Much more than cheeky fan service, Aquaplus’ latest adventure delivers the goods
The PlayStation Vita certainly isn’t short on dungeon-crawling RPGs or games teeming with ludicrous amounts of fan service. Sony’s mighty black handled has become something of a refuge for these types of games, offering those on-the-go dungeon dwellers and fans of scantily-clad anime heroines a veritable smorgasbord to meet their particular gaming needs. Now, Atlus is the latest publisher to enter the fray with Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal, developer Aquaplus’ hardcore dungeon-crawler that gained a name for itself in Japan for its deep mechanics and risque antics. However, on a handheld already filled to the brim with labyrinths to explore and fleshy femme fatales to ogle, does Dungeon Travelers 2 do enough to stand out from the pack?
Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal puts players in the adventurer’s boots of Fried, a young Libra kingdom of Romulea’s Royal Library. More than just a repository of knowledge, the Royal Library works alongside The Order to beat back the monster menace outside of Rumulea’s borders while the populace go about their daily lives unaware of the looming threat. Joined by his childhood friends, the fearsome fighter Alisia and the skilled magic user Melvy, Fried embarks on a simple mission to explore a nearby cave. Of course, things quickly escalate when the trio finds a shattered shrine, and the party begins a quest that takes them to a variety of locales including forgotten tombs, verdant forests and monolithic towers as they work to stop the resurrection of an ancient evil.
The heart of Dungeon Travelers 2’s gameplay lies in exploring these familiar fantasy locales, avoiding traps, and finding treasure tucked deep within their recesses. If you’ve ever spent time with an Etrian Odyssey title, or any of the aforementioned releases from NIS, you’ll feel right at home here. As you make your way through each labyrinthine dungeon you’ll come toe-to-toe with a wide variety of monsters – most of which depicted as racily as humanly possible – looking to turn your merry band of adventurers into mincemeat. Battling baddies, grinding for experience and completing side quests all feel great, thanks in no small part to the game’s smooth mechanics and brisk yet engaging combat system.
The combat in Dungeon Travelers 2 is largely conventional, but it does a few exciting things that make it feel fresh throughout the game’s lengthy adventure. While the battles themselves are your typical turn-based affairs, the game’s overwhelming variety of classes – each of which can be upgraded to several intermediate and expert classes as your party’s levels increase – provides a plethora of strategies you can utilize in battle. Fried, for example, may be the hero of the game, but he never once raises his own hands in battle. As a Libra his worth lies in creating skill books out of defeated monsters which can grant the entire party a variety of abilities that have a direct affect on the game’s combat and exploration. Dungeon Travelers 2 features other interesting professions as well, such as the Maid Class, who is able to slightly increase your party’s HP and TP at zero cost to her own. This seemingly inconsequential bonus actually serves to be a huge boon to the player, as it keeps you from the having to leave the dungeon frequently for rest and supplies like many genre contemporaries force you to do. Additionally, the Doll Master class can enlist dolls with varying abilities to attacks foes. However, doing so takes concentration. If your Doll Master gets walloped you’ll lose control of this temporary ally until it’s summoned again. These are just a few of the game’s staggering number of classes, and exploring the wealth of options afforded to the player to construct their ideal adventuring squad is extremely addicting.
Another interesting approach to combat is the way magic is handled. Rather than being performed immediately, spells take time for the user to chant them. If you tap the “R” button during combat you can see the enemy’s chant meter which gradually fills over the course of a few turns until the spell is performed. Much like the Grandia series, a well-timed critical hit can cancel the incantation, and many boss encounters become a heated game of tug-of-war as you attempt to prioritize incoming magic attacks and cancel them out before they can unleash a volley of devastating magic against your party. Of course, enemies can do the same to your party’s magic users, turning the game’s more heated encounters into an engaging dance of destruction.
Of course, while a captivating combat system is certainly a huge plus, an RPG is only as good as its story and writing are. Thankfully, we’re dealing with Aquaplus here, who handily proved their worth as wordsmiths with last year’s superbly written Tears to Tiara II: Heir of the Overlord. While Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal isn’t free from its share of tropes, and doesn’t broach the same controversial topics as that PlayStation 3 SRPG epic, the game’s characters and world are brought to life with witty and frequently entertaining writing that isn’t afraid to shatter the fourth wall. This is especially true when you encounter the bumbling Therians on your expeditions, as this quirky pair provide healthy doses of informative comic relief during the course of your journey. While it’s certainly lighthearted, there are enough hard hitting moments to keep you engaged in the kingdom of Rumulea’s demonic crises until the credits roll.
It goes without saying that the g-string sporting elephant in the room is Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal’s liberal use of fleshy fan service. ATLUS made a conscious effort to censor this title as little as possible for its western release, altering a mere four images from the original Japanese release to preserve its authenticity. This show of skin is no big surprise to those familiar with Aquaplus’ previous entries, but if provocatively-posed anime women makes you uncomfortable then you’ll definitely want to steer clear of this title. Enemies are often displayed in awkwardly seductive poses during battle, and defeating a boss enemy always results in a bizarre explosion of supple flesh and questionable camera angles. It’s weird, for sure, but if you already planned on picking this up you likely knew about this well before reading this review. However, if this isn’t enough to dissuade you from playing the game, or you’re a fan of adult novels in general, you’ll likely find this to be a selling point.
Dungeon Travelers 2’s visuals may not push the Vita to its limits, but Aquaplus has done a great job of creating an especially vibrant looking dungeon crawler. Each of the game’s environments looks great on the Vita’s small screen, and no two areas look alike, which keeps the exploration feeling fresh. The game runs smoothly too, which is to be expected. The most notable aspect of the visuals however, is the game’s gorgeously drawn cast of characters. Each of Dungeon Travelers 2’s 16 diverse heroines is represented in extremely appealing hand-drawn portraits. The character designs are imaginative and eye catching as you’d expect from the Japanese studio, who also specializes in the publishing of visual novels under their brand Leaf. This high level of quality also transcends into the enemies themselves, who tend to look like sexualized outcasts from some forgotten Guilty Gear spinoff ( just trust me when I say that’s a good compliment). That said, there are a few enemy types who are completely at odds with the rest of the game’s visual style such as murderous cherries, bananas, and other ill-tempered pieces of produce that look as if they were lifted from Clip Art when juxtaposed against the game’s otherwise outstanding sprites, which is somewhat disappointing.
When it comes to the audio, Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal doesn’t disappoint. The game features plenty of well-delivered Japanese voice work. The soundtrack is also frequently stellar, providing a varied selection of standout tracks that perfectly suit the game’s numerous dungeons.
All in all, Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal proves to be a welcome addition to the PlayStation Vita’s packed stable of first-person dungeon crawlers. While the game’s heavy use of fan service may understandably put some off, those who embark on this lengthy adventure will be treated to an exceptionally deep and rewarding experience that ranks among the best available on Sony’s handheld.
Final Verdict: 4 / 5
Available on: Vita (reviewed) ; Publisher: Atlus ; Developer: Aquaplus; Players: 1; Released: August 18, 2015 ; ESRB: M for Mature ; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & The Monster Seal provided by the game’s publisher, Atlus.