I spent the whole time editing this podcast on a yoga ball. So Gabe, I get you.
Sequel fatigue is rampant in this industry. We’ve been dealing with annual franchises ever since loads of people bought Call of Duty 4, but a sequel being released mere months after the original? That should be enough to make my blood boil. Thankfully, the sequel to this year’s cult classic Danganronpa wasn’t an unwelcome arrival, especially since the only thing keeping both games from being released at once was their translations. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the follow up to March’s Trigger Happy Havoc, seems like more of the same at the start, but clever storytelling and improved mechanics boost this sequel beyond the original to new heights I’ve never seen before in the genre. DR2 is the new standard that mystery visual novels should strive for.
DR2 takes the initial premise that the series started with, and flips it on its head. Instead of a classroom, the events of this game take place on a tropical island. The students are prepared for fun in the sun, until a certain monochrome menace reappears, and brings a new despair to the masses. Daily Life, where you interact with your classmates and build new bonds with them, quickly turns to Deadly Life once a murder takes place. Interacting with your peers gives you Hope Fragments, which you can spend in your e-Handbook to unlock new skills to use during trials. You can also unlock character-specific skills by going all the way through a character’s route, but unless they’re still alive mid-way through the game, you probably won’t get that skill until you play through Island Mode: a post-game alternate story where Monokuma is repelled and the students are allowed to relax and have fun. Wooing your classmates is also the same as the last game. Give them presents you get from the vending machine and watch as they spill their guts to you. Monocoins are collected from completing class trials and finding Monokumas hidden around the island. Performing well in a trial nets you more coins, so don’t drop the ball, or Sonia won’t want to tell you about how much she loves J-drama.
The biggest improvement is the cast. The first game had quite a few standout characters, but around half of the starting roster were throwaway by the end, and it’s almost startling how quickly I forgot some of them. Like really, who was Leon? Thankfully, DR2‘s gaggle of animes doesn’t have a weak character in it. Hajime Hinata, the hero of this story, has a pronounced character, especially compared to the slightly flat Makoto. Even weirdos like the perverted chef Teruteru or the stoic swordswoman Peko end up revealing backstories that will tug at your heart strings. In the original game, boring characters stayed boring, but in the sequel, everyone has character development, no matter how long they stick around. The continued highlight is still Monokuma, who now has a foil in Monomi, his “little sister”. Monokuma often pummels her and unleashes multiple charge-beam shots at her, but it’s all played for laughs and never feels gross. There’s a big difference between the Looney Tunes kind of violence that happens at times and the actual “holy shit that’s a dead body” violence and it’s neat how well the writing pulls that off.
The Class Trial system has been improved, albeit incrementally. You can now agree with statements, in addition to pointing out contradictions. This adds a new flow to the dialogue and highlights the cooperation the students partake in to save themselves from being blackened. Hangman’s Gambit has also changed this time around, and while it’s much speedier, it is sometimes very overwhelming and nearly impossible to clear without taking damage. To anyone trying to get that trophy, good friggin luck. The new addition, Logic Dive, is a fun and frantic downhill jam, pulling Hajime down a path towards the truth. Logic Diving was my favorite part of the game, as it perfectly encapsulated how it feels to be forced to come to a quick conclusion under pressure. The other new addition, rebuttal showdown, has you go one-on-one with another student, slicing their words out of the air and finishing their argument off with a well-timed slice with a truth bullet/sword.
Goodbye Despair also has an excellent OST, thanks once again to Masafumi Takada. Remixes from the original game paired up with new pieces make for a nostalgic, yet unfamiliar experience to the ears. I can’t be specific, but there’s a part late-game where the music deteriorates drastically from room to room, and it made me a little teary-eyed. Voice acting has also improved in this release, but there’s still only full VA in trials, which makes for annoying “hey!”s and “uh”s throughout Daily/Deadly Life. Can you blame me for wanting to hear Gundham Tanaka scream about his “Four Dark Devas” (his hamsters) more? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
In DR2 were a few jokes that I thought were in poor taste, but they were mostly ignorable and I was able to roll my eyes and move on. There’s thankfully nothing on the level of the first game’s transgressions, which is another thing Goodbye Despair has over its predecessor. There’s a virtual pet thrown into the e-Handbook that is a waste of time, but it beeps to remind you that the damn thing died. I’m sorry, ripoff Tamagotchi, I’m a little busy solving crimes to play a game right now. Also I saw quite a few dialogue errors in the side-games, but surprisingly none in the main game. It’s a bit irritating to see that the fluff was rushed, but as long as the main game is as good as it is, I’m not ready to really rail on it.
Danganronpa 2 is exactly what I want out of a sequel to a game I love; a richer experience that makes me happy I played the last one while making me itch for more. 99% of the time I’d be bored of a franchise that puts out two games in one year, but that rare 1% is Danganronpa. If you have a Vita, this series is absolutely mandatory.