Imagine, if you would, being deposited on a tropical island with fifteen of your peers and one slightly overbearing chaperone. Sounds hunky dory, right? Days in the sun and surf with pals, nights drifting to sleep to the sound of crashing waves. Well, what if you couldn't leave the island until you began murdering your classmates, and unless the perpetrator of said hypothetical, heinous murder is discovered in a class trial everyone gets killed EXCEPT the murderer? And, naturally, with each subsequent murder the waters are increasingly muddied by progressively ridiculous Rube Goldberg machine setups.
That is the crux of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. It is also the crux of this reviwer's novella, Teenage Murder Island 2: Hello Hormones. But that's another story for another day.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the sequel to the positively received Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc – a sort of murder mystery anime visual novel. Both titles initially released on PSP, then PS Vita, and now have finally made it to the PC marketplace.
The story setup here mirrors the first title. You and your fellow classmates are set to attend Hope Academy, the safest school for cream of the crop students to attend. Your class includes the world's ultimate photographer, the world's ultimate team manager, and the... ultimate yakuza? Sure! Fine. They deserve an education same as everyone else. Unfortunately for these students their school trip takes a detour to murder island thanks to murder bear and adorable deus ex machina Monokuma, antagonist of D:THH.
Gameplay is broken up into three primary modes. You have free time, investigation, and trial mode. Free time is where you spend this time exploring your prison/island paradise however you like. You can run around like a madman to grow the game's virtual pet (each step promotes growth), giving it gifts and cleaning up its, uh, waste. You can talk to not-dead-friends to form a closer bond that will almost certainly leave you more devastated when they're killed. Or you can scour the island for little hidden Monokuma cutouts, each one netting you coins to spend and a the little cutout is returned to your room and placed on a viewing shelf.
Investigation mode will have you looking into a new part of the island or, just as likely, investigating a crime scene. As this is a visual novel adventure title you can put aside the notion that you'll be combing over the scene LA Noire style, and you're definitely not going to miss any key evidence. You just click on the various items of interest, you'll learn something and store the knowledge away in a “truth bullet,” and continue your investigation until Monokuma calls for the last gameplay mode.
This trial mode is where you and your peers act as judge and jury (Monokuma is content to dole out punishment as executioner), going over all of the evidence and coming to a verdict. This isn't a hoity-toity, stuffy normal court case. Instead, you load up your truth gun with truth bullets (evidence gathered) and consent or argue with your peers as you break down the case step by step. Again, this is linear like the actual evidence collecting so don't expect to go through the entire case, get it wrong, and have to restart. Each time you screw up, your health bar takes a hit until you figure out what you're supposed to argue or agree with.
It doesn't stop there though. There are a series of minigames to keep things fresh and engaging. You've got Improved Hangman's Gambit where you have to guess a word or phrase critical to the case, collecting a letter and then shooting at the same letter to string the word or phrase, and if two differing letters collide or one letter swells to big you take some damage. This reviewer found the ironically named "Improved" Hangman's Gambit to be the weakest mini game, as it's a chore to select the letters and keep others from colliding constantly. Then there's a Silver Surfer-esque Dive mode where you travel through neural pathways in your own brain (read: anime), dodging and jumping and discerning inalienable truths. These mini games serve to flesh out the sometimes hour-long cases and keep the player on their tootsies.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a wild, weird experience, and it is an improvement in nearly every way to the original title. With the exception of one obvious solution, I was completely lost as to whodunit until the bitter end of every increasingly complex trial. The music is expressive and dynamic. The mini games have been refined and improved (with, ironically, the exception of Improved Hangman's Gambit). The characters are all very well fleshed out, compelling, and sympathetic – even the murder-y ones! The story is, avoiding all spoilers here, as brilliant, bizarre, and compelling as it was in the first game, perhaps more so.
Assuming you don't skip through the dialogue (which why would you, it's effectively an interactive book?!) this is a lengthy title... easily thirty to forty hours for the main game alone. Of course there are some distractions once you beat the game, including a what-if novel from the first game, a what-if scenario from Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and a forgettable wave fighting mode. If you're a fan of the original, this is just more of what you love, and a mandatory addition to your Danganronpa library with the weird Monokuma bookends and Junko shrine. If you're not a fan I'd recommend checking out Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc first but you could play this one on its own. There will be some references you won't get but it's primarily nods to the first and mostly-not-cringey fan service. Mostly.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is aptly named. This reviewer bid despair farewell, and had a great time in its wake.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was reviewed on PC using a Steam key provided by the developer.
An excellent murder mystery visual novel brimming with hope and despair alike. Be ready to read.