Do you like the book/movie Battle Royale? Did you enjoy the Phoenix Wright and Hotel Dusk titles?
If you’ve answered “yes” to both of those questions…boy, do I have a game for you!
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes the visual novel/graphic adventure series and puts that classic “wtf Japan” twist on it in an insanely delightful way. With anime-style character designs, voice-acting in English and Japanese (subs available – score!) and strong, solid story progression, this game clearly has the “land of the rising sun” written all over it. Developed by Abstraction and published by Spike-Chunsoft, the pair seem to have found a perfect harmony and have produced an incredible murder mystery guaranteed to please.
The game starts out similarly to how it did in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. You assume the role of a high school boy named Hajime Hinata who has achieved his life-long dream of attending Hope’s Peak Academy, an extremely prestigious (and publically funded) high school that promises to provide the world with talented musicians, chefs, and…umm…team managers? Anyway, Hajime quickly finds himself in a classroom with 15 other children with no recollection of how he got there. Things only get stranger when the rest of the eccentrically-populated class admits to this same bout of amnesia. As they discuss this amongst themselves, their teacher, Usami (a magical rabbit stuffed animal), pops up, introduces herself to her students, and whisks them away to a tropical island for an impromptu school trip. The students must learn to get along as they enjoy this lovey-dovey, heart-throb school trip, and by doing so they will be rewarded with a safe journey home.
Of course, things can’t go so smoothly, as games must keep up with the action-filled bloodlust of society. Enter Monokuma, a Cruella DeVil-colored bear with an evil eye, an outie belly button, and a thirst for teenage violence. Monokuma barges in on this peaceful excursion, graphically destroys Usami, and forces the class into a terrifying situation – a student must be killed in cold blood should any of them have any hope of leaving the island. A trial would then take place and, if the murderer were found, the rest of the class would walk free unscathed. Should the murderer remain hidden and the rest of the class accuse the incorrect suspect, the true killer would be allowed to escape, leaving the rest of the class on the island to be “punished” – a word that was never truly defined (gulp).
It is up to Hajime and the rest of the class to work together in order to get off this crazy island – can you survive?
…and with that, the longest tutorial/prologue in history wrapped up (about an hour), leaving me exhausted but wanting much, much more.
Controls are extremely simple and intuitive – use the WASD keys to move, the mouse to look around and interact with characters and items, and F1 pulls up your main menu. Hold down shift + any direction to run faster, R will allow you to exit from a current location and take you back to the previous one, and tab will show you any items you can interact with.
The art and music are fantastic – there are at least 3 different art styles (anime, computer-animation, and 8-bit) and they mesh seamlessly together. The music blends nicely with the voice-acting and settings, providing catchy and upbeat tunes that are toe-tapping without becoming distracting or annoying. The voice-acting is also superb, featuring both an English and Japanese version (the game has subtitles so feel free to choose the Japanese track). I cannot find fault with anything visually or audibly – the team knew exactly what they were doing when creating this game!
The storyline is usually what makes or breaks games of this genre, and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair certainly does not disappoint. The progression is a bit slow but that does not mean it’s not entertaining – I guess it gives the player more time to familiarize themselves with the cast (in the prologue alone there’s 18 different characters) and environment. I think a true test of this is how attached or invested with the characters one becomes that proves the strength of the storyline, and this game effortlessly cleared that hurdle for me; for example, I was extremely distrusting of the teacher, Usami. I knew that this would turn into a murder mystery, so I figured her adorable appearance and innocent demeanor was a ruse – a show – to lull the students into a false sense of security as she murdered them one by one. It was only when Monokuma appeared and ripped her to shreds that I realized I had been wrong about her and that she really did want the class to enjoy a field trip together. I actually felt really bad for ever doubting Usami – I mean, she was willing to give her life up to protect her students, so it was hard to see her so mercilessly destroyed.
Although the goal is still to find the murderer amongst the students (should that murder ever occur), the option to make friends with each classmate is not only still present but recommended. As the class scrambles to find an alternative method off the island, Hajime will occasionally have free-time, and it is advised to make better friends with the other teenagers during this time. Establishing a better connection with another student will result in a hope fragment – collect 6 in all per student (because that’s what Usami would have wanted, damnit!).
Aside from great gameplay and storyline, there are some really cool extra features.
Hajime carries a virtual pet around, like a Tamagotchi (nostalgia, anyone?). Walking will trigger its growth, pressing space bar flushes its poop down the toilet, and it has a hope and despair meter that I didn’t really pay attention to (sorry). As far as I can tell, this serves no real purpose other than to get a surprise item for successfully raising it, but that’s only a preliminary guess…I could be wrong. There is also a side quest to collect Monokuma stickers that you can place in your room. Collecting these stickers will result in some money earned, which can then be used to purchase gifts for your newfound friends/potential murderers.
My first impression was already a good one because I love this genre so much, but actually sitting down and playing the game had me begging for more. I gave up a lot of much-needed sleep because I just couldn’t stop playing. I was completely engrossed in the storyline and developing the relationship between myself and my classmates. I genuinely wanted to get off that island. And I don’t know, man…Usami’s death just haunted me a bit. I felt like I owed it to her for thinking ill of her after all she did for the class. I was determined to see this through to the end – for Usami.
I will admit that I hadn’t played the first Danganronpa so I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but simply playing the tutorial had me hooked. This title is a must-have addition to every Phoenix Wright fans’ Steam library for its engaging gameplay, laugh-out-loud dialogue, and scintillating storyline that will instantly be familiar to the Ace Attorney diehards. With literally hours upon hours of story and side quests at your disposal, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is worth every penny and is a rare gem in the visual novel/graphic adventure genre.