I’m An Anime Character… Get Me Out Of Here! That’s what the sixteen students of Hope’s Peak Academy must have been thinking in this sequel to one of my favourite PS Vita games. Their school trip, to the holiday resort of Jabberwock Island, goes awry when Monokuma (the sadistic robo-bear of the last Danganronpa) shows up stranding them on the isle against their will. The only way of returning home is by participating in Monokuma’s twisted murder game, which demands that participants kill one of their fellow pupils and evade guilt in the subsequent investigation. Killers who are caught will be executed for their crimes, but should they manage to avoid prosecution they can return home… condemning their remaining classmates to death.
At first glance it seems like Danganronpa 2 mimics the successful formula that worked so well in the original. Once again we have a cast of sixteen talented students, who are experts in their chosen fields, fighting for their lives in a contest that will test their deduction skills to the fullest. The only substantial change is the story’s location, which has shifted from the confines of a school building to a resort that spans several islands. Thankfully playing DR2 doesn’t feel like re-tread as the story is deeper, the mysteries are more fiendish to solve and the courtroom mini-games have been bumped up in terms of complexity. The setting also helps keep things fresh given that a holiday complex offers more varied locales to explore than the original’s selection of academy rooms.
In terms of gameplay, I would liken this title to Virtue’s Last Reward or the Phoenix Wright series. The whole experience borders on being a visual novel, which delivers its tale via text boxes and still pictures, with interactivity coming in the form of brain teasing mini-games. Story telling is what Danganronpa 2 excels at and should appeal to anyone who loves a good whodunit caper. The cartoony art style belies how cleverly crafted the mysteries you investigate are. The game is packed with surprising twists and more red herrings than a fishmonger’s establishment that has been flooded in crimson paint. Uncovering the identity of a perpetrator is seldom easy given that in most of cases the guilty party does a commendable job of covering their tracks.
Aside from the thrill of solving a mystery I’d wager that most players will be motivated to play in order to bring the class killers to justice. Hope’s Peak Academy’s students are a lot of fun to interact with, so it’s always an emotional moment when one of them unexpectedly perishes. The cast includes a deranged loon blessed with good fortune, the monarch of a tiny European nation, a well-endowed gymnast with an insatiable appetite and a hamster breeder who constantly rambles on about the occult. Strong writing elevates the group from being goofy anime caricatures to fleshed out characters whose backstories are delved into during the free time you get between cases.
To say that Danganronpa 2 is just a riveting read would be doing it a disservice. After a murder scene has been surveyed for clues the class trial begins, which will test a players wits in addition to their reflexes. Once court is in session Hajime (the protagonist) needs to convince the jury of classmates to vote wisely in electing the correct murder suspect. Like in the first game, evidence you have collected is transformed into truth bullets that can be used to blast away contradictory testimony. Various mini-games also need to be completed in order to deduce the culprit :-
1. Hangman’s Gambit: A twist on the popular word game were you try to uncover the hidden phrase by shooting down letters that scroll across the screen. You have to aim fast because if two letters crash, into each other, you’ll suffer damage to your energy bar.
2. Rebuttal Showdown: A fierce debate were you must swipe away your opponent’s words before hitting triangle to expose a flaw in their argument.
3. Logic Drive: Help Hajime surf on a virtual snowboard. At certain points in the course you’ll be asked a question, which is answered by veering down the corresponding path. Pick the wrong response and our hero will plummet down to his doom.
4. Closing Argument: Complete a comic strip outlining how the murder went down by picking from a stockpile of images. It’s easier to suss out than in the first game thanks to the more detailed picture descriptions.
5. Panic Talk Action: A rhythm game were you press x, in tempo with the background music, to blow away your rival’s desperate excuses.
My rating for Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a five out of five. From the Vita’s modest games library I would rank it as a must own title. Players who are not familiar with the franchise are however strongly encouraged to tackle the original first, as the sequel’s later chapters contain numerous references to its predecessor. Given that the game was originally a PSP release it is far from technologically advanced, but presentation wise I cannot fault it. Anime fans will dig the character designs and artwork along with the cardboard cut out effects that pop out at you when a room loads up. The English voice cast are excellent and the game’s soundtrack does a fine job of livening up the trial stages.
By its very nature Danganronpa 2 may not have much replay value, as revisiting the story isn’t much fun when you already know the outcome, but I still feel the game is worth the full retail asking price. The main campaign is rather lengthy and completing it unlocks a number of extras to keep you entertained. These include a digital novel, a five level arcade game were you help a bunny battle mechanical beasts and Island Mode – an alternative storyline were Monokuma is vanquished from the offset. With the threat of assassination removed players can build up relationships with the entire cast to view character specific endings. Hurrah for happy finales. I’m glad that Monokuma doesn’t triumph, as he is a beary bad boy.