‘Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair’ Review

Platforms PlayStation Vita
Developer NIS America   Publisher SpikeChunsoft
Genre Visual Novel/Puzzle

Maybe I am the weird one, but there is something really captivating about a high-stakes game trope. I never get tired of it; the struggle for life, the want of hope, the reality of despair – it is fascinating! Even though it’s a concept that has been done over too many times to count, it arguably provides some the best stories – or as I said – the most captivating ones. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is one such story. Fifteen students caught in a game of death, clinging to the hope of escape yet manipulated into despair by an evil monochromatic bear; it’s bizarre, compelling, funny, and unique. So unique, in fact, that I couldn’t imagine a scenario in which the same type of game could be played out in a sequel without seeming derivative. But here we are, seven months later with the direct sequel – Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair – and my goodness, it is fantastic.

For those unfamiliar with Danganronpa, it is a murder mystery visual novel with a healthy dose of puzzle-solving and social interaction. It is commonly described as an amalgam of Ace Attorney, Zero Escape, and Persona 4. And it is true – you can see a lot of what makes those games great taking shape in Danganronpa’s aesthetic, gameplay, and puzzles. Despite that, though, it is its own beast. Spearheaded by its unique and sinister villain, the game shines through brilliant story and added gameplay features.

Like the previous game, the story revolves around a group of special students who become trapped in a game of life and death. But unlike the previous title, it didn’t start this way. The protagonist, Hajime Hinata, awakes to find himself on the shores of a resort island. On it are fifteen other students, all of which are the “ultimates” of their own respective fields, examples including the “ultimate gamer” or the “ultimate gymnast.” None of them are there of their own will, and to their knowledge, they were to be enrolled in Hope’s Peak Academy, the setting of the previous game. Why are they on the island? It is a school field trip gone wrong, then instant a certain villain shows up. Despite the mystery, the students welcome the innocence of the school trip. That is… until he arrives.

Monokuma, everyone’s favorite evil monochromatic bear, is that catalyst for the killing to begin. In cheeky form, he even begins by saying that similar twists and tricks from the previous game are either in play or not, so as to give the player the immediate realization that this is a completely different situation to the last. He wasn’t just giving the character’s motive to kill; he was giving you a motive to continue playing the game. Any reservations about the game being the same as before, were lifted the moment Monokuma is the game’s centerpiece; he’ll make you laugh, he’ll make you frustrated, and he’ll make you wonder. But what is Monokuma without his game pieces – the students?

Danganronpa 2 features a very diverse set of characters. Sixteen in total, each has a specific set of skills of which they are the best at; everyone except the protagonist – he does not know his gift, his “ultimate” ability. And while Hajime is a more interesting character than his predecessor, Makoto Naegi, the rest of the cast, just like before, is far more interesting. The ultimate gamer Chiaki is a clear standout among the group students, as is the mysterious Nagito Komaeda. But the rest of the cast is just as memorable and leave a lasting impression even after some of them die. And yes, some of them will die. There is no escaping this, and like the last game, their deaths are something… unique.

The whole of the story creates around a twenty-hour narrative, filled with plenty of plot twists and brain teasing puzzles. It follows the same set up as the previous game. It plays out in chapters with visual novel-like story sequence, followed by an investigation and ultimately a trial. The story only deviates from this format in one section, but to say why would spoil one of the best chapters. Just know that each investigation brings its own flavor, more so than the last game. Even though there might not be much change in the story and investigation sequences, there are some changes to trial phases.

Like the previous title, each murder is followed by a trial in which the remaining class members will decide upon the killer – or “the blackened.” Get it right, and the killer dies. Get it wrong, the killer goes free and everyone else dies. In order to decide the right killer, debates, leaps of logic, and awful hangman games are played out.

During debates, evidence is presented in the form of “truth bullets.” Several testimonies will play out and you must shoot the contradiction with your bullets. I loved this idea in the last game, and still do for Danganronpa 2. They have actually added a new element to it, as well. Previously, you could only contest arguments, but this time, there are sequences in which you can agree with another testimony. It makes the debates sequences genuinely thought-provoking and challenging; I failed on more occasions in one case than I did the entirety of the first game. That is not to suggest that the game was more difficult to the point of frustration, but rather a reflection of the game’s more complex investigations. These cases were genuinely hard to grasp, and many times I had not known how the murder had even been pulled off so well – hell, one time, I had no idea who the killer was when I was asked. Compared to the previous game, that is a feat.

There is something the original Danganronpa is missing; it’s the “Ah-Ha!” moments. Sure, there was always a point in which I figured it out, but it was never shocking or startling. But this time, there were several “Ah-ha!” moments. Why? Danganronpa 2 added a mini game called “Logic Dive.” (See above.) In this relatively simple game, you ride a board down a tube, choosing paths that connect the answers – answers to specific questions your character began to ask. It’s so simple, and at first, it seems unnecessary. But, the result was that “Ah-ha!” moment, and if you can achieve that in a game, what more can you ask for?

There were of course other mini games. Hangman’s gambit returns – a game that asks you decipher a clue from thin air using the most annoying method of doing so. It was somewhat intuitive in the last game, but this time it is just obtrusive and frustrating. There are also one-on-one segments that have Hajime debate individually with characters using “truth blades” rather than bullets. It was like playing Fruit Ninja to make a point, but since it is so hectic by nature, that point is lost somewhere in transition. So while the general feel for the trials are positive in a narrative sense, the gameplay sequences still remain a mixed bag. They are involved and fun at times, but also a point of frustration and confusion.

Beyond the game’s main story, there are a few side distractions packaged in – a virtual pet simulator, a short story that follows an alternate storyline in the original Danganronpa, an additional top down mini game featuring Monokuma’s opposite Usami, and the Island mode – an alternate mode that does without the killing and allows you to focus on the relationship aspects of the game. Aside from the short story, none of these additions seem to add much. I actually found the short story entertaining, but the two mini-games featuring Usami and the virtual pet are simply tedious, and Island mode’s only real worth is to discover more about your classmates. I wish there was more depth in these modes, but the main game itself is still more than enough to satisfy.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is an absolute joy to experience if you are a fan of the visual novel genre. Admittedly, playing the first game best experiences Danganronpa 2, as some of the early and later stages of the game will be best appreciated with an understanding of past events. It is not necessary, but highly recommended. But while it essentially retains the same formula as the previous game, Danganronpa 2 is the better game story-wise, and in this genre, story is king.

The Good

  • Fascinating characters
  • Steady pace throughout
  • Meaningful changes to gameplay
  • ‘Ah-hah!’ moments are genuine

The Bad

  • Hangman’s gambit continues to exist
  • Additional content serves little purpose

The Score 8.7