Games that try to mesh genres that seemingly have no business being near each other are among some of my most favorite titles. Kid Icarus: Uprising and ActRaiser are some of the most recognizable examples, splitting two genres into different phases. Other games prefer to blend many elements of different genres into one cohesive formula. A new title from Arc System Works blends tactical RPG and rogue-lite elements… with Dig-Dug. Its name? Ground Divers!
Plot and Writing
Ground Divers! takes place in a world that developed so fast, it started a major energy crisis. One day, the people of the planet are introduced to Rare Matter, power materials hidden deep within the earth. Soon after, a mining boom occurs, with our main cast of Studio Tsuruhashi being one of many companies in the industry. As an unnamed new recruit to the Studio, it’s up to you to pilot a mining frame named Tsuruhashi to uncover more Rare Matter and restabilize the world.
The plot in general, while being nothing to write home about, is enjoyable. It certainly isn’t the real meat and potatoes of a narrative, and the game doesn’t act like it is, but it cares enough to at least play it straight. The writing is more about the character interactions; from the head scientist Anne and her obsessive assistant Dorothy, to the retired veteran Edge and his young mechanic friend, Kadel. It’s all as much of a backdrop as it needs to be, and lets you focus on the aspect that matters most here.
Ground Divers is defined by injecting tactical RPG elements into some more fast-paced, replayable genres. Pins guide Tsuruhashi through randomly generated layers of earth while mining for resources, fighting enemies, and spending Action Points for upgrades. Progress is made by reaching the end of a layer and proceeding to the final layer, where the level’s Rare Matter is located. Initially, the tactical system makes it seem like a relaxing simulator. You can briefly leave Tsuruhashi alone to set him into auto mode, but this is largely just for when you’re out of options or ideas. What makes this more of an arcade game is that you’re on a strict timer to get as much as you can done in a single layer. To this game, that timer is the “clearing lines in Tetris” secret sauce, where one seemingly minor addition makes the game much more addicting.
This is a fun and unique gameplay system, barring some minor complaints about Tsuruhashi’s AI. The roguelite elements make it so jumping back in after failing or retreating isn’t so tedious, and the tactical RPG elements are an interesting basis that makes the game feel refreshing compared to its contemporary roguelites. It’s not quite as difficult as your typical roguelite, save for the high difficulty spike in the Volcano level.
After finishing a layer, players may head back to the AI Center to change out equipment, manage consumables, and craft. There’s a lot of options for crafting such as one-use items, different kinds of weapons, permanent upgrades, and optional items. The largest section of the catalog focuses on home décor to personalize your AI Center. It appears pointless at first glance, but it helps the game lean more into its adorable presentation.
Between missions, players are presented with visual novel style cutscenes featuring the main cast. The art style is good, but character designs boost the visual appeal with Edge being my favorite. The in-game graphics use 2D sprites, and they also look good. A variety of vibrant colors are in use, but it’s simple enough in animation to avoid distractions. However, I do wish the UI during missions was a bit smaller, as it feels somewhat claustrophobic after a while. This game is a Switch exclusive though, so readability is a priority in handheld mode.
The presentation of Ground Divers! shines most in the OST. Project Jam’s legendary frontman Hironobu Kageyama is responsible for the main theme, and it’s highly energetic. The rest of the OST comprises of softer, laid-back tunes. These slow tunes are a solid fit for early in-game levels. There’s also some more up-tempo tracks used for the final layer of each stage, which also fit as boss themes. A couple of my favorites ended up being Scorching Volcano Ridge’s normal theme and Planet Pandora’s final theme.
All of this amounts to Ground Divers! being a very feel-good game. It’s hard to be mad at Ground Divers! due to the genuine and innocent nature of the game. The entire plot is about the all-important support system of your friends. The “power of friendship” trope is endearing. Ground Divers! isn’t perfect since it’s a short game, the difficulty curve isn’t smooth, and guiding Tsuruhashi may be a hassle. Thankfully, I still found myself enjoying Ground Divers! throughout most of the playthrough. The gameplay is satisfying and the atmosphere is infectiously happy, which makes this a surprise favorite of mine this year. Good on you, Arc System Works, I dig it!
PREVIOUS REVIEW: DNF Duel – A Return to Form with New Ideas
Disclaimer: Arc System Works provided Final Weapon with a review copy of Ground Divers!.