(PlayStation Vita Review) Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal

Developer: Aquaplus / Sting
Publisher: Atlus
Genre: Role-Playing Game / Dungeon Crawler
Players: 1
ESRB: Mature
Reviewer: John Rien

Overall: 7.5 = Good

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal is a dungeon crawler localized by Atlus but published in Japan by Aquaplus and developed by Sting. This relationship goes a long way in explaining how a game with such extreme and at times unsettling fanservice can also be such a well-designed, addictive, and otherwise traditional title. And if there’s a game that’s both unsettling and addictive, it’s Dungeon Travelers 2

As Fried Einhard, a new employee of the Royal Library, players are tasked with investigating and subduing the recent monster outbreak in the Kingdom of Romulea. He won’t be doing the fighting, though. As a Libra, he is a member of a specially trained class that can trap monsters into tomes, which has proven to be the only way to permanently remove them from the world. He can then transform nine of any trapped monster type into an augmenting sealbook, which also reveals that type’s strengths and weaknesses. Powerful Grand Sealbooks are created by trapping boss characters and bestowing party-wide buffs and boosts, but these are reserved for Fried, while those from lesser monsters are usable by the party members. It’s this party that allows him to continue his work, as they do the heavy lifting. Five characters provide a two-row barrier between him and the angry fruit, warrior bears, and scantily clad humanoid monstrosities of the world.

Before touching on the mechanics, I need to expound on that “scantily clad” qualifier. If there is anything that will put players off from trying Dungeon Travelers 2, it’s the ridiculous level of fanservice. The frequent monsters in questionable gear will likely elicit some response, even if a minor one, given the way bodies are barely clothed and contorted in the most awkwardly suggestive ways possible. What will be a hindrance for most will be the numerous images that are displayed during set story points and after defeating a boss. Unfathomable proclivities aside, the pictures are often so crass that interested players will likely find themselves feeling too creeped out to continue after the first questionable piece is displayed. Quite a bit of time can go by before these pop up, and some are tamer than others, so there are periods of relative calm. However, those hours of relatively tame tackiness seem to shrink to milliseconds once a young lady of dubious age is splashed across the screen in a scene that definitely causes the game to fail a ‘Comfortable To Play Around Others’ test.

In addition to just not finding much of the imagery appropriate, I especially disliked them because their unnecessary inclusion overshadows what is otherwise a well-designed dungeon crawler. If I had to guess, the unfortunate elements are more of the Aquaplus side, who frequently feature such art in their developed and published work, while I put the rest down to the developer Sting. Sting might not sound familiar, but they have an extensive catalog of some solid titles, ranging from those not released here but still held in high regard (Treasure Hunter G), impenetrable but beloved (Knights in the Nightmare), heavily strategy oriented (Yggdra Union: We’ll Never Fight Alone), and uniquely goofily comedic (Evolution series). It’s their design that fares worse in this equation, as it has a lot to offer for fans of the genre but will find itself avoided for less offensive offerings.

Nothing about the design stands out on paper. A party of adventurers crawls through dungeons in a first-person perspective, tripping traps and stumbling through one-way walls. Monsters attack the party along the way, initiating a turn-based combat system that sees spells being flung, arrows shot, swords swiped, and paeans sung. Items and spells help to alleviate afflictions, causing characters to wake up, thaw, regain mobility, and speak. Songs and potions will regain mana, while delicious foods will motivate the party to join in combined attacks and help heal their wounds.

Admittedly, none of this is groundbreaking, but it is all well implemented and integrated into a system that always offers rewards and new hooks to continue playing. The game is incredibly long—I can’t find an in-game timer, but an estimated 80 hours for a story run seems about right—but much of it seems to go by at a brisk pace because of the way it introduces new characters and bosses. A crucial component to this is the branching tiered class system. Its implementation is similar to the subclass system in Etrian Odyssey IV, in that, just as the adventure is beginning to feel routine, a level milestone is hit and new classes are unlocked that allow access to more powerful spells and abilities. In Dungeon Travelers 2, there are two tiers of subclasses, intermediate and advanced, that encompass over 30 different subclasses, all of which spring from an initial set of five base classes: Fighter, Maid, Magic User, Scout, and Spieler. For examples, Maid, a support class, branches off into the intermediate classes of Bard and Dancer, which then give way to the advance classes of Mistress, Etoile, and Diva. Intermediate classes are introduced at level 15 and advanced classes at level 30, and in a clever way to eke the most out of these developments, levels can be reset at both milestones to reallocate all earned skill points so that players can explore their new abilities. All previous abilities remain available as well, so the whip-wielding Mistress can still sing her health- and mana-replenishing songs from her days as a Bard. There are also a few surprises in the subclass set that can add some spice to a party, like the erratic and macabre self-mutilating Joker.

The variety of party compositions keeps combat fresh throughout the extensive quest. Stat-boosting weapon enhancements also add another component to consider. Enemies can unleash some surprisingly brutal attacks, so keeping the party equipped with the latest weapons and armor is crucial, but doing so isn’t as simple as in other role-playing games. Instead of buying them from an armorer or shopkeeper, they are acquired in the field. There is a considerable downside to this that is increasingly felt as the game goes on, which is the rate at which items are dropped. After switching classes, some of my characters could no longer use their previous weapon, and with none in my storage, I just had to play until one was dropped. That can take a while, and until then, the character is left very weak. Another character can be swapped in, but the game does not allow inactive members to gain experience, so the benchwarmers weren’t effective substitutes. This element of randomness is unnecessary, given that every item acquired isn’t identified, and unless the player has access to an identify spell, the shopkeeper has to be paid anyway to reveal the info for every single item. Another random element is the wandering vendors. Some of these sell ice cream or soups to replenish the party’s stats, but others offer weapon-based services. The latter not only identifies weapons in the field but also enhances them with whatever sealbooks are on hand. Not every bonus will be carried over, but there are so many that finding one that is entirely beneficial to a character is relatively easy. These offer a number of benefits, but the ones which I relied on were their ability to fortify a character against elemental attacks, replenish mana or health points, reduce the cast time for spells, and minimize the chance of a spell-caster being interrupted during their preparations. Enhancing can be expensive, but fortunately, unused sealbooks fetch a hefty sum and can quickly replenish the party’s coffer. And given the encounter rate, players are never short of sealbooks.

Surprisingly, humor is used to great effect. The more outlandish elements are often grounded by Fried, whose modest sensibilities find him behaving like a fish out of water. He frequently comments on the bizarre behavior and questionable outfits of the all-female cast, asking why they are entering his room at night with skimpy outfits instead of staring and pointing out the dangers of wearing what amounts to a few straps of leather as armor. His voice of sanity is appreciated, even in all—if not because of—its wet-blanketedness. The highlight is the duo Beard and Peggy, a bear and a penguin that travel the dungeons together and spout fourth-wall-breaking tutorial text while arguing with one another. Many of the dungeon themes are quite bland, and the later ones rely far too heavily on one-way walls and teleporters to pad out play time, but running into these two always livened things up. They constantly yell about in-game mechanics, such as how to guard from elemental attacks, the proper placement in the formation for the different classes, and how saving a lot isn’t cheating. They frequently reference the developers, gaming, and genre tropes. Their ridiculous banter frequently had me laughing out loud, as did much of the dialog. Just when I began to reach for the power button after running across the fourth string of colored-coded teleporters within the same floor of a dungeon, I would be given a much-needed respite by someone from the party throwing up a goofy bit of self-reflection or Beard and Peggy screaming about how the Earth element has it hard out there and it’s just trying to survive. I didn’t expect the game to have such a great sense of humor or such sharp writing—and a nod to those who localized it—but it is effective and welcomed.

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal is a good if not excellent dungeon crawler, despite its obsession with titillation and periodic distasteful imagery. The game’s steady pace, branching tiered class system, and often hilarious dialog is hamstrung by the need to show ladies, some of whom are of questionable age, despite the game’s protestations otherwise, in compromising positions while wearing very little. Many will find it easy to brush the lewder aspects aside as a mere quirk, but just as many, if not more so, will be too put off to enjoy what is an otherwise solidly designed adventure. Dungeon Travelers 2 deserves a wider audience than its tawdry eccentricities will allow.

(This review is based on a copy provided by the publisher.)

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