Title: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Release Date: September 2, 2014
Publisher (Developer): NIS America (Spike Chunsoft)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Violence
Earlier this year, NIS America released Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and I was amazed. It was only January, but I was ready to declare it the best Vita game of 2014. It really was that good. Friends who speak Japanese told me the sequel was better, which I couldn’t imagine being possible, and I held out hope we would see it.
Then, NIS America confirmed they would release Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. I enjoyed it at E3, fell in love with characters, obsessed over a virtual pet, and marveled over how nuanced the sequel was. More importantly, I realized my friends were right. Danganronpa was amazing, but Danganronpa 2 is perfection.
More kids, more amnesia, more bonding, more despair
There are many parallels between the introductions of Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2. A young man, full of hope and admiration for the legendary Hope’s Peak Academy, is fortunate enough to get the chance to attend the school. Hajime Hinata approaches the doors and steps inside to the place he’s always longed to go.
Except then, his memories disappear. He awakes in a classroom with an assortment of other students. He barely even remembers who he is, let alone his identity. Which is important, because only the Ultimates get to attend Hope’s Peak. Everyone knows where they stand. There’s the Ultimate Traditional Dancer, the Princess, the Ultimate Breeder, and so on. Hajime doesn’t.
Which makes everything even more disorienting when the teacher is revealed to be an anthropomorphic, cartoon rabbit named Usami, and she waves her wand to remove the classroom walls and reveal they’re all on the deserted Jabberwock Island. The goal? Bonding with one another so hope can blossom and they leave the island together.
That doesn’t happen, because Monokuma, the twisted headmaster from the original Danganronpa appears. Hope? Bah. Now is the time for despair. He transforms Usami into Monomi, strips her of power, and changes the rules. To escape, students must kill. If a student kills a classmate, then gets away with it at the trial held by their peers, that student escapes and everyone else dies. However, if the fellow students catch the murderer, only that student is punished and everyone continues living on the island.
This is a spoiler-free Danganronpa 2 review. However, I have to get this off of my chest. The twists players who stick with this game will find are absolutely extraordinary. I didn’t see any of coming. Even by the third trial, when Spike Chunsoft started hinting at the truth, I was completely in the dark. I have to commend the developer, because it takes a lot of skill to pull off a story like this, and I wish the Vita offered some sort of live streaming, because I would love to see Danganronpa 2 reaction reveals when the truth trickles in.
Did I say Danganronpa 2 is perfect? Because it’s perfect.
I posited that Danganronpa was very close to being a perfect game, back in January. It was fantastic, after all. Danganronpa 2 is exceptional. It improves upon every aspect of the original adventure, then goes above and beyond to deliver content to players.
For example, the trial situations. My sole lament with Danganronpa was that it seemed far to easy to determine the murderers in each case. That isn’t so with Danganronpa 2. When things went south, every situation was a complete and utter surprise. The first case was the only one where I was positive who was at fault, but even then it wasn’t until the actual trial that I realized how things fell into place. Danganronpa 2 challenges a player. It’s like I could hear Spike Chunsoft saying, “Okay, we went easy on you last time. This time, you have to work for the truth.” It’s just so satisfying.
Though, even more so is the development throughout the game. As I mentioned in the preview, the cast is very different in Danganronpa 2. In Danganronpa, everyone seemed relatively innocent, and the murders that occurred really felt born of desperation. Here, the cast is full of more realistic characters, all of whom have flaws of varying severity. When the adventure begins, Usami is encouraging bonding, so when opportunities for it arise, it leads to more genuine character development. All of the cast undergo varying degrees of growth, depending on how long they live, and it’s delightful as a player to see someone go from being completely unlikable, to a character you’d genuinely miss if they were eliminated.
The trial aspect feels tighter too. I didn’t feel really challenged in Danganronpa until about the fourth case. Here, I even had some startling moments as early as the second case. They’re more frantic and unpredictable, like a real argument. I don’t care for the new Hangman’s Gambit, where a player has to grab and shoot letters while they’re constantly moving, but everything else works perfectly. Logic Dive is an entertaining diversion to determine a conclusive path. The new argument system where you cut through with the truth is well implemented, and the experience as a whole is solid. Especially appreciated is the break in the midst of a trial to save, since the arguments after the break are usually much more difficult.
Also appreciated is the new manner in which trial skills are unlocked. Each character has an ultimate “skill” for Hajime to learn if you make the effort to spend enough Free Time with them. Like Chiaki, the Ultimate Gamer, appropriately provides a skill called Cheat Code. However, the hope shards you collect leading up to that ultimate skill can be spent in a little “shop,” where some general skills are available. I didn’t realize how big of an improvement this was until the third trial, as it let me pick the general skills I need and freed me up to spend time with the characters I liked best, rather than feeling like Free Time was my time to grind for the best abilities.
I’m most impressed, however, by the additional, post-game content. When I went through Danganronpa, I felt like Spike Chunsoft really came through by providing what was essentially an extra storyline for players. However, the wealth of material in Danganronpa 2 is just staggering. Since it’s all on the official website, I feel it’s safe to name everything. It’s extraordinary. There’s a more peaceful visual novel with simulation-style missions. There’s an extraordinary kinetic novel called Danganronpa IF, and there’s even an action game called Magical Miracle Girl Monomi. In fact, NIS America has to be applauded too, because it had to be quite a feat to translate all of these things.
You haven’t played Danganronpa 2? Why? Why would you do that to yourself?
I think there should be a universal mandate for Vita owners. If you have the handheld, you must play Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. These are exemplary examples of storytelling in games, and Spike Chunsoft’s execution is masterful. I can’t even say, “Just go play Danganronpa 2, because it’s the better one.” This pair is impeccable and the tales must be experienced. I feel so bad for everyone who has to wait until September 2, 2014 to play – it’s going to be a long wait.
Site [NIS America]