Sony’s PlayStation Vita gets an unfair rap. It seems that any time Sony makes an announcement, people feel the need to comment that Sony forgot the powerhouse portable. That there are simply no games for the system coming out to play. Yet, there always seems to be a stream of new and interesting titles being released for the system. Anyone who considers themselves a fan of high quality indie games and quirky Japanese fare should consider the Vita the destination platform. To help make this point, Atlus and Aquaplus have added to the deluge of quality games for the device with Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal.
This adventure stars Fried (pronounced “Freed”), a glorified librarian who took up the mantle to research monsters, his borderline obsession. Though he is new to the job, he quickly finds himself in charge of a monster suppression with former classmates Melvy and Alisia. Tasked with defeating, capturing, and sealing monsters away with a specialized spell book, the team soon finds themselves embroiled with stopping a plot to resurrect an ancient dark god whose soul was sealed in a shrine hundreds of years in the past.
During this quest, Fried and company will also find themselves battling and then befriending new teammates, using captured monsters to create stat buffing seal books, looting upgraded equipment and more. In the earlier dungeons, it can be quite formulaic. Enter dungeon, defeat non-monster who then becomes teammate, defeat boss monster, next dungeon. After a bit, though, this formula is tweaked a bit and the story becomes more interesting.
It helps that the story is written with an eye toward humor. Some of the jokes do crash and burn, though. Seriously, does the world need yet another “arrow to the knee” reference in 2015? Dungeon Travelers 2 believes it does. It does utilize one of my personal favorite conceits, breaking the fourth wall. Well, it doesn’t so much as break the forth wall than drive a herd of rhinoceroses enjoying a bath salts binge straight towards it.
Fortunately, the wall is not load bearing, and the dialogue benefits. During these segues, the developer themselves are the most common topic. When the game takes a moment to explain a system, there will often be a comment along the lines of “yeah, it’s different from the first game. It sucked there, so we changed it here.”
As the more astute and observant can guess, the majority of game play in Dungeon Travelers 2 is, gasp, traveling dungeons. This takes place in the first person perspective, with the up on the direction pad going forward, down to turn around, and left and right turn turn in the respective direction. It works here and is not frustrating, even to someone who prefers dungeon crawling in the third person. (That would be me.) Moving through the areas is fast paced, and the encounter rate is low, encouraging exploration. The way developer Aquaplus handled this is pleasing. They seemed to realize that we want to search, not fight the same battles over again.
There will come times, though, when grinding must occur to be able to progress. Starting on about the fifth area, if the player is not putting in some grinding time to stay up to snuff, they run the risk of screen burn in with the game over screen. To speed up this process, the player can equip a seal book to increase the rate of enemy encounters. Using this in conjunction with Melvy’s spell power makes leveling up a breeze. Just make sure to put some points into Conette’s skills to keep the magic points up.
There is one issue with the first person dungeon crawling, though: the auto-map. While it handily marks locations showing what has been checked, where traps were triggered, and so on, it is difficult to find the correct level of zoom in later dungeons. The first level is too close to be useful, the second is too far out to be seen clearly on the Vita’s screen, and the third option is “off.” While it is not a game breaker, it can cause planning routes to be more of a hassle than it should be. One option I would have suggested is giving the player the ability to use the touch screen to plan a path through the maze-like dungeons. Then the player can follow the trail marked or diverge if they find something else interesting.
When it comes to the battle system, there is not much here that stands out. The fights also take place in the first person, similar to older Dragon Quest titles, with static portraits on the monsters. There is some animation as actions occur, but not much to be note worthy. As to be expected, the creatures have different strengths and weaknesses against the magical elements. Anyone who has ever played a Japanese RPG can guess what those elements are. Still, while not being creative, they do prove to be challenging. Using the basic physical attack for each character over and over is going to lead to a bad time. The delay in casting magic, due to the spell caster needing to chant, and the pure strength of some of the foes lend the impetus to the need of proper planning.
Much has been made with fans and observers of JRPGs that this one received some censoring on its way to western audiences. Specifically, four images were altered or removed to receive an “M” rating. I do not know what was removed, and I have not braved the internet to find out, but I can say that this one is still risque. The monsters are typically fruit or anime women in various states of undress. When defeating a boss, the player is treated to an almost nude bondage shot of the defeated foe. Now, I am no prude. This stuff being in a game doesn’t bother me in the least. But I played the majority of this one while traveling. Fortunately, when on the plane, I had a window seat both ways with a friend next to me. I also pulled this out between sets at the PAX evening concerts thinking that I was in a dungeon area that would be relatively innocuous. I was wrong, and was treated to a somewhat uncomfortable conversation with a cute young lady next to me about what I was playing and no, really, it is for a review. So, while I am anti-censorship, I am grateful for the omissions in this case.
While by no means perfect, Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal shows why the Vita is still a viable platform. Featuring great anime style character art and a fun, humorous story, fans of Japanese gaming will be pleased. With challenging dungeons and tough monsters to out think and defeat, fans of difficult games will also be pleased. With the exception of some mortifying situations, time traveling the dungeons here is well spent.