You’ve probably heard of Vita RPG Dungeon Travelers 2, even if you haven’t played it — but for all the wrong reasons.
You may well recall that around May of 2015, Polygon’s Phil Kollar incited the wrath of Western Japanese game fans by reporting on the impending localisation of Dungeon Travelers 2 with the provocative headline “Atlus can do better than this creepy, porn-lite dungeon crawler”.
Kollar’s impressions of the game were primarily based on the trailer that Atlus released after announcing the localisation of the game, and on the preorder incentives, which included a calendar featuring various illustrations of the game’s characters. The game was not available in English at that point — though it had been out in Japan for a while — but it was pretty apparent Kollar hadn’t played it, nor did he have any intention to.
Which is unfortunate for him, really, because Dungeon Travelers 2 is probably one of the finest dungeon crawlers ever created. Your loss, Kollar.
Developed as a collaborative affair between visual novel publisher Aquaplus and the masters of peculiar, quirky and interesting game mechanics Sting, Dungeon Travelers 2 thankfully doesn’t require any knowledge of its Japan-only prequel to enjoy.
Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal, to give it its full title, has some rather colourful heritage. Developed as a collaborative affair between well-established visual novel creator-publisher Aquaplus and the masters of peculiar, quirky and interesting game mechanics Sting, Dungeon Travelers 2 is a standalone game that thankfully doesn’t require any knowledge of the Japan-only Dungeon Travelers to enjoy.
The PSP-based Dungeon Travelers itself was a spinoff of Aquaplus’ popular eroge To Heart 2, and was in fact heavily based on a minigame from the Windows To Heart 2 spinoff Manaka de Ikuno!!, where it was known as Final Dragon Chronicle: Guilty Requiem. The game casts players in the role of To Heart 2 protagonist Takaaki Kouno and also features many of the girls from To Heart 2, many of whom take the form of boss enemies that subsequently join your party after defeating them.
Dungeon Travelers 2 adopts basically the same format with a completely new cast of characters. The player character Fried, who does not participate directly in battles, instead protected by his vanguard of fighting ladies, is a Libra, a scholar who studies monster behaviour and ecology, and as the leader of a Suppression Team from the Royal Library, it’s up to him and, initially, his childhood friends Alisia and Melvy to figure out exactly what is going on that appears to have driven the normally fairly inoffensive monster population into fits of uncontrollable rage. Like its predecessor, Fried’s squad gradually expands as the game progresses through new party members joining you after you defeat them in combat at predefined moments in the story, and by the end of the game there are 16 highly capable young women available for you to command, though only up to five of them can be taken into battle at once.
There’s little denying the game was specifically designed to be provocative, suggestive and erotic in places.
Kollar’s comments on the game being a “creepy porn-lite dungeon crawler” primarily stem from the game’s aesthetic, because there’s little denying that it was specifically designed to be provocative, suggestive and erotic in places. The vast majority of the “monsters” you encounter are actually girls and women of various descriptions, albeit incorporating recognisable design elements and features from traditional depictions of monsters from fantasy and various worldwide mythologies. They stop a little short of being full-on “monster girls” in that most of them are still recognisably completely humanoid in figure and stature — there’s no Monster Musume-style lamias or centaurs here — and instead make use of visual cues to make it apparent what their overall type is. Apparition types, for example, might have spirits swirling around them, while dragon types might have claws or wings.
On top of the provocative monster designs are the event scenes that occur throughout the story and most commonly after you defeat a boss. After a major battle, there is usually an image depicting your defeated and humiliated opponent, normally bound in some way to prevent them getting up to any further mischief. There then typically follows a scene in which protagonist Fried talks with the vanquished opponent, during which time she calms down a little, explains a bit about herself and her particular species, and more often than not makes a fairly obvious pass at Fried. Fried, being a true professional — or more accurately, completely oblivious to clear signals of interest that even his closest companions send him — typically shakes this off and seals the monster inside his Libra Book, thereby keeping both them and his home kingdom of Romulea safe until he can get to the bottom of the central mystery that drives the story onwards.
The game is fully aware of its sexualised content and plays it up on a regular basis. A number of enemies have a special attack called “Bra Unhooker” that reduces your party members’ defensive capabilities. The post-boss CGs get more and more provocative and the monster girls’ comments more and more obviously sexual with each encounter — though it’s entertaining to see Fried eventually cottoning on to what they’re up to and starting to react more with resigned frustration to their advances than anything else. And between forays into the dungeons, there are special events featuring all of Fried’s party members, usually putting him into some sort of awkward situation with them that involves them being disrobed and/or touching him in some way he doesn’t quite know how to deal with.
From a gameplay perspective, Dungeon Travelers 2 is one of the meatiest role-playing games on the market.
All this is entirely unsurprising given Dungeon Travelers 2’s heritage. Its predecessor was a spinoff of an outright eroge, after all, and a significant part of Aquaplus’ back catalogue comes from their eroge-centric Leaf brand. Dungeon Travelers 2 stops short of anything explicitly sexual happening, however, and instead prefers to provoke and tease both its protagonist and the player by providing them with tantalising, frustrating scenes that never quite cross a line but come very close to it. As we’ll talk about more when we come to discuss the overall narrative and characterisation in the game, this is firmly in keeping with how protagonist Fried is depicted, so it’s absolutely deliberate.
From a gameplay perspective, Dungeon Travelers 2 is one of the meatiest role-playing games on the market. With a main story clocking in at 50-100 hours depending on how thorough you are with exploration and levelling up your party members, plus a post-game that is at least the same length depending on if you’re just trophy hunting or if you actually want to take down the strongest enemies the game has to offer, it’s a game that will keep you busy for a very long time indeed.
It’s mechanically very solid too; we’ll talk in more detail about how its various interlocking systems work when we look specifically at the game’s historical context and mechanics in more detail, but suffice to say this is a game where you’ll need to think carefully about character builds, party composition and equipment. Thankfully, nothing you do is completely irreversible thanks to a Level Reset system that allows you to set a character back to an earlier level, reclaim all your previously spent Skill Points and build them differently. In fact, if you want to completely min-max your characters — or “crown” them, as the game puts it — you’ll need to do this several times in order to accrue bonuses to their base stats.
What’s nice about Dungeon Travelers 2 is that you don’t have to get too stuck into the number-crunching required to min-max your way through postgame.
This isn’t a game where once you get a character they’re stuck with their class and abilities, either. Customisation is deep — though naturally the theorycrafters of the Internet have decided what the “best” builds for each class are — and allows each character to eventually have three classes and the abilities therein. Their basic class — Fighter, Magic User, Spieler, Scout or Maid — determines their basic role in the party. Their intermediate class, unlocked at level 15, allows them to specialise further but still keep the abilities from their base class. And their advanced class, unlocked at level 30, takes them further in a particular direction, giving them a sharply defined place in the party. Combine this with enchantable equipment that allows you to attach various stat and resistance bonuses to each of your items of gear, and you have a highly customisable set of core mechanics that you’ll need to master fully if you want to take the full journey to the end of the substantial post-game.
What’s nice about Dungeon Travelers 2, though, is that you don’t have to get too stuck in to the number-crunching required to min-max your way through postgame. The game offers an entirely satisfying, complete-feeling experience with just its main story, with each new dungeon offering new gimmicks, either in the form of environmental obstacles or new types of monster to fight. It’s challenging, to be sure, but not insurmountable — and many players may find that it gives them just enough of a taste of what the battle system offers to make them want to just take a quick peek into the postgame to see what’s going on… then 100 hours later they’ll be on the 30th floor of the Tower of Bogomil wondering what they’re doing with their life.
To cut a long story short — don’t worry, we’ll be exploring it in full detail over the course of the next few articles! — Dungeon Travelers 2 strikes an excellent balance between providing an experience that is reasonably friendly to newcomers (though be prepared to die a few times in the early dungeons while you’re figuring things out) while offering enough depth to keep seasoned dungeon crawlers happy for several hundred hours. It’s perhaps not a game entirely suitable for those who are completely new to the challenges of dungeon-crawling RPGs, but for those who are ready to graduate from something like the excellent Demon Gaze, it’s one of the best — and best value — games you can get for the Vita.
In the next article, we’ll take a more in-depth look at Dungeon Travelers 2’s historical context and its mechanics: how the long history of dungeon-crawling RPGs has culminated in this game’s deep, complex and satisfying systems.
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Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal is available now for PlayStation Vita. Find out more at the official site.