Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair review for PS Vita

Platform: PS Vita
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Medium: Digital/Vita Card
Players: 1
Online: No

The first time I experienced a Danganronpa game, I went in blind. I had some vague idea of what it was supposed to be — something like Battle Royale: The Game, I figured — but that was about it. Without knowing what I was getting into…well, let’s just say I ended up being a little disturbed by the whole thing.

On the bright side, however, this meant I went into Danganronpa 2 with my eyes open. I knew what to expect. I wasn’t going to let a little brutal bear-on-student-on-student murder action trouble me too much. I was going to have fun with it!

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Or not. Because Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is still pretty messed up, whatever way you want to look at it. You’re still getting a bunch of students waking up in mysterious circumstances (this time it’s an island instead of a school), you’re still getting a homicidal bear pulling their strings (only this time, he’s been joined by his sister, the rabbit), and you’re still watching them all get killed in various gruesome ways one by one by one. On a slightly less disturbing note, it’s also still on you to solve the murders via a trial…though that “slightly” needs to be emphasized, since you’re still seeing the highly ironic executions that result from those trials.

The upside of the game being so similar to its predecessor is that, much like Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2 is a surprisingly fun game. To a large extent, this can be attributed to the key sequel formula of “take what worked first time around, and make it better”. In this case, that means a more interesting, more engaging story. (It also means gorier and gorier deaths, but I’m personally more a fan of the former than the latter.)

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On this count, of course, it’s possible that I’m just suffering from serial position effect, so I’m more inclined to think the more recent of the two games is the better one. Still, I don’t recall the first game being as well-written as this one, nor do I recall the dialogue being as interesting as it is here. Most importantly, though, I don’t remember the first Danganronpa being as funny — because Danganronpa 2 is a very funny game.

Admittedly, a lot of the humor is of the sly, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it variety. Like the quick derogatory reference to Professor Layton and Pokemon. Or the frequent jabs at video game conventions. Or — and this is my favorite — the fact that one of the characters has the last name Nevermind, and she hails from a country called Novoselic.

That said, the game’s heavy borrowing from its predecessor isn’t all great. In particular, I’m still not a huge fan of some aspects of the chapter-ending trials. The controls are much improved from that first game, but I still occasionally found them a little fiddly — and that was on the easiest setting, which means I shudder to think at how much more of a pain they are when you try some of the harder difficulty levels.

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I’m also not crazy about how the game tries to have it both ways when it comes to mocking certain video game conventions. Like, I get that a game as self-aware as Danganronpa 2 is fully aware of what it’s doing when it makes reference to “fanservice” as the camera pans up and down schoolgirls in bikinis, or when Monokuma beats up his little sister Monomi, or it throws in asides about lousy sequels. The fact that one of the “Ultimate” students is a gamer means they can have entire conversations drenched in that kind of self-referentiality. The thing is, just because the game is aware of what it’s doing doesn’t change the fact that it’s, well, doing it — and really, if you’re knowingly pandering, does that make it any better?

In the big scheme of things, though, those are just minor complaints; I may not love everything about Danganronpa 2, but I still love it taken as a whole. It’s a deeply disturbing game, but it’s also a very fun one, and it’s a testament to the latter that even someone as painfully wussy as me when it comes to anything gory or horror-ish is able to completely ignore the former.

Grade: A