Anime JRPG Review

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal – Review

Sting Entertainment’s Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal has, with some difficulty, finally landed on PC via Johren. The game is a traditional dungeon crawling RPG in the same vein as Etrian Odyssey or Demon Gaze, and the question of course is does Dungeon Travelers 2 have anything to recommend it over its contemporaries? Well, I happen to think it does and I’d be glad to tell you all about it.

Those seeking novelty will unfortunately not find much in Dungeon Travelers 2. The game sticks rigidly to DRPG conventions and for veterans of the genre that could definitely lead to burnout, especially considering the game’s intimidating length. If you include the substantial post-game content you’re easily looking at 100+ hours, the main story alone will take you somewhere in the area of 50-60 hours to clear. It’s lucky then that Dungeon Travelers 2 executes its core gameplay loop excellently.

Dungeon Travelers 2 - Combat

Combat

Players are tasked with exploring a series of dungeons, leveling, and gearing up along the way to prepare for a boss fight (or fights) before moving on to the next dungeon. Sounds pretty typical, and it certainly is, but the meat here is in the specifics. Dungeon Travelers 2’s combat is carefully and intricately balanced, players and enemies have a broad range of tools to turn battles in their favor, and there is bountiful room for experimentation. There’s no fluff in the combat. Stats, equipment, status effects, turn order, it all matters (which you’d think would be the rule rather than an exception in RPGs but ho-hum) and if you’re not careful the tide will turn against you fast. 

An anecdote now to illustrate my point. Early on in my playthrough I was having a lot of trouble. My magic user was on level but her damage output was severely lacking, leaving me without a big hitter against enemies with high physical resistances. In my ignorance I had equipped her with a mace, thinking that whilst there was no significant target for her in a battle I could leverage the much higher standard attack damage output versus a staff. How much difference could the extra 8 INT provided by a staff really make? Turns out it’s the difference between languishing midway through a dungeon for hours and breezing through as though it were the tutorial.

I’ve been spoiled by RPGs where a minor stat buff is largely irrelevant outside of min-maxing. It’s a mistake I didn’t make again. Once I’d worked out that Dungeon Travelers 2 was going to require a bit more thoughtfulness I started having a blast mixing up my party and gear, building against particularly annoying enemies, and throwing myself at bosses with unorthodox setups that every now and then actually worked out somehow.

Classes and Equipment

A strong point for the game in terms of party building and experimentation is the class system. There are 5 base classes, 11 intermediate classes, and 16 advanced classes. As you progress deeper into the game your options expand and you specialize further. I loved the Maid class tree, it has access to a range of abilities that keep your team healed, your TP up, and your damage output high. I ran the majority of the game with 2 maid classes in my back line and whilst I’m pretty sure it wasn’t the most efficient path, it was definitely a lot of fun. 

There is also the Spieler class tree, which is difficult to place in standard RPG classes. The Spieler begins as a high-speed attacker with some fun luck-based skills that spice combat up a bit. It then branches out into a more advanced speed and crit-focused attacker, a summoner class, and a class best described as the goofy one that lets you turn enemies into food. To be honest, I never found a consistent setup for a Spieler class that couldn’t be better replaced by a simpler and more consistent fighter, but when I could make use of one it was probably the most enjoyable of the class trees.

I struggle to find much to complain about regarding combat. However, there are some issues in the surrounding systems that might frustrate you. The first and most present of these issues is the RNG of loot drops. As I’ve said, equipment is important, and so it can be frustrating when you roll through 30 battles without a useful drop. Equipment comes with a variety of random modifiers and a +X scaling system that is fun when you’re picking up interesting gear to fit into your builds and squeeze out as much power as you can. Where this system is less fun is when you’ve been in need of a nice new shield for four hours and your frontline fighter is getting blasted to bits. It’s a tough one, for the most part the system works fine and drops come frequently enough to keep you appropriately geared, but there were low points of my playthrough where I was frustrated and struggling at the mercy of RNG.

Dungeon Travelers 2 - Dungeon

Dungeons

Another issue is the dungeons. They’re terribly bland. Dungeon design is pretty important to a dungeon crawler I reckon, and so it’s really noticeable and disappointing when they are largely indistinct and repetitive. Some thin layers of complexity are added on as you progress, but nothing that meaningfully changes your approach to navigation. It becomes more apparent the deeper in you get, that the move to the next dungeon is little more than a new blank map to work through with the difficulty scaled up.

It’s not just a gameplay issue, the dungeons are visually and thematically homogenous. The enemies you’re facing change but they never feel like they belong to their specific dungeon. So long as you adjust the stats to fit the area level you could switch the enemies around at random and it wouldn’t make a difference. It all feels haphazardly thrown together, which is frustrating when compared to the careful attention paid to balancing out the combat and progression systems. Dungeon Travelers 2 lacks a strong visual identity in general, and the dungeons are a unique low point that only serve to highlight that flaw.

Dungeon Travelers 2 - Shop

Sound

Where Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal stands out a little better is in the audio department. The game’s soundtrack is surprisingly well done, and it elevates the overall light-hearted and quirky tone of the whole affair. Whilst you won’t be humming these tunes for years to come, as you might for Final Fantasy’s assortment of bangers, they’ll certainly carry you through the game’s considerable runtime. A highlight for me was the shop theme, it’s punchy, it’s a little goofy, and it effectively communicates the tone the game wants to set. Returning to the shop after a brutal dungeon run felt like a treat, a nice way to unwind that spurs you on to keep going.

One somewhat off-key element in the music is the game’s battle themes. It’s quite difficult to put together a good battle track for a combat system that is as visually dry as in Dungeon Travelers 2. The battle themes here are fast, heavy, and high-impact, but they’re set against static images and flat menus. It isn’t a significant mark against the game, but the dissonance does stand out when you’re in a battle of attrition against a particularly tough JPEG and the music is blasting off ahead of you.

The game features full voice acting in cutscenes and many side events, the only unvoiced sections I noticed were minor interactions and repeatable dialogues. The VA work on display is nothing incredible, there are no stand-out performances but that isn’t an expectation I would have for a DRPG. The presence of such a substantial voice track and cast actually sets Dungeons Travelers 2 apart from many of its contemporaries, so if that is something that appeals to you it may well give it the edge. I could have done without a lot of the moaning and squealing in the game’s racier moments, but for some of you reading that may well be a selling point. Regardless, headphones are advised if you do not live alone or are concerned about what the neighbors might think. 

Dungeon Travelers 2 - Narrative

Narrative

You may be wondering at this point, what about the story? The characters? The vibes? And I must tell you this is where Dungeon Travelers 2 begins to really unravel. It isn’t that the writing here is bad, the problem is you’ve seen it all before and you’ve probably seen it done better. We are trawling through the tropes here, we’re fighting the demon lord king god in a fantasy world with a party of cute girls. And oh boy is the cast stacked: we’ve got the quiet shy one, the earnest dumb one, the lazy sweet-tooth one, the naive rich one, the – you get the idea.

Now, it may sound like I’m down on the story and characters here. I don’t bring up the generic nature of it all as an inherent negative though, just as information to those of you who would be (understandably) put off by it. It is without a doubt the weakest part of the game. That said, for me, it kinda works. Tropes reoccur for a reason. It all depends on what you’re trying to do, and I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to expect Dungeon Travelers 2 to tell a novel and engaging story replete with well-developed characters. The gameplay is the centerpiece here, that’s where all the effort went and it’s where the real enjoyment is. The tropey story and cast keep things light and breezy, and if you’re not completely worn down by them they can be pretty fun.

The characters may be copied and pasted from generic anime canon, but they’re fun to be around. The script is well written enough that their interjections and skits were welcome moments of levity between gameplay rather than a distraction from it. The size of the cast is helpful too, these tropes are a little less draining when there are sixteen of them bouncing off each other. I enjoyed it for what it was, I think a lot of people would probably enjoy it, but your mileage may vary wildly.

Whilst we’re on tropes, Dungeon Travelers 2 has something of a reputation as a fanservice-heavy game. That reputation isn’t unfair, but might be a bit overblown. Boobs and butts abound here to be sure, but it’s overall tame compared to more infamous franchises. This will be an issue of personal taste for the most part. The presence of fanservice in the game doesn’t undermine the gameplay or narrative, but if it’s something you’re uncomfortable with it could be a dealbreaker. On the flip side, if you’re seeking a fanservice game à la Senran Kagura, this isn’t that. It isn’t the primary focus of the game, and if you’re expecting consistent titillation I think you’ll be disappointed. For my part, I just wanted to get back to the fighting. Please ma’am keep your clothes on, there are battles yet to be won.

PC Port

Before I wrap this up, there are some things to note about the PC port specifically. First, I played the game on a 1440p monitor and I was pleasantly surprised by how well the art assets scaled up. There is no significant loss in quality of primary assets caused by the huge leap in resolution, some background assets fared a little worse though with muddy textures and rather grim rough edges. Mouse controls are fast and responsive, and as a result navigating menus is quite a bit better here than in the Vita release. The default keyboard configuration is bizarre but, mercifully, fully rebindable.

Dungeon Travelers 2’s western release was censored to comply with ratings standards, with four images being altered from the Japanese release. This censorship remains in the Johren release, which may be a disappointment to fans hoping for a definitive uncut release. The impact this will have on your enjoyment of Dungeon Travelers 2 is a matter of preference. My enjoyment was unaffected, but I understand the preference some have for playing games as they were originally intended by the development team.

The specifics of the censored images are: three images depicting young-looking characters that are edited to be less revealing, and one image depicting a woman covered in cream and performing mock fellatio that is edited to remove said mock fellatio. The images featuring young characters are certainly uncomfortable in their uncensored form, but if you’ve watched a decent amount of anime or played similar fanservice-heavy games then you’ve probably seen worse. The image of the cream-covered woman is comically excessive to the point where it may be fair to say the game loses something in its absence, for me it calls to mind the horrors (or wonders if you’re so inclined) of To Love Ru.

There is an issue with distribution that is worth noting if you plan on picking up the game. Whilst it isn’t an inherent issue of the game and I won’t consider it in my final score, the DRM used by Johren limits you to three unique installations and activations. After activation you can play offline without restriction so it isn’t as restrictive as some DRM implementations, but it is worth noting. For most players this won’t be an issue but make sure you bear it in mind if you have multiple devices you want to play across. Shiravune have mentioned that they hope to bring Dungeon Travelers 2 to alternate platforms in the future, but this is not confirmed at the time of writing.

Verdict

So, should you give Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal a shot? My general verdict is yes, but if you’re looking for a deep narrative to get immersed in and complex characters to explore, you’d be better off looking almost anywhere else. If you’re looking to ogle some anime girls with a thin veneer of deniability in the presence of gameplay, there are better options for you. But, if you’re looking for a well-crafted and engaging DRPG set against a serviceably fun story and world, with a panty shot thrown in every few hours to keep things fresh, congratulations. You are the target audience, Dungeon Travelers 2 sees you, it understands you, you are loved, you are valid. Go wild.

DUNGEON TRAVELERS 2: THE ROYAL LIBRARY & THE MONSTER SEAL IS RECOMMENDED

Platforms: PC (Johren)

If you are looking for another dungeon-crawling RPG, you may be interested in Gears of Dragoon: Fragments of a New Era.

Thank you to Daniel’s Wallet for providing a PC review copy of Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal.

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