Dusk Diver 2 is a good game until it’s not. This anime open-world hack-and-slack is an oxymoron – a great, inane, shallow and yet efficient, average, and still addictive action RPG. It’s both an over and underachiever but doesn’t level out as merely average.
Objectively, Dusk Diver 2 would fare poorly in a scoreboard compare-fest, as this low-budget open-world isn’t feature-rich and can’t keep up with the gameplay variety of a Yakuza or Persona 5, and yet it manages to emulate the high-quality anime presentation of the latter.
The game also benefits from having a short runtime with personable characters, but the main story drags on, and the action – while addictive – can’t reach the production values of similar AAA hack-and-slashers in the genre.
Going off this overly critical perspective might be what you’d expect of Metacritic and its zero-sum algorithm, and while it isn’t necessarily wrong, it fails to see all the finer details. Sure, Dusk Diver 2 won’t be making any headlines on IGN, but the experience comes together well enough for this to remain a staple on my tiny 500gb hard drive for short playthroughs of relaxing, mindless action.
Simply put – it’s an enjoyable experience, and isn’t that what we are all looking for?
The story of Dusk Diver 2 picks up a year later after the events of the first game and the Chaos Beasts – the enemies populating the interdimensional ‘underworld’ dungeons – are back with a vengeance, attracted to the large amount of Dragon Vein energy passing through Taipei due to the actions of some shadowy organizations.
Adding to the existing concept is a slightly ridiculous and carefree anime story that stretches and dances around relaxed slice-of-life tones, a team of individuals who moonlight as convenient store clerks and models, all while interdimensional subterfuge and war rumbles in the background.
Needing to constantly link the two quite separate elements of the game – the open-world and interdimensional action – the main narrative soon runs out of reasons for another dimensional leap/dungeon run, and while the bizarre justifications are waved away in a tongue-in-cheek manner, it sometimes frustrates more than it helps its pacing.
The daily lives of the main characters are really where the heart of the game lies though, making you feel part of a warm group of friends, even if you wish there was a bit more character development to sink your teeth into. Side content mostly consists of fetch quests, battle goals, and collectibles – the barebones every open-world offers – but it adds yet a further vibrance and warmth through its real-life location Ximen, Taipei, which is infused with colour and upbeat music.
While an open-world/dungeon hack-and-slasher is a combination quite unique, there are clear influences from well-known titles such as Persona 5‘s presentation, (for the lack of a better open-world example) a Yakuza-esque influence in an open city map, and a JRPG approach to battle encounters with static NPCs that spawn battles in the ‘otherworld’.
There are also improvements and quite significant changes from the original, including the overall visuals, an expanded city, and a battle system that went from a Dynasty Warriors-esque system – where you attack large crowds of enemies – to more of a singular enemy battle gameplay comparable to Devil May Cry.
Even with these upgrades, however, there’s still no guarantee that everyone will share my appreciation for what is objectively a convenience store-quality version of a hack-and-slash/action RPG – it might not be the best quality, but you know that you secretly love that convenience store coffee.
While the satisfying battle system is fun to play around in, the format is nothing that you haven’t seen before, taking place within dungeons, with your switchable team of an initial four characters facing off against waves of various enemies and bosses.
Approachable with simple attacks and abilities that can be strung together to reel-in multiple enemies, the battle gameplay looks and feels great with nice visual and sound effects, effective controller vibration, and enjoyable visual feedback from the enemies, ramping up the badassery as you plow through the field.
Having said that, due to the simplistic input system and relatively immobile damage-sponge enemies, it is possible to progress by spamming the easy-to-pull-off attacks, with one long-range gun-wielding character, in particular, who is almost invincible when standing on the other end of the map.
Player skill and special moves have some effect (with a powered-up state and the awesome special staggered attacks), but your ability to succeed has more to do with leveling up and bluntly powering through with the occasional dodge, rather than with any particular strategy.
Some might argue that the longer dungeons become a bit monotonous because of this, but it can be mitigated if you utilize an in-battle feature to remove the three other team members from the battlefield, which increases the difficulty and forces you to use your whole arsenal of moves. It’s a band-aid solution, no doubt, but it does help.
Outside of the action, the leveling up and customization process provides a plethora of ways to upgrade your characters which constantly changes how they feel in battle, and when combined with their different attacking styles, can make every battle feel different. Ultimately though, while you are given a mix of tools, the burden of variety is placed at your feet, as the battlefields and the standard enemies offer little diversity.
Additional creativity within your team with team combos or the ability to interrupt and continue strings of attacks with another character would have been a great addition to bring the action up a notch, but the latter of which is impossible due to a mandatory cooldown after switching characters.
Furthermore, the dungeon design which starts off so promisingly, tails off quickly, leaving a collection of banal streets and underground shopping mall corridors to do battle. They might be joined by a groovy high tempo and excellent metal soundtrack, but there’s no doubt that just a bit more would have done wonders for a game where you are hacking and slashing for the vast majority of it.
While Dusk Diver 2 might fall short of greatness due to the battle system and dungeon design missing a few features, there is still magic here – with its relaxing atmosphere, personality in spades, and still addictive action – making this a good choice for those who wish to indulge in a harmless and enjoyable action RPG without the need to schedule an entire month to complete it.