(DISCLAIMER: While writing this review, I feel it necessary to mention that I have only completed up to the end of chapter one of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. I am writing this review so as to avoid breaking an embargo limiting me from spoiling anything past chapter one. That being said, there MAY be slight spoilers for the first chapter, but I will do my best to avoid them.)
(DISCLAIMER 2: The added sections of this review will be noted as such, and will discuss GAMEPLAY ELEMENTS from the rest of the game, but I will not divulge PLOT DETAILS in any form or fashion. This will be entirely spoiler free for those who still want to play the game.)
Well, it’s punishment time once again. It seems like only yesterday when I was reviewing Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, with gleams of hope in my eyes that we’d someday see a localized version of the sequel to the game, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair by NIS America. Well, those hopeful days have paid off, because yesterday I had the good fortune to receive my copy of the game from the publisher, and I’ve already reached the embargo point. Of course this means I’ve completed chapter one, which might have been one of the most stressful yet amazing moments in my gaming life.
If you were wondering how a game like Danganronpa could possibly change its game-play style for a sequel that is (seemingly) a carbon copy of the first game, stop. There are so many changes in game-play, some of which I’m extremely uncomfortable with due to the overwhelmingly vague and complicated instructions, that I am honestly frightened to see how it can only get more difficult with each passing trial.
The first of the many changes includes the over-world. This time, the game of life and death takes place on Jabberwock Island, which is in and of itself a MUCH larger landscape than the enclosed space of Hope’s Peak Academy. That being said, it might take some time to adjust, time which includes getting lost many times as you travel around the many different areas the island has to offer. Because the island is so large, the method of getting around has also changed. While in individual locations you will take control of the protagonist in the same way that you would in Trigger Happy Havoc, on the over-world you will be able to walk or run along a circular track as you decide where to go next. This might sound confusing, but it’s just because it’s rather difficult to explain in words.
The class trials also feature both new and revamped sections, including what was formerly known as the Bullet Time Battles, but now known as Panic Talk Action (PTA for short) where your goal is more or less the same, keeping the beat while destroying your opponent’s counter-statements. Returning from Trigger Happy Havoc is the mini-game known as Hangman’s Gambit, but this time the Gambit requires you to combine two of the same letters to create words relevant to the current discussion. Then there is the addition of blue-colored weak points during the Non-Stop Debate, which are essentially ways to agree with a character’s defense or argument, which can progress the story further.
Then, there is the most confusing and irritating parts of the sequel. You’re doing great during the trial. You make a good point, and you’re proud of yourself. BAM! Wait, what? A character just objected to my argument? That’s not supposed to happen! Alas, it is. This is a new game-play element that is part of the Non-Stop Debates, where your Truth Bullets temporarily transform into Truth Blades, and you have to swipe along the PlayStation Vita screen to cut through your opponents arguments. It took several tries before I managed to complete these sections, and I still don’t quite understand it. Hopefully that’ll change as we get farther into the game.
My only complaint so far about Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is that it is one of the only times I’ve actively told myself while playing that none of this really makes any sense. Normally I can utilize suspension of disbelief for JRPGs and the like, but with this, I kept having trouble figuring out how in the world the evidence I had had any relation to the problem at hand.
EDIT (8/25): One of the elements that was added that I really, REALLY enjoyed was what is called the “Logic Dive,” where you are put onto a course where you essentially skateboard or snowboard (you pick) your way through the logical problems to get a better picture of the scenarios at hand. I found myself enjoying this so much that I honestly wish there was a whole game based on the Logic Dive feature, but the chances of that happening are probably very slim.
Normally, I would have detailed the plot earlier than now, but I had to get that off of my chest. What Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair does REALLY well is that it’s very self aware of itself as a game, but more importantly as a sequel. The game starts off similarly to how Trigger Happy Havoc began, with your main character, Hajime Hinata talking about Hope’s Peak Academy. Then, you enter a classroom where you get to see a glimpse of your classmates before a stuffed rabbit appears before you calling herself Usami, and telling you all that you’re going on a school trip. So the walls of the classroom drop, revealing the twist that the classroom was on the island the entire time.
So Usami insists that you get to know your classmates and collect Hope Shards by getting along with your classmates. Initially, Hajime has reservations about this, but eventually he gets over it. That’s when Monokuma shows up and just wrecks everything. This is where the game gets weird. While Monokuma is definitely the same Monokuma from Trigger Happy Havoc, he seems…different. Namely in his ability to summon these gigantic mechanical beasts he calls Monobeasts, who look like final bosses in a game where final bosses would be a thing. But in Danganronpa, it’s not about final bosses, but rather, exhibiting your logical skills to get through the class trials alive. So with that logic in mind, these giant beasts don’t really belong.
EDIT (8/25): In hindsight, the Monobeasts actually had a larger purpose as the game continues, but they still somewhat distracted me. I found myself wishing that there was a way to somehow argue them into submission, which would have been a more interesting method of clearing them out of the way than they had in the game itself. Sure, they look cool, but it wasn’t exactly necessary.
As usual, Monokuma demands that the class begin to kill each other, and of course the class has reservations about it. Of course, if you’ve played Trigger Happy Havoc, any time anyone says how they won’t kill anyone, they almost ALWAYS end up killing someone. Because that’s kind of how the game works, and we all know it’s inevitable.
The cast is really awesome so far, there are a lot of eclectic students in this class, some of which are voiced by Johnny Yong Bosch, Natalie Hoover, and Bryce Papenbrook. They’re all typical of the Danganronpa style, so like with most things in this review, if you’ve played Trigger Happy Havoc, you know about what to expect.
Earlier, I mentioned that Goodbye Despair is very self aware of its existence as a game, but also as a sequel. The following section has spoilers for the ending of Trigger Happy Havoc, so please skip past this section if you haven’t played yet, or unless you don’t care about spoilers. Essentially, at the end of Trigger Happy Havoc, it is made clear that Junko Enoshima, who has been controlling Monokuma all along, erased the class’ memories about their time at Hope’s Peak Academy, making them think they were still freshmen when they had been there for years in reality. Well, the sequel kind of opens up with this revelation of this new class, but this time Monokuma is rather excited to let them know about this, saying that a plot with a cliched twist like that has been so overdone. Yes, you heard that correctly, Monokuma directly references Trigger Happy Havoc by mentioning a cliche.
END SPOILERS FOR TRIGGER HAPPY HAVOC HERE. Yes, but so far, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair definitely deserves my praise. It may not make sense 100% of the time, and it may be a lot more difficult than its predecessor, but it’s an improvement overall from the minimalistic, enclosed Trigger Happy Havoc. Here’s to an increase in the already impressive Western popularity of Danganronpa, and to a localization announcement for Zettai Zetsubō Shōjo: Danganronpa Another Episode very soon.