Are you ready for the triumphant return of Dungeon Travelers?

Aquaplus’ Dungeon Travelers series is absolutely fantastic. Combining solid, mechanically rich dungeon crawling with in-depth characterisation, relationship-building elements, an enjoyable plot with well-crafted lore and some mildly spicy lewds just to sweeten the deal a little, they are excellent games that anyone into the “gridder” RPG subgenre owes it to themselves to dive into.

Up until recently, in the west our only option to enjoy the series has been Dungeon Travelers 2 for PlayStation Vita; besides this, there are two previously unlocalised other games in the series. These include the original Dungeon Travelers, which is not directly related to Dungeon Travelers 2, and Dungeon Travelers 2-2 which, as the name suggests, is a direct follow-up to Dungeon Travelers 2. Got all that? Dungeon Travelers.

Dungeon Travelers 2
Dungeon Travelers 2

As of June 9, 2023, both Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2 will be available on PC — though sadly not via Steam, as the games fell foul of Valve’s notoriously opaque content review process a while back. They’ll be on the Johren digital distribution platform for $19.99 each — you can preorder 2 here and 2-2 here.

Dungeon Travelers originated as a minigame in a fandisc known as Manaka de Ikuno!! for the popular visual novel To Heart 2, where characters from the visual novel appeared as playable characters and enemies in a traditional dungeon crawler.

The original release, known as Final Dragon Chronicle: Guilty Requiem, was considerably expanded to create the original Dungeon Travelers, and the series developed from there. Dungeon Travelers 2 and its sequel, as previously noted, aren’t directly connected to either the original Dungeon Travelers or To Heart 2 — though the art style is consistent between them, and there’s even DLC for Dungeon Travelers 2 to add the To Heart 2 cast as playable characters. Meanwhile, Dungeon Travelers 2-2 features DLC that pays homage to Aquaplus’ other properties such as Utawarerumono and White Album.

Dungeon Travelers 2
Dungeon Travelers 2

Ahead of the release of Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2 on PC, new publisher Shiravune has provided us with some commentary from series director Tsutomu Washimi, who leads development at Aquaplus’ Tokyo Studio. He’s worked on many of the company’s releases over the years, including the aforementioned To Heart 2 and Utawarerumono, as well as fighting game Aquapazza.

“I had always played a lot of dungeon crawlers, and many members of the development team were big fans of the genre, too,” Washimi explains. “We also thought fans would like to see the cast of To Heart 2 wearing fantasy costumes in an isekai setting.”

It’s worth noting that while the isekai concept is one of the most saturated fields in Japanese popular media today, back on the original release of To Heart 2’s fandisc and the original Dungeon Travelers, it still felt relatively fresh. Sword Art Online had been around for a while, but it would be a few more years before everyone and his dog in Japanese light novels, manga and anime production decided they wanted to send some incompetent hero into another world.

Dungeon Travelers 2

“There was actually some opposition to the idea at first,” continues Washimi, “because designing all the monsters and the different costumes for each character class was going to be a big undertaking. But once we got started on development, everybody got invested in the challenge of tackling a new gameplay genre and setting, and we ended up completing development much faster than I’d expected — and with a better game.”

Indeed, one delightful thing about the Dungeon Travelers series is that each individual character has a number of different classes that they are able to take on, and each class has its own unique costume. Not only that, but abilities can be mixed and matched between classes within certain limitations, and levels reset at various boundaries, allowing you to redistribute your skill points. This aspect of the Dungeon Travelers games is one of the key reasons they’re considered to be so mechanically solid — and why the series has been so positively received since its inception.

“[Dungeon Travelers: To Heart 2 in Another World] was the biggest spinoff project we’d done for the series, so it garnered a lot of attention prior to release,” explains Washimi. “To our surprise, not only did To Heart 2 fans enjoy it even more than we’d hoped, but dungeon crawler fans did, too. Players praised how underneath its cute, light-hearted aesthetic, the game was actually tough, and had all the appeal of a hardcore dungeon crawler.

Dungeon Travelers 2-2
Dungeon Travelers 2-2

“I like to think that since we had fans of the genre working on the game, we were able to cut to the core of what makes dungeon crawlers so much fun,” he continues. “The whole team was very honoured by the high praise for the game.”

Dungeon Travelers: To Heart 2 in Another World is set for release in the west for the first time later this year; Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2, as standalone titles, are coming first.

“As the first game was well received by players beyond the To Heart 2 fandom, we began planning for a sequel that would appeal even more to fans of dungeon crawlers,” Washimi explains, referring to Dungeon Travelers 2 specifically. “To do so, we decided that the sequel would focus on an all-new cast of characters. Although this was now a new IP, we still founded it on Aquaplus’ strengths — attractive character designs, stories and worldbuilding — and built on them with even more refined dungeon crawling gameplay mechanics. As with the previous title, the sequel was a huge hit with fans.”

Dungeon Travelers 2-2
Dungeon Travelers 2-2

Dungeon Travelers 2-2, as a direct sequel rather than an all-new affair, was in a difficult situation. How do you take the same cast, who are massively powerful by the end of the previous game, and justify kicking them all back down to level 1 for the follow-up?

“From the beginning of development, we decided to start the story of Dungeon Travelers 2-2 with Fried, the main character, and company falling to the darkness,” Washimi explains. “By the time you reach the final boss of Dungeon Travelers 2, naturally your characters are high-level and powerful. But in order to start a sequel from that position, we needed a premise where the characters would have to start over from zero, for gameplay’s sake.

“That’s why we came up with the idea of the cast being defeated and falling to the darkness,” he goes on. “That way, it made sense for the characters to need to level up all over again, and justified Fried needing to rescue each of the heroines again one by one.”

Dungeon Travelers 2-2
Dungeon Travelers 2-2

Essentially, the game acts as a sort of “what if?” scenario, assuming that the finale of Dungeon Travelers 2 didn’t quite unfold as planned; protagonist Fried ends up losing his memory and is turned into a much younger man, and the heroines of the previous game are scattered to the four winds. Not only that, when you encounter them in the new game, most of them have been corrupted by the darkness in some way.

“One interesting thing is that, with this premise, we were able to adjust the order in which the characters join your party,” Washimi says. “When we looked into which characters players tended to use in their parties in DT2, we noticed that most people stick to the initial characters that join your team at the beginning of the game — the main reason being that those are the characters they’ve levelled up the longest, have grown fond of and find easy to use. Then, an additional gulf develops in levels between them and characters who join later on, and most players end up sticking with their party from the first half forever.

“That’s why, for Dungeon Travelers 2-2, we jumbled up the order in which you encounter characters,” he adds. “We thought it would give players of Dungeon Travelers 2 a chance to try out some party members they might never have used much, and also help to make the story feel fresh. The development team has a fondness for the game’s whole cast. Not only are the character designs great, but all the heroines have unique costumes for each and every class, so we really hope that players will check out all the various illustrations. We also hope that Dungeon Travelers 2-2 will encourage players to discover each character’s distinct appeal, and form all kinds of different party combinations.”

Dungeon Travelers 2
Dungeon Travelers 2

One thing worth noting here is that Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2 feature a “sub event” system whereby the various characters in the cast will interact with you in a variety of ways according to how you have been playing. This includes not only the progression of the relationship between protagonist Fried and the heroine in question, but also things like how often you’ve put them in your main party, how often you let them get hit, whether you’ve let their spellcasting be interrupted by monster attacks and suchlike. In all, there are hundreds of these events to discover in total, which already provides considerable incentive to explore the entire cast in detail.

The beautiful art, wonderful character designs and cheeky fanservice helps with all this too, of course.

“The illustrations for the first Dungeon Travelers game were handled not only by our internal artists at Aquaplus, but as a full staff effort,” Washimi explains. “For Dungeon Travelers 2, we wanted to step things up even further, so we had many external artists helping out on the project, too. I don’t know exactly how many illustrations we ended up with off the top of my head, but if we include all the colour variations, we must have over a thousand pieces of art in the series.”

Although the Dungeon Travelers games have a pleasingly consistent art style, not only within their own series but with Aquaplus titles in general, Washimi was keen not to restrict the artists’ creative freedom in their work.

Dungeon Travelers 2-2
Dungeon Travelers 2-2

“I didn’t actually give any special orders,” he notes. “All the artists were very comfortable with the genre, so when it came to the character designs, they fully understood our intentions and work went really smoothly. With the monsters, all I’d say is ‘this general vibe, with these kinds of attributes’ and gave them the freedom to interpret that how they wanted in their design.

“It wouldn’t be any fun if we laid out all these restrictions and all we got back were cliché designs,” he adds. “We trusted in the illustrators’ creativity, which is how we ended up with such richly varied visuals. Though we did have to draw the line occasionally with illustrations that came out a little too risqué!”

That line wasn’t drawn all that often, as veterans of the series will know — though some very minor edits were made to the western Vita release, most notably to a monster girl who was very obviously fellating a ghost, and to a loli-esque character wearing a swimsuit with a zipper that was a little too low to be what one might describe as “decent”.

Dungeon Travelers 2-2
Dungeon Travelers 2-2

Fans will be pleased to note that no further significant changes have been made to the PC versions of Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2, with the main difference being the higher resolution of the new ports.

“You’ll still be able to enjoy the games the same way you did back when they first released,” Washimi reassures us. “Because Dungeon Travelers 2 and 2-2 originally came out on PSP and Vita respectively, those versions did run at a lower resolution. However, the assets were all drawn in a much higher resolution to begin with, so in porting the games to PC, we haven’t needed to upscale the art — just present it in its original glory. We hope you’ll enjoy seeing all the intricacies of the illustrations (fanservice included!) in high definition.”

As a final note, Washimi notes that the future of the Dungeon Travelers series is at least partly up to how well these PC ports are received.

“In order for us to make Dungeon Travelers 3 a reality, please support the Dungeon Travelers series,” he notes.

And we heartily endorse this message. These are fantastic games, and it’s great to not only see Dungeon Travelers 2 get a second chance at the spotlight, but also to see the previously unlocalised titles in the series come west too.

Here’s hoping that this might also lead to physical console releases at some point in the future — but in the meantime, if you want to see more stuff like this, be sure to support these releases when they launch on June 9, 2023.

Preorder Dungeon Travelers 2
Preorder Dungeon Travelers 2-2

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Pete Davison
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