Annoying death issues
In the vast wasteland of indie rpg gaming, untold multitudes of epic projects lie by the wayside, abandoned and forgotten. Many of them might have shown hope at one time, but now rot in their own forgotten decadence and decay. Every so often, however, one rpg has survived the ravages of time and inertia, and it shines among the rest, distinguishing itself with the glory that you know only a true gem can hold. Diver Down is this gem.
Diver Down follows the rather traditional rpg engine: top-down perspective, turn-based battle system via random encounters, enemies that get harder and items that get better as you progress, but it throws this one ingredient into a fresh mix. Unlike the vast majority of RPG's, Diver Down throws out the stale and crusty traditional "lets go save the world" plotline in exchange for a game that focuses far more on the development of its main character, Drek, and how he responds to the unfamiliar situation in which he is placed.
The game starts off with Drek waking up on the ground of a primitive medieval dungeon, suddenly realizing that he has lost his memory. Immediately, a man in high-tech armor assaults him, blaming Drek for the death of his entire squad. Although Drek manages to elude death, it quickly becomes apparent that his home is not anywhere close to where he woke up. As the masterfully-written plot progresses, Drek manages to find that he is in the territory of the Order of Twilight, one of the two largest Orders in the southern continent of the world known as Minduul, as well as the fact that he has been branded an assassin. He manages to escape the castle guard's clutches, and sets off to find out who he his, where he came from, and why he does not remember anything.
While plot is critical to any decent serious RPG, if dialogue is cheesy and unrealistic, the world will inevitably fail to draw you into its clutches, and immersion fails. Diver Down has some of the the best-written dialogue of any console-style RPG I've ever played, beating out every freeware game I've ever seen in these terms. The characters react realistically, their relationships change often, and Drek's search to cure his amnesia constantly influences his actions, decisions, and, of course, his attitude towards his companions. Diver Down consistently delivers dynamic characters - one minute you think you have Jea or Malcolm figured out, and the next you see that they have motives and goals just as Drek does.
The storyline is the game's strong point, so, while the early cutscenes and character portraits are done fantastically well with a limited color palette, as the story deepens and you cannot help but keep playing to find out what happens to Drek, the graphics gradually get worse as time goes on. In fact, it gets so bad during one of the near-endgame cutscenes that it looks as if the characters were hastily drawn in paint, with no attention being paid to color whatsoever; the overall effect is a somewhat like a 6-year old's monotone scribble. While this may be somewhat harsh, the effect is muted by the progression of character relationships and dialogue, and it does not impact the game as much as you might think.
A few other slightly annoying things like the difficulty in the beginning-mid part of the game, graphical glitches, non-skippable cutscenes, and a grotesque scream and blood splatter sound effect when you die detract from the quality and polish, but other than that, there is not much wrong with the rest of the game. Although the difficulty is high, sometimes you can't proceed past a certain point until you solve an obscure puzzle, and there are a few parts where you're left wondering about a sketchy part in the character's connections to the world of Minduul used for plot advancement, none of it is so much to make a huge impact on the quality of the game.
Although the game does have some graphical glitches every so often, an annoyingly high death rate (save often!), and so-so graphics overall, Diver Down's plot and deep character development bring it the shine it needs, scoring it a 4.3.
Review by: greywolf
Safe for all ages
Windows DOS, 95, 98, 2000, XP
35 MB of harddrive space