Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal is the second JRPG spin-off of the To Heart series of romantic visual novels. Released last week in North America, it tells the tale of Fried Einhard, a scholar with the rare ability to seal monsters away in books. As it happens, this is very convenient, as an army of evil creatures has recently been unleashed upon the Kingdom of Romulea, and I’ll give you three guesses whose job it is to get rid of them.
Before I begin the review proper, I should probably point out that, although I’m no stranger to the JRPG genre, I was still a little apprehensive about reviewing Dungeon Travelers 2, as I knew very little about it. To make matters worse, when Mitch sent me the download code for the game, his advice was to ‘have fun, but not too much fun’ and ‘don’t get caught playing it in public’. Wondering what on earth I’d just got myself into, I downloaded the game and loaded it up.
After a brief introduction to the game’s setting and characters (main protagonist Fried works at the Royal Library, an institution dedicated to keeping the monster population in check), I found myself in the first dungeon, which is known somewhat paradoxically as the Nameless Cave. It wasn’t long before I met up with two more characters (Melvy and Alisia, Fried’s childhood friends who are now soldiers in an elite unit called The Order), and my battle party began to take shape.
Dungeons are laid out in a grid, similar to the early Zelda and Pokémon games, except that you play from a first-person perspective. When you initially enter a new dungeon, the map is completely blank, and there’s something very satisfying about filling it in as you explore; as you’d expect, they are full to bursting with dangerous enemies, deadly traps and treasure chests.
Combat is turn based, and therefore feels very similar to something like Final Fantasy X. As a Libra (a non-combat class), Fried doesn’t participate in battle directly, and instead issues orders to the other party members; be it to attack, defend, perform a skill or use an item. My first few battles seemed exceptionally tough, but as I began to level up and acquire new gear, things became much more manageable. You can also save at any time when not in combat, which is a real godsend.
All pretty standard JRPG stuff then, but the format proves just as addictive as ever, and is enhanced by the insane amount of customisation options available to you in combat. For a start, you can set your party formation (including members and their position on the battlefield), assign weapons and other equipment, as well as unlock new skills and upgrade existing ones.
Additionally, once they reach a high enough level, you can transform a party member’s class into a more specialised and powerful version; and, if you ever fancy starting over, you can even reset their level. As you progress though the game, you also periodically unlock new features (such as optional quests and the ability to upgrade gear), which keep the game from getting stale.
In fact, my only real criticism of the gameplay is in how it drip feeds tutorials. Although the game does a pretty decent job of describing the various mechanics, I’d often already figured out how something works before its tutorial appeared. Conversely, the game would occasionally give me information that would have been useful to know several hours earlier. It’s only a small issue, but it could have been solved by having a ‘help’ section in the menu, to consult at your own pace.
And so we come to the rather large elephant in the room: fan service. You see, not only are all of Fried’s companions women, but so are many of the game’s monsters, and they are frequently seen in compromising positions (expect to see lots of cleavage and underwear shots). Incidentally, Atlus was forced to censor four images for the Western release, to avoid an Adults Only rating from the ESRB; in most cases, this was due to the young appearance of the monster-girls in question.
Consequently, I wouldn’t describe any of the game’s content that I have seen so far as being particularly controversial, but the one-sidedness of the sexualisation is still difficult to ignore; predictably, Fried – as one of the very, very few male characters in the game – is not sexualised whatsoever, and (due to the first-person perspective) is in fact hardly seen at all.
Although the actual content is questionable at times, the hand drawn artwork is almost anime-like in quality, with detailed characters and backgrounds. Less impressive are the dungeons, which are disappointingly drab and repetitive, and are often comprised of grey or brown walls. Certain dungeons do admittedly look better than others – such as the picturesque Prizren Woods region – but it’s a shame the environments aren’t as consistently striking as the rest of the game’s visuals.
All dialogue in the game is fully voiced, though only in Japanese, and is delivered with personality to spare. I was also pleasantly surprised by the English translation of the text, which is not only extremely well written, but also very funny; just be prepared for a lot of crazy Japanese humour. The music is great too, with a number of fittingly catchy tunes played throughout your adventure.
If you’ve been looking forward to the English-language version of Dungeon Travelers 2, you’re unlikely to be disappointed, as it’s clear a lot of work has been put into the Western localisation. However, even if you’ve never heard of the series before, it can still be an immensely enjoyable JRPG… assuming you don’t have a problem with its copious amount of fan service.
Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal is available now in North America, and will be released in Europe in two months’ time, on 16th October.