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Atlus, as a North American publisher, is a treasure.

We wouldn’t be able to play dozens of great Japanese games in English without its localization crew. This ranges from the internally developed Shin Megami Tensei/Persona games to side projects from other developers that it chooses to bring over such as the soon-to-be-released Attack on Titan: Humanity in Chains. Atlus is a great company.

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.

Neither of those examples hold a candle to the most recent disappointingly creepy game to be announced in Atlus’ line-up: Dungeon Travelers 2: The Royal Library and the Monster Seal.

Why this is an issue

That long, unwieldy title makes this sound like just another Japanese role-playing game, maybe even a good one. And the core gameplay, at a glance, holds true to that first impression. It’s a basic dungeon-crawler that seems to have some depth to it in the form of a complicated system of classes and sub-classes, allowing players to build out a unique party of adventurers with their own skills and equipment.

Pretty basic stuff, right? So where does it go wrong?

Where do I begin…

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.

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.

“Phil, maybe you’re overreacting.” I can hear you saying. “That trailer doesn’t show that much. Maybe the full game isn’t too bad!”

I envy your innocence, theoretical friend. Unfortunately, it’s going to waste. As VG 24/7 reports, Atlus actually had to make “minor edits” to the game in order to avoid an “adults only” rating from the ESRB. These changes, the publisher says, were only to four images in the game.

While it hasn’t been confirmed which four images those are, I’ve seen some suggestions floating around that I honestly don’t even want to link to, given their incredible graphic nature.

Don’t worry, though. Atlus says these edits were approved by developer Aquaplus and understands exactly why you might be concerned:

“We are very aware of what impact censorship can have on import titles; we are confident that the changes we made to the images in Dungeon Travelers 2 were the least invasive possible to still be eligible for a release in the west.”

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.

If there’s any doubt left that women in Dungeon Travelers 2 exist only to be stared at, one need only look at the game’s freshly-announced pre-order bonus: a 16-month calendar of “The Ladies of Dungeon Travelers 2.” The example shots from the calendar show the women stretched out, staring out at the viewer with big eyes, wearing loose-fitting clothing or, in some shots, no clothing at all. In one image, a green-haired girl is licking an ice cream cone suggestively.

Before anyone starts in about how people only complain about this stuff when Japanese developers do it: Nah, it’s just as bad with Western devs. In fact, one of them still owes fans a replacement calendar of guy butts.

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.

I’m not the only one who’s noticed this, either. Even NeoGAF, a forum community that’s notoriously obsessed with Japanese games — the precise audience a game like Dungeon Travelers 2 would be targeting — has banned discussion on it.

“Our research has shown us that there are many more than just four objectionable images in the game,” a moderator writes. “It’s very sad that we’ve had to take this action with a couple of games in the past, but there are certain things we just don’t want to be represented here, and sexual suggestion and representation of underage girls are among them.”

I reached out to Atlus to ask about the issue of age and was told that the game doesn’t reveal the ages of the characters in dialogue or stats menus. In other words, it’s left intentionally vague. The suggestion, however, is clear.

We expect more

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.

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.

“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.

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