A big draw of Dungeon Travelers 2 is its gorgeous presentation. This shouldn’t be surprising, given its heritage, but it really does have a distinctive look and feel to it.
Its visual aesthetic also proved to be the most controversial aspect of the game, with commentators such as Polygon’s Phil Kollar refusing to take the game seriously due to its appearance. This is particularly sad, as the game has some lovely art, some distinctive character designs and a very strong sense of style to it.
Let’s take a look at the art and sound of Dungeon Travelers 2, then.
Since Dungeon Travelers 2 is an indirect offshoot of a visual novel — developer Aquaplus’ own ToHeart2 — it should be no surprise to discover that the event scenes in the game are both immaculately presented and often somewhat provocative.
The scenes in which protagonist Fried has a somewhat intimate moment with one of his party members are a direct callback to Dungeon Travelers 2‘s roots in eroge; while they stop short of depicting any actual explicit sexual activity — Fried himself doesn’t seem particularly interested in such things — there’s clearly the implication that the characters in question want to become closer with Fried. The scenes themselves are also symbolic of the deepening bonds of friendship — and perhaps love? — between Fried and the members of his party.
These scenes are also used as an opportunity to show the characters “off-duty”. This is most clearly seen during this particularly titillating scene featuring Grishna:
Grishna is initially introduced to the player as an aggressive “lone wolf” type of character — an immensely capable, incredibly strong warrior who puts up a significant fight against Fried and his team when she is first encountered. Subsequently, she joins the party as a Berserker, a frontline fighter with strong offensive potential and the ability to overwhelm the enemy with the sheer amount of damage she puts out. She can also be used as a tank; while her defense is lower than that of Alisia, who naturally progresses down the Paladin/Valkyrie path, she makes up for this with a substantial pool of hit points that can be further expanded temporarily with certain skills.
In other words, Grishna is not your usual example of stereotypical “femininity”. So to walk in on her wearing what is basically a wedding dress and demonstrating an adorably flustered, clumsy side in stark contrast to her stoic, professional demeanour when she’s “on the clock” is a powerful moment in her character’s development. It’s a side of her that only Fried sees, and Fried is good enough not to mention it to any of his other companions — a fact which Grishna quietly appreciates. It’s a nice moment in their relationship.
This scene with Lilian, too, shows a different side to the character than we see when the team are “on duty”. Rather than keeping up her distinctly Gothic, chuunibyou side, Lilian’s hiding out in Fried’s room under the covers in nothing but a nightshirt shows her willing to be honest with someone she has come to know and trust; to break down the walls she has deliberately put up around herself, pushing people away with her nonsensical outbursts.
A character demonstrating a “cute” side in this way when they’re normally rather stoic (as in Grishna’s case) or distractingly peculiar (like Lilian) is a powerful means of helping the player to think of said character as more of an interesting person rather than an archetype or trope. Indeed, both of these scenes in particular serve to humanise both Grishna and Lilian, and may well cause many players to develop an altogether different outlook on both of them in contrast to their first impressions.
An early scene featuring initial party members Alisia and Melvy highlights the characters’ pre-existing relationship with one another as childhood friends. Both of them come into Fried’s room and Alisia even dives under the covers. While Alisia makes a few slightly suggestive comments about the situation, it’s clear that the whole thing is considerably less sexual in tone than many of the other intimate scenes throughout the game.
Instead, it’s more akin to how these characters would have undoubtedly acted towards one another in childhood. Alisia in particular is portrayed as a character who has never quite “grown up” into adulthood, so her behaviour is entirely understandable. Melvy, however, already a somewhat shy, reserved, polite and overwhelmingly nice girl, is distinctly uncomfortable about the whole thing, and having matured in terms of attitude rather more than Alisia has, isn’t quite sure what to do with herself. Since she still harbours strong feelings for Fried, however, she can’t quite bring herself not to come along when Alisia decides to invade the privacy of his room.
Melvy is actually a fairly interesting case overall, since she’s the least sexualised out of the whole cast, both in terms of the various outfits she wears for her class changes and the way her relationship with Fried is depicted. When her turn for an intimate scene with Fried comes along, the event scene, shown above, is not provocative; instead, it’s heartfelt and touching, representative of her obvious long-standing feelings for Fried.
We can analyse this further and say that the depiction of Melvy in the game, both through the writing of her character and her visual depiction, suggests that canonically, she is the one that Fried is “supposed” to get together with: a case of true love rather than animal lust. However, there isn’t a concrete sense of closure to any of the relationships in the game, leaving the choice of Fried’s “one true pairing” entirely up to the player’s headcanon — indeed, there’s a re-watchable scene towards the end of the story where you can pick which party member is “most precious” to Fried — but it’s hard not to get the very strong feeling that the writers very much considered their own personal OTP to be Fried x Melvy.
Moving away from depictions of the main cast, let’s turn our attention to the monsters.
Dungeon Travelers 2 adopts the “monstergirl” trope, but places its emphasis rather more on the feminine characteristics of its various enemy characters than their more monstrous aspects. That said, each of the families of monsters that show up throughout the game — often several times with palette swaps — have recognisable influences from the creatures that they’re based on. Take the Tarantula above, for example; she and her other spider-inspired peers all hang from the ceiling in this manner, sporting clothing (well, lingerie if we’re honest) featuring designs inspired by webbing. Her striped socks are also reminiscent of the striped appearance of a tarantula spider, and the strong use of red throughout her design calls to mind common depictions of spiders as having red eyes, or the markings on a Black Widow.
Other monstergirls have more literal aspects from their source material. The various octopus-inspired characters, for example, are clearly pretty much cosplaying as betentacled marine life. The maritime aspect is further emphasised by the fact that beneath the octopus outfit, she appears to be wearing a wetsuit, too, and the sucker on her chest also bears something of a resemblance to the valve you use to blow up armbands or inflatable sun loungers.
Other members of the enemy lineup include interpretations of monsters from a range of different mythos, both secular and religious. The Medusa of Greek legend, for example, arrives with her snake-hair intact (plus apparently another one hidden inside her skirt) but but a rather less monstrous overall appearance than traditional depictions of her. She’ll still turn you to stone if you aren’t paying attention, though.
Other characters make use of their hairstyles and clothing to represent their source material. The Wolf family of monstergirls, for example, make use of unkempt hair and fur-lined clothing to emphasise their more bestial aspects. Their loot drops often tend to be bits of their hair, too (including, in the case of one particular breed later in the game, their pubes) which further calls to mind the stereotypical image of a mid-transformation werewolf as an extremely hairy human.
Even the main story’s final boss doesn’t deviate from the monstergirl pattern. While making use of recognisable JRPG “final boss” tropes — primarily through having considerably more elaborate artwork than many of the other enemies in the game, plus an extremely threatening silhouette that you see long before the full picture shown above — the Demon God’s appearance as a young-looking girl is still somewhat surprising.
Her monstrous tendencies are more heavily emphasised than the regular enemies, however; her hair looks entirely unnatural, particularly towards the ends at the back where it looks almost more like a fish’s tail, and her expression is distinctly inhuman, particularly in the eyes. The result is an antagonist that doesn’t compromise the overall “cute girls” aesthetic the game as a whole has going on, but at the same time manages to appear genuinely threatening and carry off an aura of rather more power than everything else you see in the game. The bosses in the postgame take this to an entirely new level, with some of the most elaborate artwork in the whole game, giving your encounters with them a real sense that these are battles where you should prepare for anything.
Shifting to the other main aspect of the game’s overall aesthetic, the music for Dungeon Travelers 2 is in keeping with the game’s colourful, vibrant visual style. It’s lively and energetic with an overall positive tone to the whole thing. This is particularly exemplified in the main title theme, heard above.
It shouldn’t be surprising that the game’s visual novel roots also show in its soundtrack. This particular theme, heard in pleasant, quiet moments during the story, is the sort of “everyday” theme that you’d expect to hear in something like ToHeart2 or its ilk. It’s firmly in keeping with the tone of the whole experience, though.
Dungeon Travelers 2’s world is largely medieval-themed, with some curious anachronisms here and there such as maid robots and gun-wielding enemies. This traditional-sounding theme reminds us of the former aspect in particular, and is typically used in scenes where the more “old world” aspects of the setting come to the fore.
In contrast to the calm, somewhat acoustic-sounding event music, Dungeon Travelers 2’s numerous battle themes have a strongly “electric” feel to them, featuring wailing guitars and synthesisers. This has the side-effect of having a distinctive feel from the passive nature of your interactions with the event sequences and emphasises the fact that, in battle, you should be all business.
Dungeon Travelers 2 also follows the JRPG convention of featuring battle themes with strong melodic hooks, composed in a similar manner to popular music. The battle themes are, by far, some of the most memorable tracks in the game, which is fortunate, since you’ll be hearing all of them a whole lot.
The dungeon exploration themes also contrast with both the event music and the battle themes. Typically rather more relaxed than the battle themes but recognisably distinct from the calming tones heard in most of the event scenes, they tend to reflect the overall aesthetic and mood of each dungeon rather well while at the same time making it clear that now it’s time to work rather than play.
Overall, Dungeon Travelers 2 has a fairly unconventional aesthetic for a fantasy dungeon crawler, particularly if you were raised on traditionally Western takes of the genre. However, its visuals and sound do combine to create a very distinctive, memorable and, above all, consistent aesthetic that is instantly recognisable.
It may well be an acquired taste for some — particularly with its more provocative aspects — but there’s little denying that a lot of thought has gone into the way the game looks, sounds and feels, and coupled with the excellent gameplay and strong characterisation, I’d urge even those of you not typically predisposed to such things to give the game a look. It’s genuinely one of the best dungeon crawlers out there, not to mention one of the best RPGs from a mechanical perspective, and one of the best games on Sony’s underappreciated Vita platform.
Much more than a “creepy, porn-lite dungeon crawler” in other words. But I think I’ve probably made that pretty clear by now.
More about Dungeon Travelers 2
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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.