Review: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was one of this year’s surprise success stories. Though it had gained a cult following online through fan translations, there was never any real guarantee it’d do well with an official release in the West.
It easily outpaced publisher NIS America’s expectations, and within days of the first game’s release, a localisation of the second game was already announced. It was clear they’d been working on it for months prior to the announcement, so NISA’s confidence in the franchise could’ve become a big issue for them, but playing Danganronpa 2, it’s easy to see why they’re so invested in this franchise.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Developed by Spike Chunsoft
Published by NIS America
Release date: September 2nd, 2014 (NA) September 5th, 2014 (EU)
Trigger Happy Havoc started off with an interesting premise, a group of students, all “Ultimates” within a given field (with labels such as Ultimate Gambler, Ultimate Idol and so on) are selected to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, but upon arriving at the school, they immediately fall unconscious and find themselves locked inside the school with no apparent means of escape. They are tasked by the insane Monokuma, a bear plushie, to carry out a murder without being caught by any of the other students if they wish to escape. Class trials are held shortly after a body is discovered, and the students must frantically discover who the killer was. If the killer is caught, they are executed and everyone else continues to live on within the school. If the wrong person is accused, everyone but the killer is executed, and the killer gets to leave the school.
Goodbye Despair is structurally much the same, shifting the school setting of the first game to the tropical paradise of Jabberwock Island. The main character, Hajime Hinata, awakens to find himself trapped with 15 other students on a bizarre school trip that initially tasks them all with trying to get along as friends, but quickly takes a turn for the worse when Monokuma appears and traps everyone in a similar scenario to that of the first game.
I’m bringing up the first game so much here because, for a while, I was scared that Danganronpa 2 was just going to be a retread of that game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, the first game was excellent, but Trigger Happy Havoc eventually became something fiercely original, and I was worried that creative energy may have diminished with this sequel. Thankfully, my fears were put to rest, as DR2 takes its plot in some incredible directions. It’s strictly for people who have played the first entry though, as certain details won’t make an ounce of sense to newcomers, but for fans of the first, DR2’s plot is so well-executed, and takes so many interesting turns that I feel it managed to outpace its predecessor, boasting one of my favourite endings in recent memory.
Spike Chunsoft thankfully recognises how easy it would’ve been for them to retread the first game’s mechanics, and while the core is still very similar, they’ve made a few changes that affect the overall experience in a fair few ways. Navigation is now no longer entirely in first person, as moving between locations is now a side scrolling affair. This is likely to garner a mixed reception, but it ultimately makes navigating between areas much snappier, and fast travel options mitigate any potential issues many may have with this system. DR2 also contains a new levelling system, as you’ll gain experience by moving around, talking, and investigating. Each level up increases your maximum amount of skill points, which let you equip a variety of passive skills to aid you in the trials. The acquisition of skills has also been changed for the better. In the first game, all skills were unlocked through socialising with other students. Here, every time you increase your relationship with anyone, you’ll earn a hope fragment which you can use to purchase skills. You’ll still get the best skills through maxing out your relationships, but it’s now easier to build up a decent base of skills at the start, as there was previously no way of knowing what types of skills you’d get from people in the first game.
The trials themselves have seen some fairly large edits, being the biggest part of the games. Trials see you trying to weed out killers within the group of students, all while spotting flaws within their testimonies and presenting evidence in an attempt to work out how exactly the murders played out. In Danganronpa, it’s not just a matter of picking dialogue options or anything like that, as you’ll largely be playing minigames to work your way through trials. Spotting flaws in what the other students are saying takes the form of a shooter where you need to find weak points and fire “truth bullets” (evidence gathered during investigations) that contradict their inaccuracies. Other minigames see you using a sword to cut through arguments, snowboarding to work through questions in your character’s mind, playing a rhythm game when your opponent gets frantic, and assembling comic strips to lay out how the murder played out.
The trials are a huge highlight. They’re fun, well-written (aided by what might be NISA’s best localisation work to date), and engaging throughout. Each trial typically lasts around two or so hours, but those hours pass like minutes. The new minigames are initially fairly tricky to get the hang of, partially due to tutorials that don’t work as well as they should, but once I got into the swing of things, I started having a great time.
Danganronpa 2 is a game that excels because it recognises what worked in an already interesting game and enhances it, tinkering with the formula in so many interesting ways and presenting some of the most interesting cases in the franchise. It’s funny, it’s smart, it’s sad, and it’s gripping all at once. The game starts so similarly to its predecessor, but by the end firmly establishes its own identity. It all rushes to a conclusion that has me incredibly excited to see what comes next for this franchise. It’s my favourite game released this year so far, and I don’t expect it to be topped. Danganronpa 2 is outstanding, and Vita owners who aren’t trying this series are missing out on likely the best reason to own the system.