The following is the second part of a blog series going over the entirety of Danganronpa and how I came to experience it this fall. You can read my thoughts on Trigger Happy Havoc right over here.
Just as with the first part, this post is really meant to be a reaction for those who’ve already played Danganronpa 2. There will be a fair amount of spoilers.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
The differences between DR1 and DR2 are minimal when you consider how much things can and often do change when a new IP gets a sequel in the gaming world. Just like its predecessor, DR2 has sixteen students whose memories have been wiped, a mixture of free time and investigative time, and five regular trials leading up to the sixth and ultimate trial where everything is revealed.
What sets DR2 apart first and foremost is the setting. The original game had a claustrophobic atmosphere with it all being confined to the locked down Hope’s Peak High School. DR2 has the wide open, tropical setting of Jabberwock Island.
DR2 also has some improved functions, such as the MonoMono machine being less tedious and it being easier to track your progress in completing the other students’ report cards in your free time. There’s also the added little time killers such as the digital pet and Monomi versus Monobeasts game if that interests you.
I also rather like the side scrolling feature of getting from one place to another. It doesn’t make a huge difference, as both games have fast travel through the menu systems when it comes to returning to places you’ve already been, but for exploring a new area, I really prefer the 2D style versus walking down Hope’s Peak’s 3D corridors.
Whereas I thought characters were DR1‘s greatest strength, I find them to be DR2‘s one true weakness. This is because, unlike the original game, I found myself actively disliking multiple cast members in Goodbye Despair and hoping for their deaths so that I wouldn’t have to listen to them anymore.
Sadly, many of those characters were girls. I could not stand Hiyoko Saionji, Mikan Tsumiki, or Mahiru Koizumi. I also was not a fan of Akane Owari, Teruteru Hanamura, or Kazuichi Soda. All of these characters lacked the charm that could have reeled in their negative aspects, unlike the characters from the original game. If the characters did have such redeeming qualities, then they were buried in their optional events which in itself would be a problem. I never had to spend free time with characters in the original game to find something I liked about all of them.
This isn’t to say there aren’t characters I did like. Despite how much he turned me off when I first met him, Gundham Tanaka grew to be my favorite character in the game.
I also quite enjoyed Sonia Nevermind (and the growing dynamic between her and Gundham), Ibuki Mioda, Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu, and yes, even Nagito Komaeda.
Chiaki Nanami on the other hand was my most difficult character to parse. I liked Chiaki, but was well aware of the fact that I was supposed to due to how heavy-handed her character design is. Just like DR1‘s Kyoko Kirigiri, she’s a female character that the hero confides in, becomes very influential during the Class Trial, and is critical to the story.
But unlike Kyoko, Chiaki never wavers between friendly and distant – between cold and comforting. The player’s faith in her is never tested, as there is no reason to ever doubt her, even after the point where her true nature is revealed.
More over, Chiaki is designed to be cute, meek, well endowed, and given the talent of Ultimate Gamer. Every little thing about her begs the average Danganronpa player to like her and it’s no surprise that the PlayStation Trophy for completing her report card is the highest earned among all the report card trophies.
It’s all a bit too overt for my tastes. What interaction I’ve had with Danganronpa fans where I suggest even a little that Chiaki is overrated has been met with harsh resistance. Kazutaka Kodaka desperately wanted you to like this character and people unwilling to listen to any criticism about her design bought into that hard sell exactly as intended.
DR2‘s mysteries blow the original game’s out of the water and it isn’t even close. In the first game, I was able to piece together nearly every case before heading into trial but it was the exact opposite with the sequel. After the first case, I had no idea who the blackened was each time the trials were beginning.
This is no small part due to DR2‘s setting. Because the environments were so much more imaginative, it allowed for cases with more variables. The fourth case in particular – at Grape House and Strawberry House – had so many moving parts (literally) that even when it came time to select the blackened, I still couldn’t piece it all together.
Then there was the fifth case involving Nagito’s dastardly plot to flush out the Future Foundation mole. Of all ten primary cases between the two games, this one is by far my favorite. It’s like an onion with layer after layer of thought and reasoning put into it. Even when it’s over and done with, there’s still the final revelation that Nagito failed and wanted the mole to survive the trial.
Like I wrote in my thoughts about DR1, I found the changes made to the trial mini games of DR2 to overall be a step backwards. The high points of Nonstop Debate and the Closing Argument are still there, but everything in between was made more arduous. Particularly, the change to Hangman’s Gambit is terrible and made even worse by the fact that the game has the gall to call it “improved” when introducing it in the tutorial.
I’m also one of the players that fell on the negative side of the fence when it came to the addition of Rebuttal Showdown. It was an excellent idea in theory but it fell flat in practice. Every time it happened I found myself just mashing through the other person’s dialogue (which obviously causes audio to be skipped) and then easily cutting through the right statement.
The idea that other characters can step in and challenge you, similar to how you call out their statements in Nonstop Debate, is an excellent idea. When Nagito stepped in and said “No, that’s wrong!” in the first trial, I have to admit I got pretty hyped. But the execution of the mini game itself is sorely lacking. Hopefully DRV3 comes up with something better.
Goodbye Despair ends up repeating a lot of the ideas and themes of the first game, and even admits as much by spelling out the parallels between the “Killing School Life” and “Killing School Trip” in chapter 4. Unfortunately, this does mean that it lacks some of the charm the original game had.
I also think it’s important to note that unlike the first game, the player is more in-tune with what’s happening outside of the killing game itself than the characters are. As the player, you should be well aware that there is no refuge beyond the shores of Jabberwock Island, virtual or not. That knowledge takes away some of the mystique of the story because it should be obvious that characters are not going to find a happy ending.
DR2 instead relies more on enticing the player with the mystery of the island’s nature and what Future Foundation is. It really feels like you’re supposed to go through the game continuously wondering how everything will tie in to the original game and just how much time has passed. This direction, as well as the key players from the first game all returning in the sixth and final trial stunts DR2‘s story, in my opinion.
I also felt that the game taking place inside of a virtual reality is even more of a cliché than the trope of the characters suffering from amnesia. The possibility of the killing all being simulated was something that had crossed my mind in the very first game when the photos of dead characters living happily had appeared.
Perhaps Kodaka knew that had been a suspicion among players and intentionally decided to act on it DR2. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t change how empty I felt to see it confirmed. When it became abundantly clear that the game was a virtual reality, all I could think was, “Of course it is.”
The lone shining spot in all this is the reveal of the characters being the Remnants of Despair and Hajime Hinata as Izuru Kamukura. These revelations only continued to fuel the intrigue I had over the events that had happened in the story world prior to ‘The Tragedy’ occurring and the cast of DR1 locking themselves inside of Hope’s Peak.
But I also think that’s part of what makes DR2‘s overall story design a bit frustrating for me. The core game, from chapters 1 through 5, felt like a repeat of the first game but with characters that were more hit and miss. Then after chapter 6 dumps all the crazy plot and world building on you, you end up with even more questions.
How did Junko turn the DR2 cast towards despair? What were they like afterwards? How did Makoto end up capturing them and getting them into the Neo World Program? Just who is Future Foundation beyond Makoto, Kyoko, and Byakuya?
What started as a simple concept of imprisonment and forced killing had grown into an absurdly complex world by the end of just two games. The who’s, what’s, why’s and how’s of the Danganronpa universe are utterly ridiculous and it really feels like a house of cards that Kodaka just kept building and building upon. Unfortunately, all house of cards fall over eventually.
Like its predecessor, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a good game and very good visual novel. Its strengths are its mysteries and overall functional improvements to how the player moves around and interacts with things in the game world.
However, successes are offset by failure and missed opportunity in other areas. Trigger Happy Havoc‘s biggest weakness was the gameplay of the Class Trial mini games. There was so much room for improvement and yet somehow DR2 managed to make things worse by adding half-baked ideas and actively making Hangman’s Gambit worse than it already was.
On top of this, the cast of characters was very hit and miss. Some were fantastic to get to know and interact with; even more than the average character from the first game. However, the characters that weren’t enjoyable were far more grating than anyone from the first game ever was.
The inconsistency in character development is compounded by the continued absurdity that Kodaka added to the story world in the final chapter. After about 40 hours of gameplay between the two games, the final hour of DR2 begins to show the signs of stress to the story world’s creaking, crumbling foundation. In Danganronpa‘s next two major entries, those cracks would only get wider until the house finally collapsed in.