I’m always interested in new takes on traditional genres. The action RPG/button mashing action game is something that’s been done time and time again, from the Warriors series to my personal favorite, the Senran Kagura series. But there are few games that really bring something new to the table. Dusk Driver is a game that attempts to break that tradition and innovate by using real-world locations in Taiwan as the setting for its story. But is this enough to set Dusk Diver apart in a sea of action RPGs? Or does it need something else? And if it does, does it have what it takes?
Dusk Diver tells the story of Yuma, an innocent school girl who finds herself at the center of an interdimensional struggle to balance multiple worlds and prevent evil creatures from filtering into the human realm. No biggie, right? If it sounds familiar, it probably is: a similar setup has been in use for decades, and the Persona series comes to mind as a prime example (though, of course, more as a plot starting point than a carbon copy). The truth is that Yuma’s story is a fun one, and the world of these dual dimensions is rich and full of lore. There’s plenty of world building and character development in Yuma, her Guardians and the Gods she encounters along the way. Without wishing to spoil too much, I found the story to be a light-hearted, refreshing take on a tired trope. It doesn’t revolutionize by any means, but it’s a good adaptation of something old into something new, done with much love and the addition of very interesting Taiwanese elements.
The story itself is only let down by a rather average localization job, which focuses more on translating the dialog literally rather than adding context and focusing on the meaning behind the words. I’ve worked on localization myself, for RPGs in particular (RAINBOW SKIES and SIR EATSALOT, both on Playstation platforms), and so perhaps I’m more critical of things like this than most. But I really wish there was more effort put into making the dialog make sense in English beyond literally translating what’s being said. It’s a minor thing, but it brought the otherwise fresh take on multi-dimensions down for me.
The voice acting, on the other hand, is fantastic, and while we’re on the issue of presentation, it’s incredible to think that a very small team has managed to get this game running this well, on the Unreal engine, on the Switch, even in portable mode. Sure, there are some resource-saving tricks used, such as drawing silhouettes in color blocks far in the distance before their texture “pops in”, but the end result is a game that runs and looks really well. Other games on the system would do well to try and emulate this type of performance on an open-world approach. The art style, heavily inspired by anime and manga, works on every level, as does the music, making this quite an audiovisual treat of a game.
Speaking of that open-world, though: There’s a lot of talk in the press material about how this game uses real locations in Taiwan as the setting for the story. And while this is true, the world does feel a lot smaller when you start trying to explore it freely. I appreciate the landmarks, but there’s no free roaming to speak of, and going into the alternative dimension is where you’re likely to do most of your questing… and much of anything, really. You only use the “human” realm in order to save the game, acquire consumables and some minor interactions, before doing the meat of the questing in the alternative dimension. I don’t mind that, but it does make the whole “real world Taiwan” a bit redundant.
The battle system is at the core of any good (or bad) action RPG, and I’m happy to report that Dusk Diver really delivers. Far from a button-mashfest, there’s some strategy to be taken into consideration during battling, as some enemies are weaker to attacks by Guardians, and others are useful to get some SP to spend on said special attacks. It’s a frantic but delicate balance that plays really well and adds a layer of depth to what can very easily become button mashing boredom.
There’s no deep crafting system here, though, and I do wish there was a bit more RPG to this action RPG, but I also appreciate the RPG-lite approach, which makes it easy to pick up, sink a couple of trips into Youshanding (the Phantom realm) and come back out to Ximending (the “real world”) to advance the story, stock up and save. I appreciate the use of real-world Taipei, but I feel like the in-game world is too small to really highlight the uniqueness of the locales feature. It’s so, so refreshing to see developers using their culture to inject some much-needed rejuvenation into tired tropes, though, so I really walk away a happy camper.
Dusk Diver tries to accomplish quite a lot, and does most of it right. The world feels a bit smaller upon further inspection, and the localization leaves a bit to be desired, but the solid combat system, the lovable characters and the regional interest added by Taiwan’s lore is an intoxicating mixture that makes this game definitely worthy of picking up. Extra points for near-flawless performance on the Switch, even in handheld mode.