Ah school. That great melting pot of personalities and ideals that gives the youth of the world the skills needed to progress through life…unless of course you decide to attend Hope’s Peak Academy. Contrary to its name, this particular institution is home to a plethora of twisted people, unfortunate victims and murder most foul. But that’s all in the past. I mean, there’s no way the Killing School will have a second year…right?
Wrong, despite the fervent refusal of a particular plush rabbit…let me explain. Welcome to Jabberwock Island. A five star, five island resort designed for optimal relaxation, exploration and overall fun times. As such, Hope’s Peak Academy teacher Usami (the plush rabbit I mentioned earlier) decides to take her students on a little field trip. During said trip, the 16 students are to tasked with getting to know each other in order to build unbreakable friendships. So sit back, relax and get ready for a lovely game about idle conversation and days spent chilling at the beach…yeah, is anyone believing this? No? Thought so. Shortly after the students settle in for a calming school trip, a familiar black and white bear makes his dramatic re-entrance and, where Monokuma appears, violence soon follows…a lot of violence. Thus begins the Killing School Field Trip. As murder begins to unfold around these unfortunate students, a greater plot also comes into focus. Why are they on this resort island? Why has Monokuma reappeared? Why are their would-be-friends succumbing to the forces of evil and committing murder? All is revealed in due time, though certainly not without cost.
If it wasn’t bad enough that their fellow students were being killed around them, it is up to those who survive to discern the truth and discover who amongst them committed the foul act. Of course, if they have any hope of catching the killer, the students require evidence. What with this being a game and all, that means that you have to scan the crime scene and beyond for all relevant information. With the game presenting itself in a series of rooms, all you must do is aim the reticle at objects of interest and allow the game to run through its “is it or ins’t it relevant” spiel. Given that only a select amount of objects are chooseable in any particular area, it isn’t too difficult to acquire every piece of evidence. In fact, the game won’t let you leave until you’ve found it all. Helpful. Though the comparative ease of this task no doubt relates to the fact that the true event lies ahead: the Class Trial.
Now, when you think “Class Trial” you probably think of a dull back and forth debate involving students. This is not the case in Danganronpa. Not only is the subject of said trial a bloody murder, the methods through which Hajime (the protagonist) exposes the truth are…interesting. True to its name (Dangan=Bullet Ronpa=Refutation) the game represents evidence as bullets. As characters throw forth conjecture, represented as text sporadically appearing onscreen, you must choose the correct piece of evidence and fire it at the right moment. You can tell this by the appearance of orange or blue text amongst the usual bland white sentencing. When orange appears, your statement must properly refute it (Argue Spots), whilst blue is a phrase you believe the evidence agrees with (Agree Spots). Of course, more than one sentence appears in such a colourful form, forcing you to choose not only the right piece of evidence, but also the sentence that will truly drive the case forward. That being said, not everyone will always agrees with your argument and may come back at you in a Rebuttal Showdown. In this mode, your bullets transform into swords and you must slice through your opponents words before slashing their argument to ribbons with your Truth Sword…you know, like they do in real court.
When the truth appears to be just out of Hajime’s reach, the game initiates the Hangman’s Gambit. In this minigame, letters dash across the screen, shattering upon contact with other letters or fusing when meeting another of the same. It is during this that you must determine which letters to choose in order to complete the pivotal phrase, thus progressing through the case. Hajime’s though processes also make and appearance during Logic Dive, a snazzy little runner style game where you must proceed down an increasingly difficult path, dodging obstacles and choosing to follow one of the branching paths presented when a question is asked (with each path representing an answer). When said events generally lead the culprit into a corner Panic Talk Action activates. This segments draws from rhythm games, forcing you to time your button presses in order to shatter the killer’s final, failing attempt to throw off suspicion. Once their defences are shattered, you must piece together a phrase broken into four segments (one for each controller button) to drive the final nail into the coffin and solve the case. Though, for the sake of closure and to double, triple check the evidence, your Closing Argument rolls around, wherein you complete a comic strip that details the crime from beginning to end. And there you have it…that’s how trials normally work right? Meh, who cares though. You don’t exactly play Danganronpa for the realism. Regardless, the plethora of game modes found within the trials certainly keeps things fresh and interesting.
When you’re not attempting to discover which of your friends murdered your other friend, why not take a break and hang out with those who have survived. Though the school trip took a noticeable turn from what Usami wanted it to be, you are still able to spend time with people, learning about their lives and coming to understand them. If this isn’t enough of a reason for you to worry about these conversations, the Hope Fragments you collect via conversing can be used to purchase skills that will give you a little boost during the Class Trials. Handy. Also one of the games prime methods of messing with you. Though the plot shifts from hope to despair, the fact that you can still strengthen your bonds may seem to be an act to spite Monokuma…then the killing starts. There you are, one conversation away from forming a tight bond with a fellow student, the culmination of all your time spent together…then they die. Or they kill someone. Either way, your relationship ends on the spot. Sad. Or, if your less inclined to throw your emotions into games and more into trophies, annoying.
Fragments can also be obtained from taking care of the Virtual Pet gifted to you by Usami. This basically amounts to cleaning up digital poop and deciding whether or not to give the little guy presents, being that the hope and despair meters of the Virtual Pet will determine what it evolves into. In a similar Usami themed vein, once you clear the main story, you gain access to two new game modes. Island Mode grants you the chance to follow a more peaceful path, spending your time bonding with people, rather than solving their gruesome murders and condemning others to ever more gruesome fates…so just chill and have fun with it. Meanwhile, Magical Girl Miracle Monomi pits you against waves of cute little enemies because why not?
Drawing upon its roots as a visual novel, Danganronpa 2 possesses an inherently 2D style. Like, super 2D. Entering new areas causes them to build around you, much like set pieces being brought onto a stage. Even the characters themselves appear as 2D cutouts. There are even points where the camera pans behind a character, simply revealing their shadowed back, devoid of detail. Though these are rare examples since, when in the overworld, a character will simply spin if you attempt to move behind them, ensuring that they are always looking at you head on. Going into specifics, each and every character presented within the game truly represents the quirky Danganronpa style. From people with bright pink hair and serrated teeth, to a musician who looks as loud as she sounds, to an atheltic student who has a body far beyond what should be possible for a high school student (it’s up to you whether I’m talking about Nekomaru or Akane). If that wasn’t enough, each character possesses a collection of reaction faces that honestly have to be seen to be believed.
Though reliant on text windows to convey information, Danganronpa 2 also possesses a pretty nifty voice cast, in both English and Japanese. Though most text is accompanied by a generic character phrase, the more dramatic moments are given full voicing, which serves to add another layer of personality to both the characters and the game itself. Considering the significant fluctuation in moods that the game so willingly provides, the voice actors did a great job at capturing all of the joy, fear, anger, confusion, sadness, hope and despair that the characters felt. Though it can become a touch annoying hearing the same default phrases over and over again. Except for Gundham, that guy is so hammy it will never not be awesome.
So…Danganronpa. Where do I even start? A crazy game that throws a bunch of bizarre characters into a bizarre situation laced with death, deception and more death. Neat. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair continues on marvellously from its predecessor, serving only to build upon what we’ve already come to know and love from the franchise. The variation in the Class Trials keeps gameplay from becoming tedious and the overworld dialogue makes the time in between cases enjoyable to read. As the game progresses, the story only serves to become more intriguing, as truths far beyond the norm are hinted at, existing just beyond your reach…until they aren’t. Though by that point, you may just wish that you had’ve stayed in the dark. So venture forth cautiously my fellow investigators and do your best to keep your balance as you walk the perilously thin line between hope and despair and decide whether or not to grasp for the truth. Whatever it may be.