You awake to the sound of lapping waves. The last thing you remember is your first day at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. Alongside yourself, fifteen other students have become stranded on the tropical paradise, Jabberwock Island. None of the others are familiar to you, and your teacher appears to be a… stuffed rabbit?
The sequel to February 2014’s Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the latest entry into the Playstation Vita’s surprisingly-packed psychological horror/visual novel genre. As in the previous game, the entity linking everything together is Hope’s Peak Academy – an elite school where every student is considered the zenith of their respective field. Examples include Peko Pekoyama, the Ultimate Swordsman, and Sonia Nevermind, the, um, Ultimate Princess.
It soon transpires that your presence on Jabberwock Island is actually a school trip… or so you are told. Despite this, something is amiss – there are no other people to be found anywhere in the complex, the airport is defunct, and surveillance cameras are dotted around the island. Out of nowhere, control of the resort is forcibly seized by a sassy, maniacal stuffed bear, and he has news for you: There is only one way to leave Jabberwock Island… Kill one of your fellow students, and get away with the crime.
If you quite literally get away with murder, you will be allowed to leave the island; every other student will be punished. If you are caught, the punishment will instead fall upon your shoulders.
Danganronpa 2 sees you assume the role of Hajime Hinata, a straight-laced student who just happens to have no idea what his ultimate talent is. Together with the other students, the aim is to explore the island complex for a way to unravel the mysteries behind your Battle Royale-esque hell.
It doesn’t take long before things get grisly and someone is dispatched, ending any pretense of a peaceful exploration of the island. When the body is discovered, the game’s focus changes; away from the happy-go-lucky paradise exploration and getting to know new friends, to a murder investigation that will have you second-guessing every other character for the rest of the game.
Evidence is gathered by inspecting the crime scene and talking to the other students to obtain their accounts; justice is served in a class trial. Within a makeshift courtroom, the case is discussed as a group; you must pick holes in the arguments that are presented to you, which will draw you towards an understanding of the crime, and subsequently, the killer.
Danganronpa is a difficult series to pin down. On the one hand, it revolves around crime scene investigation and the solving of a grisly and complex murder. However, the main antagonist is a stuffed bear, and when you find a piece of evidence, it is presented to you in the form of a “truth bullet”. Objecting to an argument during the class trial involves firing the appropriate truth bullet at the text representation of the incorrect statement from a… justice gun of some sort? The analogy is incredibly laboured. Danganronpa 2 goes one step further than the previous entry in the series, and introduces an additional weapon of truth – TRUTH BLADES with which you CUT THROUGH CONTRADICTIONS.
The class trial also features a number of minigames, designed to help you figure out vital clues relating to the investigation. Sometimes you must overcome the Hangman’s Gambit – a game of Hangman with moving parts. Other times you will have to Logic Dive, which is a mixture of Murderous Trivial Pursuit and a bad snowboarding game; finally, the class trial ends with Panic Talk Action, a rhythm-action game, which suffers some serious button lag issues.
Assuming you are able to correctly identify the killer during this class trial sequence, they will be punished. You bear witness to their fate, and are then left to deal with the consequences as a group.
Much of your exploration in Danganronpa 2 is undertaken in a first-person view, though the controls take some getting used to. You would be forgiven for mistaking Hajime for a baby giraffe at first, given how difficult it can be to accurately point him in the right direction. Gathering of truth bullets is reminiscent of a classic adventure game – a scene unfolds in front of you, and there are certain hotspots that can be targeted for further investigation. Rather than resulting to pixel hunting, a press of the Triangle button will identify everything that can be interacted with, which keeps things moving at a decent pace. In addition, the class trial will never start until you have gathered all the necessary information, so there are no points where you can accidentally lose due to missing an important plot point.
The puzzles and investigations are on the whole really satisfying. Each trial will begin once all the evidence has been gathered, but often the true nature of the crime will not become apparent until part way through the trial thanks to clever exposition and usage of evidence. The trials aren’t perfectly-pitched at all times; occasionally I felt the evidence I was presenting was not relevant to the discussion going on, or the answer was a leap further than I had thought. On the whole though, it does a good job of gently nudging you in the right direction and making you feel smart.
The English dub is decent if a bit ropey in places. Some of this can be blamed on the script, which is on occasion a bit forced; repeated use of words that are not usually used colloquially makes even the most emotional moments sound super-cheesy, and characters have a tendency to monologue a bit too much at times. On the more positive side, Goodbye Despair is packed full of obscure (and occasionally brazen), blink-and-you’ll-miss-it pop culture references, along with more than a few darkly comic moments.
A visual novel, much like any kind of storytelling medium, lives and dies on its plot, storytelling and atmosphere. Despite the dub not being perfect, occasionally awkward writing, the controls you have to fight with and terrible minigames, Danganronpa 2 hooked me from start to finish. Rather than play everything straight and revolve solely around a murder investigation, the increasingly disturbing situation that the game depicts bounces off the goofy antagonists, upbeat soundtrack and island bliss to produce an atmosphere so creepy, unnerving and claustrophobic – that you’ll never quite know what’s waiting for you around the next corner.
Suspend your disbelief and look past the rough edges, and the constant feeling of unease will more than make up for it.