Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was released earlier this year and received high praise from various critics including myself. While popular titles generally are given sequels, English speaking audiences were able to benefit from the fact that both the first game and its sequel were already available in Japan at the time, and now seven months later Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has been released for fans to enjoy. Does this sequel manage to be unique enough to set itself apart from its predecessor while also maintaining the same level of quality? That is the question.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair starts eerily similar to the way that the first game did, with sixteen “Ultimate” students being invited to Hope’s Peak Academy only for all sixteen of them to pass out once they enter the school grounds. However when they awaken, it is revealed that all of them have been transported to a tropical island chain known as Jabberwock Island where they are greeted by a white rabbit named Usami who informs them that they aren’t in danger but the only way to get off the island is to become great friends with one another by collecting Hope Fragments.
Despite sounding like the polar opposite of a Danganronpa game, it isn’t long before the sinister black and white bear Monokuma appears, silences Usami and changes the rules of the island. Now the only way for someone to escape the island is to escape one of their fellow students and manage to deceive everyone through a class trial and escaping while leaving everyone else to be punished.
While everyone remains hesitant at first, thanks to Monokuma’s fourth wall breaking revelations are enough to put everyone on edge. With the sadistic Monokuma at the helm, the questionable motives of their old guard Usami who has now turned into a punching bag for Monokuma, the students begin to fear for their lives even while denying that anyone will die. Now although the killing game and the basic premise sounds almost the exact same from the first game, outside of a location change, and seems like retreading old ground, it only takes a bit of time to find out that Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes the premise and owns it.
Like the last game, the characters that are on Jabberwock Island are all “Ultimates” meaning that they are the best of the best in their certain field. However being an ultimate comes with quite a few personality quirks as players will find that the new cast of characters all have a brand new feel to them and while humorous at the onset, their eccentric personalities make the despair of the plot more interesting as they react to each situation.
As you interact with these characters in the returning ‘Free Time’ you can learn more about their past and grow a bit closer to them and reveal why they may act the way that they do. Considering the nature of the story, you never know who might be murdered or punished next so be prepared for your favorite character to potentially die at any point. It also helps that the setting of Jabberwock Island gives players a bit more free reign than the limitations of the school, allowing for more odd and interesting things to occur.
Thankfully Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair retains its great sense of humor with sadistic jokes and dark comedy spread around normal comedic moments, fourth wall breaking jokes, and the humorous nature of the Ultimates. With numerous plot twists and surprising revelations interlaced amongst an improved set of murders that will keep players guessing, Danganronpa 2 continues to impress.
Like the previous game, players will spend their time exploring, talking to other characters in Free Time, investigating murder scenes, and then completing the class trials. While this all sounds the same, each activity has been changed up a bit. Unlike the first game, players will spend most of their time exploring the islands on a 2D plane where they walk around the island visiting various spots on each island before entering it and examining the area through the touch screen or basic examination, with only a couple of areas make use of the first person perspective that the first game always used.
Travel has been sped up as well, since players can now either speed walk around the island to each location or simply quick travel to set markers. However there is motivation to walk around and look at everything, since players can now Level Up by doing so, allowing them to equip more skills in trials, and there is a miniature Tamagotchi style game where player steps raise a digital pet that will reward you with extra Monocoins and presents for characters.
The free time system plays very similar to the last game, with the player finding characters they wish to talk to and learn more about. They can give these characters presents and also earn Hope Fragments at the same time, which are used to purchase the skills for trials. As mentioned before, the cast is very different from the old batch of characters so it is incredibly interesting to learn about them. Also, the fact that players can now unlock skills at will (though some of the best still require a maxed relationship) rather than learning set skills by interacting with characters is a nice modification.
Once a murder does happen, players will begin investigating any pertinent areas to the case. These investigations can be tense at times as you try to put together your own guesses, but the game holds your hand throughout the investigation, telling you where to go next, when you have investigated everything in an area, or where you might be missing something.
After the investigation ends, the class trial begins and here is where many of the revisions have been placed. There are Non Stop Debates where players will make use of “Truth Bullets” using facts found from investigation must be used to shut down arguments, or actually agree with something someone else is saying. Now your fellow classmates can also disagree with what you are saying, triggering a new game called Rebuttal Showdown, which is a fast paced mini-game requiring the player to swipe or cut down your opponents statements to push back what they are saying before using a “Truth Blade” to cut through their rebuttal.
Hangman’s Gambit returns and is as convoluted and unnecessary as ever. It has been modified slightly but it still remains one of the worst and slowest mini-games of the class trials. Another new mini-game comes in the form of a Logic Dive, which is a snowboarding mini-game within the player’s mind where you must navigate along a pipeline to answer a string of questions. The Bullet Time Battles have been replaced with the very similar Panic Talk Action except now players need to combine a certain phrase at the end of the mini-game.
Closing Arguments also remain similar in structure, but have been improved thanks to the inclusion of little hints that will now label missing panels, helping the player figure out what piece goes where to complete the comic book style conclusions. One thing that is incredible in this one, unlike the last game, Danganronpa 2 actually managed to throw me for a loop quite a few times, making me believe that I had realized who the killer was only to be proven wrong once the trial continued on, which is a major accomplishment for a mystery game.
Visuals & Audio
The stylized art style of the first title returns in Dangaronpa 2 with a slew of new character designs and twisted punishments. The characters portraits express a wide range of emotions, ranging from subtle to outlandishly over the top. The island itself has a proper tropical feel with a large variety of places to explore and look at and the 2D exploration is a nice compliment to the somewhat clunky first person exploration that was used throughout the first game.
As for the voice work, NIS America is offering both an English voice track as well as a Japanese voice track, with the only nagging issue being the fact that the only way to change between the voice tracks is to go back to the main menu. The English voice cast does a superb job with the game, with most of the areas in the game being voiced or at least featuring characters giving brief exclamations to go along with the text. While some may choose the Japanese voice track, the English dub works in the player’s favor when it comes to the Class Trials as every line of dialogue is dubbed in these trials and many of the fast paced sequences work best in English.
The sound track used in Danganronpa 2 makes use of some of the background themes from the first game which may be a bit disappointing for some, but considering how amazing the music was in the first game, this doesn’t prove to be a real problem. Especially since there are a number of new tracks fitted into the game that fit the scenes well, or purposefully clash with the scenes in order to provide a sort of twisted humor.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair could easily have been something simple, a sequel that simply capitalizes on the first game’s popularity. Instead I believe that 2014 will feature an original game and its sequel directly competing with one another for best PS Vita game of the year. While a few small problems continue to persist and the Hangman’s Gambit remains an annoying drag, the new characters and setting of Dangaronpa 2 create an amazing and worthwhile experience featuring an astounding plot, though it is one that will require the player to have knowledge of the first game to truly experience.
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