Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Vita)

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the follow-up to the crazy but delightful Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. The original had me glued to my Vita the entire way through as I watched an evil animatronic teddy bear force a group of school children to murder each other. Goodbye Despair offers more of the same. There’s a bigger environment to explore, an XP system, and a talking rabbit now, but it’s still classic Danganronpa with extra layers on top. Unfortunately, those extra layers occasionally distract from the story which doesn’t quite capture the highs of the first and the mini-games are now too convoluted for their own good. Fortunately, I still loved solving most of the murders and I’m thoroughly invested in whatever the hell is going on at Hope’s Peak Academy.

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You play as Hajime Hinata, a new student at Hope’s Peak Academy, a school that only accepts the country’s most gifted students. Hajime shows up for his first day but doesn’t even have time to decorate his locker with ridiculously proportioned anime girls before he falls asleep and wakes up on Jabberwock Island. Hajime isn’t alone. Fifteen other students are on the island having arrived under similar circumstances. Every student at Hope Peaks Academy is an “ultimate” at something. There’s Akane the ultimate gymnast, Ibuki the ultimate musician, and Fuyuhiko the ultimate yakuza. Hajime can’t remember his ultimate ability which makes the others suspicious of him, especially because the group knows there’s a spy in their midsts.

A weird pink rabbit called Usami shows up and seems to be in control. Usami encourages the students to ignore the cameras and amnesia and just relax and have fun in the tropical paradise. Any attempt at positivity quickly disappears when Monokuma, the weird bear from the first game, shows up and drops a bombshell. The only way off the island is to kill one of the other students and trick the group into finding someone else guilty of the crime. It’s a cool premise which essentially removes the “motive” element common in murder mysteries. Everyone has the same motive so you only need to focus on means and opportunity when uncovering the killer.

The game is split into chapters which in turn are split into three sections. Before each murder, the game is much like a visual novel. You talk to other students and socialize with people in your spare time. You can even give them presents if you like. After the murder, you begin the investigation section, where the game becomes a point and click adventure as you find all the clues you’ll need to solve the mystery. The trial consists of a series of mini-games where you attempt to uncover the guilty party by using the clues you found to rebut false arguments and force the murderer to confess.

The island setting provides more variety for all the murderous shenanigans than the school in the original game. There’s a factory, a theme park, a nightclub, and Monokuma’s own twisted take on Mount Rushmore. The island itself is a mystery this time around, so while some of the locations are perhaps gratuitous, a few of them hint at the bigger story that led the group here in the first place. The size of the island (technically islands as this is an archipelago) was a little daunting at first, however each chapter generally focuses on one particular section, so it never becomes overly confusing.

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With the exception of moving the setting from a school to an island, the setup is exactly the same as last time, and yet everything has been tweaked, modified, and upgraded. This isn’t always an improvement.

Trials were my favorite part of Trigger Happy Havoc. Goodbye Despair adds new mini-games and builds upon the old ones to make them more interactive. Logic Dive is probably the best addition. Hajime uses a snowboard to navigate obstacles and answer questions. It’s hard to fail as you get plenty of restarts and the only real difficulty is reading the questions and possible answers quick enough. Existing mini-games have been changed to require a little more interactivity from the player. For example, in Hangman’s Gambit, the letters now move all over the screen in an attempt to make the problem solving more tense and exciting. It doesn’t work. 

A couple of the new mini-games are practically broken. Rebuttal Showdown sees you go up against another student in a one v. one argument. You have to slash your opponent’s statements and then attack the weakness with your truth sword. It sounds entertaining enough, but the execution is woeful. You don’t have anywhere near enough time to respond to the statements and choose the appropriate clue to use in the truth sword so it becomes a case of replaying the game again and again until you have the right clue loaded and can attack at the appropriate prompt. Worst of all, the game seems to respond randomly to your inputs so you’ll end up haphazardly pressing directions until you get lucky and win the battle. Oh, and there’s another rhythm-based game that once again I have no idea how to play.

Even the basic Non-Stop Debate mini-game is weaker this time around with a few too many cases of “tricky game logic.” Multiple times I knew exactly what point I needed to make, I just couldn’t quite work out what clue the game wanted me to use against what statement. There were also a few instances where I didn’t understand the answer even when I lucked out and got it right. Some of the translations felt a touch off. One question I had to answer was basically nonsense. When the mini-games work, you feel like a high-priced lawyer arguing in front of a somewhat unusual judge. Unfortunately, nearly every trial had a moment that didn’t so much tax my brain as my patience. All this added complexity is presumably an attempt to make Goodbye Despair more challenging, however all it does is detract from the problem solving which is otherwise the strongest part of the game.

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The story does a decent job of building on the first game while still being relatively friendly to newcomers. Things get a little insane at the end when we’re treated to one of the longest exposition dumps I’ve seen in a while, however if you made it that far then you’re likely engaged enough to keep clicking. In trying to keep the two games connected, Spike Chunsoft makes things more confusing than they needed to be. I’m still not too sure how I feel about the resolution and will likely need to play the third game before I fully come to terms with it.

With a diverse cast of fifteen students, you’re bound to find a couple you get attached to. There’s an ultimate chef, ultimate mechanic, and even an ultimate lucky student. Lack of variety isn’t an issue, so you just need to hope your favorite doesn’t get killed off too easily. On average I didn’t connect with them quite as much this time around. There was only one character that I really wanted to see make it out unscathed. I didn’t care about the others that much, although most of them were entertaining enough. Monokuma is still hilarious. He regularly breaks the fourth wall and his desire to avoid being bored always serves as an efficient way to move the story forward at a decent pace.

Between murders, you can spend time with your favorite characters to get to know them a little better. These moments don’t do much to aid understanding of the story and occasionally don’t tie into it at all. In one chapter, the group is deprived of food and yet after hanging out with Akane—who’s obsessed with food—she mentions that she’s off for a big binging session. If you do spend time with other students, you unlock new abilities for the trials. Most of them aren’t that important, so I just hung out with the characters that seemed interesting and ignored the others.

Likewise, you can ignore most of the character leveling. You’re awarded extra XP for walking around the island instead of using fast travel in a weird attempt to make you appreciate the 2D backgrounds. There’s also a pet to look after, which simply involves flushing the toilet once in a while. I have no idea why these systems were added. 

After finishing the story, you can play “island mode” where the murders are removed and you focus on maxing out friendships and creating items for Monomi. I find this mode completely dull, but it’s easily ignored and feels like bonus content as opposed to part of the main experience which already provides twenty-five hours of entertainment.

Many of the systems in Goodbye Despair are unnecessary. Spike Chunsoft seems determined to squeeze in new modes and add complexity to existing ones when all I wanted to do was focus on getting to know the other students and solving the murders. Some of these systems niggled at me in the first game but were easy to ignore. This time they’re more intrusive and a little harder to look past.

Despite the clutter, Goodbye Despair is still special. Monokuma is one of the great video game characters of the last ten years and the mysteries are just tough enough that you don’t usually know who did it until the trial starts. When the trials are at their best, you solve the mystery at the same time as Hajime and it’s remarkably satisfying. Goodbye Despair isn’t as essential as Trigger Happy Havoc, but it’s still recommended.

4/5

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