Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Vita Review

It’s not often you see a full retail release get a sequel within the space of seven months, yet here we are with Danganronpa 2, a sequel to one of my surprise hits of 2014, and also an exclusive Vita game, which is something to shout about when Sony doesn’t seem to want to bring their big IPs to the handheld.

One of the reasons for such a quick release is due to the fact that in Japan, the Vita game was a remake of the PSP games Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2, and packaged into one cart. These games never had an English release before, and so NIS America decided to release the first title earlier in the year, which was met with success from critics and fans. Rather than leave a year gap between releases, NIS America went straight onto translating the sequel. I can tell you that Danganronpa 2 is totally more Danganronpa, and people who played the first game will know that’s great praise to hear. I’m also thankful that the game came in such a speedy manner, because playing through Danganronpa 2 reminded me that I like a good, twisty story from time to time.

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Returning is the notoriously evil Monokuma as the antagonist, and this time he’s trapped 16 new Ultimate skilled students from Hope’s Peak Academy on the sunny, tropical Jabberwock Island. Along with these new students is a pink rabbit mascot called Monomi, who calls herself Magical Girl Miracle ★ Usami, and acts as the opposite of Monokuma – she is friendlier towards the confined students. Monomi just wanted the students to have a friendly fun holiday on the island, but Monokuma has a different idea, so crashes the party and turns it into his own deadly game of murder.

The beginning follows similar steps as Danganronpa, in which the students cannot leave the island unless they kill another student (which means becoming the blackened) and then must shift the blame onto someone else. Freedom is awarded to the blackened if they successfully do this, while the rest of the students are executed for losing.  Players are put into the shoes of Hajime Hinata, a student who doesn’t quite remember what ultimate skill he has, but just like the hero of the first game, he finds himself in a situation of despair and must adapt to living on the island while trying to find a way to escape this nightmare without resulting to killing. Of course, murder for some is hard to resist, especially when Monokuma throws in motives that kick start the killing.

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As with the previous game, the genre of visual novel makes it rather hard to talk about the story without spoiling the many revelations that happen within the game. Fans will have an idea what to expect from the game, and I can tell you that there are just as many, if not more, “what the hell” moments and nail-biting situations to unfold. I really do recommend that people who are noticing this title for the first time, please go back and play the first game before this one, as that will make you understand the game better, plus, there are call-backs to the first game that have more of an impact if you know about them.

To comment on the overall story, the script is well written and the twists are hard to figure out on your own. I spent multiple sessions draining out my Vita’s battery just to reveal more of the plot. It’s a game that pulls you into the story through how mysterious and bizarre it becomes. The game and its characters, both ones you adore and ones that are crafted to be hated, will make emotions run all over the scale. The Ultimate Dancer is an annoying and insulting young girl who verbally attacks anyone without care, the Ultimate Yakuza likes to keep away from the crowd and the Ultimate Team Manager loves to protect his fellow companions, while promoting that it’s “good to shit.” No matter who you are, I think you’ll find a favourite to connect with.

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If there is one issue I have to comment on, it was that the beginning of the game suffers from a little déjà vu, which the game acknowledges and makes fun of. It’s good to know that the game can make a joke of itself, but fans will have to dig through the first bit before it gets going, but when it does get going, you’re in for a fantastic ride all the way to the satisfying conclusion.

Danganronpa 2 follows the same structure as the previous game. The beginning of a chapter will normally consist of some story, which in the case of Danganronpa 2 involves the opening of a new island with new locations to explore. After the intro is done, players have free time to build up relations with the other characters. This leads to finding out more about them, which unlocks hope fragments that can be exchanged for skills to use in the class trial sessions. Gifts make a return, which can be bought from a vending machine or a strange Monokuma store on the beach, and are used to speed up the process of making the characters like you more. The free time is all optional; as a quick click on the main character’s bed will skip it, but it is recommended to get involved, as you find out more about the characters and their background, while earning improvements to help in the class trials.

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Eventually someone has to be killed, and this moves the game into investigation phase, a linear path where the player has to look around the crime scene and other key areas to discover the evidence that might lead to determining who the killer is. Once all items are discovered, the game moves onto the class trial, one of the best parts of playing this series, but the developers decided to throw in more mini games to change up the court action, sadly, not all of them are for the better.

Class trials are faster paced testimonies that are similar to the cross-examinations in the Phoenix Wright games, except easier to determine which sentence you need to challenge, since gold words highlight their importance in the statement. A collection of truth bullets are selectable, and you use these to fire the bullet at the gold words that you feel contradict the case. A new gameplay feature  for this is the ability to reinforce someone’s statement, which comes up as blue words instead of gold. It’s the exact same gameplay, but it makes you think from a different perspective when looking for a truth bullet that matches a character’s statement.

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It’s when you begin to experience the other modifications to the gameplay that it becomes clear that these are less than ideal changes. Hangman has been changed to “Improved Hangman,” which is ironic, because I feel that it’s worse in the sequel. While the original hangman was extremely easy, since all you had to do was shoot letters to fill in the word. This time around, you have to capture a letter, fire it at another letter to combine them, and then you can shoot it with a different button to fill in the missing letter, or hit the original shoot button to destroy it. The issue here is that other letters are flying from all four directions of the screen, and if a none matching letter hits the one you have combined, then it explodes and vanishes. It can get frustrating in the later cases, since letters begin to travel in bigger quantities. It’s just not a fun minigame to have to deal with during a tense trial moment.

A couple of new additions make their way in to add more flavour to the gameplay. The first one, Logic Dive, is probably the worst minigame in the entire series. The earlier introductions of Logic Dive are fine; it’s a mixture of snowboarding down a track in the space of the player’s mind (think of it as Final Fantasy VII snowboarding with a virtual twist), while arriving at splits in the track where picking the correct statement continues the course. It’s representing Hajime digging into the depths of his mind and bringing back the answers.  The problem lies when the tracks become complicated, because the game’s controls aren’t good, I found myself falling off the track or hitting an obstacle. It became incredibly frustrating for me, mainly because they appear in tense situations where you just want to continue on with the story, and this minigame irritatingly breaks the flow.

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Rebuttal Showdown is the other new gameplay inclusion. This one revolves around slashing words on the screen with your finger (or the analogue stick) to push a barrier from the middle starting ground towards the character that has activated the rebuttal, letting you unlock the next phase and cutting their argument with a truth blade. This minigame is fine, although it can be annoying when you accidental slash the golden statement, causing you to get penalized by losing a large amount of space previously gained.

Lastly, the closing statement has been modified for the better. It’s no longer confusing to know what the images are displaying, as they now come with helpful notes above them. There are now five pictures to pick from, but only two or three of them are correct. Once those are placed correctly, the wrong ones will explode and a new set of five will appear. This continues on until the player has used all of the right pictures, normally after five turns.

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Thankfully, the Logic Drive minigame isn’t enough to disrupt the great core of what was built up in the first Danganronpa. The story in the sequel is arguably better; the game is packed with humour and great localisation work, although a couple of typos did creep in, there are references to various games and films (such as Phoenix Wright) and the voice over work is once again solid, with English or Japanese selectable from the options menu. Not all lines are given voice overs. The class trial is complete voiced, which adds to the tension, but outside of that, it’s mostly main cutscenes that are given the power of voice. Danganronpa 2 still implements sound bites for when characters aren’t voicing the text. Characters will start their lines with some bizarre words, or even swear, such as the Ultimate Team Manager, who will sometimes just go “SHIIIIITTTTTTTTTTT!” It’s dumb, but hilariously so.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a brilliant visual novel that is supported with cast of strange and interesting characters, a strong story that brings suspense and surprise, but above all, is a great sequel. Fans will no doubt want this title, and newcomers, I tell you to go play the first game, as that will determine if you like what you play and help you get more out of the story in this sequel. Once again, Nippon Ichi Software USA has released a great game for people interested in the visual novel genre or for anyone who wants a good read with some gameplay thrown in for extra fun, so if you do fall into that category, then you should seriously check out Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.

8 out of 10
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