Goodbye Despair is an interesting localisation because it comes West mere months after its predecessor, a move that shows great confidence in the audience to support the brand. And frankly, it’s well deserved. The idea of a visual novel/adventure game fusing Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and 999 with Saw is a winning concept that Spike pulls off in most respects in both games. However as with the first its sequel has some fundamental issues that prevent it from reaching the excellence it’s capable of.
The set-up of Danganronpa 2 is extremely similar to the first: sixteen world-class students go to Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school with such impressive standards that the only people admitted are those who are the best at what they do. Some of these students include the “Ultimate Mechanic” Kazuichi, the “Ultimate Yakuza” Fuyuhiko, and the “Ultimate Gamer” Chiaki an otherwise normal boy who wakes up with amnesia and forgets his past as well as what his talent is. Once all of the students get to school, they are taken to an island by a mysterious talking rabbit fairy named Usami for a “field trip” where they are told to relax, enjoy themselves, and get along with each other.
Danganronpa 2 1This paradise is short-lived, as a sadistic robot bear named Monokuma (the antagonist/Jigsaw character from the first game) quickly takes over the island and forces the students to kill each other in what is now a “killing trip.” He decrees that any student who kills another student and gets away with it in a “Class Trial” can leave the island – with every other student who failed to figure it out being executed. However, if the murderer is found out during trial, only the murderer is executed. It’s the exact same concept as the first game, only this time it’s on a deserted island instead of in a school, which is fine because the premise continues to be compelling here. Unraveling why the students are on this island and revealing the true identity of the mastermind (or masterminds) controlling Monokuma and Usami remain the draws of the game.
It sounds a little crazy and Japanese-y, but the story is surprisingly approachable and realistic. Mysteries unravel that slowly turn this surreal island nightmare into a believable world, and the dialogue, while sometimes dipping into silly anime territory (lots of hokey “believe in yourself”-style monologues), generally does a good job of realistically conveying how egotistical teenagers would react to being told they have to kill each other.
Some characters are a hilarious delight (partially thanks to vastly improved English voice acting) – like the Ultimate Yakuza, Monokuma, and Usami characters – but the cast of students is, overall, somewhat forgettable. The story also falters a bit, as most of the story twists in this game (90% of which are loosely thrown into the last two hours) are contrived and borderline idiotic. Some of them, specifically those involving the student’s past, are interesting and thought-provoking, but the overall game is slightly spoiled by its ending.
The gameplay, likewise, remains similar to its predecessor. Separated into a prologue and six main chapters, the game carries a daily structure where you wake up, do your thing, and go to bed at night. This is far more rigid than Persona or Animal Crossing, as every day substantially moves the plot forward; in that sense, its daily structure is more like a frame for the story than an indication that this is a game you can “live in.” Beyond that, the game is split into Daily Life, Deadly Life, and Class Trial portions.
In your Daily Life (when a chapter begins), you can roam the island, witness preliminary parts of the chapter plot unfold, and hang out with other surviving students in a manner extremely reminiscent of Persona 3 and Persona 4. During this phase, you can spend time with and give presents to them that leads to stat boosts during trials and a little more insight into each character. There are hints of romance as you hang out with some characters, but it’s never anything significant that affects the rest of the game.