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Review: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

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Double Jeopardy

I almost don't want to be writing this review.

That's because Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is quite a lot like its predecessor, Trigger Happy Havoc. That means it's one of the few games where "spoilers" really matter, and the more I say about it, the more I risk lessening the experience for potential players. 

Here then, is the quick advice: If you played and enjoyed Trigger Happy Havoc, go get Danganronpa 2 now. It's everything the first one was, and more.

But if you're new to the series, get the first game and play through that before starting off with this one, for despite a premise and cast that's friendly to series newbies, Goodbye Despair works best when taken as sequel to Trigger Happy Havoc

And if you're still hungry for more info, keep reading. No spoilers, of course. That path leads only to despair.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (PS Vita)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America

Release: September 2, 2014
MSRP: $39.99

For the uninitiated, the Danganronpa games are visual novels with a courtroom twist, their gameplay (such as it is) a fusion of Phoenix Wright with Battle Royale. As with the first game, Goodbye Despair stars a group of sixteen elite high school students, "Ultimates" among their peers, recently enrolled at the exclusive Hope's Peak Academy. Their first day at class sees them abducted, spirited away to the tropical Jabberwock Island by Monokuma, a murderous, two-tone teddy bear.

Also as before, Monokuma presents the Ultimates with an ultimatum: Stay trapped on the island forever, or kill a schoolmate to earn the right to leave. The caveat: Once a murder happens, the whole cast gathers together to conduct a "Class Trial", debating the case and voting on the "blackened". The murderer needs to avoid getting fingered, or else suffer deadly consequences.

Players are put into the shirt-and-tie ensemble of Hajime Hinata, the one member of the group who can't seem to remember just what his "Ultimate" talent is. Thankfully memory loss hasn't impacted his prowess at playing "getting to know you" with the world's most puissant (and unstable) studentry. Nor has it hindered his ability to argue way to the truth, something that will come in handy once the bodies start hitting the floor. 

But, though Goodbye Despair is no mass murderer. The need for would-be players in Monokuma's "killing school trip" both make the kill and get away with it ensures that every new case, investigation, and subsequent class trial a roller-coaster ride of elaborate murder plans, red herrings, and last-second plot twists. In any rational setting the logical leaps required to make sense of each incident would drive one to despair, but the Danganronpa series sells the inherent absurdity of the scenario, setting, and characters so well that virtually anything is fair game.

Goodbye Despair upholds that tradition, and in fact manages to surpass the original in some key ways, particularly where it comes to characterization. The sequel's cast of sixteen students is more dynamic and colorful than the original's, hard as that might be to believe for series fans. The archetypes employed are less obvious, and all but the earliest victims manage to grow out of their initial one-dimensional niches, becoming characters that one really doesn't want to see kick the bucket.

As for the larger plot...well, "nuts" doesn't quite do Goodbye Despair justice. Somehow, it even tops Trigger Happy Havoc for off-the-wall happenings and genuinely surprising twists. Even more than the first game, Goodbye Despair glories in its inherent pulpiness, rather than striving to "elevate" itself. This gives it the freedom to play with expectations, fulfilling them at first glance right before pulling the rug out from under the player. All the while, the goofy, screwball tone of it all prevents the premise from ever becoming too bleak. Players will be sad that so-and-so character kicked the bucket, but they'll never fear being overwhelmed by the seriousness of an island trip where young high-schoolers are forced to murder each other for survival. And that's exactly the point. 

NIS America's localization manages to capture the slightly unhinged tone of the game perfectly, despite a few typos and some questionable decisions to "westernize" certain references. It's one thing to find familiar cultural touchstones to ensure the jokes get across, but converting Yen figures to US dollars seems an out-of-place thing to do when most everyone in the story is quite obviously Japanese. But these are minor quibbles overall. The voice performances are serviceable in English, though dub purists will miss out on an all-star Japanese voice cast, including standout jobs from the likes of Kana Hanazawa and Evangelion alumnus Megumi Ogata.

When it comes the individual cases themselves, they're more difficult to predict, with much of the crime-solving done during the actual Class Trial, rather than during the investigation. The characters themselves also tend to play bigger roles in each trial, so there's less of a feeling that events are contrived to allow Hajime to solve every aspect of the murder.

The changes, however, cut both ways, as the more unpredictable stories and involved characters tend to lessen the feeling that the player is genuinely involved in the proceedings, rather than simply pushing buttons to advance. Put plain, Goodbye Despair trades away a key component of a good "whodunnit"- the sense of audience participation - in exchange for deeper characterization and plotting. The trade has paid off, though players looking to get their detective itch scratched may come away slightly disappointed.

If this all sounds rather familiar to series veterans, that's because it is. In straight mechanical terms, Goodbye Despair is virtually identical to Trigger Happy Havoc. Every major gameplay element from the original has been carried over, either as-is or with slight tweaks. Map navigation is less time-consuming, with the first-person exploration swapped for looping two-dimensional plane. A leveling system has been put into play, based on the amount of steps Hajime takes. Skills - the perks that make class trials easier - are now purchased using "Hope Fragments" awarded for progressing classmate relationships.

The minigames do their job, though, using mechanics to make literal the idea of debate-as-combat. As before, players shoot down contradictions with ammunition made of evidence, with a new twist that allows Hajime to agree with a classmate's statement. Stubborn comrades can be convinced in the new "Rebuttal Showdown" that swaps Truth Bullets for blades and marksmanship for Fruit Ninja-esque screen-slashing. The Logic Dive challenges players to solve key dilemmas by surfing their way through a Tron-like landscape of multiple-choice questions.

It could be said that the minigames, and particularly their emphasis on getting things right or risk "failing" the trial, ultimately distract from the story, but they're simple enough to get by (especially if one sets the difficulty to "Gentle", with no consequences), and help preserve the manic tension of the arguments going on. If real-life jury deliberations worked that way, one would bet that jury duty would be a thing to look forward to. Not to mention that they make up the bulk of gameplay, and a not-insignificant portion of its stylistic flair. There's no doubting that it's all arbitrary and unecessary, but there's also no doubting that Danganronpa 2 would be a poorer experience without it.

There's no shortage of worthwhile extras as well. Once the main game is rounded off, "Island Mode" is unlocked, allowing players to explore Jabberwock Island risk-free in the kind of dating sim-like scenario Goodbye Despair parodies in its own opening movie, and a throwaway minigame starring Monokuma's sister Monomi allows one to earn more Monocoins (used to unlock extras and buy relationship-boosting presents). Most interesting, though, is Danganronpa If, a full light novel containing an alternate scenario for Trigger Happy Havoc, telling the story from the perspective of a new character. The latter is worth reading through, if only because its viewpoint is much less milquetoast than the game's "canonical" hero.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the perfect sequel. It preserves everything that was good about its predecessor, while building on its foundation a worthy story that not only helps draw in newcomers but excites and satisfies fans of the original. If there's anything to be held against it, it's that it accomplishes all this by barely deviating from the path gone before, but that's hardly a complaint when the result is a solid, thoroughly entertaining coda.

Anyone who won't accept those terms, though...well, they can go feel some despair.

 

9 -- Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)


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Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair reviewed by Josh Tolentino

9

SUPERB

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Josh Tolentino
Josh TolentinoManaging Editor   gamer profile

Josh is Japanator's Managing Editor, and contributes to Destructoid as well, as the network's premier apologist for both Harem Anime and Star Trek: Voyager For high school reasons, he's called "u... more + disclosures


 



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