? Once your TP Gauge is full you can transform into a buffed state. The stronger and improved range will prove to be a game-changer in the right situations. Which is why it’s a pretty rare currency.
The best timing for its use is most likely boss battles because their high HP value.
For the big finale and premature end of the transformation, you can activate a devastating attack which is also dependent on the partner in use which is unlocked later in the story.
Things can get messy when there are many enemies on the screen. When things comes down hard you'd want to focus on the stronger ones while catching the weaker ones as side dish that get caught by your attacks. This is important becuase with Targeting you can zero down your attacks and Summons to it.
The enemies: Chaos Beasts and Kunlun's
If you consider the enemy variations you’ll recognize a lack of enemy types but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any diversity. They can be put into categories depending on their special traits.
These are the normal mooks or grunts. They come at you in big numbers and can only take a little bit of beating before they tap out. Their danger levels aren’t that high but can still put a wrench into your plans at critical moments if you don’t keep your caution up. Your SP will rise up tremendously when you beat them up in masses.
Chaos Beasts with Super Armor
These are Mid-Sized and come with a special trait: Super Armor. As long as the Armor is active you won’t dish out a lot of damage and they will actively block your attacks. You also need to be aware of their attacks that will just blast through your attacks if the Armor is still there. Break the Super Armor and they will become vulnerable like normal Chaos Beasts. Keep in mind that the Super Armor will recover after a break after some time and especially fast if you don’t break them.
Mid-Boss Chaos Beasts
These are oversized versions of Super Armored ones. They don’t even react to your attacks when their armor is active but once it’s broken they will fall into a stunned state leaving them completely open for a short time. The armor regeneration is the opposite of the normal ones. Their armor recovers slower when not broken but recover faster from breaks.
Pretty much identical to Mid-Boss Chaos Beasts with the difference that they come with their own attacks and patterns.
Are the battles too difficult? Don’t worry, you’ve got some items to help you out. Make sure you have them equipped before going to Youshanding though.
Puzzle and Platforming
Aside from the typical fighting, you’ll also find a little bit of platforming and labyrinth-like switch puzzles. They are nothing major and help to bring some variety at some very apt timings.
Interim Verdict of Gameplay
Despite the seemingly simple action, it offers a lot of variety by mixing up enemy coordination and a wealth of attack options. The fight against the Chaos Beasts gets a refresh every now and then with a new type and new partners.
The movement and attack options are giving the gameplay a different experience depending on how you play it. The Side Missions are quickly done with some tidbits of story.
Overall with a length of about 10 hours and more depending on whether you want to complete it 100% or not. The lack of fillers gives Dusk Diver a steady pace without having time to get bored.
To give more detail, the majority missions don't take longer than about 10 minutes, which shows it's another kind of musou game because they can usually take much longer with up to an hour.
Graphics & Sound
Dusk Diver sticks out visually due to using cel-shading and anime like distinct designs. Ximending is carefully crafted with a high amount of people on the streets but it comes with a catch. All characters except the main ones are low on detail which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it most likely is done to keep the performance steady and it still gives the heavy populated vibe.
The battles have a good amount of enemies on the screen at the same time. While it isn’t as much as your usual Musou type game it’s still enough to give a good One-VS-Many scenario feeling. The enemy designs are coherent and come in different forms to keep things interesting.
There isn’t much to say about the music. The most distinct thing you’ll hear is probably Boss’s supermarket, while you get some rocking riffs in Youshanding to accompany the action.
Another interesting thing is the fact that the game offers two voice overs: Taiwanese Mandarin and Japanese. When I played through the game in Taiwanese I couldn’t find anything to a fault and considering that Japanese is done by professional voice actors, there’s little doubt the quality is any different from other quality dubs.
Dusk Diver is a good first try for the Taiwanese Developer JFNI and Co.
The Gameplay keeps things fresh throughout the story campaign and with enough options to play around for different skill levels. The length is just right with steady pacing, optional additional exploration, Ranking System, higher difficulty challenge. Due to the mission design this game also works for sessions of short bursts.
The weakness lies in the weak presentation of Ximending, though it doesn’t really bring down the fun at all. It’s just a wasted opportunity to offer something novel.
Dusk Diver offers a compelling experience that does a good job at its core with good visual designs, a steady pace, and fun Gameplay that keeps the combat fresh with new additions.
Though, it falters a bit when it comes to the garnish.
The story leaves enough openings for a sequel. If there’s a plan for one, consider me excited.
As it has a Budget Pricing of 39,99 €, I recommend it to people who like action games, especially who like the gameplay of Musou games such as Fate/Extella Link.
As always, PQube offers a physical Day One Version for Consoles that comes with a few extra goodies.