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Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (2012)

If you wish to check out my review of the first game in this Danganronpa series (Trigger Happy Havoc), click here.


System: PS4, PS Vita, PSP, PC, Linux, OS X, iOS, Android

Publisher: NIS America | Developer: Spike Chunsoft

Reviewed On: PS4


Following my first playthrough of Trigger Happy Havoc, I came away with a very positive experience. With the rise in popularity of Battle Royale-style games & modes over the last few years, it was refreshing to see a game that used this premise for storyline purposes. And it worked; delivering a thrilling story full of twists & turns that helped to further my investment in the visual novel genre. Acknowledging the game as part of a trilogy would only further spur my interest & I jumped at the chance to begin its next entry. That’s exactly what we will be doing today, so let's not waste any time!


Welcome to the second part of my review into the Danganronpa visual novel series. Today, we’ll be looking at entry number two; Goodbye Despair. Let's break it down!

Plot


The game’s introductory chapter will feel somewhat familiar. A new group of 16 students have recently been accepted to attend Hope’s Peak Academy; ready to hone their skills to become elite figures in society. You play the role of a new character named Hajime Hinata; a typical average teenager who dreams of being selected as a student of this prestigious school. One day, his dream becomes a reality. On his first day & after being acquainted with his fellow classmates, a rabbit-like figure named Usami emerges & surprises the students by transporting them to a deserted island. Whilst Usami tries to reassure the students that the purpose of the trip is to help strengthen their bonds with each other, Hajime unexpectedly passes out.

After regaining consciousness, it’s not long before we are re-acquainted with our favourite two-tone, despair-encouraging bear (Monokuma) who makes his entrance, sabotages Usami’s plans & put his plans in motion for another killing game. With the nearest mainland is hundreds of miles away, making escape almost impossible, he presents an opportunity of freedom to our students. The price of freedom is to kill another student & avoid being labelled the culprit via a class trial.



To make matters worse, Monokuma has placed a countdown timer in the middle of the Islands to add another layer of uncertainty & pressure to our students. With the stakes raised, we embark on another journey that sees our students try to work together, avoid the temptations of Monokuma’s Modus Operandi & find a means of escape, whilst uncovering some sobering truths along the way.

Without spoiling the story any further, I will say I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure this entry offered. Danganronpa's signature blend of comedy, drama, mystery & suspense returns, combining new & fresh situations into the fold. I was concerned that they would try to re-use certain plot points or similar methods of murder, but I was pleasantly surprised not to see this here & the inclusion of some curve balls that threw me off-guard; especially in its final chapters. It was quite the revelation; that's all I will say.



Our new class brings some of the strongest characters to date. Whether it be the blunt mannerisms of the Ultimate Yakuza (Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu) or the eccentric reference-machine of the Ultimate Musician (Ibuki Mioda), each character still offers a distinct personality & traits that make for numerous entertaining situations & shocking revelations.


I do commend the developers for creating characters that are more distinct this time around, but the disadvantage I saw here was that this highlighted certain flaws in the character progression of other students. On reflection, I would say that whilst I prefer the "Havoc" students as a class, I favour this new class as students. Their likeability was a positive in my eyes, but I guess it will always be a subjective matter on who you choose as your favourite characters are.

The other notable thing I acknowledged was the small amount of fan service, which has been included in this entry. With DGRP 1, there were only very minor instances but here, it appeared more prominent but I realised down the line that some were used for justified reasons. I’ve never been a big fan of fan service myself & feel its over-reliance often shows weakness in a story’s plot, but I felt it was honed in here to an extent & never felt overbearing.



I also liked the game’s decision to move from the claustrophobic school setting to the open scenic surroundings of a tropical island. It still offered an environment for our students to explore, whilst remaining a playground of vast opportunities for the future culprits. Its pleasant nature created a fabricated aura with its vibrant surroundings, trying to cover up its life-threatening premise.

There's just something inherently intriguing about the concept of Battle Royale & it's not a surprise it has found popularity with others; not just in video games, but other mediums as well. Doanganronpa has proved that this archetype can be an used to tell a compelling story & this entry happily backs up this claim. If you personally enjoyed the story that Trigger Happy Havoc offered, I’m certain you’ll appreciate what this entry has in store.

Gameplay


When it comes to its interactive elements, the game again follows suit from its predecessor. Just in case, I’ll provide a refresher.


In between key story events, you are given free time to engage in social interactions with your classmates, which can obtain you friendship fragments. These can later be used to acquire skills & perks used in the class trials. These interactions offer small side-stories that allow you to explore the background or personal situation of a character. The characters I hung out with in my playthrough were a pleasure to become more acquainted with & I felt these interactions would only further my investment in them, making for some sobering moments when certain events would transpire

The Island is split up into 5 smaller islands, which you can traverse around as the game progresses, offering new environments to explore. Some will appeal to certain students (such as a hospital, amusement park, music venue, etc) but unfortunately, there’s not much to do in these environments as they appear to be used for story-specific purposes. You can find & collect hidden Monokuma figures dotted around each of the locations. Its a nice side quest, but I found it doesn’t offer any real value to the game.


There is also a new Pets feature that allows you to nurture a Tamagotchi-style animal & operates by using your walking in the game. Evolving each pet will reward you accordingly, however the game's fast travel feature may be more appealing than this act of pet management.

Following the discovery of a body, you will enter Investigation mode where you use a point-and-click system to identify clues that you can use in the trial. There appears to be no revamp or additions to this feature when compared to the original, but it still does the job & will be perfect homework for when Monokuma asks for the class trial to commence.


The class trials work in the same way as before; where you discuss the entire situation with your fellow students, as you work with everyone to piece together all the pieces of the puzzle, work out how the act took place & to vote on who you believed killed the victim. Naturally, we see the return of various mini-games that drive this mode such as Non-Stop Debate, Panic Talk Action & the popular Closing Argument puzzle, which have all been given varying tweaks. The big addition to Non-Stop Debate is that you can now use evidence to backup statements instead of just disproving them. It was a nice added feature that I found help mix-up the gameplay, especially when multiple claims were made at once; both refutable and irrefutable.

There is also a new part of the trial called Rebuttal Showdown, which occurs when another student refutes a claim you’ve made. The Truth Bullets now take the form of swords & you are tasked with slicing through the opposition’s words & then refute the correct sentence with a Truth Sword. It took a little getting used to but after a few attempts, it became a welcomed addition.



Another new mini-game that has been introduced is Logic Drive; playing like a futuristic snowboarding level that you must traverse without falling off, choosing the correct path when prompted to continue your journey to a point of enlightenment regarding a point in the trial. Hangman’s Gambit has also been given a minor makeover, now offering more complex phrases to figure out which did have its moments of frustration, but ones I could easily overlook on reflection.


Identical to DGRP 1’s School Mode, we see an equivalent mode return here called Island Mode, where you are tasked with collecting resources for the Island & grants you more opportunities to further explore social links with your classmates. Please note that this is only available in the Danganronpa 1.2 Reload bundle.


Finally, our magical bunny Usami gets a mini-game of her own, where you must defeat various enemies across all 5 islands with her magical powers, either by jumping on enemies or by surrounding them with a magic circle. It never appealed to me personally, but it felt like an added bonus you could play if intrigued.



My only grouse is that the tweaks & additions in this entry don’t evolve the series in a major way; it just adds enough to build on certain aspects. I believe Spike Chunsoft felt confident in their formula & for the most part, it succeeds. It's just a little frustrating because it has the potential to be much more. Something like an alternative path in the plot or a trial could've helped give the game more replay value, which was a minor flaw I noted in my DGRP 1 review. I wouldn’t use this as a strike against the series though; I just feel it's a missed opportunity.

It may also appear that its inclusions will make the gameplay feel like a compilation of mini-games, but most of them work well to compliment the situations the story presented. There were only a couple of them that felt they could've been thrown in for the sake for it, but a majority never gave off this impression nor did those exceptions ruin my core experience.


Overall, I feel the game works well in building on the foundation of its predecessor, in an effort to refine the Danganronpa experience. The trials still remain my favourite part of the game with the new additions being greatly welcomed to add more variety. The return of social interactions gets a thumbs up from me & everything worked well to create a fun & fluent experience, which was both challenging & entertaining.


Presentation


Danganronpa’s vivid presentation style returns with its use of beautifully detailed comic-book style imagery. Animated cutscenes have seen some improvement with the culprit’s punishment receiving extra attention, but no major changes have occurred with these formats. By this time, my thoughts on the choices of 2D “cardboard cut-out” characters & use of pink blood can be disregarded as an artistic decision. The simple fact is that it looks just like its predecessor with a number of improvements in certain aspects, offering yet another flash flood of colour to entice your pupils.

In terms of voice actors, we see a few cast members return from the likes of Bruce Papenbrook, who is featured in a new role, as well as Brian Beacock reprising his role of Monokuma. We also see a number of prestigious voice actors enter the fold; such as the esteemed Johnny Yong Bosch, taking the lead role of Hagime, alongside anime veteran Wendee Lee. As a Haruhi Suzumiya fan, we now only need Crispin Freeman to be cast for a role & we have the full set! Everyone felt fit for their roles beautifully & radiated various moments in the game. I can't fault them, nor would I want to. They were great.


Unfortunately, I have not played much of the game with Japanese audio to comment further, however I did acknowledge the presence of Minami Takayama, Romi Park & Kana Hanazawa amongst its cast & their credited roles will speak for themselves.



We also see the return of various music tracks from the original game with some slight remixes & new tracks thrown. All of them were complimentary to the game’s situations with certain songs offering a sense of familiarity when played in certain scenarios.

I wish I could say more, but the game has effectively maintained its visual & audial standards. To summarise, I was very favourable of its predecessor's presentation & with this continuing here, I have no complaints whatsoever.

Overall Thoughts


Danganronpa’s second entry provides a great accompaniment to the first game. It maintains all the aspects that made the first entry great & its story honours its predecessor, in a bold attempt to accentuate the crazy circumstances of this world. Its complimented with a new likeable cast & maintains its high standards of presentation. I acknowledge that have often referred to the first game in this review & have become somewhat of a broken record as a result. The truth is the experiences are near identical in certain aspects, but I am willing to oversee this flaw based on the excitement I garnered through its 35 hour runtime.


I feel I have been overly-critical in this review, likely due to this being a sequel. I just can't shrug off the feeling that this could’ve been an opportunity for the series to explore & try new things. It chooses to play it relatively safe on the gameplay front to focus its efforts on the story, which I have no quarrels about & in hindsight, it doesn't harm this entry nor the series. It still ticks the boxes for an entertaining game that will certainly appeal to players of its first entry, but won't offer much incentive to those who less favoured it.

Goodbye Despair offers an experience that matches up to the standards set in Trigger Happy Havoc. Whilst it may not have progressed the series in a big way, it quenched my thirst for another thrilling murder-mystery story without losing its integrity & remains a solid entry that not only expands its universe, but still delivers another suspenseful adventure in the battle of hope versus despair.



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