Welcome back to the second part of Dangancember! With more and more news coming out about the Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, it seems like a perfect time to finish my review of the first two games in anticipation for the next. With Christmas fast approaching, this means that hopefully we can end the year on a high note and bring Dangancember to a close on Christmas day with the anime, and the conclusion to the current story arcs in motion. Because Danganronpa is Christmas appropriate right? It’ll do anyway. So after the excitement of the first game was this just as good, or did it fall short as a sequel? Was Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair a Critical Hit, or Miss?
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Reviewed on PC
Developed by Spike Chunsoft
Spoiler Warning: I did a spoiler free review of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, but given certain aspects of this game I may talk about elements of the first. I will try to keep this spoiler free for the cases and murders in both of the two games however.
After the uncertain events of the first game, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair opens once again to the familiar setting of Hopes Peak Academy with a new protagonist in the form of Hajime Hinata, the newest aspiring student eager to enter the prestigious academy. The nostalgia doesn’t last long however, as history quickly repeats itself and something goes wrong upon stepping into the familiar grounds of the school. After passing out and finding yourself in another classroom with the rest of the cast, it’s not long before everything takes an unexpected turn as the group realise they’ve been taken to an isolated tropical island, far from Hopes Peak.
Taken here by your new teacher Usami, who acts like a good version of Monokuma, along with a new cast of colourful characters, it’s clear that this is a departure from the events in the previous title, as this school trip sets up an early new location, questions and series of mysteries. Tropical paradise or not however, this is still Danganronpa, which means it won’t take long for all your new favourites to start killing each other once again in a new murder game with new twists and turns, new motives and traps. While the basic concept of the story appears the same at first, albeit with a vastly different location, Danganronpa 2 takes a very different direction with its story. Clearly I can’t go into why this is, but there are many clever deliberate comparisons between the previous title and the new setting.
The gameplay follows much of the same beats as the first, splitting between story driven segments, murder investigation and trials and free time with the cast. This time however, as much as you do want to escape, let’s face it, you are on a tropical island and not a school. There is a less urgent need to escape and see the outside world as it’s no longer simply a good hole in the wall away. This means the character’s motivations become far more personal, and have a stronger focus on elements that drive the cast and their actions. As new island areas open up and the mystery behind the story begins to unfold, the overlaying story behind Danganronpa 2 is far more involved and much more rewarding then may be expected at first.
New Characters, New Problems
No longer in the shoes of the Ultimate Lucky Student, Makoto Naegi, players now get to see a different personality in the roles of Hajime Hinata, the Ultimate…unknown? As since waking up on his new island home, Hajime can’t remember what his ultimate talent is at all. Unlike Makoto though who at least had an understanding of the loophole that gave him ultimate status, despite lacking a skill, Hajime doesn’t even know what he brings to the table, or why he’s at Hopes Peak in the first place. He stands out as a more individual character and less a protagonist mold to slip into. I found him to be far more relatable on a character level as he comes across as far more of a cynic, someone understandably on guard in this new situation as a person who can’t even be sure of his own motives or history. Cynicism aside though, Hajime is under no illusions about the situation the cast are in, and it was refreshing to play a protagonist struggling with his own problems while trying to just survive the islands ordeal, without an almost fanatic belief in friendship, that most JRPG protagonists seem to worship. While Makoto was by no means a bad character, Hajime certainly felt like a step up as a personality and I certainly enjoyed someone who took a more realistic view of the scenario they were in.
Hajime isn’t the only new addition however, as he brings a whole new cast of characters with him. That is except for one stand out addition from the original game, the return of the much larger Byakuya Togami. Byakuya’s return raises a huge number of questions, but just what the answers are to them, you’ll have to see for yourself. I won’t detail every new character but there is now a full cast of sixteen to interact with, each with their own talents, personalities and motives. While the game can’t escape too much of its own formula and boundaries, the characters do largely feel more involved personally this time then a story attached to a stereotype. The twists and turns many of them take is truly surprising, with some characters developing down some very interesting pathways as the story unfolds. Hajime still gets free time to talk with your new favourites and earn hope fragments. As before they can be used to unlock perks and abilities for the trials, but mainly it’s another chance to get to know the cast and wind down from all the killing.
By far the most interesting change to the whole game comes purely from one character most surprisingly, one whose presence truly changes the tone many of the cases and investigations take. I won’t actually say who, although it’s hardly a late game twist, but I don’t want to spoil any more than necessary. Instead of simply being a survival game like before, there are many different elements at play in the cases than simply a murderer’s motive, and that is the crux of the best changes in Goodbye Despair. This particular character exists almost purely to make the trials as confusing as possible, be it outright helping a killer escape with murder, working with Hajime and the others, or simply making it hard to solve for their own desires. With more cynical and uncertain lead character, the possibility of a new mastermind and traitor, and the best wildcard in the series who even supports the murderers, the new cast has a lot to look forward to, use your free time wisely, not everyone gets to stay till the end.
Murder, Investigation and Changes
For those familiar with the previous games mechanics, or read my review of it, I won’t go over how the investigation and trial system works all over again. Instead let’s talk about what’s new and different this time around, because there is a lot of good and bad to cover, some that go beyond the trial itself as mentioned before. While different, the basic mechanics remain the same as before. When a victim has been found murdered, Hajime and the gang begin their investigations, gather evidence and eventually go to the class trial to find the killer. The core gameplay remains with truth bullets, argument counters, mini-games and evidence presentation, but there are some key differences in the tone and gameplay this time around.
Straight away you do feel like this game has a stronger focus on character interaction in certain regards. It really caught me off the guard the first time that Hajime is not only disputed during a trial, but you can now be outright countered by other members of the cast when they rebut your statements. This opens to the new mini-game where your truth bullets get replaced with truth blades, forcing you to cut through your oppositions words and use the right truth blade to end their argument. This is the strongest new mechanic by far, as it helps bring the cast to life more when they feel the need to deny your claims or outright make a desperate bid to save face. Alongside this you can now choose to agree with statements from the cast, instead of countering incorrect evidence it’s possible to take peoples side when they have the answer to a mystery. Making some people actually contribute occasionally.
Beyond this however, there isn’t a ton of changes to the actual core mechanics. Trials do have a half way break now, which doesn’t really change anything but it does give a sense of the trials progress and when the case is going to start intensifying towards the climax. Certain mini-games are new or different, such as the hangman game which went from bearable to a right pain in the ass. It’s now a mess of flying and colliding letters with nothing to go on in clues, and with a memory like mine, its remember exact words and phrases or get lost. There’s a new multiple choice virtual surfing mini-game, yes that’s right, virtual surfing, this one is enjoyable however and while a strange departure, a welcome break from some more tedious challenges.
My issue however, lies in the increased difficulty of the cases, or more accurately, why they are. Being difficult isn’t an issue, in fact a good challenge can be great, yet despite generally well-constructed cases, it often felt like the game expected you to remember everything in perfect detail. If the name of a place or exact map layout slipped your mind, then you get nothing, not even being allowed to check your map for reference. Sometime the game also wants very specific things from you, going as far to make you second guess a correct answer because you clicked the wrong area or didn’t make a rather creative leap to an answer you might not even consider with a lack of evidence.
It feels like for all their creativity and amazing twists and turns, sometimes the game reached too far for an answer and made connecting all the dots more annoying than just hard. These times aren’t great in number, but enough to feel that difference, and especially with a memory as poor as mine, it often felt just mean to deny certain information or fact checking that Hajime could logically access. All of this said though, there are some truly amazing cases in this game, and there were certainly many steps in the right direction for change and quality, but sadly at times it faltered with new mechanics and picky selection.
Music, Voice and the rest
Once again the music is really on point as many of the original tracks return from the previous title, as well as remixed tracks and new songs. Monomi’s track especially is a standout hit that really captures the wacky greatness of the title, as well as adding a sense of that island themed cheer to bring a new kind of flavor into the mix. On top of a great revamped main theme, there is plenty new and old to both give Goodbye Despair something new, while remembering the best of the old.
Music isn’t the only place where the audio shines however, as there are some really standout performances with the new cast of characters. Hajime himself is voiced by the great Johnny Yong Bosch, a voice many may recognize from various forms of media over the years. While all the cast is pretty on point, I do have to give a special mention to the returning Bryce Papenbrook, trading in Makoto for the new Nagito Komaeda, Chris Tergliafera as Gundam Tanaka and Derek Stephen Price as Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu. Listening to the cast talk during the class trials is always a treat, but this time especially some great moments were captured by the cast with some unique voices for the unique personalities.
I don’t feel like there is much to say in terms of art however, as it remains more or less the same as before. Which is to say it’s good still, but there’s not a lot more to go into. The punishment time executions do seem like a step up for both impact and visuals however more than anything, with all of the executions really carrying extra emotion weight and meaning this time around. It does feel like this title really was a bigger and better step up from the previous game given the love it received the first time around, and it’s well deserved.
Is it good?
While there are some missteps and frustrations with minor things, mostly during certain trials, the game itself is a huge step up in terms of writing, character and cleverly expanding the story of the Danganronpa universe. There are some truly well written cases, surprising twists and turns and above all, a story that really invests you in the events of the game, including the last. I wouldn’t call Danganronpa 2 flat out superior to the first, but certain parts definitely bring some of the best moments of the franchise so far, while being different enough to feel like a solid continuation to the first in a slightly different direction. If you enjoyed the first game, you can’t go wrong with Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.
Streaming this game really pushed me to try new things, by which I mean I was pushed into voicing more characters, but it was a different and fun experience once again. Despite how utter terrible my voicing was, it was fun to do Gundham and Nagito for a good portion of a stream. Speaking of voices though, I do have something special planned in the future for Danganronpa V3, we’ll both have to hang around to see what happens with that one. Did you guys have a favourite character? A new waifu? Looking forward to the next title? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll be back to close this Dangancember next week!