Those who have a PS Vita know how great of a system it is, and that’s mainly due to the huge amount of JRPGs on the device. Amazingly, many of those roleplaying games are oldschool dungeon crawlers – a subgenre that has experienced a bit of a renaissance as of late. With games like Elminage, Unchained Blades, Demon Gaze, Class of Heroes, and Mind Zero, it’s a great device to own if you grew up playing Wizardry and still crave that 1980’s style of hardcore dungeoneering.
The latest PS Vita gridder to squeeze out of Japan and land on our shores is Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal, a game that is probably known more for provocatively dressed young maidens than its actual gameplay. Which is a shame, since while the fan service is nice, the RPG depth it hides beneath of it is a much bigger story. Unfortunately, you’re unlikely to hear about that thanks to the controversy surrounding both its images of restrained women and the uproar over the censoring it received.
Make no mistake, the game does have quite a bit of fan service – considering every enemy boss is female and gets “tied-up” by the main hero upon being defeated. As if that wasn’t enough, the outfits of some of the game’s character classes are quite revealing as well. Between the skimpy little string bra the Berserker wears and the fact that the assassin has no chest protector at all, it should be said that if this game is played by a sensitive new-age gamer, they may suffer cardiac arrest only a few minutes in.
With that out of the way, let’s get to what actually matters: The gameplay.
Dungeon Travelers 2 starts rather slowly, with a very awkward balance that almost turned me completely off from the game. Enemies would one-shot my characters with simple level one spells, the skills given to my starting classes were pathetically weak, and the dungeons themselves were one floor snooze-fests that didn’t excite me in the least. Initially, I was ready to write the game off as being a waste of time and write a scathing review of it that put it maybe a rung or two above Criminal Girls on the disappointment ladder. Thankfully, I stuck it out…and I’m glad I did.
While Dungeon Travelers may start slow, once it heats up it really starts to shine. After you recruit a full five-character party and get your first class change at level 15, much of what held the game back up to that point is no longer an issue. The one-shot spells you fell victim to aren’t such a big deal since you have enough resistance and hit points to shrug them off, the skill system gets a much needed boost of life thanks to the newly opened job system, and beginning with chapter 5’s tower, the dungeons become multi-tiered affairs that are suitably large and trap-laden.
Of course, getting to that point requires a good 10 hours or so, which may act as a barrier for those who aren’t patient enough to wait for the actual game to arrive.
First off, the combat is some of the best you’ll ever find in a Japanese gridder. Borrowing a class change system similar to Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2 for those who played it on an emulator), your characters are given two opportunities to change jobs, once at level 15 and another time at level 30. The jobs they can access are unique to their starting class and exist as branching pathways that contain several different jobs which focus on different aspects of the base class.
A good example of this is the Fighter, which starts off at level 1 as a basic damage dealer that gets a couple simple attacks and weapon-specific passive boosts as their only skills. Upon hitting 15, the Fighter can opt to be either a Berserker or a Paladin. The Berserker can enter a rage, increase their attack power, and gain resistance-increasing passives.
The Paladin, on the other hand, can attract enemy attention and absorb blows for the party as well as cast basic healing magic. At level 30, this division splits even further, with Paladins gaining access to the angelic Valkyrie class and Berserkers getting the melee-focused Dark Lord class. Oh, and there’s also the Samurai class that either one can opt to be that exists somewhere in the middle and has access to more “Exotic” skills and weaponry.
What’s great about the class change system is that you don’t lose the skills of your older class and can still pump a few skill points into them even after jumping to another job. This lets you create some truly original and specialized builds that add quite a bit of replayability to the game. This is especially true for spell-casters, which get a bonus set of classes that make them more complex than their melee-centric kin. One of their final level 30 jobs is the aptly-titled “Magical Princess” – a class that basically turns you into Sailor Moon and allows you to transform into a battle mode that gives you more damage options than simply flinging fireballs.
Overall, the class system is pure, unfiltered genius and is the absolute best I’ve ever seen in a gridder. If you’re like me and you’re very big on min/max’ing and character building, Dungeon Travelers 2 is an instant-buy and you should probably exit out of this review and immediately buy it. The variety available to the player is much more than you’ll even find in Demon Gaze, which up until now was the deepest gridder I’ve played on a portable system.
There’s more to the system than just class changes though, and as you progress further into the game you’ll see why when you find the crafting sheep.
While I was a bit miffed that you have to randomly bump into the crafting NPC while exploring dungeons, I was nonetheless still impressed with the actual mechanic itself. Since your main character can gather monster souls and turn them into stat-boosting “books”, you will have an excess of these tomes as the game goes on.
What the crafting system does is allow you to combine your gear with these books and imbue them with special abilities that you normally couldn’t get from item drops or chests. Though it’s annoying having to track down the NPC that opens the crafting menu for you, it’s a very powerful feature that can be exploited to great effect.
All of these facets of Dungeon Traveler’s gameplay add up to make the combat extraordinarily complex and keep it fresh through what will probably be a 70-100 hour long quest. Throw in the bonus dungeons that open up through the optional sidequest system and you can guarantee that you’ll be playing this game far longer than even most non-portable RPGs.
As fun as combat is, there are some slight downsides.
Chief among those are the instant-kill moves that enemies tend to use. As you progress forward, you’ll find that a fair percentage of enemies have access to the “murder” ability and can instantly knock out a party member if they fail their roll. While this is fair since a few player classes do have access to similar abilities, it doesn’t make it any less annoying. This hurts more than it should since the only item that can resurrect party members is incredibly expensive (until late in the game when gold is plentiful) and spells that can prevent it or bring back the dead on their own are out of reach through most of the story.
Another annoyance is the high encounter rate. While it helps with the experience grinding, it feels like a ball and chain attached to your leg when you’re running through highly complex mazes full of one way doors and open pits. What’s worse is that this high encounter rate is probably why the distance between levels is so high. Of course, they’re essentially copying Wizardry by doing this, so I can’t fault them too much for being authentic.
So what about the familiar Japanese RPG lunacy? The same king of weirdness that made Demon Gaze so lovable? That too has made an appearance here, with some of the funniest situations I’ve seen in the gridder genre. Now, naturally, these types of games aren’t known for endearing characters or engaging plotlines, but Dungeon Travelers 2 manages to squeeze it in anyway.
Each of the characters you recruit (sorry, no character creation) has a personality and will frequently chime in during key events in the game’s story. They’ll also banter back and forth when you do certain unexpected things in combat, such as letting someone stay cursed with an affliction or swapping a one-handed weapon out for a two-hander. The personalities of the characters really shine in these moments and add a layer of care for your party members than what you’d expect of a simple gridder.
The humor is a constant in the game too, with Skyrim jokes and characters discussing how magic users belong to an illuminati-esque group that controls the world. Yes, I’m serious. You’ll either love that sort of thing or despise it. As for me, I found it hilarious.
What this all comes down to is how you love your step movement Wizardry clones. If you like the humor and the anime-inspired art, you’ll love Dungeon Travelers 2. Sure, it’s lighthearted and sexy, but it’s also deep and very complex. It’s a full-featured gridder that, in many ways, sits atop the genre. While it lacks the polish that Demon Gaze did, it has considerably more depth. The only question you have to ask yourself is whether you want to trade in some polish and difficulty balancing for an extra helping of complexity. If so, you won’t regret pulling that Vita out again.
Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal was reviewed on the PS Vita using a code provided by Atlus. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.
The Verdict 8.5
- Excellent class/job system
- Suitably deep combat
- Large, complex dungeons
- Great art & music
- High encounter rate
- Crafting NPC appears randomly
- Slow leveling
- Frequent one-shot kills