Danganronpa's online popularity began with a fan-translation of the original game which was quickly followed up with an official release by NIS America. The sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was officially released a mere 7 months later.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair by Spike Chunsoft is a true sequel in that events from the first game heavily impact the second; however, the ways it does this are not obvious from the outset. Since discussing these aspects will lead to some serious spoilers, details will have to be skipped over and those who are interested in the series should pick up the first game. Without knowledge of the original Danganrona's events, major revelations in this sequel will lose their relevancy and power entirely.
The game opens up in a similar fashion to the first; 16 students are on their way to Hope's Peak Highschool when they appear to pass out and wake up confused in a classroom. Playing as Hajime Hinata, you are swept off with the others by a talking, pink rabbit named Usami to a deserted group of islands known as 'Jabberwock.' Once there, she explains that everyone is supposed to have a fun vacation and are to build relationships with each other in order to gather 'hope fragments.'
Everyone is rightly confused but decide to go along with this plan anyway as there's no way off of the island. Of course, things couldn't be as simple as a nice holiday, could they? Out of nowhere our old friend Monokuma shows up and forcibly takes over Usami's operation; turning their peaceful island vacation into a repeat of the 'killing school life' from the first game. The rules? In order to "graduate" and leave the island, one student must commit murder and not be identified as the culprit by the others.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair continued the excellent storytelling from the first and even improved upon it. The new characters felt like they had a lot more development this time around and were generally really likeable; for many players they may be even better than the ones in the first game. The story has some pretty interesting twists and turns and the ending was a bit mind-blowing; it was certainly not made obvious but was built up in a logical way. Getting closer to the characters really had a big impact and led to many hours of play while swearing it was "just one more hour."
Just like the first game, the majority of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is text-driven with major plot information and conversations being conveyed with a character portrait and text box. Since the game is so heavily reliant on text, a big part of the player's enjoyment hinges on the localization and NIS America did a great job once again. There are a few westernized references but besides those this is a very faithful translation and is clearly written by someone who cares about the series; the dialogue flows very well and is a lot of fun to read. Sadly, there are some typos and spacing issues here and there - sometimes sentences will run off screen - but these issues were rare. Most of the errors I saw appeared in the extra mini game rather than in the main story.
In the game you have the ability to explore the islands, investigate different locations and access a number of functions on the menu. Investigating the locations is the same as the first game; enter an area and select an item or character to get more information. These investigations are the key to advancing the story so players will need to check out everything; as an added convenience, players can press a button to reveal all of the areas of interest so it's impossible to miss something and get stuck.
Walking around the map has been changed quite a bit from the first game. While the hotel area retains the same first-person navigation, running around the rest of the islands is done in a third person perspective. Your character has the ability to run left or right and you can enter the areas that you run across. You are given the option to run around at a regular pace or you can use the dpad directions to zip around the island super fast. Of course, there are perks given when running normally; steps are counted to level up a bonus 'virtual pet' that can evolve into various different things and much more importantly, running will level your character up. Levelling up allows you to acquire more hope fragments which in turn unlocks better skills to use during the trial sequences. Truthfully, the game is completeable without any of these upgrades but they are handy to have.
Another important component of the game is when you are given free time. This allows you to speak to any of the other characters on the islands; depending on your relationship level - which is tracked invisibly - you may get extended dialogue during these sequences which will fill in a lot of plot and will unlock a hope fragment. Besides speaking to them repeatedly, the game gives players the option to give characters presents obtained from a vending machine in the supermarket; giving an item the character likes will raise their relationship level with you much faster.
Menus are similar to the first game, with most of the options being shown on your student ID pad. This menu allows you to check out the map and warp to any area you wish, view your relationships and hope fragments, view your items, view your skills, play with your virtual pet and change game settings. During pre-trial investigations and trials, the truth bullets category is added to the menu. This is a list of all the pertinent evidence that you will need to utilize during trials to solve mysteries; checking out each individual item will give more information and is indispensible in some sections of the game.
Trial sequences are the most interactive and important parts of the game. Not only are major mmysteries about the murder at hand solved here; major story revelations are also revealed to the player. Trials have three different parts: Non-stop debate, Rebuttal showdown, Hangman's gambit, Panic talk action, Logic dive and the Closing arguments. Each trial uses a different combination of these parts, with late-game trials using all of them. Trials are also the one area of the game where you are able to get a game over; you have an 'influence meter' that is essentially your health, if it runs out you will fail. Thankfully the developers realized that having to repeat long sections is not the most fun thing in the world, so if you fail you can restart at the beginning of the sequence you were already on; there is no going back to the beginning or to old saves.
The most common mode in trials is the Non-stop debate; in this, the camera will pan around the room while characters all argue their points. Players need to select the correct 'truth bullet' from a list in the lower left, move the targeting reticle over the correct highlighted statement to fire at a statement to either agree or disagree with it. In normal difficulty this mode has a bit of added difficulty in the form of 'white noise' where other statements fly around over top of the main one and must be cleared away by pushing a button; if they are not removed your truth bullets will not connect with statements. For players who find this too difficult or obnoxious, the option to change the difficulty settings is always available so it's not something that absolutely must be dealt with.
During Non-stop debates, characters will sometimes want to stick to their assertions regardless of you shooting them down with evidence. In these cases, the game switches over to a rebuttal showdown; a mode where the player has to rapidly cut down the opposition's argumments by either swiping the screen or pressing a button with the analog stick. Once you've cut them down enough, you will gain the upper hand and it will move onto the second stage of their rebuttal. In this second stage you need to select the right piece of evidence and use it at the right time; failing this has no repercussions at first but later on failure means going all the way back to the first stage. Sometimes these parts of the game were really frustrating; not knowing the right piece of evidence at first can lead to you needing to repeat this sequence over and over again. The touchscreen controls for this were also really frustrating, they didn't really work fast enough and frequently missed; figuring out that pressing a button was an option eased this considerably.
Sometimes you will also get to a Panic talk action instead of a rebuttal; this is usually someone desperately trying to hide their knowledge or deeds that are integral to the case. This mode requires you to hit the displayed button in time to the music in order to break down the opposition's shields and destroy their arguments that fly at you; failing to hit them can result in a lot of damage dealt to you so it can be tricky. The difficulty here can sometimes be compounded when the game decides to speed up the pace immensely or when it makes the prompts invisible; playing these sections without sound would be very difficult so it's recommended that you have it on. Sometimes it felt like the beats were not entirely in tune to the music and were always a bit tough to hit exactly so these sequences were not favourites.
The other two modes that will appear are a bit more interactive than the others. The first, Hangman's gambit, is similar to the first game but has been somewhat improved. The goal of this mode is to gather letters to make up a word or phrase which answers a question the main character has. Different coloured letters will slowly move across the screen and you need to hit two of them to combine them into one, then hit that one to add it to the phrase. This gets complicated because not only do you have to put in all the letters in order, you also have to make sure different coloured letters don't run into each other; different letters that collide will cause damage to your influence meter.
Secondly is Logic dive, which requires the character to essentially snowboard around in a digital-looking halfpipe. During this sequence players will have to answer questions by moving to the correct side of the run as indicated by different coloured answers with arrows. Failing to answer correctly will cause your character to fall off the course, thus costing you some influence and starting back a little ways before you fell. This mode also throws some curveballs at adding jumps and obstacles; players also have to know when to speed up or slow down in order to get past certain areas as well. This mode was a pretty strange addition to the game but is pretty entertaining and controls well; how snowboarding in your head leads you to the answers I don't know, but it's fun anyway.
The very last event to happen at trials is when you've completed all of your arguments and are ready to take a vote. You are given a set of tiles and you must be them onto a comic book-style timeline of events in the correct order. The game gives hints which are shown when you put the cursor over an empty space or a tile; this is definitely indespensible because even when you know what happened in the timeline, it's not always obvious what the tile is depicting exactly. After you've put down the correct tiles, the game will give you a new set and this continues until you'e completely filled in the scenario. Because some of the circumstances of these murders are complex and the way you solve them is not always in order, having these final wrap-ups were a nice way of explaining exactly what happened from start to finish.
After completing the game you unlock two extra features: a short light-novel set in the Danganronpa universe and a mini-game called "Island Mode." This mini-game is an alternate universe where Monokuma never shows up and the island vacation goes off as it's supposed to. In this mode the goal of the game is to have all the characters collect enough items to construct the items Usami asks for; these range from easy to quite difficult. Characters also need to rest, otherwise they'll pass out and be unusable for 3 days, and clean so everyone remains happy. After a day of work you are able to speak to the other characters and hear their stories from the main game; this is the perfect way to view all of the stories you may have missed in the main game. The other option is to use your tickets, earned from completing Usami's tasks, to take a character to a part of the island to hang out; this won't show the important conversations, they are just fun things to try.
Moving onto the graphics, it's important to remember that text-heavy games like this really need some stellar art to help draw the player in and make it a little more involving than a plain novel. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair definitely doesn't skimp in this area. The character designs are excellent, with some very unique designs just like the first game. While the majority of the game uses an anime-style adaptation of the original art, such as in trials and character portraits, the original art is used for events such as the crime scenes. The art is by Rui Komatsuzaki and is of a unique style rarely seen within video games or even anime, the images are coloured on a computer with a very soft look but also with some uniquely exaggerated elements. All of the characters in this game and the first are extremely unique and recognizable, even when they are only in a school uniform or something that should be generic.
The rest of the art in the game is also done very well, utilizing the 2.5D style that the first boasted as well. All of the characters and pieces of a scene are a 2D image but are placed in a way that makes them appear almost 3D; the camera also pans around these flat images in a 3D manner, giving the game a really unique look. Even walking into new areas looks interesting, with all of the 2D elements popping into frame like a pop-up book. The backgrounds are detailed and nice to look at, all done with a bunch of different styles including 3D renders that animate.
Music from the first game has been carried over into this one but there are also many new tracks. It all works to set up the mood very well, adding or removing tension when events call for it. Some of the tracks are very catchy while others will give you a bad feeling every time they pop up. The sound effects also add a lot to the game; one effect that will definitely get most players on edge is the sound that precedes Monokuma showing up.
The voice acting in the game is excellent in Japanese, with the voice of Doraemon - Nobuyo Ooyama - reprising her role as Monokuma just to mess with your head a bit more. The voices are usually just short expressions during conversations but in some important sequences the entire conversation will be voiced. As I have played through in Japanese, the English voice cast is jarring but they appear to be doing their jobs well; the voice of Usami in English sounds especially accurate.
In closing Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a worthy sequel to the original game and was very enjoyable. Some of the trial modes were a bit punishing but solving the mysteries was really satisfying so it balanced out any frustration. The characters and story were even better than the first and adding in the excellent sound design and art, the game is really difficult to put down. Anyone who was a fan of the original Danganronpa needs to check this one out while newcomers who are into text-based games with murder mystery-type plots should play the first and then this one.
Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 are available on the PlayStation Vita and are compatible with the PlayStation TV. This review was done with a copy purchased by the author.