Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is an interesting localization because it comes West mere months after its predecessor, a move that shows great confidence in the audience to support the Danganronpa brand. And frankly, it’s well deserved. The idea of a visual novel/adventure game fusing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and 999 with Saw is a winning concept that Spike Chunsoft pulls off in most respects in both games. However, as with the first Danganronpa, its sequel has some fundamental issues that prevent it from reaching the excellence it’s capable of.
The set-up of Danganronpa 2 is extremely similar to the first: sixteen world-class students go to Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school with such impressive standards that the only people admitted are those who are the best at what they do. Some of these students include the “Ultimate Mechanic” Kazuichi, the “Ultimate Yakuza” Fuyuhiko, and the “Ultimate Gamer” Chiaki. You are Hajime Hinata, an otherwise normal boy who wakes up with amnesia and forgets his past as well as what his talent is. Once all of the students get to school, they are taken to an island by a mysterious talking rabbit fairy named Usami for a “field trip” where they are told to relax, enjoy themselves, and get along with each other.
This paradise is short-lived, as a sadistic robot bear named Monokuma (the antagonist/Jigsaw character from the first game) quickly takes over the island and forces the students to kill each other in what is now a “killing trip.” He decrees that any student who kills another student and gets away with it in a “Class Trial” can leave the island – with every other student who failed to figure it out being executed. However, if the murderer is found out during trial, only the murderer is executed. It’s the exact same concept as the first game, only this time it’s on a deserted island instead of in a school, which is fine because the premise continues to be compelling here. Unraveling why the students are on this island and revealing the true identity of the mastermind (or masterminds) controlling Monokuma and Usami remain the draws of the game.
It sounds a little crazy and Japanese-y, but the story is surprisingly approachable and realistic. Mysteries unravel that slowly turn this surreal island nightmare into a believable world, and the dialogue, while sometimes dipping into silly anime territory (lots of hokey “believe in yourself”-style monologues), generally does a good job of realistically conveying how egotistical teenagers would react to being told they have to kill each other. Some characters are a hilarious delight (partially thanks to vastly improved English voice acting) – like the Ultimate Yakuza, Monokuma, and Usami characters – but the cast of students is, overall, somewhat forgettable. The story also falters a bit, as most of the story twists in this game (90% of which are loosely thrown into the last two hours) are contrived and borderline idiotic. Some of them, specifically those involving the student’s past, are interesting and thought-provoking, but the overall game is slightly spoiled by its ending.
The gameplay, likewise, remains similar to its predecessor. Separated into a prologue and six main chapters, the game carries a daily structure where you wake up, do your thing, and go to bed at night. This is far more rigid than Persona or Animal Crossing, as every day substantially moves the plot forward; in that sense, its daily structure is more like a frame for the story than an indication that this is a game you can “live in.” Beyond that, the game is split into Daily Life, Deadly Life, and Class Trial portions.
In your Daily Life (when a chapter begins), you can roam the island, witness preliminary parts of the chapter plot unfold, and hang out with other surviving students in a manner extremely reminiscent of Persona 3 and Persona 4. During this phase, you can spend time with and give presents to them that leads to stat boosts during trials and a little more insight into each character. There are hints of romance as you hang out with some characters, but it’s never anything significant that affects the rest of the game.
When a student finally ends up murdering another student, the game goes into Deadly Life and you explore 2D point-and-click layouts of areas related to the crime and talk to people in a way that completely apes the Ace Attorney games. You enter a scene, you tap on things using the cursor, you hear relevant information to the case (recorded as “truth bullets”), and you move on to the next waypoint. The most substantial change comes with the game’s new island setting, which streamlines investigations by eliminating most exploration (instead of one big school, you’re now dealing with many small locations) and making fast travel between the six main islands a cinch. It makes the game easier, but less exploration made for less fun investigating. On the positive side, the individual murders you’re solving are much more layered and interesting this time, with some minor shock twists that leave you guessing whodunit until the very end.
After investigating all there is to investigate, you are finally called to a courtroom to experience the trial and determine the latest murderer. While the gameplay pattern (lots of Phoenix Wright evidence play, lots of weird mini-games, and lots of exposition) is identical, the actual gameplay has been improved, and, in some cases, completely overhauled (Hangman’s Gambit is now fun and challenging, and the rhythm game from the original has been replaced with an easier, more fun alternative). The new mini-games are also fun, including cyber snowboarding action sequences where you slide down different slopes to answer questions and reveal a new truth in the case, and mini-showdowns with other characters where you debate them by literally slashing their words on the touch screen. The overall trial gameplay isn’t necessarily a revelation, but it manages to improve Danganronpa’s foundation while adding a bit more diversity.
In addition to its 30-hour campaign of murder, Danganronpa is also stuffed with extra content, including new modes, concept art, and a full soundtrack. Magical Miracle Girl Monomi is a third-person action minigame where you play as Usami during story events that happened in-between chapters. Island Mode is a special story mode unlocked after completion of the main game where Monokuma never takes over the island and forces people to kill each other, so all you have to do is relax, hang out with students, and craft items. Lastly, the light novel Danganronpa IF was included and localized, which takes place as an alternate history of the first game. While varying in quality (the Monomi game is somewhat poor and repetitive and the novel is really good), I approve of anything that tries to extend the scope of an already lengthy game.
I like Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. The gameplay has improved, the voice acting is much better, and the individual murder mysteries are excellent. Unfortunately, the game’s greater plot, while good, isn’t quite as good as the first game, and its disjointed island setting pales in comparison to the exploration-friendly Hope’s Peak Academy last time around. Everything is still good, but the only people who should pick this up are those who have already played the first game and like it enough to want more.
PS Vita review code provided by NIS America. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair released on September 2 exclusively for PlayStation Vita. For those of you in Europe, the game releases on September 5.