The first Danganronpa offered a unique experience that no other game has quite mimicked. It was a bizarre yet gripping visual novel filled with twists and turns plus a surprising amount of interactivity. Surely the sequel could surpass the original, right? Wrong, but it’s far from being a failure. Though no Uncharted 2 or Mass Effect 2, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair delivers more of what I loved about the original: a colorful cast of characters, riveting story, and out-of-this world mysteries. A few troublesome moments with the mini-games and puzzles, spots of bad pacing, and the feeling of “been there, done that” prevent this sequel from staking its claim as the best in the series. There are spots where I could sense Spike Chunsoft perhaps tried a bit too hard to top themselves. The end product is still a satisfying sequel worthy of recommending as a solid PlayStation Vita title.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair stars a new class of students from the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school with a reputation that rivals the best universities in the world. While top colleges produce graduates who are the best in a handful of fields, Hope’s Peak Academy exclusively recruits students who are the best in just about every skill imaginable. Some excel at traditional academic majors, like the “Ultimate Musician” and “Ultimate Nurse,” and others specialize in more eclectic talents, like the “Ultimate Imposter” and the “Ultimate Gamer.” You assume the role of Hajime Hinata, a Hope’s Peak student unable to remember what his expertise is. The new students begin their high school career with a field trip to the tropical Jabberwock Island. The world seems to be a sunny-filled paradise until the evil robotic teddy bear Monokuma shows up to begin the same killing game from Danganronpa 1. The rules are simple: one cannot leave the island unless he or she commits a murder and is found not guilty during the subsequent class trial, in which case, everybody else is executed. If the class convicts the guilty student, only the murderer dies.
This time around, the murder motives don’t explore the faults in human nature as much and exist more so to move the story forward. A few parts of Danganronpa 2’s plot were so wacky that things reached a level of absurdity befitting of writers perilously attempting to outdo the original. While the intrigue picked up quicker than in Danganronpa 1, I found the game to hit a lull during the later middle chapters. Fortunately, the section from the last class trial to the ending is an enthralling time with a character death that left me a little teary eyed and an interesting, acceptable finale that drags a tad too long. Danganronpa’s signature humor helps lighten the mood through most of the game but the last several hours feature the series’ darkest moments.
As before, each chapter is split into two sections: “Daily Life” followed by “Deadly Life.” “Daily Life” is spent exploring new areas of Jabberwock Island and socializing one-on-one with classmates. Spending time with a particular classmate earns you Hope Fragments, which can be used to purchase perks called Skills which help you during the Class Trials. Also, completing a social link with a character will earn you a gift item and an exclusive Skill. When a murder takes place, the chapter shifts to “Deadly Life.” During this time, alongside the remaining students, you search for evidence and clues related to the crime. Next, the Class Trial will begin and there lies Danganronpa’s 2 core gameplay. Hajime and his classmates discuss all facets of the murder during Nonstop Debates: each person’s alibi, how the murder occurred, and any information that may point to the culprit. It’s your job as Hajime to use evidence, clues, and testimonies as “Truth Bullets” to shoot down contradictions that can appear as orange text or, new to Danganronpa 2, agree with statements written in blue. Typically, using logic grants you the correct answer with ease, but a few instances took greater, questionable leaps that had me throwing my Vita (onto my soft bed) in frustration.
Class Trials also see the return of other mini-games that push Hajime to revelations about the case. Hangman’s Gambit returns in a more complicated form. You must combine two of the same letter to form a bigger one in order to select it while also making sure different letters moving across the screen don’t collide with each other. The hectic nature of the new Hangman’s Gambit can’t be called an improvement necessarily, especially when I knew the answer and just wanted to move on. The Bullet Time Battle rhythm mini-game makes a comeback as Panic Talk Action when a classmate strongly disagrees. One improvement is in Closing Argument, where the main character summarizes the details of the case to ensnare the suspect. In Danganronpa 1, comic book pages were displayed with certain panels missing. Thumbnails of panels were displayed below for you to fill in the missing spots and there were often extra ones thrown in the mix. The old Closing Argument led to moments of ambiguity and could make completing it a chore. Two major changes to the Closing Argument in Danganronpa 2 make it significantly less confusing. Placing the cursor over each panel, missing panel, or panel thumbnail choices now displays descriptive text that provides hints to what is being displayed or should go there. And instead of all the possible panel thumbnails shown altogether, only a set of four or five are displayed at a time. Once all the correct choices are selected in a set, the extras disappear and a new set is presented.
Two completely new mini-games are added in Danganronpa 2: Cross Swords and Logic Dive. In Cross Swords, Hajime must slice through statements made by a specific classmate before finally using a Truth Bullet as a Truth Sword to cut a possible contradiction written in orange text. Overall, it feels like a fusion of Nonstop Debates mixed with Panic Talk Action. Logic Dive debuts the franchise’s first action mini-game and brings a nice break to the mostly puzzle-focused mini-game roster. It takes place in Hajime’s mind; he rides through obstacle-filled half-pipes and tubes on a virtual snowboard while choosing the correct answer paths.
Once again, the unconventional character designs by Komatsuzaki Rui truly helps define each character’s distinct personality, making them easy to identify by appearance. The “2.5D Motion Graphics” style, in which characters and some objects appear as 2D flat images in 3D environments, maintains the series’ eerie vibe even with the new sunny island setting. Masafumi Takada returns to score Danganronpa 2 and produces new arrangements on previous themes along with new tracks like the jammin’ Miss Monomi’s Practice Lesson. NIS America continues the tradition of including both the English-dubbed and original Japanese dialogue tracks. In the visual and audio departments, Danganronpa 2 maintains the first game’s high bar of quality.
Overall, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair met expectations but missed accomplishing enough to surpass its predecessor. Arguably, Spike Chunsoft faced a difficult task following up on the fresh visual novel experience that Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc provided. Perhaps there isn’t enough they can do to drastically improve on the Danganronpa formula, which could be why the next game in the series, Absolute Despair Girl: Danganronpa Another Episode, is a third-person action game. Nonetheless, fans will find Danganronpa 2 to be another enjoyable tale of hope and despair.