Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Danganronpa 2: Goodybe Despair Review

Over the summer, I had the joy of playing through a little title called Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. I thought that it was a great murder mystery visual novel with some interesting characters and gameplay mechanics. On the whole, I really dug it and had a great time playing it. I would go so far as to say that it's one of the few reasons to own a Playstation Vita (Persona 4 Golden being all of the other reasons). The ending of the game though left it kind of hard to imagine how a sequel could be made. If Monokuma was defeated at the end of the last game, and most of the cast died as well, what can even be done for a sequel that won't make it feel like it's trying to live in the shadow of its predecessor. Can it even surpass its predecessor?

Hajima Hinata is a young student at Hope Peak Academy, a school for "ultimate students", or students that are the best in their fields. The academy has students with talents like "Ultimate Photographer", "Ultimate Chef", or even "Ultimate Mechanic". Unlike the previous protagonist though, Hajime is in fact an "ultimate student". What he's an ultimate of though is a mystery, because he and fifteen other students end up on an island called Jabberwock Island with a strange bunny that calls herself Usami. Usami is their teacher, and she instructs all of the students to have a good time and be friends with each other. However, it isn't long before the sinister Monokuma shows up and turns this field trip into what he calls a "Killing School Trip". The only way to escape the island now is to kill someone and get away with the murder. Who can you trust if everyone has the potential to be a murderer?

One of the biggest problems when entering into a discussion about his game is the nature of expectation. What exactly should you expect from a sequel that has the same gameplay, the same mechanics, and same general theme as its predecessor? It would be easy to separate the two if it wasn't for the fact that the story inevitably ties them both together. Events from the first game tie over into this one, and even major reveal from the first game are throw in very early on for the players. The end game isn't exactly clear, and for a long time, it's hard to figure out exactly what Danganronpa 2 does differently than its big brother.

I'm just gonna confuse fans of the original with this picture.
Do I have your attention now?
First and foremost, the setting of the game. Hope's Peak Academy was an interesting location, but I feel that Jabberwock Island is a much, much, much better location. The island is huge and full of rich and detailed environments with more variety than the first game. There are restaurants, beaches, music venues, hospitals, and even an amusement park to explore on Jabberwock Island. The island feels alive, and it most certainly has a lot more of a color palette than Hope's Peak. Everything just pops out at the player, and the crisp quality of the Vita is clearly evident. Character models are beautifully colored and the utmost detail has been put into each emotion they express, even though they're just static images.

Even the voice acting for this game surpasses the original. Seminal voice actors like Wendee Lee, Derek Stephen Prince, Bryce Papenbrook, Johnny Yong Bosch, Kyle Hebert, and Julie Ann Taylor all have roles in this game, and they all do a great job. It's so rare that I get to talk about great voice actors in video games, and this is one of those times. Not only does this game have a great voice cast, but they lend their voices to compelling and interesting characters as well.

Speaking of the characters, all of them are varied and each have their own unique personalities, but they don't necessarily have depth. Danganronpa had great characters that stood the test of time like Sakura Ogami, Taka Ishimaru, Byakuya Togami, and of course, Monokuma. They were great characters because of their actions and what they did inside the plot of the game. In Danganronpa 2, the best characters are defined by their personality quirks alone. Mikan is great because she's a clumsy nurse, Gundham Tanaka is phenomenal because he's insanely over the top, and that's pretty much it. None of the other characters have great moments that happen to them in the story that cement them as great characters, with the exception of Fuyuhiko, the "Ultimate Yakuza".

And then there's Nagito Komeada...

I'm going to be blunt here right now. I am fully aware of just how controversial Nagito is as a character and is perhaps the most defining aspect of this game. Once you encounter Nagito, then a majority of the game will be defined by how you perceive his actions. I hate this character. He's insufferable. He's a pretentious, arrogant, near suicidal lunatic that rants and raves for the majority of the game about hope and luck and despair, abstract concepts that he tries to philosophize. I would put up with him, but his constant prattling on about his own ideals, and his desire to make everyone understand them makes me pray that he gets killed in the game. I know that he's a controversial game character and is even the most preeminent aspect of this game, but be warned that when you play this game, you will have to deal with Nagito. If you like him, more power to you, but I can't stand the bastard.

Welcome to Despair Island!
That awkward spot out of the way, there's a lot to like about the plot. There are six chapters, each of them containing a section called Daily Life, and a section called Deadly Life. In the Daily Life section, you can run around the island an spend time with any of the other students and develop friendships with them. When you do, you'll get experience points and objects called Hope Fragments, which can be used later on in the Class Trials to enhance your skills. Once a murder occurs, you'll begin the Deadly Life section, where you go around and search for clues about the murder. You'll find evidence, gather testimonies, and piece together facts that will then be utilized during Class Trials.

Class Trials are the meat of the game and where you'll spend the majority of your time. You have to solve each victim's murder and deduce who the murderer is, then you'll have to back up your assertions with evidence. Essentially it's like Ace Attorney mixed with Battle Royale. Class Trails usually take up a huge amount of time, with the shortest one lasting around two hours and the longest one lasting four hours. Trust me, you'll spend a lot of time with these puzzles. And that's exactly what they are: puzzles. Unlike the last game, I actually had to rack my brain to figure out who the killer was or even how they committed the murder. I saw the game over screen quite a few times trying to piece together all of the facts, but the satisfaction I got for solving them was pure gratification.

The story has a whole though has a ton of mysteries surrounding it too. Mysteries like the nature of Jabberwock Island and Monokuma's purpose this time were intricately hidden, but are all revealed in the last, climactic Class Trial. All of your questions will be answered, and unlike the original, you won't have to dwell on them for ages. The original game had mysteries slowly present themselves, yet fade away into the background. Here, the focus is on each chapter individually, and it isn't until the very end that plot encompassing questions are posed. I think I prefer this method way more so than the original, because it's much more digestible for players, especially for a portable console.

Oh Mikan... don't ever change.
So now that begs the question, which is better; Danganronpa, or Danganronpa 2? It's a really tough call to be sure, but I'm gonna have to lean on the side of Danganronpa 2 this time. The original was a great game, but this game just expands on everything it did. The world I much larger, the characters are more enjoyable (albeit much more divisive than before), and the gameplay is much improved. The sealing blow though comes from this game's length and the amount of content it has. This game will clock in somewhere between 35 and 40 hours, which is double the length of the original game. Extra modes are included once the game is over that encourage you to make friends with everyone on the island, and there are just so many thing to collect. This game is like Danganronpa 1 on steroids, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

In fact, I'd go so far to say that this is not only one of the best games on the Vita, but this is one of the best games I've played in a long time. It's been a while since I've binged a game so much, completing it all in a week. This game is such an time sink, but an immersive one at that. It has its flaws, but they all originate from my own personal perspective. I may hate Nagito, but I can't deny that he was an important aspect to the story. That can pretty much sum the game up as a whole; there are a lot of points that I may not like, but adding them together makes them much more bearable.

I originally bought Danganronpa out of a whim just to see what it's like. I wanted to try a new franchise, and I was not disappointed. I am dying to see if the recent Danganronpa action game that's releasing in Japan next week will be localized in the West. I'm certainly hopeful, and I'm even more hopeful that the rumors surrounding an inevitable Danganronpa 3 are true. This franchise has me hook, line, and sinker, and I have no complains with that.

And now, meet Hajime and Nagito! 

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