This ain’t no Etrian Odyssey.
Sometimes, it happens that I play multiple games in a row of a specific genre or style. And it actually can help me to approach a new game, since I’ll have a point of comparison. I mean, Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold was a game I had a lot of time to play, and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I’m still firing it up to keep advancing through dungeons, fighting monsters, getting stronger. Even the story's characters, somewhat-standard archetypes for a dungeon-crawler, were filled with cheeky and personal dialogue that made them feel unique, characters I didn’t mind spending so much time with and weren't simple one-dimensional personality stand-ins.
And then I started Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library & The Monster Seal. And I flashed back to the animé of my teenage years, complete with clichés and one-liners amidst wholly forgettable faces. And boobs. And butts. It’s like walking into an animé-themed shop filled with only body pillows adorned with semi-naked animé girls.
DT2 is a (wait for it!) dungeon-crawler with a team of up to five characters at once, fighting anything that moves and subduing the mutants who have been causing the Kingdom of Romulea (the whole planet) so much trouble in the post-demon-infested world. But the shrines that have been holding the Demon God at bay for hundreds of years, each one hidden in a different dungeon or forest, have been damaged or broken, threatening the safety of the entire planet. Typical, really.
Enter the strongest, most powerful, most trustworthy agents for good the Earth can muster: three kids that just graduated from academy, and any stragglers they find along the way. Oh, and everybody that’s not your main protagonist is a pretty girl with a one-dimensional personality who just loves to hang around you. Yup, it’s a harem animé. So who better to save the world than the generally clueless recent grads and anyone they find to recruit, all of whom are girls, hanging around the one thing with a penis?
The clueless one is the warrior grunt, the one who's in love with you is a wizard (and something else that's revealed very early on), there’s one that’s sleepy and one that’s obsessive. (I may have been an avid watcher of Tenchi Muyo! in my youth, but at least those characters had some kind of reason for existing other than “this protagonist needs to be surrounded by animé women”.) I could claim misogyny here, and I’m strongly tempted, but “utterly, mind-numbingly boring” is a better descriptor.
By and large the game approaches dungeon-crawling in a standard manner for the genre—enter into a location and open doors, unlock further passageways the deeper in you go, and fight monsters. Battles are structured just like Etrian Odyssey and Persona Q, with the option of up to five characters taking part at once. The battles are difficult to begin with, but your team will level up fairly often, so you’ll be ready for anything quickly enough. Battles act by character order instead of an entire team’s actions determined at once, with the order at the right of the screen for strategic purposes. Fights and grinding are where a game like this should shine, as it’s the bread-and-butter gameplay of the experience, but it feels cheaply pieced together here.
The difficulty curve goes up fine until the introduction of enemy insta-kills, which I thought was just a coincidence the first time it happened (my team member was already low on health), but it turns out, no… there are spells that simply kill you. Not a delayed kill, like a turn timer or anything, just “oh look at that, you’re dead." Up until that point the fights were basic and expected fare, with selecting to attack or use spells, defend, use an item, and run. But no, sometimes a teammate will just… die. I guess otherwise it would be too easy, so instead of rebalancing, the dev team just threw that in.
Thankfully, you can purchase revival items from the shop. Not thankfully, those items are damn expensive, and you need to get to spelunking to find enough shitty armor and weaponry and items (restorative items can be purchased, but armor and weapons are found and “identified” for a fee) to sell to the shop presumably for scrap to afford them. But it’s the minor annoyances of having to navigate through so many menus to do everything that actually grinds my gears the most. After identifying your items, you have to navigate through five menu screens (and leaving the shop entirely) to try on your items to see if any are better, equip them, then five screens BACK to sell the remaining crap. That’s, at minimum, 10 menus to wade through to identify an item, see if it’s worth anything, then sell it for whatever it is worth. To my estimation, that’s roughly seven menus too many.
Then there’s the Sealbook system, where for every nine of an enemy you annihilate, you can create a new book either to equip to your team or to fuse the book with an item for a boost in its stats. The books themselves are easy to generate within the library (since the “home base” here is a library). But first you'll probably need to empty your pockets, since you can only carry 30 items and each book takes a space in your inventory, without the possibility of simply sending it into storage. Item management and menu navigation are just irritating here.
There is also a Pokémon-esque "evolution" system of reaching a certain level point and deciding to change the class of your characters to learn more powerful abilities, but it’s largely ignorable. I found myself reusing the same spells over and over again, mostly the same strategies repeatedly as well, and it works nearly every time. (The only times it didn’t were when I was interrupted by those afore-mentioned “insta-kill” attacks and had to spend one character’s turn rummaging through the items for a revival item.) Fighting occurs often and it's usually not too difficult after the first few hours, so it gets incredibly tedious. Even with a plethora of enemy types—many of which are modeled after sentient fruit like the “Banaggplant” which gave me a chuckle and often provide weak recovery items—grinding is boring. And I usually love grinding dungeons.
The one perk is that this game is easy enough on the eyes. There isn’t any actual animation for anything, since stationary shots are used to tell the story, fight battles, and the only “movement” is your environment moving past with every step. But this is going to be different from player to player, since the designs are not just of characters in armor or whatever, but the whole thing is packed with gratuitous panty shots and the sexualization of everything and everyone. Other games do this too (Senran Kagura comes to mind), but at least those characters had witty writing to back them up, unlike this damp washcloth of uninteresting stereotypes. They’re all voice-acted though, I’ll give them that much.
Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe after playing the fantastic and fun Etrian Odyssey 2 Untold so recently, my judgment is cloudy as to what the “norm” for this genre is. But when only one character has any interesting depth at all (an orphan child lost in the maze who appears to have been interesting, then was quickly shut back down with a proverbial RPG lobotomy), and the rest of the cast has me forcing my hands to hold my Vita and not put it down in favor of my 3DS, I just start getting angry. I like games that are fun to play, not that remind me that I could be playing something else so, so much better.