PlayStation Vita 2

Review: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Last spring, a game reached the west that nobody ever anticipated. Against all odds, the adventure game Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc turned many a head and earned itself some very positive reviews. Mere months later, its sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair too has graced the US. But with both seemingly identical story concepts and gameplay mechanics to the first game, is the second truly a class worth taking, or is it about time to drop out of Hope’s Peak Academy‽

Story: 9.5/10

20140224110805“Seriously, memory loss plots are so old hat nowadays… Only a total hack would wait until the end of the story to reveal a clichéd twist like that!”

As the story of Dangan Island: Huge Panic at the Heart Throbbing School Trip Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair begins, the player steps into the shoes of the new protagonist, Hajime Hinata, as he prepares for his first day of school at Hope’s Peak Academy. It is a school that accepts only the best of the best, and somehow Hajime got in. Having nowhere to go but up, Hajime walks down the path towards the academy entrance. It is about now that the game appears to start crashing. As Hajime continues his self-narration, he becomes tongue-tied and everything fades to black. Seemingly going in and out of consciousness, Hajime hurries towards the door and bursts into the classroom. As he does, 15 of his fellow freshmen welcome him in confused yet open arms. Just as things are almost beginning to make sense, everyone’s “squeezably soft” teacher jumps out from behind her desk. Ears of a bunny, body of plush, “Magical Miracle Girl” Usami introduces herself. Without so much as a roll call, she announces that everyone is going on a class trip. With that, the walls of the classroom wall over like stacked cards to reveal a deserted island getaway.

Praising the word of friendship, Usami explains that they are all going to enjoy a “heart-throbbing” school trip. Believing that they might’ve found paradise, the still confused classmates begin enjoying their time at the beach in peace. As darkness falls on the island however, a familiar face arrives. Monokuma, the Headmaster of Hope’s Peak Academy and sadistic mastermind extraordinaire of the previous game, returns with his menacing chuckle. Not unlike the previous game, Monokuma reveals that all of the students are stranded on the island. Even worse than that, the only way off is by killing a fellow student.

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The game revolves around motives to kill, murder, and trials. But in a sense it is about friendship. As things go south, some friends cling together while others denounce bonds in favor of survival. As with Sayaka Maizono and Kyoko Kirigiri in the original game, there are other students looking to make friends in Danganronpa 2. First and foremost is the aforementioned Nagito Komaeda. From the get go he is at Hajime side and has his back. His views on hope and despair make him a one of the most interesting characters featured in the series thus far. Interestingly enough he is the Ultimate Lucky Student, a title shared with the previous protagonist Makoto Naegi. Two other characters to note include Chiaki Nanami the Ultimate Gamer and unexpectedly Byakuya Togami the Ultimate Affluent Progeny. While Chiaki’s mysterious aura alone makes her interesting not unlike Kyoko did before her, Byakuya’s newly improved attitude makes him the perfect role as team leader. Each of the 16 students bring something interesting to the table. Somehow the development team found a way to make this cast even more interesting than the last.

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Once a murder does transpire, the game becomes a whodunit during which everyone becomes a suspect. As veteran players may recall, even the characters closest to the main character could in fact be the culprit. In an age of predictable detective shows and cop dramas, Danganronpa 2 does a surprising job at surpassing what’s to be expected from the genre. Each of the plethora of clues found creates new twists and even motives. Even the simplest of clues such as a hot iron or a plugged in lamp could be the key to finding who the real killer is.

Players of the previous game may notice the similarities between Danganronpa 2 and its recently released predecessor. It doesn’t try to pretend that is isn’t similar. In fact, Monokuma, and in an unintentionally instance Nagito Komaeda, break the fourth wall as the plot unravels. Between these self-parodying jokes however, the story is compelling enough to make the game feel more than simply a repeated saturday morning cartoon. In fact, with Monokuma revealing his secrets earlier in the game, he is able to start answering questions asked during the previous game concerning the fate of the outside world. With knowing half the story already, the new twists and turns make the game play out like the second act of a single play.

Design: 9.5/10

20140224115936 “A ranch with no moo-cows is like a soccer team without any balls.”

When it comes to the visuals of Danganronpa, its one part pop art, one part anime. With Danganronpa 2 being an adventure game, many of the visuals are in fact 2 dimensional. The anime-style inspiration make it appear as if the characters and the environment around them could bursts to life like a full animation; not unlike Danganronpa the Animation. With the aspects of pop art splashed in, the game feels eerie yet happy through its entirety. As before, even the blood splashed on the walls and floor are a bright pink.

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Dangan Island is mostly composed of a collection 2D images to create the illusion of 3D environments. This includes backgrounds, midgrounds, foregrounds, characters, and everything else that literally pops-up within the world. In some areas of the island however, the game does use a true 3D environment. One of the minor drawbacks of the previous game was the rather lackluster design of the 3D environments. The hallways of Hope’s Peak Academy were surprisingly sparse of anything interesting considering how good the rest of the game looked. In Danganronpa 2 however, the 3D environments too are colorful canvases of pop art.

Gameplay: 9.5/10

20140224115332“In RPG video games… it is common for secret areas to be underground.”

This is the game that proves that adventure games still have a place in the industry. Even following the original game, Danganronpa 2 leaves the player asking for more; much more. The game as a whole is a collection of different gameplay mechanics that somehow blend together perfectly. When combined, these keep the game constantly fresh. The first of which is a simple visual novel. As the game begins the first several minutes are made up of only CG scenes, character art, and text. Shortly after arriving on the island, the game switches gears to a point and click adventure. This is used while investigating items around the island and even clues around a corpse. This is also the most common way to communicate with the various protagonists and antagonists throughout the game. When needing to get from place to place however, things turn into a first-person dungeon crawl.

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Once the trial begins, things become a smorgasbord of mini-games. These include Nonstop Debate, Rebuttal Showdown, and Hangman’s Gambit. While some of the modes were featured Monokuma’s past trials, others are brand new additions. Even those that are returning however aren’t exactly as they were before. The new updates increase tension as they go on and are challenging even to veteran players. In fact even if it wasn’t for the plot alone, it is highly recommended that players experience the first game before even attempting the second. The difficulty seems to be cranked way up this time around, as if assuming this is the player’s second dance with the devil under the pale moonlight.

Sound: 9.5/10

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“Hey… Can you hear me…?”

Buy one Danganronpa soundtrack, get one free. Many of the now iconic themes from the original come back for the sequel. In fact a rather large portion of the soundtrack will sound familiar. In this case however, it is a good thing. These are surprisingly nostalgic and bring back painful memories of the previous game. The new tracks are able to perfectly compliment the pre-existing tunes. The medley of highs and lows ensure that each scene is as memorable as the last.

Unsurprisingly, Danganronpa 2 offers a dual-audio option. That way players may enjoy the game in the spoken language of their choice. Luckily, some of the talents from the previous game such as the one behind Byakuya have returned to reprise their roles as well as the roles of others. This is one rare occurrence in which there is no clear-cut “definitive” audio track between English and Japanese. Considering the emotional rollercoaster that each character has unwillingly strapped in for, the voice actors and actresses are able to perfectly match each mood the characters might have.

Overall: 9.5/10

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“Quick, someone get a plagiarist because I feel like I’ve heard this story before!”

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair isn’t just one of the better adventure games, it is one of the best games released this year. With the PS Vita’s library still starved for content, this is a diamond in the rough. The story fits perfectly with the original and fills in the blacks left by the last game’s ending. With great story, visuals, gameplay, and music, there is nothing not to love here. HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair 9.5 moo-cows out of 10.

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