Genshin Impact (PS5) The Forest Will Remember [Complete Aranyaka.] Wow. This lengthy questline's best completed in chunks; no chance would I advise it all bulldozed at once contiguous. But wow, it embodies verdant Sumeru even more richly than the (also superb) Archon questline. This one really felt like a trek through all manner of nature, Sumerian ecology, mixing fairytale whimsy with tangible consequence. I'm fine that it was unvoiced because I can't mentally concoct a suitably adequate voice for the Aranara species in *any* vocal track; and although it contains far too much "rule-of-three" meandering during its opening acts, it tidies damn neatly throughout its back half - where its core species holds it all together. The sunny Aranara became my favorite Genshin cluster of NPCs, hands-down, and I'll revisit their dreamscape for sure. ^^ This is one Golden Nara who will remember.
#25: Shantae: Half-Genie Hero (PS4 via PS5 BC)
Straightforward, for WayForward, yet...*delightful*
What happens when a small-time licensee developer Kickstarts a debut HD sequel to its own niche IP, partially shifts genres for said entry, releases an in-progress midquel in the interim that eclipses all those that launched before it plus those that follow it including the Kickstarted project, then at last churns out the finished creation after this rollercoaster of expectations crests and craters in equal volley? Shantae: Half-Genie Hero happens, that’s wot-wot.
WayForward founded in 1990 to replace founder Voldi Way’s CAD/CAM software provider - no, really - and settled full-time into VG development by 1997. The struggle for smaller studios compelled WF to latch onto licensed products as a revenue stream between original properties. After the first Shantae, a quality if humble action-platformer, horribly mistimed its launch, releasing for the Game Boy Color a full year after the successor GBA stormed the market, the studio settled back into licensed products for a spell. Despite their markedly hit-or-miss results, WF cranked out adequate successes (Contra 4, Ducktales Remastered, Double Dragon Neon, amongst a few) that infused more confidence into original creations such as the hybrid Sigma Star Saga and the singular yet innovative Mighty! subseries. The crew’s first Shantae sequel again partially mistimed itself, launching for the ill-fated DSiWare platform before course-correcting and entering platforms with greater prevalence: PC, PS4, more. As you can tell, Shantae had clung on by a thread, in light of the generational gaps between her first two adventures.
The half-genie has had a disjointed life - example: the above Risky’s Revenge key visual doesn’t consistently associate w/ RR x.o
Around this time, WayForward took a fancy to the potential of independent crowdfunding to construct a Shantae well beyond what their perpetually modest coffers could conceive. Half-Genie Hero therefore opened its Kickstarter campaign in 2013. A haul double that of the KS goal assured that the studio could give HGH an honest shot, evidenced by their reliability in delivering licensed products en masse, by deadline. It juuuust so happened that during the previous couple years, the gang had stockpiled resources to craft their gal’s third series title, Pirate’s Curse, which wound up launching 100% complete on 3DS right around the closure date of the Kickstarted HGH. Well. That forever threw the budding Shantae fanbase for a loop - especially once consensus began to anoint Pirate’s Curse as WayForward’s crowning achievement to date, full stop. Sure, Shantae the 3rd still employed basic 2D sprites and handheld-quality audio, not full HD illustrations and animation, but why then had Shantae the 4th required a Kickstarter when the same crew could unheraldedly weave their masterwork without all the pomp - and crowd funds? I will not (futilely) answer that business inquiry. I will only denote the longevity of Shantae as a character slash IP since: 5 mainline entries in full, availability on every major 8th-gen & 9th-gen platform, several cameos ranging from solo outings (Mutant Mudds + Runbow) to larger mainstays (Blaster Master + Smash Bros.), and at last a passing recognition well beyond her hushed introduction 2 decades ago. Shantae, I hope, is here to stay for good, especially because her games to me range from decent to superb - the latter applicable to, joining consensus, Pirate’s Curse, yet also to, against consensus, this very Half-Genie Hero, which post-launch added much extra content to warrant a definitive edition.
I did not plat that culmination. I plattied the base game PS4 release, since that’s what I purchased at the outset. It’s not as grand or comprehensive as the full HGH package. But whew, did it earn its keep. ^^
Tuki the serpent merchant ssssells sssspells to aid, conveniently, magical half-genies
Half-Genie Hero serves as a soft reboot of the Shantae continuum, and it shows in its return to the IP’s core. Gone’s the looming dread and discouragement from Pirate’s Curse; gone also’s the trend of one-off NPCs and foes first begun in Risky’s Revenge; gone’s the sprawling contiguous Metroidvania map (if not the pertinent backtracking) - gone most visibly, however, are most of the expanded mechanics since her debut. HGH re-centers Shantae around her signature animal transformations and her small gaggle of pals: Sky, Rottytops, Bolo, and Uncle Mimic. HGH plays out in a more episodic fashion; this time around, buccaneer villainess Risky Boots lays a quick foundation that only backdrops, rather than spearheads, Shantae’s trek across Sequin Land. Shantae retains all of her customary mechanics for this charge. She primarily defeats foes by whipping her lush purple hair, a feat that most of us have yet to achieve IRL. The half-genie can also attack or defend herself with a small assortment of magic spells, curiously purchasable again at an item shoppe (why our gal never permanently keeps them truly eludes me @[email protected]), plus acquire further benefits like stronger hair whips and damage reduction ‘armor’ (you’ll…grasp what I mean, hah). But most central, and vital for HGH in particular, are the half-genie’s animal transformations.
Chillin' in the rainfall as
Sun WukongMonkey Shantae~
From her signature Monkey and Elephant forms, to elegant aquatic Crab and Mermaid forms, to more specialized forms like the Bat and the Mouse, Shantae dances through danger with nary a stumble. These transformations engage mostly the numerous environmental puzzles of Sequin Land, in lieu of enhanced combat prowess a la Sunsoft’s spiritual forerunner Wonder Boy. This specialization perhaps factored into Half-Genie Hero’s more muted public reception, as I’ll ruminate next section. It’s true that, apart from cursory dips into Scuttle Town, Shantae engages with levels not as laser-focused as in a standard action platformer, yet home to stage layers more environmentally interlocking than in nearly any of those. What results is a Shantae both abruptly straightforward, compared to its predecessors, and highly conducive to backtracking all the same. It can start to feel disjointed, when one steps back to survey the whole picture…
Which, admittedly, I would’ve surveyed more commonly had the game not plunged me early into a whirlpool of one burgeoning emotion: delight.
It began with a flicker, as Shantae inched through the underground cavern in her pajamas. It threatened with a jam, as she skipped through Main Street, ‘Dancing Through The Danger’ to thwart yet another Risky Boots invasion. But it blossomed at Mermaid Falls, the waterfalls cascading down from parapets, the mermaids leaping out of the pond to scatter bubble shots, Shantae’s monkey form calmly grooving to the BGM’s vibe: Half-Genie Hero was going to be delightful. Shantae’s infectious idle animation. The vibrancy of the levels, of their verticality and interconnectivity, of the multitude of alcoves accessible by some future transformation. The dominant vitality of Jake Kaufman’s decade-honed compositions. The simple pleasure of the hair whip, of a quick transform, of nimble traversal, of vigor toward the acrobatics ahead. Clearly, I had not lost my fondness for well-hewn platformers. It might have tipped dormant now and again, but HGH slapped it hard awake in spades. Not since Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart would a Platinum pursuit infuse my vision, hearing, and aged gaming heart with this soaring delight. And despite the scale back from a full-size Metroidvania, despite the removal of the nifty pirate skills from Pirate’s Curse, despite the base game’s visibly truncated scope - the HGH Kickstarter had stretched for at least 2 more episodic stages - this game gobsmacked me with a heaping mound of smile-inducing delight. =D And holy hell, is that worth celebrating, personally.
Just look at this girl’s cheerful idle. JUST LOOK. ;w;
Now, since nothing’s flawless save for mid-Michigan maple fudge during a crisp autumn, a comprehensive HGH recap will denote its shortcomings…which, yeah, number more than a couple, chief among which was its reduction in scope and focus, esp. compared to its forerunners. Too many games overstay their visit. A handful understay. Half-Genie Hero takes the latter option. Right when the journey feels like it starts to, well, shift into high gear, everything converges into the linear endgame level. Backtracking and secret-finding are still present, but the former especially can’t hold sway like it used to, with HGH’s stages chopped into discrete chunks. Although transformations are central, daresay vital, to the Shantae experience, all of the fun and useful gadgets from Pirate’s Curse are sorely missed; moreover, derived from its Kickstarted origin, Half-Genie Hero adds a few too many transformations that see next to no usage or applicability at all. One optional form sees, like, 2-3 smalltime usages, tops. One optional upgrade sees exactly 1 use. Uh…I can appreciate optional content, but for a component so central to a game like this - doubly so, an entry that succeeded a well-lauded expansion into equippable upgrades - approximately one-third of our gal’s transformations suffer from scarcity and superfluous purpose. Once she obtains the endgame transformation, she’ll hardly need any others. The final implementation winds up feeling disjointed and mildly incongruous, which is a *real* shame when large stretches of this game exude such enjoyable delight.
Undersea channels impress and, as a mermaid, are - gasp - *fun* to navigate! :>
The 4th Shantae looks vibrantly terrific. Color palette, parallax, animation cycles, elemental effects, water ripples - nothing was spared in lifting Shantae from pixel art into HD. Can’t get over it, myself. @[email protected] Worlds feel deeper (as in, spatial depth) as a result, and even indoor havens like the Hypno Baron’s gloomy castle invoke a greater scope of environment. Hitboxes sync up really darn well, too, no sloppiness there. I would’ve served up a slightly snazzier & less cluttered menu UI, but beyond that, really can’t complain ‘bout much of note. Blessedly, no sound effects overpower to the point of irritation, either. I kinda got the sense that Shantae’s hair whip landed with a sharper snap in prior entries, but spells and transformations ring true, as do environmental echoes and tells. The secondary cast must’ve all come down with laryngitis in-universe, since *only* Cristina Valenzuela lends voiceover to HGH, in her double reprisal as Shantae and Risky Boots. She clearly refined her performance as Shantae in particular: the lead protag immediately sounds better than ever. She belts out WF’s catchphrase “Ret-2-Go!!” with gusto and might, and I had to giggle at the extreme variance of her in-stage exclamations, from the spunkiest “Trans-form!!” to the dulled, almost dreary “Traaaaanssss…fooooorrrmmm…” Clearly, Shantae doesn’t always wanna keenly transform. ;> Well, tough rocks: you accepted the half-genie protector role, woman~
Honestly, the mermaids have a right to defend their territory .3.
Musically is where it’s at. I’m telling you, Jake Kaufman was ascending by the year during the 2010s. He banged out decent scores for the first couple Shantaes, honed his craft for the first couple Mighty! standalones, then feverishly unloaded a flamethrower of bounce across the 3rd Shantae, Shovel Knight, and both Mighty Switch Forces!, which brought him here, to Shantae #4’s OST: by my ears, a grand culmination of all his genre and melodic proficiency and ascension up to that moment in the present. The half-genie’s foundational Arabic (double harmonic) scale wafts through many a tune here, yet also, Kaufman’s danceable leanings from the Mighty Switch Forces! imprint onto HGH’s soundtrack with immediate display. If no proper Mighty Switch Force! 3 will ever arise, Shantae’s groove-tastic 4th soundtrack will gallantly suffice.
Mermaid Falls - Book both mermaid BGMs together as the complete Mighty Switch Force! homage/collage. The stage’s verdant first half brings its jams jaunty, juicy, and jolly; Kaufman deftly flips the tune’s killer melody between his synths, woodwinds, and brass, each buoyed by bouncy bassline and intricate percussion. Truly, a phenomenal tune.
Counterfeit Mermaids - The stage’s second half BGM mirrors the mermaid factory’s urban industry with an electronica MSF! house party, particularly the brilliant chord progression at :40 - like, holy heck, Patricia Wagon’s outings embodied. This composer, folks, knows his shit. o.o
Tassel Town - Our half-genie heroine pluckily bounds into the desert - orrrr, into a galloping disco/funk throwback? Good gosh, can Kaufman artfully hop genres like an acrobat, when at his best.
Sky Bridge - High above Tassel Town plays this eager number, immediately aligned with Shantae’s signature double harmonic (aka Arabic) mode. Coarse hightop gusts can’t stop her now!
Cape Crustacean - Quite a banger, as the youth might speak. ;> Energetic major keys meld with effortless key modulations - aha, just another concoction at the wizard’s tower, for Sage Kaufman~
Hypno Baron’s Castle - Hey, Pirate’s Curse already featured one undead banger…why not another!? Exactly: why not. ;3 This tune leans slightly eerier, a couple extra shades Castlevania, than the prior game’s undead romp. I…might actually prefer *this* track, to Pirate’s Curse’s. o3o
Boss - …okay, Kaufman really needs to shape up his titling effort. But holy hell, a new(-ish) boss theme for the series! Goes even more full-tilt than the prior motif, now with ~60% longer guitar solo. Groovy~♪
I have to wonder if HGH’s Kickstarted origin influenced its challenges, because wow, is it notably breezier than Pirate’s Curse. Not that any Shantae boasts unspeakable challenge, but the gal’s 3rd entry deffo cranked up the difficulty to heftier loft. By contrast, this 4th entry breezed by. Its delightfulness enthralled me, absolutely, but I wouldn’t’ve minded a tad sturdier opposition, eh-heh.
The game does feature a small array of individual stage challenges worthy of mention & attention, IMO. Investi-gator tasks Shantae w/ a no-detection trip through the mermaid factory, and honestly, it works kinda nicely, plotting & charting her obstacle course w/o tipping off the factory’s grunts. Jump Jump Slide Slide shouts out amusingly to Mega Man 8. The catch is, all of the stage-exclusive trophies can be cheesed later, during endgame revisits, with either Shantae’s final transformation or the Scuttle Town mayor’s hella-OP accessory reward. Kinda deflates the challenge if one can simply put ‘em off ‘til cleanup. =s Finders Keepers cannot be cheesed, and is the most glaringly missable trophy to obtain. Then we come to the speedruns. The Any% speedrun and 100% speedrun return from prior Shantaes. HGH’s modestly smaller size and scope, however, coupled with the absurdly generous ability to save and suspend one’s speedrun partway through, deftly combine to negate the daunting challenge of either. I comboed both speedrun trophies in clearing HGH’s 100% speedrun at 02:21:10, well below the 3-hour threshold for the Any% target and eons before the 100%’s 4-hour limit.
Charlie BrownCentipede, you blockhead!
Did I miss the congruent interconnectivity that spans Risky’s Revenge? Yep. Did I miss the more respectable approach to storytelling and powerups that uplifted Pirate’s Curse? You betcha. (...I’m no Minnesotan) A truly complete Half-Genie Hero, with all DLC packed into the base game, with a more streamlined focus, with a modestly more balanced tilt between challenge and reward, would have skyrocketed into the upper echelon of 2D gaming entirely. WayForward perhaps could have fashioned something stupefyingly remarkable. They did not. Nonetheless, I got what I wanted & then some thanks to the genuine delight that Shantae’s 4th outing provided. ^^ I might remember its weaker loose ends. I might bemoan its incomplete aspiration. But wow, will I reflect upon the joy it brought, that joy of effervescent gaming, and prize said joy above all - for that is what it delivered, and that is what I celebrate. Thanks a heck of a lot, WF, for your delightful half-genie.
Peace out, and thanks for reading!
- Show previous comments 14 more
@Flubberwunked A super-awesome Mr. Driller icon for an omnipotent trophy hunter! o/ Since video game girls are the bestest, that'd make Shantae your best girl, even more so than Hibari? Hmm, but Hibari counts as an anime character, too. Shantae hasn't entered that medium...yet~
Oh, Pirate's Curse tops HGH in a few facets, for sure. I still think that Kaufman cranked out a beast of a soundtrack for that one; Saliva Island's his finest "classic Shantae" tune full stop, to me, and Pirate's Curse contains the bounciest rendition of Scuttle Town's staple theme. (I had no clue that that Wii U service could upload screenies like that. o3o Must've done wonders for word-of-mouth marketing!)
I dunno if Kaufman was truly overly busy during Seven Sirens, or if he and WF had a falling out as many suspect, but good grief, the replacement composers...utterly fail to replicate his greatness. Woof. Moreover, Seven Sirens' lo-fi soundtrack does not match its hi-fi visuals. But the compositions themselves, their dynamics and melodies and so forth, fail to match up also. Yeah...that soundtrack majorly disappoints. Majorly. u.u
IMO, a speedrun should disable pauses & saves. HGH disables neither, inside the bathhouse, and allows Shantae save point access wherever she likes. Yeah, that bit. Concurred: deffo deserved greater challenge. Compare her breezy speedrun to the nail-biter from Touhou: Double Focus, oy.
I almost never purchase or play DLC, for the record, and perhaps I should've sprung for the HGH Ultimate version - had it existed back when I first picked up HGH! Alas, even with my PS5, I don't stack games & will not re-plat HGH's Ultimate version, PS5 or otherwise. =s As for the PS4 base game's DLC packs....I mean, technically, 'never say never', but....almost certainly not happening. My apologies for letting you down. ;-; You may console yourself with that fabuloso costume, aye-aye. *nodnod*
Thanks again, sailor~ ^^
@Yuber6969 Thanks very much! Lemme tell ya, Shantae 4's speedruns are piss-easy compared to the speedrun from Touhou: Double Focus, to cite a recent example. Heck, if you can handle the MM Zero games, particularly the first 2, you should breeze through much of Half-Genie Hero. Zero 1 and 2 ratcheted Mega Man difficulty up to high grades.
Pirate's Curse is a different matter. That one requires some heft. ;3 Not so much a stepping stone, is the 3rd Shantae, as an imposing boulder!
Holy cow, did I somehow miss this product's announcement. o.o A savvy choice to refresh for sure~ Fuckin' enjoyed Shatter immensely when I played it on Steam, ages ago. Never quite 100%'d it then but an alluring Platinum now may well induce major commitment. Time Attack and Endless still should pose a barrier not effortlessly felled. B'] But yeah, a killer Breakout evolution, now with an ace Platinum to match. Great stuff!
Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid: Burst Forth!! Choro-gon Breath (PS4) Employee's Efforts [View all of Elma's Raging Spark illustrations.] Yup - it's one of those games. =w= Thrilling [Clear a stage with max Risk Rate.] Expected a brick wall for this one. Not so. Turns out, maxed Risk Rate hardly affects *any*thing if ya dodge *every*thing. K.O. [Defeat a boss with Striking Blows only (Story Mode, Easy or above).] This pops upon defeating one phase of a stage boss, not depleting its entire health bar. Nonetheless, I dropped the 1st stage boss in full w/ Striking Blows only, a fairly simple outing. I kinda get the sense that Striking Blows exist precisely *to* finish off boss phases right when the energy orbs barrage your dragon like a horde of wasps.
Scored Dragon Maid for $15 instead of $40, yay~. Had store credit to cover the cost, also. The clerk at the local resale shop informed me that the patron who traded DM in mistook it for the anime Blu-ray. Uh...hmm. o3o Blue case, general unawareness of the VG's existence...all right, plausible. Suits me fine!
#23: Dusk Diver (PS4 via PS5 BC)
#24: Dusk Diver 2 (PS5)
A double dosage of interdimensional ‘daily life’ in Taipei
Cities wildly differ in layout and aesthetic from nation to nation, from millennium to millennium, yet one ambitious constant remains: somebody, sometime, will aim to seize, obliterate, or reshape a prosperous city. So befalls New York City, so befalls Vancouver, so befalls St. Petersburg, so befalls Berlin - so too befalls innumerable fictional cities from literature to webcomics. Video games have constructed hundreds if not thousands of vibrant, memorable cities in their proportionally brief lifespan. Several games even recreate real-world metros for their tales. Well-known hotspots like Tokyo and San Francisco play host to all manner of hijinks, indeed. A recent B-grade Taiwanese series aims similarly to showcase a happenin’ subsection of their homeland’s wondrous capital of Taipei: Ximending, a trendy modern cluster within Taipei’s southwestern Wanhua District.
RL Ximending | VG Ximending [DD2]
Ximending houses a cross-stitch of tradition with today. The iconic 114-year-old Red House Theater neatly faces nouveau retail apparel and a tantalizing Cold Stone Creamery. That’s true in both reality and the 8th-gen video game duo, Dusk Diver and Dusk Diver 2. The video games just happen to also interweave alternate dimensions, summonable quasi-deities, Leylines of supernatural energies, and a loudmouth taskmaster of a convenience mart manager who takes the form of a ceramic bear. Aaand, as expected, unusual events threaten to upend/alter this urban district - twice. No biggie, right? Step into the Taipei of Dusk Diver and Dusk Diver 2, and so examine this pair of anime-esque action-RPG…brawler…musou…err…hybrids. Composites? ono Point being, they’re somewhat novel and plainly familiar, resemblant and divergent - and both adequately capable funfests, to this chick.
Yumo Yang idles through her neighborhood as an easygoing young adult. Her ordinary life consists of ordinary school days, of ordinary shopping outings with her flighty best pal Yusha. Nothing anywhere stands out - until they step, one August day, off the subway Exit 6 and out into a very unnerving, very magenta version of their hometown Ximending. Unidentified critters ambush them the next moment. A stone lion roars to guard them. Yumo leans on her years spent viewing martial-arts television to join the slapdash fray, amidst her disbelief. Within the next hour, our protag learns firsthand the reality of the higher dimension Kunlun that oversees and (crudely) regulates the flow of Dragon Vein energy unobservable by regular humans, and commits to defend her district of Taipei as a freshly-minted dusk diver: a plain human able to interact with Kunlunian affairs without succumbing to unconsciousness. Across the events of Dusk Diver, Yumo allies with Kunlunian guardians - the jolly yet hasty Leo, the taciturn and drowsy Bahet, and the ~coquettish~ career-driven Le Viada - to fend off those invasive ebony critters, called ‘Chaos Beasts’, and stamp out fluctuations in Dragon Vein flows before they toxify Ximending’s modern everyday life. The crew’s exploits take place in Youshanding, Kunlun’s extra-dimensional parallel Ximending. Under stern direction from their Boss, who masquerades them in the human Taipei as convenience mart staff, this motley quartet successfully resolves a localized interdimensional disruption at the conclusion of the first Dusk Diver. The sequel shifts forward a year, seeing university freshman Yumo wearily balance her outward life at uni and the clerk job with her clandestine commitment as Ximending’s dusk diver, quick to address an inexplicable resurgence of Chaos Beast activity once more. Cooperating with the power trio as before, and surrounded by a much larger cast of friends, acquaintances, foes, and regular Taiwanese citizens, Yumo stares down a complexifying cross-stitch of reality far beyond what humans, and even what the higher Kunlunians, might comprehend… Increasingly, daily life in Taipei morphs into anything but, across the events of Dusk Diver 2.
This happens a lot to the crew [DD2]
For a fairly underexposed duo, the Dusk Divers had a serpentine production chronology. Low-profile Taiwanese outfits JFI Games and JERA Game Studio co-developed the first entry in Unreal Engine 4, whereupon Justdan International and Wanin Games, both also Taiwanese companies, published the finished product in their usual Asian markets. Over at the UK, PQube picked up DD for a Western localization - a slipshod localization, rife with several instances of clunky syntax in the dialogue and even a couple egregious formatting errors. This occurred because PQube opted to lift the SEA region’s non-native translation, not re-translate it themselves. Even after a couple hotfixes patched up large portions of the script, awkward mistakes remained. True to form, Nep-Nep swooped in to sunnily save the day! Come Dusk Diver 2, now developed directly by ex-publisher Wanin Games in-house, once Justdan had published DD2 in its target Asian markets, Idea Factory International took the localization helm and delivered a nearly spotless Western release, even preparing a native PS5 version (which I played) in addition to the customary PS4+PC+NS SKUs. We salute you, CPU Purple Heart~!
28-hour workdays have yet to be invented...but they'll arise, I expect .3. [DD]
So, uh - what’re the games actually *like*? Fair inquiry: let’s cover all that. The Dusk Divers unfold as mid-tempo composites, a blend of trod gaming genres: 3D action-RPGs at their core, a dash of brawler combos, an array of musou enemy waves, a sprinkling of platforming challenges - pretty much none of this duo’s mechanics innovate a great deal. Yet neither do they arrive unbaked. Each component of the game suits its purpose. Within Youshanding, combat takes precedence. Yumo can unload a cyclone of melee combos upon Chaos Beasts large or small, aerial or terra, mooks or gigantic bosses. Becoming a dusk diver enables access to Kunlunian energies; Yumo can therefore summon the Kunlun guardians into a combo action in tandem with her, where they can follow-up with fire/volt/aqua elemental attacks or deliver a mighty blow with meter-consuming musou specials. Similar to many a 3D action title from Warriors to Senran Kagura to Ys, Yumo herself can jump all over and chain most aerial attacks into ground finishers, as well as ‘Perfect Dodge’ from a finely-timed evasion. Finally, after maxing her Dragon meter, Yumo can transform into an anime-hair Hyper mode, adding major damage output to her blows and culminating in Ultimate finishers tag-teamed with the player’s guardian of choice. (Dusk Diver 2 adds solo Ultimates plus Wall Finishers, both highly potent and greatly welcome.)
Once safely in Ximending again, Yumo and her crew can take the usual odd jobs (sidequests), scarf down snacks and meals (buffs), track down Dragon Vein stones (EXP and rewards), accessorize and dress fresh (cosmetics), and generally soak in the summer sun before the next plot incident. Neither entry wildly deviates from this urban ARPG template, although Dusk Diver 2 introduces Atk/Def/HP equipment and *greatly* increases the volume of named NPCs and visitable locales, including a few underground subway passages that connect to setpieces more distant from the central plaza - highlights include a risk-laden skyscraper, a frozen river, and the recreation of an (agoraphobic?) oversized arcade. (Lowlights include a dusty rundown highway that runs /far/ too long - and gets revisited far too commonly. -n-) Really, if anything, each Dusk Diver game capably succeeds at its task: to supply a decent anime-tinged plot and cast, backed by punchy combat, showcasing the devs’ brilliant hometown city. This is Taiwan and not Japan, Taipei and not Tokyo, but the archetype is clear: a contemporary urban ARPG. Call it Yakuza-lite, call it Akiba’s Diver / Ximen’s Trip, call it whatev - the DD games take plentiful inspirations, too closely in spots, but capably reassemble these well-worn LEGOs into their own lil’ mid-length dealio. Not amazingly. Not terribly. Capably. Gauge for yourself if that sounds accurate, as my exposition henceforth expounds.
One’s fervor for a B-grade creation such as either Dusk Diver hinges heavily upon one’s enjoyment of its components. The overall package will not astound, will not dazzle to the point of marveling. Most moments feel quite familiar. The action combat’s less clunky than in Akiba’s Trip, not quite as aerially agile as in a 3D Senran Kagura, meatier than in most Samurai/Dynasty Warriors, not as customizable or multifaceted as Nier Automata’s - you catch the drift, here: you’ve done this before. Taipei pops as well as any modern Asian metropolis, Ximending a pleasant district to tour, but inarguably masterpieces like Yakuza’s Kamurocho and The Witcher’s Novigrad annihilate it in density and depth. Hell, all Trails of Cold Steel cities overflow with NPCs far more fully realized than darn near every participant in DD1+2 altogether. The view looks solid, the audio sounds solid, the script reads solid - you’re looking at games that I’ve repeatedly declared capable; what'll result from that is, again, up to the individual’s reception of it all.
Youshanding gets the blues, too ;_; [DD]
Me, don’t mistake my cautionary advisements for disinterest: I enjoyed nearly all my time inside both DDs. I basked in the sunbeams near the East China Sea; I smiled quite commonly at Yumo and her burgeoning friendships; I giggled when Yusha “lost” her wallet again; I flexed when I thumped a strong wave of Chaos Beasts - heck, I physically fist-pumped when I obtained one pesky S-Rank in the first game. I had a great time, all else be damned. Speaking of! Speaking of. These games have a fair number of differences in flow, even as they appear iteratively identical on the surface. DD leans closer to a grounded brawler, with arcade-y elements and larger combos; DD2 skews farther toward instanced (see: Tales of…) ARPG, with individualized 2-button inputs and plot-driven revisits to most regions. Here’s where I…honestly wish that DD2 had stuck slightly closer to its predecessor. At the same time, here’s where DD2 positively expanded. Here’s also where it branches off to an oblique angle. Ah - lots to explain, about this analogy. The quick version’s that DD2 shows evidence of a sequel that takes a couple steps forward, a couple steps backward, and a couple dozen steps sideways and diagonal. It stars the same core cast, the same central hub, the same general menace - yet wow, does it swerve into different lanes, even without exiting the chosen roadway. I can dig into this analogy, and shall.
Perky fashion couturier Yawen also makes analogies of...ostensible merit [DD2]
See, to offset its compact size, the first Dusk Diver implemented longtime favorites of mine: stage ranks, and Hard missions. C-Rank, B-Rank, A-Rank - all precede the sparkling S-Rank. S-Ranks award additional rewards; Hard missions, doubly so. Then, natch, one can chase S-Rank *on* Hard difficulty… Mwah~ These arcade-ier benchmarks produce better play. I relished all but a couple of the S-Rank pursuits. But many a gamer griped about Yumo being the *sole* playable in DD, that the guardians from Kunlun ought join her directly on the field, not relegate to cameo summons. Many also sought to roam beyond Ximending’s 4-block grid. Thus did Dusk Diver 2 make Leo, Le Viada, and Bahet playable, for starters, plus greatly expand the number of safe *and* perilous regions explorable. Locales only named in passing in Dusk Diver see the gang physically travel to them during the sequel’s incidents. This, I do feel, was absolutely needed, not just to accommodate the plot’s expanded scope but also to freshen the trek to and fro across Taiwan’s paved streets. Now we can pew-pew aquatic bullets as Le Viada, can swish-slash scythe arcs as Bahet! Now we can travel places only heard about, before! Huzzah! - right, then, **whyyyyy* did Dusk Diver 2 omit stage ranks and Hard missions!? Gosh, did I miss the S-Ranks when playing DD2. To 'compensate', a couple of DD2’s unsafe zones wind much too long. Irksomely, the same applies to many combat encounters. Dusk Diver 2 downplays musou elements by lessening the value of combos and omitting the tiny
cuterChaos Beasts entirely, designing even huger and stockier targets to wail on…and wail on…aaand wail on…
Here, you’ll grasp, lies the sequel’s other unwise decision: beefcakes. HP sinks, damage soaks. Regular foes take too damn long to defeat for approximately 50% of the game, and don’t even glance at the giants without gritting and preparing. x.o Good fucking grief, Dusk Diver 2 follows a rollercoaster of (im)balance. For the first couple chapters, everyone’s weak, both the party and their foes. Just as Yumo and her pals begin to strengthen to discernible effect, the game ratchets up the hitpoints and quantity of their opponents beyond enjoyable. I’m saying in obtuse terms that stretches of maps and showdowns seriously start to drag. But then, later still - Chapter 8, Chapter 9, and deffo all chunks thereafter - the party’s output surges. Strong endgame equipment starts to dispense like candies. Stat boosts add several points per stat instead of 1-2. Specials and musou skills can level up. I transformed the previously underpowered Le Viada into an aqua-slinging machine gun of devastation, /then/ souped up a ~spoiler~ ally to frankly absurd levels of might and tore through endgame as if ‘twere a trifle. Downright bulldozed it. Okay, being honest, that felt goddamned thrilling, and perhaps intrinsically so - but also, perhaps, rightfully so, after enduring midgame’s periodic slog. For disclosure, I cleared DD2 w/ the following active party:
~Spoiler~ Lv. 76
Yumo Lv. 72
Bahet Lv. 68
Le Viada Lv. 72
Le Viada's warheads command respect - yeah, I know what I said [DD2]
It’s nearly impressive how DD2 simultaneously upgrades, downgrades, and sidesteps all over the place, without rebuilding the first game’s concept from dust. It zigzags, I tell ya. Gone are the gacha capsules - not a great loss. Gone’s the telephone takeout menu - a painful loss. Way more characters participate in the plot - a welcome addition. More playables means tons more combat options and tactics - major plus. Except the baddies can take ages to defeat - rrgh, frustration embodied. Stat points still allocate individually in place of randomized growth - okay, /that/ didn’t change from DD to DD2, and thank mercy for THAT. Admittedly, this recap kinda jitters all over the place…fitting, for the duo at hand. I like both titles plenty, but aye, would a potential Dusk Diver 3 have much to mull in order to cull each predecessor’s strengths, prune away their shortcomings, and artfully knit a triumphant Best In Show. But I say bring it on. The formula has potential. It forged 2 capable entries. Just make a third *sparkle*.
B-grade anime-esque video games tend to resemble each other. Neither Dusk Diver casts off that mould, although DD2 cleans up its character models over the debut’s. I will posit that the DDs do not leap overboard with giant anime eyes or powershop their apparel at the Tetsuya Nomura discount wardrobe. .3.’’ Perhaps Bahet looks modestly outlandish with his saturated indigo hues and dual rocker/bat motif; perhaps - no, definitely Le Viada leaps overboard with her prominent G-cups and occasional yuri flirtations. (Not that I mind either of those in the slightest, mind you, merely denoting their presences.) The Chaos Beasts and most Youshanding zones look kinda samey, albeit have snazzy neon coloring accents, and this series copies the Akiba’s Trip quirk depicting all unnamed NPCs halfway featureless. On the other hand, the special moves look high-caliber despite obvious budgetary constraints, and the more artful stages and boss designs grabbed my focus for sure. Dusk Diver 2 mixes in robots, both flunkies and boss encounters, to fine yet unexceptional effect. (Although the jetplane robot can piss the hell off with its nimble evasiveness, rawr.) At least the games have a PS3/PS4 fidelity…although, Dusk Diver 2’s native PS5 release doesn’t seamlessly nail 60 FPS. No, it skips frames and animation steps in town, about thrice every few minutes, most noticeably when swiveling the camera from street to street. This puzzled me until I recalled that IFI, a localizer with coders and programmers -not- in abundance, packaged the PS5 SKU themselves. Well…they tried. ;o;
'Kick-kicking', a kick-based combat discipline [DD2]
The Dusk Divers provide voiceover in Chinese or Japanese. The Japanese cast will likely appeal to many an otaku, owing to a couple beloved names plus the general nature of the fandom. I myself completed DD upon release with its native Chinese VO. Upon re-platting it under this PSN account, I…stuck with the Chinese performance, rather than switched, and also extended the same into the sequel. Chinese vocal delivery tends to emphasize sharper, breathier tones for its adults and comparatively firmer enunciation for younger speakers, in my few experiences with it. (Xuan-Yuan Sword VII, also a Taiwanese ARPG, solidified my evaluation.) For the Dusk Divers, this vocal direction results in boisterous speech from the rowdier Leo and Boss, pointed yet eager femininity from the likes of Le Viada and Yusha, and sly tongues from the mouths of corporate men Shoel and Vandak in 2. Yumo’s voice actress, Hsuan-Ming Mu, artfully echoes our protag’s character arc in her performances: the commonly startled and mildly unsteady high-schooler Yumo Yang of Dusk Diver gives way to the surer, more decisive, yet also more reflective collegiate Yumo Yang of Dusk Diver 2. Since Yumo undergoes the most impactful character arc, it stands to reason that her provided vocals should likewise evolve with her. In the Chinese VO, they pleasingly do.
Hsuan-Ming Mu nails Yumo's defiant verbal smackdown, much as the script showcases her character's growth [DD2]
Much like its mechanics, Dusk Diver's music wound up a grab-bag of its contemporaries’ strokes: urban pop here, swingin’ lounge there, grungy rock here, melancholic piano there - all of it decently composed; none of it blindingly superb. True to form, Dusk Diver 2 zigzags into /more/ elements by tossing in buzzy synthesizers for a couple tunes, veering toward stuttery breakbeat in a couple other tracks, and just incorporating more dancy electronica outright. I would not declare either game’s soundtrack superior to the other’s, but I *will* caution that at a trim sub-20 tracks apiece, each game recycles 4-6 of its tunes /far/ too commonly, even the cooler music. o.x Whether that grates will, I suppose, vary by listener? I happen to like a fair quantity of the BGM from each game, mind; this disclosure stands apart from my enjoyment. c: Of note is that JFI composed DD’s OST in-house - frustratingly, uncredited - whereas DD2 commissioned several tracks from independent Taiwanese artists such as Silaver and Kiva Wu, both contributors to their homeland’s rhythm game duo, Cytus.
A Saffron Shopping Day [DD2] - Each DD provides a breezy, catchy urban theme whilst touring the shops and sights of the district. I happened to prefer the sequel’s in the end, is all. ^.^
Scholar’s Mate [DD2] - Regular and sidequest encounters always play this BGM, a hoppin’ synthscape seasoned with delicate electric piano.
Inquiry For Truth [DD] - Love the energetic drums on this one. Smooth, appealing electric guitar spearheads its first half; a chorus of brass concocts the second. This tune DOES return in DD2…aaand return…aaand returnnnn… Seriously, I like it a lot, but it graces too many areas in the sequel, after IMO being underutilized in DD. Just can’t win. OTL
Lost In The 44 [DD2] - Now here we go, turbocharged electric guitar riffs atop a sharp and punchy beat as we ascend the risk-laden skyscraper! Go figure that this track only plays in that one zone. ;o;
Drowning Charisma [DD] - Perhaps the synth drumkit could have more heft. Apart from that, this boss theme mingles jazz piano and wailing brass tones to effective outcome. This tune DOES return in DD2, at -the- most appropriate reprise of any DD music. That’s more like it!
She Never Gives Up (Ver. 247) [DD2] - Actually a reworked endgame track from DD! Not quite an endgame track, in DD2. As with a handful of 2’s remixes, I ultimately fancied this remix above DD’s original… But just barely.
Keep The Faith (Instrumental) [DD] - Yumo’s transformation brings electrified power, as does this killer J-rock that shreds up and down the scale whenever she transforms. A vocal recording arises later on, but I savor the intense fixation on the guitar in the instrumental. This tune DOESN’T return in DD2, thereby depriving the sequel of a coveted Zassy’s Kickass Blazing J-Rock peerage. God damn all things.
We Still Believe [DD2] - Rest, relax…renew your thoughts, clarify, to the gentle synth pads and electric piano that accompany moments of reflection.
One guess as to whether Viada applies a 'gentle' strike ._. [DD]
Neither Dusk Diver poses a formidable challenge. That said, DD2 takes a road less thoughtful. See, in the first Dusk Diver, more compact as it is, nothing’s missable. A couple of trophies such as Where There’s A Will, There’s A Wish and When The Peach Is Ripe task Yumo to burn time drawing lottery sticks or watering a peach tree to blossom (my tip: a Turbo controller if ya own any - I don’t - and the habit to water the tree after /every/ venture into Youshanding), but the bulk of the trophies entail either the plot or the stages’ S-Ranks. Since stat gains are directly tied to Dragon Vein stones, and since every mission provides said stones during both exploration and S-Ranking, much of one’s efforts will cycle around focused, incremental improvement. Learn the most beneficial meal buffs - I ultimately settled upon the chili that confers Lv. 3 special attack boost, as that multiplies Bahet’s and Le Viada’s musou specials into AoE juggernauts - memorize tricky sections, and presto: S-Ranks aplenty. \o/ DD’s trophy haul therefore flows rather snugly. The same can’t be said for DD2’s, for 2 reasons: rankings were scuttled, and *so* much became missable.
Damnit, I -enjoy- chasing S-Ranks ;A; [DD]
Sidequests already weren’t much to praise in DD, but DD2 requires the player to track down and complete numerous sidequests before they expire - and several open up *during*, not upon the beginning of, a chapter. >.< Argh. Even character quests can carry this risk. Mercifully, Ixxiion penned a masterful guide here & here at PSNP for each Dusk Diver, and I highly advise any intrepid dusk diver to utilize each to the fullest. (They do contain spoilers, FWIW.) There is also the matter of DD2’s Dimensional Fission Master and Offense Is The Greatest Defense trophies. The former entails 10 highly missable fissures that open, unmarked, right at endgame; the latter can be a royal pain in the abdomen unless the player switches off ally support. Counterattack timing windows are already quite small. The ability to negate ally interference and focus uninterrupted on counterattacking brought me relief like you would not believe. x.x’’ (Seriously, Bahet, quit tickling foes with your scythe; I need to practice the awkward counterattack timing on them.) At least each Dusk Diver trophy set shows off its product in full. Nothing of note escapes the trophies’ purview. Honestly, in light of a number of deflating, unambitious trophy sets, I appreciate this completeness a *lot*. Estimate 20-30 hrs. to platinum the first entry, 35-45 hrs. to platinum the sequel.
So here’s the salient inquiry: Why’d I enjoy the Dusk Divers a good deal? Each game’s decent, solid. Not exceedingly outstanding or superb. Shouldn’t they leave a less wonderful impression? For many players, they will. For me, they didn’t. No, I enjoyed the heck out of them - most of the time (*squints at Civic Boulevard*) - and by now I better grasp why. All this recapping this year has helped crystalize the two most vital, valuable video game components for me: trappings, and flow. If a game entices me with highly appealing trappings and ensnares me with a reliably enjoyable game flow, then it will ingrain me, full stop. I will not permanently drop it until I complete it, or at least until I clear its plot/central content. Each Dusk Diver provides a modern, urban, anime-esque environment with some rippin’ music to match, then settles into a generally enjoyable flow: cruise Ximending, chat up Yumo’s acquaintances and pals, optimize our loadouts - then, dive into Youshanding and fend off Chaos Beasts with a nifty cache of moves, until the next day. Repeat and clear. Simple. And that’s quite fine for me. ^.^ A choice smattering of games will induce awe, reverence… For the rest, like these DDs, I’ll enjoy them where they are: fine-quality B-grade otaku-style darlings.
Although! Gaze below. Spot that? That’s right: Dusk Diver 2 has more catgirls. Why, it must be superior~♪
Peace out, and thanks for reading!
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Congrats Zassy! It's great to see a review from you again 👍
I'm glad you also covered DD2 in this review, so now I have an even better idea of what to expect from the series (Honor's review of the first game had already given me good impressions). You've done a really good job at explaining the two games especially the combat and soundtrack. From what you've said about the sequel, it looks like a no go for me. The gameplay seems flawed and missable trophies are too much of a hassle most of the time. If I enjoy the first game enough, I may give the second one a go, but for now it's unlikely.
The games' visuals do stand out to me and look quite nice. Yeah, some of the areas in those screenshots look bland, but the DD2 models and city areas look great. I know I'm not the only one who gets a Persona vibe from DD lol. I'll listen to those listed tracks soon enough. I still listen to some of the tracks you listed in your Stray review, so I'm sure I can rely on you having great taste in music! ✌️
I'll be keeping an eye on the first game to see if it goes on sale and I might just pick it up if I'm done with playing really difficult stuff (Can't wait for that 😭). I'm hoping you write a review for the Dragon Maid game btw. That would be pretty awesome 😁
Thanks to you, Sire @Flubberwunked of the Outrageously, Stupefyingly Difficult Platinums. u.u May your digits, knuckles, and medulla oblongata endure unscathed. *nod*
Perfectly understandable re: DD2. Two steps forward, two steps backward, a dozen-plus steps sideways/diagonally. Phew. Despite largely the same visuals and models, even. Series like Yakuza/Like a Dragon iterate less dramatically; some folks appreciate that surety where others implore RGG Studio to advance their mechanics. DD2 not-so-nimbly eludes that dilemma by branching more toward straight-up ARPG, even whilst it retains the core center (centre) of the brawler combat and the town respite. That said - a lotta goodwill would return if the beefgates simply expired less obstinately. I would've greatly strengthened the Chaos Beasts' offense & reduced their HP/defense, m'self. Would've followed up the first Dusk Diver more gracefully, had that occurred. ^^;;
Shantae: HGH allots to platty #25, then I shall give Dragon Maid my fiercest, aye. Already conquered a decent chunk of it, but I top out real darn quickly @ shmups. I lack the fortitude and excellency to slay the Sol Crestas and the 1CC Touhou Lunatic clears, but perhaps the cutesy dragoness trio shall bolster my arc to victory. In the meantime the danmaku got me like -
Congrats! I had already read about the comparisons to Akiba, Yakuza, and Persona - all of which are series I like. Now reading that it has similarites to SK makes me even more interested.
DD2 doesn't sound like that much of a drop, but I'm weary of the damage sponge issue. Getting Persona 3 flashbacks over here lol.
Zassy replied to Suminya's topic in Unreleased GamesWait, for real. 0.0 It's coming Westward after all. Sweet. Okay, yeah, I didn't 100% hold out hope for a localization for AG - swell news to start the day/week, thanks Suminya! =D Hope that PQube has their finest act together for this job. Also not terribly soon to arrive, which handily provides an opportunity to fiddle with the ol' budget. I am a common sucker for these B-grade kawaii/waifu/ecchi/etc. action games - pre-sold pending localization since its reveal, the only question now becoming when to spring. :3
Dusk Diver 2 (PS5) Masquerade Party [Complete Chapter 6.] "Alexa, play Disaster Party. ;3;" - ahh, not really. Chapters are beginning to stretch too long, though. Ahh, well. =s Welcome to the masquerade... Offense Is The Greatest Defense [50 successful counterattacks.] Would be an absolute thorn in every player's side were it not for the Defensive formation - active A.I. allies vigorously preclude counter windows. ;-; Foodie [Exchange all 10 Gourmet cards.] Dusk divers spend a lotta time like Luluco:
Genshin Impact (PS5) Sumeru: Continental Explorer (II) [Light up the maps of the following areas in Sumeru: Hypostyle Desert, the Land of Upper Setekh, and the Land of Lower Setekh.] 3.1: the Windows of Genshin Impact. FFXII's Dalmasca Estersand & Westersand well girded me for deserts. *nod* Quicksand Treasure Hunter (I) [Open a total of 60 treasure chests in Hypostyle Desert, the Land of Upper Setekh, and the Land of Lower Setekh.] Even so, gotta admit: I expected -less- fondness for these dunes. Nothing might top the Sumerian rainforest half, but the desert pleases plenty thus far. ^^ Greenwood Treasure Hunter (II) [Open a total of 200 treasure chests in Avidya Forest, Lokapala Jungle, Ardravi Valley, Ashavan Realm, Vissudha Field, Lost Nursery, and Vanarana.] Collei's immaculate playground. :3 Bless it.
Flipping through the ol' trusty SaGa catalogue & had somehow completely forgotten about this theme. Kenji Ito channels Motoi Sakuraba's prog-rock leanings something fierce. Seriously, the organ and square waves go absolutely bonkers on the scale/vibrato at the turn. Not a tune for everyone! For me, yeah, deffo.