It’s said that misery loves company. With that in mind, developer Spike Chunsoft decided to follow the first installment of their teenage murder mystery franchise Danganronpa by upping the ante and driving even more hapless participants of its deadly game to the farthest reaches of hopelessness and desperation. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair features the same over-the-top characterizations, quirky black humor, and ultra-violence that fans of its precedessor would expect. However, as with Trigger Happy Havoc, the class trial sections, despite introducing a number of new gameplay elements, continue to get in the way of the fun, somewhat marring what is otherwise a sequel that raises the bar on all fronts.
Goodbye Despair follows the same premise as the first game: sixteen Hope’s Peak Academy students, each of them the most talented in their specific field, find themselves trapped and forced to participate in a series of deadly games of murder to earn chances at escape. By killing a fellow schoolmate, and subsequently getting away without being found out, a student may earn the privilege to “graduate” and leave, while all others will share the fate of the deceased. It’s the other students’ – and by extension, the player’s – job to investigate the crime scene locations, gather clues and evidence, and prove who each killer is in a courtroom mock-up. If the murder is solved correctly, the culprit is lethally punished, typically in an outrageous or gruesome manner, and the cycle begins anew with the ever-shrinking group of survivors.
The gameplay setup of both games is identical, though the individual details give this sequel an identity all its own. The most obvious change, apparent as early as the title screen, is that the game is set on a secluded tropical island paradise this time around, as opposed to the oppressively claustrophobic school building of the first game. The vibrant tropical setting is an interesting choice for a brutal thriller, and it presents as many mysteries as the previous setting. Then there’s the presence of Magical Miracle Girl Usami, later renamed Monomi, a talking pink plush bunny, similar to series antagonist Monokuma, who claims she is a Hope’s Peak teacher and in charge of the students during their Killing School Trip to Jabberwock Island. The sadistic stuffed bear mascot himself is of course also back in the mix, and his interactions with Monomi, whom he refers to as his younger sister, are a constant source of bewildered amusement.
As the body count rises and the surviving students take part in one trial after another, new sections of Jabberwock Island become available for exploration. The narrative, though decidedly linear, does a great job at pacing events, introducing interesting new locations, and presenting (and occasionally resolving) new mystery hooks over the course of its rather considerable 30 - 40 hour length. Especially during the final chapter or two, unpredictable events unfold at a breakneck pace, to the point where I found myself slack-jawed a few times during the story’s finale.
Environmental exploration occurs by pointing and clicking an on-screen reticle on areas of interest. Though most locations can be explored in this way (with the exception of the courtroom setting and those meant solely for navigating around the island), the amount of interactive hotspots is often less than stellar, and sometimes downright sparse. This is offset by the sheer volume of text that appears as a result of conducting your investigations and speaking with Hajime’s classmates. At a guess, roughly 85-90% of the game’s runtime is devoted to straightforward visual novel gameplay, namely reading text.
Some of that text occurs in the Daily Life sections, which primarily serve to let players, who take on the role of protagonist Hajime Hinata, walk around the island and hang out with the other students, revealing their backstories in a piecemeal fashion – assuming they’re not killed off first. While this feature was one of my least favorite in the previous game, I took to it more this time around; figuring out which gifts to give to each student in order to unlock his or her complete backstory and earn a special skill to use during courtroom sections seems much more intuitive than before. Of course, it’s worth noting that these Daily Life sections, which cut right into the overarching narrative, happen with less frequency in the later stages of the game, when the story begins to roll full steam ahead, and are completely skippable when they do occur.
The writing also features some notable improvements this time around, which contributes to making the Daily Life sections more palatable. That’s not to say the first game’s writing was subpar, but on the whole Goodbye Despair does a better job motivating you to build relationships with Hajime’s classmates. From the outset, during the introductory chapter, progression is based on speaking with the other students and obtaining Hope Fragments from them for doing so. Throughout the game, these Hope Fragments are a visual representation of how close Hajime is to each character, and the verbal exchanges to get there make the characters easier to care about.
In fact, the script even succeeds in evoking real emotion. As early as the very first murder case, I found myself sympathizing with the acts perpetrated by the killer, and wishing for an unexpected “No Punishment” twist. Some characters’ motivations aren’t purely black or white, and the complicated scenarios that spin out of this can be truly tragic and heart-breaking. At the same time, there are genuine moments of laugh-out-loud levity in the game, and parts that burst with hope and optimism, and these finely crafted moments encourage players to get emotionally invested.Continued on the next page...