So what happens when you take the Persona series, toss them in a blender with Phoenix Wright and then go on an otaku fueled binge through the streets of Japan while watching Hunger Games, stopping occasionally only to check up on your tomagatchi and make sure it’s not wallowing in it’s own feces? You might get something close to capturing the feel of NIS America’s newest installment, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.

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Ironically enough, this is probably the least awkward moment you’ll see

Colorful introductions aside, it’s important for players unfamiliar with the series to understand the kind of game it is. At its core, Danganronpa 2 is a mystery adventure game delivered through a visual novel. As a result, the game is very reading intensive with the majority of the narrative given through dialogue, which becomes apparent within the first few moments of gameplay. This can immediately be off putting to players who are not familiar with the genre, but for those that are they can expect a fun experience filled with unique characters and an engaging story.

The game begins with players taking control of Hajime Hinata, one of the few prestigious students selected to attend Hope’s Peak Academy. The academy is a private school which promises success to any student that attends. However, the school is extremely selective and allows entry only to students who have proven themselves worthy. These students often excel at a specific skill and when enrolled, are quickly given the moniker of Ultimate. It’s here where players will get to first meet the colorful cast of characters that await them. Designed by Rui Komatsuzaki, the characters are given a darker design than what is expected in usual anime styles.

After quick introductions, players along with the rest of the class are quickly thrown into a “lovey-dovey, heart-throbbing school trip.”  Their words, not mine. With no choice but to let it happen, 20140224114244players are introduced to the exploration mechanic of the game. Simple use of the right analog stick allows players to move a cursor and highlight objects to interact with, while the left analog stick allows players to adjust the camera. Shortly thereafter they are left to explore a bit of the island. Here the game switches to a very simplistic side scroller where players simply move from side to side, revealing more areas of the map that appear on screen in the form of 2d popups.

There’s a certain beauty to admire in the simple style in which the game presents itself. Colors are vibrant and backgrounds unique, with transitions between environments being smooth. However the level at which players can interact with the environment is limited to just scanning an area, and occasionally getting a more detailed description of specific objects. As a result, there is little reason to revisit an area. The only reason to go back is to speak to other students, who will travel to random spots within the island. This makes up another section of gameplay, where players will socialize with classmates and attempt to build up their relationships. Through use of a report card, they can keep track of information revealed by other students about themselves. As a relationship grows, players will gather hope crystals which come into play later in the story. While it’s a fun distraction the relationship system is nothing too complex and often times fails to offer little more than just more background information on the characters. However, a lot of work has gone into giving these characters interesting personalities and stories, which in the end motivate players to keep building relationships with their favorite characters.

After a bit of exploring, the story takes a drastic turn and players are tossed into a life or death elimination extravaganza. From here on out, murders will occur among the members of the class as students begin to kill each other off for various reasons. Like a deranged game of clue, players will be tasked with not only finding out who killed who, but also the weapon and possible motive. This is where the real meat of the game rests, during the student trials. Once the body of a student is discovered, players will begin to investigate the murder scene. During this time they will explore the area looking for clues and also gathering statements from other classmates. Once all the evidence is gathered, the trial will begin.

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I mean, you can try to object but she’s the one with the sword…

The class trials are broken up into several sections, each consisting of their own minigames. The students will first begin to argue details of the murder in a nonstop debate. During this time, players will have to pay close attention and look for statements that contradict events or evidence that was previously found. When a contradiction is discovered, players can call out that particular student on their mistake (or lie in some cases). But because Danganronpa 2 takes justice seriously, players won’t find themselves just yelling objection. Instead, all previous statements become truth bullets that can be fired at fellow ultimates to shoot down their arguments. However, players will need to select the correct truth bullet in order to proceed, otherwise they risk having their argument rebuked and losing trust.

During the class trial, trust is everything. Taking on the role of a health bar, each mistake a player makes costs them trust. When the trust bar reaches zero, they will automatically draw suspicion to themselves and then lose the case, forcing players to start over. In this regard it is important for players to pay constant attention to what is being said, since the game relies heavily on one’s own logic.

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Not even law school could have prepared you for this

As the trials carry on, players will be met with several more minigames. Sometimes other students will dismiss evidence presented, engaging in a one on one “battle” over whose logic is right. Other times players will will enter a hangman style game where they will need to guess a word or phrase relevant to the trial. As an example, during one trial my character was about to point out the murder weapon only to draw a blank. Immediately the hangman game began, where I had to pick out the letters that formed the name of the weapon. Of course, this was all dependent on the fact that I had been paying attention and had actually figured out what the weapon actually was.

The variety of minigames and mechanics are entertaining, and make the class trials the biggest highlight of the game. That said, sometimes it can feel like there is too much downtime in between. There is a very obvious distinction between the pacing in the two sections of gameplay. In comparison to the trials, free time can seem to drag on making the relationship building aspect of the game seem like a chore for some. Sometimes I found myself wanting to skip over dialogue and exploration just so I could get back into the class trials. However because the game places so much focus on the story and narrative, players will be doing themselves a disservice by skipping through these areas.

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That said, unfortunately it is because of this strong focus on story and narrative that some players may choose to pass on Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair altogether. Overall, the game plays like an interactive novel. It is the story of a group of students forced to kill each other, while simultaneously putting themselves on trial. While the gameplay sections for the class trials are engaging and offer a lot of variety, the heavy focus on dialogue may leave some gamers wanting more. But for fans of the original Danganronpa, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair brings both new and familiar characters along and delivers them alongside an engaging story that will keep players guessing.

A copy of the game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
  • Great story
  • Interesting characters
  • Class Trials
  • Heavy on dialogue
  • Limited exploration
  • Simple relationship system
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