Despair Indeed (Danganronpa 2 – Vita – Review)

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair concludes with a photo finish, a spectacular ending that wraps the game up with one hell of a bow.

Unfortunately, the ending stands in stark contrast to the content that came before it. While enjoyable, the opening 20 hours of Danganronpa 2 are a far cry from its predecessor’s, and I found its early chapters disappointing upon comparison.

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Mechanically, the game’s structure remains the same. Each chapter opens with a new area to explore, a murders occurs followed by an investigation, and it all comes to an end with a trial. The efforts made to improve upon the first game come in the form of new and improved minigames. I only say improved as it’s a term the game itself makes use of, but that is a case of Spike Chunsoft putting the horse before the cart. Unlike the original Danganronpa, the trial’s minigames this time around are worse than a simple change of pace. Logic Drive, for example, is a boring tube slider that has players navigating a totally rad snow/skate boarder along a path, with answers to several questions represented as forks in your path. Another new mode has the player mash buttons to destroy an opponents phrases as they swoop past, only to be more reserved when the highlighted phrases that you can counter come into focus. All the minigames are long winded efforts to arrive at simple conclusions, and we would be better off if the game stuck to what it excels at. The same can be said of its predecessor, but in that case the minigames were less and obstacle than a bump in the road. The Improved Hangman’s Gambit (their words, not mine) is an exercise in frustration, with plenty of health being lost as the letters you collect to fill in the answer’s blank spaces collide into each other while your attention is placed elsewhere.

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With little else to fall back on, all focus is placed is placed on the story, which is hardly unexpected considering the genre. Danganronpa 2 boasts a wonderful cast, full of colourful characters the series has led us to expect. There’s some you love, some you hate, and others you can’t quite put your finger on. Nagito in particular is an interesting character, who early on appears to be more of a protagonist than your own avatar. The plot itself isn’t quite as strong, with plenty of blame owing to the environment. Taking place outside the harrowing school halls of the first game, Danganronpa 2 places its cast on an island getaway. As the “fun in the sun” atmosphere quickly gives way to a more foreboding one, so too does the game’s sense of mystery waste away. While the rooms and secrets of Hope’s Peak Academy unraveled slowly in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the sequel lacks that same drip feed. I never felt that there was some larger mystery to the islands, and the reasoning behind this setting seems to be an opportunity for the developers to craft a wider range of absurd attractions at each new island. While the story is good, it doesn’t manage to grab hold of me like the previous Danganronpa did. Instead of story that slowly reveals itself layer by layer, Goodbye Despair leaves all of its revelations for the very end. As terrific as the ending is because of this decision, it leaves a majority of the game without any means to keep the player motivated.
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I enjoyed playing Danganronpa 2, but I can’t help but walk away feeling disappointed. While it is just months that separate this release from its predecessor here in North America, years past in Japan before Danganronpa saw a sequel back in the PSP days. I’m surprised more couldn’t be done to craft a worthy successor, a game that raised the stakes despite the odds. I think back on Virtue’s Last Reward, a sequel to 999 that defied expectations without sacrificing what made the original so great. I recommend this game to you, despite its flaws, but I hope the series can make a stronger impression next time around.

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3 thoughts on “Despair Indeed (Danganronpa 2 – Vita – Review)

  1. I enjoyed DR2 much more than you did. I think the ending was more satisfactory than the first game and the mysteries were really clever.

    • I really enjoyed the ending as well, and it does feel like more of a open ended conclusion than the first game’s (which was “Oh man, the world is shit, isn’t it? Bye!”).

      As far as the trials and their results…it’s a mixed bag. I found the first case to be awful, a very convoluted case to start the game off with. I was never very impressed until Chapter 4’s. None of them were bad, just none stood out to me until those that ended the game.

      Thanks for reading, and I appreciate your feedback!

  2. I can agree comparing chapter for chapter of these two games that the first one is stronger. I was won over by the tragedies of the first two chapters of the first title especially when compared to the sequel.

    DR2 definitely picks up in the second half when they bring back the expanded narrative while getting really obtuse and 4th wall crashing. I especially liked how the game ended up a deconstruction of video game narrative towards the finale.

    I also very much enjoyed the direction overall the game went with the broader story. I feel like the emotional payoff is also hinged more on having played the first game.

    The story of the first felt tighter and more complete to me, but this was a solid sequel IMO.

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