Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal Vita Review
By now we all know that the word Vita means Life in Italian, and we can all make fun jokes about how Sony has abandoned the platform, but in Japan, it seems third parties love making games for the sleek device. Smaller publishers, such as Nippon Ichi USA and Atlus, are keeping the system alive in the Western world with niche Japanese games that find a small fan base in North America or Europe. Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal is the latest title published by the house of Disgaea, but unlike a few of Nippon Ichi USA’s titles in the past, Dungeon Travelers 2 has hit our shores with quite a reputation, one where whoever has heard of the title and doesn’t follow Japanese games closely has noticed about the sexual imagery that gives the title a negative aura, tainting what otherwise is a mechanically solid dungeon crawler that I had fun playing through.
Dungeon Travelers 2 focuses on the adventure of Fried Einhard, a young graduate from the Royal Military Academy who joined the Royal Library to become a Libra, a person tasked to capture monsters and seal them away in a special book known as a sealbook. Fried has a love of monsters, and has taken upon himself to become the best monster researcher in the Kingdom of Romulea. Helping him is Alisia Heart, the only female to graduate the Royal Military Academy’s Knight course, and is also a close friend of the main character. The expert magician, Melvy, who had the skills to graduate from the Royal Military Academy’s Magic course at the top of her class, also joins Fried on his adventures. As the trio begin investigating the world, they find out that there is an increase in monster activity and must put a stop to whatever ancient evil is causing the problem.
The story here isn’t all that great, it’s a serviceable save-the-world-from-evil plot that people who digest a lot of stories will be familiar with, but one thing I noticed is that the overarching story sits in the back-row for most of the time. The game prefers to focus on bringing anime tropes (yes, including some of those questionable artistic angles) and comical gags to the front, with the story only coming up from time to time between key dungeons or the final acts of the game. Looking back on the game, Dungeon Travelers 2 isn’t so much about the story – that part is a sugar coating to add a little personality and humour, even if some of the jokes are way past their sell-by date – but has a focus on bringing some of the old-school dungeon crawling to the Vita, a platform that has had its fair share of them in the last year or two.
It is the particular type of dungeon crawler, the one where most of the game is spent in dungeons exploring in first-person, where movement is done through the d-pad and is locked to a grid, and where an on screen map marks a square every time a grid in these labyrinths is explored. It’s a sub-genre that has been made for years, and even recently featured great entries from Etrian Odyssey and Persona Q. Anyone who has played a game like this will instantly have an idea how it plays. Dungeon Travelers 2 doesn’t try to build something new. It features the same formula of entering a dungeon, exploring, fighting monsters, earning experience and finding treasures. It takes what exists and packs it with plenty of content and customisation, with party members, their character classes and monster infused sealbooks being a big part of its central gameplay based on this engaging senior genre.
Up to five party members may come on an adventure with Fried, and all of them are female. Fried doesn’t seem to have the capabilities to fight, rather, using his knowledge of monsters to instruct the ladies on how to tackle any type of evil dweller wanting to put Fried and his team in the grave. Enemies are not visible in dungeons, rather, the game takes the random battles approach as you move from grid to grid. Dungeon Travelers 2‘s battle rate starts of low, allowing you to explore early dungeons, but further on it can become a bit on the high side. I did feel they were interrupting me too often when I wanted to travel to a section to grab a missing chest on a return journey. There is always the sealbook that allows you to reduce enemy encounters, once developed, to counter this issue. On the flip side, high encounters means that grinding is easy to come by if you hit a point where you need it (and you will…) Initially, dungeons are short and basic in design, but later on they begin to grow by throwing in multiple floors, invisible walls, teleports, traps and hidden passageways that the game adds shops to remove the tedious trip of escaping to home base for supplies and returning to explore the dungeon all over again. You can also save at anytime, as long as you are not in battle, which is extremely handy for huge dungeons, where you can spend hours uncovering every nook and cranny, finding multiple dead ends until the one true path is revealed.
Ideally, before leaving the Royal Library, your party should be balanced and healed ready for the harsh adventure ahead. All the game’s management is done at this safe zone, such as switching party members, class changes, identifying unknown equipment, buying items and creating sealbooks from defeated monsters. The Sealbook becomes an interesting mechanic the more you spend time with the game. As you defeat enemies, you get the chance to make sealbooks from them that can be equipped to Fried or party members for a statistic modification – physical attack up, increased enemy encounters, evasion increase and even healing benefits, you get the idea – but sealbooks also allow you to see enemy properties, making it easy to abuse their weaknesses. Special grand sealbooks can offer boosts across the party, but with only Fried being able to equip these, you have to decide what boost is more important to you. With so many battles to be fought, you will gain a stack of duplicate books, but later in the game, these can be used with a special NPC who will randomly pop up in dungeons to offer the ability to combine the sealbook with gear to give them new abilities.
The earlier sections of Dungeon Travelers 2 can be annoying, since you need to play a few hours before you get full party of five (or buy the DLC characters if you want five from the get go). It makes the first part of the game slow, since with less characters in the team, it’s easy to end up accidentally getting wiped out from the random enemy encounters. After a full party is gained, the game gets into its flow with all its mechanics. Building the party is key, I found that a variety of classes in my team made it easier to be able to adapt to battle situations. Each character has a starting class – Fighter, Magic, Speiler (skills with random effects), Maid (support) – which can be looked at as the basic form before growth.
Party members can eventually be changed into other classes once they hit a certain level. Intermediate classes are at lv 15 and advanced at lv 30. Taking Melvy the magic user as an example. Once Melvy hits lv 15, she can change into either a Priestess, an Enchantress and a Sorceress, giving the option to turn her focus into an area of attack dealer, skills that enchant weapons or be a dedicated healer. She can then change again at 30 and take on either the Witch, Sage, Magical Princess or Bishop class that will either enforce the previous pathway or switch it in an all new way with access to different skills while keeping all her existing skills. The class system can let you create hybrid, original or focus builds. There is quite a lot to this system that makes it a worthy investment to find out what each skill is good at and build your party around these additional power gains that come from advance classes. This character building is one of the game’s best features, due to its flexibility.
Compared to some of the other dungeon crawlers I’ve played from Japan, this one seems to offer a smart way to let players build their characters close to how they would like to play the game, no matter if you are an aggressor or a calculated de-buffer, you can build these characters around you. Also, you can change classes at the Royal Library, so if one wasn’t quite up your street, you can reverse the change and go down a different route, gaining back the skill points to put in the newly unlocked skills in the new class. The only thing I can see that would be a negative to some is that you do not create these characters, so they will never be your named creations, but apart from that, the game gives you the power to customise a good amount of your team.
I mentioned earlier that five team members can enter the party, which is a nice amount, but with 16 characters to eventually select from, it’s best to find your favourite style with them, as unused characters do not level up, so for them to catch up to speed requires grinding. In fact, for some of the later dungeons, where bosses take a jump up from the standard enemies, I spent evenings grinding my way for more levels, better gear and to improve my skills to tackle them. The challenge of the boss battles can also come from wrongly used party members, so respeccing them or grinding another character can sometimes offer an easier way out, while giving you more options down the line when a party isn’t working out for you in specific dungeon. Grinding for levels and items has kind of been a thing for these types of games, as discovering new weapons or improving the team adds to the excitement, but it can still feel a drag when grinding for too long, but at least you can get sealbooks to use from the grind.
Which leads to the last main feature of Dungeon Travelers 2, all those battles that await you, and yes, you will be fighting for hours upon hours as the dungeons get larger. The combat is fairly simple to get the gist of, and thankfully, it’s also rather snappy, as its first-person view with 2D static enemy artwork and quick animations for each skill or item use means that every round is over as fast as you can press the button. There is some underlining strategy involved with the game’s combat, since the game uses the front and back row setup for party formations. The front row take most of the hits and are usually filled with melee fighters, while the back row is great for range users to stay safe, since only range weapon can hit them, while their attacks can hit any enemy. Casting magic can take a few turns, depending on how powerful it is, and so the caster is best protected, as there is a calculated chance that a hit might interrupt their concentration and lose the spell before it finishes being summoned. All this comes together to make for some challenging – while not exactly original in design – battles that require thought, most likely after heading head first into a boss and getting destroyed or dying by one of those bastard foes that surprise with an instant-kill attack. These were all wake up calls for me to get prepared with my planning or grinding.
There is nothing going on in Dungeon Travelers 2 that pushes the Vita’s hardware. The dungeon environments are 3D, and while featuring unique palettes for each location, their basic design leaves a distinct lack of variety and emptiness. Everything else features a clean, sharp, anime style that has become a sort of the standard for a lot of Japanese titles on the platform. On the audio side, there is only a Japanese voice track available, but the translation seems solid and certainly supplies some giggles, while the soundtrack is also a good listen on the ears during all this dungeon travelling. There is then the fan-service, the hyper-sexualised nature of the game does feel forced most of the time. I don’t often mind this silly inclusion in some games, as they are usually slotted in scenes that could make sense, but in Dungeon Travelers 2, they feel there for the sake of being there. Anyone who doesn’t like scantily clad anime ladies will be instantly put in a comatose state, as we are talking revealing outfits, erotic positioning and other shots that playing this game in public will give you a funny look or two.
While the fan service approach does appeal to some, it’s a shame that a lot of people will be missing out on Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal due to the game’s sexual design. Removing the fan service reveals a game with a clever class and skill system built on top of solid, classic dungeon crawling with challenging gameplay that will absorb away a good 70-120 hours of your life. This game really only applies to the anime crowd, as it’s not for everyone, but if you are one of those few who don’t mind some questionable young ladies popping tits and ass in the air after each boss fight, then you will find a good, humorous dungeon crawler in Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal.