Atlus and Dungeon Travellers 2

So, Atlus has recently brought over a new game called “Dungeon Travelers 2”, which from every review I’ve read (see this one for an example) is essentially a good dungeon crawler type adventure with some interesting twists around combat that is pretty much shameless in its use of fanservice. I think the summary from the linked review sums it up nicely:

Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal is a perfectly fun dungeon crawler. It doesn’t do anything exceptional, but it does everything it needs to do. The game is utterly shameless, and it’s likely to drive away potential players due to the amount of almost-not-M-rated content that it contains. If that doesn’t scare you off, DT2 is one of the more accessible dungeon crawlers on the Vita because it balances difficulty and ease of play. The heavy sexual content is the only barrier, so it’s unfortunate that’s it’s rather significant, especially given some of the subject matter.

Now, I’ve actually just ordered this game (by the time this post goes up, I’ll have it and might have played it; yes, I actually am getting a bit ahead in my blog posting!). I was originally just browsing, saw “Lost Dimension” and thought that the traitor mechanism was a wonderful addition — I mean, it’s like the Battlestar Galactica board game in an RPG! — and took a look through the recommended or related games, saw Dungeon Travelers 2, sought out a review (it might have been that one for all I remember) and saw pretty much that line: you’ll like the game if you don’t mind the fanservice. And since I don’t mind the fanservice, I bought it.

So, most of the reviews essentially say that the fanservice is a bit much, but that if you like that sort of thing then it’d be a good purchase for you. However, Philip Kolar at Polygon has a different opinion. Before the game even reached North American shores, he decided to essentially argue that a company like Atlus — known for localizing many different kinds of Japanese games, including games like the Persona and Shadow Hearts series’ — were doing something wrong to localize this and a few other games:

But for as many refreshing, charming and obscure Japanese titles as Atlus brings to our shores, every once in a while it tosses out something a bit more disturbing. For example, there was last year’s Conception 2: Children of the Seven Stars, a role-playing game where the main character creates allies to fight for him by “classmating” with various, lightly-clothed female co-stars.

Or there’s 2013’s Dragon’s Crown, a beautifully hand-drawn and relatively deep action-RPG dragged down by its obsession with sexualizing every woman character in the game, playable or not.

I have Conception 2, as readers of this blog know, and I think it’s in no way a bad thing to have brought that game over, even though I think the fanservice is a bit juvenile. I actually don’t own Dragon’s Crown, but that’s mostly because I don’t think the gameplay appeals to me. I’m not sure why it would be “disturbing” that Atlus would bring these over, but Kollar will helpfully, in the next section, explain the problem:

Let’s start with the cast: Dungeon Travelers 2 is that rare RPG that mostly stars women. 16 of them to be precise. Cool! However, like Conception 2, the main character is a dude, and the women are primarily presented as things for him to interact with; they’re in the game to be rescued, fought or used in combat rather than acting on their own.

I’m not sure why that’s a problem. I suppose we could fix it by not letting the MC be a character, or making it a female character, but this isn’t any kind of reason to find the localization of the game disturbing. Kollar might find the game itself at least annoying because of that, but that doesn’t mean that the game’s existence itself or it being localized is a problem, right?

And above all else, they’re in the game to be ogled. As you can see in the trailer below, Dungeon Travelers 2 presents its hand-drawn female leads in various states of undress and, beyond that, in full-on sexual situations.

Yep, that’s the over-the-top fanservice. We all agree on that, so, again, what does this mean to the existence of the game or it being brought over to North America? Some of the images had to be censored to keep an “M” rating — instead of “AO” — as he mentions but, again, the fanservice is over-the-top. We all agree on that. To be absolutely clear, even without playing it myself, from all I’ve heard I agree that the fanservice is over-the-top and that a number of people will not like the game and will not play the game and ought not play the game for that reason. Having that heavy fanservice will cost them customers. But what does that have to do with whether Atlus should have localized the game … or the other two, for that matter?

I don’t think sex is bad. I don’t think games about sex are bad. If anything, I think there should be more games featuring sex! What distresses me about Dungeon Travelers 2 is the way it treats sexuality — i.e. if you do well and progress in the game, you’re rewarded with naughty images.

The goal is not to get one of the game’s many women to fight alongside you or to forge a deep relationship with them; it’s to eventually see them naked and probably doing something demeaning. Game design shouldn’t be a matter of putting Pokémon into the bodies of playmates in order to appeal to gaming’s worst instincts. That’s lazy and insulting.

It is, for all intents and purposes, a porn game, or the closest you can get to a porn game on the PlayStation Vita.

So, it’s that it’s the closest you can get to a porn game, but it being about sex isn’t the problem, but instead of how it shows sex? But, even given that, what does that have to do with Conception 2, which is indeed about getting them to fight alongside you and forge a deep relationship with them (even though the stories are, admittedly, shallow)? What does that have to with Dragon’s Crown, which doesn’t have that mechanism or view of sex at all (as far as I know)?

So we have to return to the beginning: it’s that it promotes what he feels is sexualization that’s the problem. Which, you know, might be true; I’d have to play it to see if the game encourages you to think of them as people as well. I suspect it does, but not to the extent of, say, the Personas (but, really, nothing does that). But then the question is: given that this is a good game outside of the fanservice, and that it seems to at least have a market in Japan and might have one here, again is that enough to say that Atlus shouldn’t have brought it over to North America?

Of course there’s one important way that Dungeon Travelers 2 sets itself apart from a game like The Witcher or even something like Dragon’s Crown: the age of its subjects. While we can’t say for sure what Dungeon Travelers 2’s protagonists are aged, many of them sure look disturbingly young.

Sure, this might be something that someone might find disturbing, and even something that might mean that the game ought not be localized, as it might be promoting underage sexual activity, which is not something to promote. I completely believe that the publishers and the game developers are doing the old “whistle in the air” in response to those questions by saying that, hey, they don’t say how old they are, so you can’t assume that they’re young as opposed to, say, young-looking. You can easily think that they’re all over 18 and avoid the squicky feeling. Again, it’d be a valid complaint to say that they should have made them look more obviously older … but, then, since Kollar specifically excludes Dragon’s Crown, at least, from this, how does he justify lumping it into the same criticisms? And how does he justify making this the big complaint when the entire rest of the article is about the sexualization, not the age of those sexualized? This starts to look like him finding a valid complaint and using it to try to justify his less valid arguments.

If the game really does promote pedophilia, then maybe it shouldn’t have been brought over. But that has no relation to the rest of his points, and can be challenged with the argument that the girls seem to be too, er, well-developed to actually be that young.

It’s not one issue here, it’s a combination of all of this wrapped into one very sleazy package. It’s the promotional materials winking at the fact that the players are supposed to find sexual representations of young women, uncomfortably young women, irresistible.

Or, rather, appealing. Which, um, isn’t untrue and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I wouldn’t have bought this game or Conception 2 if I hadn’t found the gameplay appealing, and I think that’s true of most of the people who buy it. The fanservice is at best a bonus; in my case it’s more something that I don’t mind and might even enjoy if the gameplay works for me. There are a number of people for whom it would be a major issue, and they will not play this game. And that’s fine, and Atlus and the creating company have to consider that when considering whether it’s worth bringing it over. So why shouldn’t they bring it over?

Above all else, I believe that Atlus specifically not only can but should do better. This is a publisher that, at its best, creates experiences that have incredibly enriched peoples’ lives.

In 2012, I praised Persona 4 Golden as a rare game that focuses on empathy and forging a connection between characters above all else. It’s a game I’ve played multiple times through and adored every time. This year, the same year that Dungeon Travelers 2 is released in North America, a Persona 4 sequel is finally coming. One of these things is sure not like the other.

So? If Atlus wanted to stay as a company that brings over deep RPGs, with interesting characters and deep stories, then that would be fine, and I’d still love them for it. But that’s not what they want to do. They want to localize obscure Japanese games that they think the market in North America will enjoy. That means bringing over the deep, enriching games like the Personas and the shallower games like Conception II. This means that if they think that they can make money bringing over a game like Dungeon Travelers 2, they will. Doing that doesn’t stop then from doing the deeper games too, so what’s the problem? Does every single game that everyone publishes have to provide the deep experiences that you think games ought to have?

“When it comes down to it, we still have our roots as a niche publisher,” Atlus PR manager John Hardin told me. “It’s a good thing — there’s a new resurgence in Japanese-developed games, and we want as many of them to come over as possible.”

I will always be thankful that Atlus exists and continues bringing things to North America that we’d never see otherwise. However, I think it’s time the publisher starts giving much more serious consideration to what it brings over, instead of just thinking about what they can sell.

Why? If the game will sell, and they’re trying to bring more and even more diverse Japanese-developed games over, why in the world shouldn’t they bring over any game that they think will sell? Why is it the case that they should exclude games and potentially even genres of games that would sell because you personally don’t like them? Why should people who wouldn’t be bothered by the fanservice not get a localization of a game that they’d like, at least, to play, and maybe even love to play because you don’t like it and are bothered by it?

Ultimately, this is a prime example of how the concerns of those interested in Social Justice can oppose the interests of people who just want to play games. Kollar here is essentially taking the standard line that a game that they find problematic or disturbing has no right to exist. It’s not like they can even claim that the problem is that most games are like this because if we look at what Atlus has done for the Vita even if we put Dragon’s Crown and Conception 2 in the list of “games that aren’t right” we still have Lost Dimension, Persona 4 Golden and Persona 4: Dancing All Night that presumably aren’t on that list. It’s not like it’ll be the case that Atlus doing this will mean that they won’t localize those deep and interesting RPGs. They are doing Persona 5 already, as Kollar notes. So what Kollar is saying wrt these games is that he dislikes the fanservice in the games and he wouldn’t want to play them, so no one else should be able to play them either. Alternatively, he thinks that these games are so harmful that allowing anyone to play them will derail the cause of Social Justice, despite them still being a minority of the available games. Alternatively, he thinks that he can shame Atlus into only publishing what he wants to see despite how many other gamers want to see other games, too. Really, I’m out of options at this point. His article doesn’t insist that Dungeon Travelers 2 promotes pedophilia and so is bad for that reason, and instead links it to other games when all they have in common is over-the-top fanservice, so I think it reasonable to suggest that that’s his real problem with the game … but he’s never shown why that, in and of itself, is good enough reason for Atlus to think about the games they’re publishing beyond “There’s a market for that”.

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