JFI Games’ Dusk Diver is a Musou-style hack-and-slash affair that tells the story of Yuma, an innocent high school student thrown into the middle of an interdimensional battle between the ancient animal Gods of Kunlun. Taking place between an impressively detailed recreation of the Ximending district of Taipei and its otherworldly counterpart of Youshanding, it’s a game that thrives during its large fight sequences via a fun and flexible combat system but struggles somewhat once it returns to the disappointingly humdrum human realm between interdimensional sorties.
At a passing glance, this is a game that looks to be a heady mixture of Persona, Yakuza and Dynasty Warriors – a combination that would have any self-respecting gamer weak at the knees – but in reality, its city setting of Ximending, while certainly impressive to look at, is no match for Yakuza’s Kamurocho. It’s a pretty empty place, truth be told; fun to run around and hyper-stylish, but devoid of anything to do beyond a handful of very basic side-missions, buying food at a handful of real-life locations and chasing down some collectables here and there.
The Persona-style relationship-building between characters is also disappointingly simple; there are no deep and meaningful friendships to indulge in here, RPG elements are light to the extreme and the main campaign itself can be done and dusted in five hours. Really, everything here is in service to getting right back to that combat core that kicks off every time you and your animal god pals jump through a dimensional fissure to smack seven shades of neon poop out of chaos beasts and shut down the plans of a wayward God who wishes to fuse Youshanding and Ximending together with devastating consequences.
In fact, the first hour or so with Dusk Diver is a borderline miserable affair; it takes a while to find its feet and opening engagements are dull and easy skirmishes against waves of identikit cannon fodder that do nothing to endear the player. However, indulge it for those first sixty minutes, let the story get up and running, get to know its charming cast of characters and you'll find this is a game that turns itself around and delivers some properly solid action; a derivative but entertaining and humorous story with a handful of characters that we really hope we get to see more from in the future.
As the story unfolds, Yuma unlocks the ability to channel the powers of her various Kunlunian guardian friends in battle by charging up her SP gauge as she doles out damage to the stampedes of cannon fodder enemies the game throws her way, chaining together light and heavy attacks into an impressively long list of combos. Using the D-pad to select one of the three guardians you’ll eventually have access to, you can then hit B to unleash a supporting attack or hold L to choose from several flashy unlockable guardian moves, all of which use up one block of SP gauge. You can also spend your entire SP gauge by holding down the R button to trigger your chosen guardian’s screen-filling super move to smash larger enemy shields to pieces and allow Yuma to get in and deal damage to their health bars.
Using any of your guardian's powers slowly charges up Yuma’s D-Stone necklace and eventually affords her the opportunity to unleash a D-Arms attack via the L and R buttons, putting her in a temporary high damage mode where she can deal out massive amounts of pain while still calling in the aid of her guardian sidekicks.
Another pleasing little tactical wrinkle is Yuma’s dodge move that, if performed just before she gets hit, slows down time and instantly fills your SP gauge. You need to perfect that dodge, pulling it off again and again so you constantly have a full SP gauge in order to finish off large groups of chaos beasts as quickly as you can in order to maximise the rank you receive after every mission. The higher the rank, the more goodies you unlock.
It’s fast and chaotic stuff, repetitive by its very nature, but also almost hypnotic in its rhythms; addictive and satisfyingly crunchy action that feels good and fills the screen with an impressive array of neon lights, explosions and fancy effects as you wade through the seemingly endless forces of evil, smashing your combo counter up to ludicrously large numbers. Alongside the combat, there’s also some light platform puzzling to indulge in here and there that adds a little variety to your excursions into Youshanding and, together with the handful of collectables scattered through each stage, makes them perfect for multiple playthroughs in search of those elusive S-ranks.
Overall, there's a solid and addictive combat system here that, given the number of enemies onscreen at any one time, performs impressively smoothly on Switch. This is a fabulously good-looking game in places, especially when you’re in the neon otherworld of Youshanding, and although it’s running at 30fps on Nintendo’s console – as opposed to the 60fps of the PC version – JFI has managed to keep things more or less rock solid as you push that combo counter to seven, eight or even nine hundred in some of the bigger fights you’ll encounter over the course of proceedings. In fact, the only noticeable slowdown we encountered during our time with the game was running around the much more mundane environs of Ximending.
It’s just a shame, then, that other parts of Dusk Diver don’t live up to the joy of that core combat. One of the biggest missteps – certainly early on and then again in the final few missions – is the need to collect Dragon Vein Stone Shards in order to enter fissures to take on your next mission. Early doors you’ll need to mill around Ximending hunting for these elusive stones, and we found we needed to replay some missions on a harder difficulty to unlock more to get access to the final few campaign encounters. It’s a needlessly punitive system that forces you to trudge around empty city streets when you’d much rather be jumping straight back into battle as quickly as possible, and we can only imagine it's there to artificially lengthen proceedings as well as give you a pretty poor reason to need to explore Ximending.
The characters that join you on your adventures – Leo, Bahet, Le Viada and Boss in particular – are a ton of fun to hang out with at the 24/7 shop that serves as your game hub. There’s full voice acting, available in both Taiwanese and Mandarin, and plenty of good banter between the gang over the course of the short campaign, so it’s a further pity that they are afforded such little time in the end; their stories never really get fleshed out and they are only there to serve as battle buddies and light relief in downtime. If these characters had been afforded the opportunity to develop a bit more and if Ximending itself had more worthwhile activities to pursue between missions, JFI could have been onto a real belter here; as it is, everything that surrounds the core combat is serviceable but uninspiring.
The game is then padded out with the usual collectables, unlockable outfits, skill upgrades and artwork to be gathered from Gacha machines. There's a host of real-life vendors from which to buy food to give your team various stat boosts in battle and all the campaign missions are also replayable in hard mode, giving the whole thing some replayability once you’ve concluded the main campaign. Indeed, you get to keep playing away with all of your unlocked progress intact once the main game is done and there’s even a little surprise to keep things interesting should you continue to do battle post-credits.
Dusk Diver is a solid Musuo-style hack-and-slash action game that throws you into some massive battles with a fun and flexible combat system at your disposal. Its narrative is fairly derivative but it's bolstered by a strong, wise-cracking cast of highly likeable characters that we really hope we get to see more from in the future. It's a shame that it's let down somewhat by a pretty but very empty setting in Ximending and, outside of combat missions, much of what you do is simple padding and busywork. However, if you're a fan of this type of action game, there's plenty to enjoy here taking on endless hordes of chaos beasts, unleashing the powers of the Kunlun gods and stringing together screen-filling attacks until that combo counter explodes.