Twisted yet undeniably captivating, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is easily one of the year’s best titles for PlayStation Vita. Though far from ground-breaking, developer Spike Chunsoft struck gold with its Battle Royale-esque spin on the visual novel genre. Now, after little more than half a year, Danganronpa is back again after striking a chord with western gamers.
Tagged with the sub-heading “Goodbye Despair”, the sequel does great job luring fans into a false sense of security. Much like the original Danganronpa, it is centred around a core group of characters, the affluent students of Hope’s Peak Academy. Also referred to as “Ultimates”, each and every one of them excels in a particular field, including the Ultimate Mechanic, Ultimate Nurse, Ultimate Team Manager, and even the Ultimate Breeder (of hamsters, that is.)
Needless to say, the cast of characters in Danganronpa 2 are a diverse bunch who continue to develop the more you play. Though not all of them are particularly likeable they are each well-rounded and given plenty of time in the spotlight. From time to time this can result in superfluous conversations with walls of texts to tap through. This can be overlooked, however, given the visual novel genre’s natural lack of actual gameplay.
Throughout Danganronpa 2, players assume the role of Hajime Hinata, one of the sixteen students to wake up on a tropical island resort. It’s a gorgeous backdrop full of beautiful vistas, heavily contrasting the serene halls of Hope’s Peak Academy. Things only get better for the students when they stumble upon their host, the pink rabbit Usami. She explains that they have been brought to the island for a “heart-throbbing” school trip full of fun, laughter, and happiness.
Usami’s plans for the Ultimates soon fall apart however when series antagonist Monokuma shows up on the scene. Suddenly, their joy turns to despair as they find themselves thrown into the bear’s murderous fantasy with only one way of getting out: by killing a fellow classmate.
There’s one important twist to keep in mind, though. In order to secure safe passage from the island, the killer must remain undetected throughout the investigation and subsequent class trial. If the Ultimates manage to work out who the killer is, that person is duly “punished”. However, if they fail to do so, their lives will be forfeit as the murderer walks scot-free. It’s a strong premise and a scenario that immediately begins to alter how characters act around one another.
The game flow in Danganronpa 2 is slow yet structured. Within each chapter are plenty of opportunities to explore the island and converse with other students. This means that a good eighty percent of your time with is dedicated to reading text or navigating areas in first person. The other twenty percent, composed of quickfire mini-games, is bolted onto the end of each chapter during the “Class Trial”.
The purpose of these is to verify or refute statements as well as uncover additional information to help find the killer. There’s a modest albeit healthy variety on show with each mini-game testing the player’s level of speed and concentration. It has to be said however that although they do a great job in changing up the pace, they can often feel a bit trial and error. The quick-fire debates, for example, present a series of statements which may hide one or more contradiction. Though the fundamental mechanics of the mini-game are easy to understand, matching evidence to statements (while also under time constraints) can prove frustrating at times. On top of that, the sparsity of these mini-games means that players will often need to revise the rules every time one pops up. Still, they’re a clever and unique way of wrapping up each chapter, even if they are a little hit and miss.
Another aspect of Danganronpa that continues to shine is the game’s slick presentation. Though you’ll be visiting the same locations over and over, their 2.5D manga artstyle never gets old. The same can also be said of the game’s soundtrack which flits from mood to mood whenever there’s a sudden change in atmosphere.
Although returning fans will get more out of Danganronpa 2, bar the occasional reference, there are no barriers obstructing those yet to play the series. Still, Goodbye Despair isn’t a game for everyone, especially those who crave action and non-stop thrills. The sheer amount of dialogue to wade through requires patience and concentration yet those committed enough to see it through will be justly rewarded.