Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair review: sophomore effort

Game Info
Platform PS Vita
Publisher NIS America
Developer Spike Chunsoft
Release Date Sep 2, 2014

Spike Chunsoft took a clear "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach to Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.

There's a lot to love about that kind of thinking, considering how well-done the first game was. When it launched in the U.S. earlier this year, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc impressed me with its killer combination of social sim, mystery and courtroom drama. Its sequel, Goodbye Despair, is happy to pick up where the last game left off.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair has little to say in the way of new concepts, but it uses the familiar to its advantage. It's deja vu of the most charming kind.

What begins as a strange vacation spirals into a deadly game

Hajime Hinata is a high school student attending Hope's Peak Academy, a school known for training the nation's top pupils. On his first day, however, he finds himself struck with amnesia and whisked away to a tropical island with 15 classmates as part of a "school trip." What begins as a strange vacation spirals into a deadly game where students are encouraged to slaughter each other. Only those that can successfully get away with murder will escape the island, while the rest will be executed.

Like the first game, Goodbye Despair unfolds through several chapters split into two sections: Daily Life and Deadly Life. During Daily Life, I explored the island and bonded with my classmates. Socializing is done through short dialogue segments; by spending time with these characters and giving them gifts, we grew a little closer.

When I maxed out our bond, I was rewarded with helpful skills to use later in the game, bringing the game's new leveling system into play. Levels encourage exploration on foot. As you take steps, you gain experience toward your level, which directly affects how many skills you can equip in trials. The skills themselves are useful, often offering perks to combat difficult trial elements — but weren't something I needed to rely on.

Like its leveling system, Goodbye Despair's social sim is satisfying on a superficial level. It has a handful of genuinely interesting characters I enjoyed spending time with. However, most failed to interest me as much as their predecessors in the Danganronpa series; some even struck me as strange echoes of past students. When a murder finally happened, I was less emotionally invested in the characters found dead. Moreover, I found myself alarmingly eager to see a few go, no matter how brutal the method.

I found the game's best improvement in these moments of murder. Where the previous title often made the culprit too obvious, Goodbye Despair is better at obfuscating its misdeeds. In Deadly Life sections, I spent my time digging through crime scenes for clues and talking with my classmates. Every new discovery felt like a revelation as I mentally pieced together clues.

Danganronpa 2 review a 700

When my investigation was complete, I had to test my theories in Goodbye Despair's trials. Trials are longer and more difficult than their predecessor — a move that makes their conclusion feel all the more satisfying. Unraveling each twist put me in the mindset of trying to uncover a pre-meditated murder and not just a series of events made difficult to discern by their strangeness. I was consistently surprised by how each killer used areas I'd spent time in to commit their crimes and pleased when I identified danger zones before a death even occurred.

These segments have also been beefed up with new mini-games, such as blasting through a tunnel at super speed while answering questions. It's random in the best way possible, serving as a funky metaphor for the strange turns our brains take in connecting clues. Other mini-games, like guessing letters in a hangman-style game or piecing together the murder through comic book panels, have been tweaked to feel cleaner and more coherent. Trials are so vital to Danganronpa's setup, and they are more than just a reheated concept in the sequel.

Wrap Up:

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a solid improvement on a bizarre but great game

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair isn't a mere follow-up to a successful game, but an equal partner. It innovates within the series without stepping too far away from the game I first fell in love with: a deliciously dark drama lathered in mystery and peculiarity. It's Spike Chunsoft's version of lightning striking twice.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was reviewed using a final downloadable code for Vita provided by NIS America. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

About Polygon's Reviews
8.0 PS Vita