From Lord of the Flies, The Beach, Lost, and even the reality-TV staple Survivor, the desolate, uninhabited island has often served as a microcosm for examining humankind’s true nature. While the setting is typically introduced as a tranquil, flora-filled playground, the utopian veneer quickly dissolves, revealing a rapacious and violent undercurrent. Upon initial inspection, the recent release of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair does little to subvert that trope. Like the games’ predecessor, 2010’s Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the plotline revolves around a roster of sixteen pupils who have been admitted to an exceedingly exclusive school known as Hope’s Peak Academy.
For the first hour, enjoyment stems from identifying the trait which elevated each student to be selected for the academy. Equally as gratifying is observing the (initially) archetypical characters goaded into collaboration in a context that’s equal parts The Breakfast Club and Battle Royale. Unsurprisingly, Goodbye Despair preserves its forerunner’s principal quandary, where students are allowed to leave if they can murder one of the peers without identification during a subsequent class trial. Of course, if they are discovered, they face the death penalty from Danganronpa’s master of ceremonies, a depraved, twin-faced, mechanical teddy bear named Monokuma.
Admittedly, the premise sounds extraordinarily far-fetched. But Danganronpa does a number of things to support the suspension of disbelief. Players are privy to the thoughtful internal dialog of the game’s protagonist. Instead of just conveying expositional elements, the character helps to emphasize both the ethical dilemmas at hand, as well as express the trepidation of being in the middle of a murderous arrangement. And while Danganronpa’s narrative foundation might seem rooted in the fantastical, Goodbye Despair performs an exceptional job at character development. During the game’s twenty to twenty-five hour span, dialog with each student reveals enough information to make you change your opinion about each character. Knowing some of the cast will persist while other will perish, the script often plays with player sentiment, as if Monokuma was on Spike Chunsoft’s developmental payroll.
Although the specters of sorrow and savagery hang over a majority of the plotline, there are moments when Goodbye Despair makes good on its moniker. The concept of teenage antagonism is balanced against moments where the lead character actively thwarts despondency, endowing the narrative with a bit of optimism. Like Trigger Happy Havoc, completion rewards players with a scenario where social bonds can be created without the constant threat of carnage. While the game’s plotline occasionally veers into the esoteric, the developers made a consciousness effort to link Goodbye Despair to its predecessor,and in the end, the attempt proves useful, adding cohesion between the two narratives.
Adeptly, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despairmakes a number of improvements to the original game’s formula. Whereas conceptualizing the architecture of Hope’s Peak Academy was made difficult by a disjointed assembly of rooms, Goodbye Despair employs a side-scrolling system as players navigate across Jabberwock’s chain of five tropical islands. The shift in setting also gives the title much more breathing room, allowing large venues which would fit inside the confines of Hope’s Peak.
Although the option to fast travel still exists, the game deftly discourages use of the system via two different systems. The first is the integration of an experience level. As the game’s protagonist walks or runs across the island, he increases his health and focus- two capabilities which influence the challenge level of Goodbye Despair’s mini-games. Secondly, each step feeds into the game’s Tamagotchi-like device, which if the pet is pampered properly, gives presents that players can use to build rapport during the game’s Daily Life episodes.
Eventually, the serenity of these sections is interrupted by violence and when body is discovered the game plunges players into Deadly Life- where the objective collect evidence. Once the crime scene has been scoured, each chapter concludes with a Class Trial, which are noticeably longer than Trigger Happy Havoc’s tribunals. Mechanically, these are the highlight of the experience, with metaphorical mini-games representing the construction of judicial arguments. Previously known as “Bullet Time Action”, the shooting action of “Panic Talk Action” now offers syllogisms that are consistently sound, leading to less confusion and fewer repeated attempts. “Rebuttal Showdown” tasks gamers with cutting through testimony with screen swipes and button presses, an activity that’s enjoyable once gamers grasp the basics. Clearly the game’s highlight is “Logical” Dive, a snowboarding like diversion where players have to steer down a symbolic path filled with branching questions and logic gaps.
Outside of Goodbye Despair’s core gameplay, the developers have done a good job at accommodating gamers. Whether played via cartridge or a digital download, the title’s load times are nearly undetectable. Visually, the game’s backdrops, characters, and effects are top-notch, presenting players with a pleasant scene-building sequence whenever they visit a new venue. Accidently missing a piece of dialog is effortlessly remedied by tapping the select button to bring up a transcript of the game’s dialog. While the title should be commended for its competent voice acting in both Japanese and English, it’s a bit unfortunate that players can’t switch languages after their initial selection.
Along with XBlaze Code: Embryo and the original Danganronpa, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a PS Vita-based visual novel which transcends the genre, offering a remarkably gripping experience. While the first game was effective, Goodbye Despair smartly builds on its predecessor’s successes, mending most of the navigational and logical blemishes. For gamers who are enamored by an engaging storyline and ruminations of philosophy, ethics, and logic, it would be absurd to not add Goodbye Despair to their libraries.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was played on the PS Vita with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: PS Vita
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Release date: September 2nd (US)
Price: $39.99, retail or via PSN download
Language(s): Japanese/English voice, English Text