10 Thoughts on… Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (Sony Playstation Vita)

This probably won’t come as any sort of a surprise considering I wrote a huge strategy guide for the first game, but I’ve been eagerly awaiting the release of Dangan Ronpa 2 ever since NIS announced it was coming stateside. That NIS announced their intention to release the game in the US almost immediately after the launch of the first game speaks well of the sales of the original, which is a good thing, as the first game was pretty amazing. Releasing both games in the same calendar year seems a bit of a risk, though, given that those who enjoyed the first game may not have the itch for a sequel so soon, but if the sequel maintains the quality of the original and does enough of its own, in theory, that might not even be an issue. I mean, I played the original through four times, earned all the Trophies and unlocked everything the game had to offer and I’m still psyched for Dangan Ronpa 2, so lord knows its possible. Well, as is often the case, NIS was nice enough to provide us an advance copy of Dangan Ronpa 2, and after playing through the first two cases, I wanted to talk about some of the more obvious changes and similarities before getting down to writing a review proper. With that in mind, let’s jump in and see what’s going on with the new cast and their Field Trip of Mutual Killing.

1.) As you might expect, Dangan Ronpa 2 starts off much the same as the original: sixteen students find themselves in Hope’s Peak Academy with no idea of how they got where they did, only to be accosted by a talking animal who claims to be in charge. For those who are worried about this being a retread, however, fear not, as the first chapter does its best to completely turn everything you’d expect on its head, so you’re left just as in the dark as you were in the first game. In the early going you’re introduced to Usami, a talking rabbit robot who declares that she’s your teacher and, oh, by the way, you’re not in Hope’s Peak after all, you’re on a field trip to the beach. Before she can show up holding diamonds while riding a horse, however, things get super real in a hurry, as everyone’s (least) favorite talking bear, Monokuma, crashes the party and forces everyone into another killing game, with escape from Jabberwock Island (the location this time around) the reward. Despite the similarities to the first game, Dangan Ronpa 2 does a lot to toss your expectations out the window from jump. For example, the first hour or so of the plot toys with the idea that the characters may have had their memories wiped, only for Monokuma to come out and announce YEAH THEY TOTALLY WERE up front, using that as a stepping stone to blame Usami (now renamed Monomi) and dig in with the distrust even further. The plot makes a big show of not retreading the same ground as the original, by avoiding it entirely or by acknowledging it and moving past it, and so far, it’s working a lot better than it really has any right to.

2.) On the other side of things, the new cast of characters is, comparatively speaking, something of a mixed bag. Your protagonist, Hajime Hinata, is less of a “nice guy” than Makoto was, so he comes across as a little more realistic, and his designation as the “Ultimate ?” is interesting given how that played out in the first game for Kyoko. Your group does have an “Ultimate Lucky Student” this time around in Nagito Komaeda, though unlike with Makoto, where the game played that concept up as a joke, this time the luck actually seems to work… but since he’s only “lucky” but not “good” or “bad,” well, how that plays out ends up being very interesting. The rest of the cast holds their own well enough, as the theme of the game seems to be “bigger” in every respect, for all the good and bad that implies. For example, instead of loud and boisterous Kiyotaka, we have super loud and blunt Nekomaru Nidai; instead of somewhat offensive due to a persecution complex Toko, we have extremely offensive and sadistic Hiyoko Saionji; heck, even returning character Byakuya is bigger, if only in body mass. The end result is that, while many of the characters are wholly unique to Dangan Ronpa 2, some feel like retreads of characters from the first game, just turned up to 11. This doesn’t detract from the experience or anything, but it’s an undercurrent you’ll pick up on, at least at first, until everyone has a chance to distinguish themselves.

3.) Dangan Ronpa 2 looks like its predecessor in many respects, which makes sense given that they were both updated for the Vita within roughly the same time period, but it has enough variety that it doesn’t feel the same. Obviously the game world looks noticeably different due to the change in venue, but even simple things like the menus and visual indicators are redesigned to freshen the visuals up between games. The game also does more with its 3D engine, as there are different perspectives and mini-games that make use of this thing, and they generally tend to do so in a way that looks good, for the most part. Aurally, the game contains the same options for English and Japanese voice work its predecessor did, and both are excellent, as you’d expect from the series and NIS. The music and sound effects are also generally top notch, and they do a lot to sell the experience. About the only downside here is that some of the audio elements are carried over from the first game, including a noticeable amount of the music, which isn’t bad since Dangan Ronpa had an amazing soundtrack, but it’s noticeable so far; whether that carries through to the end of the game or not remains to be seen.

4.) For those who have played the first game, you can skip this point, but for newcomers, the basic gameplay of Dangan Ronpa 2 can essentially be described as a crossbreed of adventure games and visual novels, with some shooter and rhythm game elements tossed in. The game is broken up into chapters, and the majority of the chapters progress more or less the same between games. You start off with some basic storytelling and motive building, socialize with your friends a bit, someone dies horribly, you search for evidence, and then you go off to the Class Trial to find out whodunit. The early chapter sequences are essentially visual novel sections, involving a lot of exposition and character interaction, as well as some very mild dating simulator concepts when you hang out with friends outside of the plot progression. Once you get to the big murder for the chapter you enter Investigation mode, which is where the adventure game elements come in, as there’s a lot of hunting for the right clues you need to bring with you to the Class Trial. The Trial itself is where everything else comes into play, as there are multiple play modes that pop up during these to keep you on your toes. That’s a big part of why the franchise impresses as well as it does, to be honest, and Dangan Ronpa 2 keeps up the tradition, and then some.

5.) Before we get into the Class Trial, however, one thing that really needs to be noted is that movement is handled in a whole new way. While there are a few areas that use the original 3D movement system to get around, most of your time spent navigating the island will be done in 2D, side-scrolling fashion. Each island you visit is laid out in a circle, and as Hajime runs around the island you’ll pass the various characters and locations you might want to visit, making getting where you want to go a bit more straightforward than in the prior game. Map fast-travel is still an option (though there are less hotspots to travel to), for those who don’t want to run around, and you can even press in the direction you want to go to have Hajime instantly run to the next available location, saving you the time spent running around. You might want to run around, of course, for reasons we’ll mention shortly, but whether you do or you just want to get where you’re going, this system works just fine, and actually makes it even easier to get where you want to go in some respects, so it’s not a bad addition at all, to be honest.

6.) The Report Card system has also undergone a big change from the prior game, and this one is almost definitely an improvement as well. In the first game, characters had Report Card spaces depending on how involved their story was, so you might find one person had a lot of spaces while another had only a few, which was fine, but put emphasis on a handful of characters. This time around, everyone has seven spaces total, for their basic bio information, the five bits of data you can find out from them, and the ultimate skill each of them will teach you when you max out their Report Card. Clearing the rest of the sections of the Report Card, on the other hand, doesn’t give you skills or skill points, but rather “Hope Crystals,” which play into the theme of the game. Essentially, each character has six Crystals, and when you fill them up you create a golden Hope Crystal to indicate this, showing the bond you have with them. They also give you their underpants, which… shows you their underpants, I don’t know.

7.) For those who are asking, “But wait, how do I get new skills?” well, that’s what those Hope Crystals are for. From the Report Card home page, you can select Usami’s head to see a list of available skills, along with their cost and the total amount of Hope Crystals you’ve earned. You can then trade in Crystals toward unlocking a new skill, which you can then equip prior to the Class Trial to give yourself an edge. You still have a limit to how many skills you can equip at one time, but instead of being dictated by who you’ve made friends with, this is instead handled by a classic experience point based system. Essentially, as you talk to people, perform actions, or even walk or run around the island, you fill up your experience points, and each level you earn gives you one more point toward equipping skills. It appears Dangan Ronpa 2 allows you to level up to Level 99, so it’s far more possible to equip basically everything and walk into the trials ready for battle, but it’d almost certainly take multiple playthroughs or a lot of grinding, so, caveat emptor.

8.) Which brings us to the Class Trial, which has seen the largest overhaul of the lot. Nonstop Debates (where a debate cycles and you have to use evidence against key statements) make their return, but you can now shoot statements to agree with them in addition to disputing them, which adds to the challenge. Converting statements and White Noise are also back for more here, and remain more or less unchanged, though some White Noise will need multiple shots to break now, which is fairly minor. Outside of that, though, there’s a lot of new stuff to take in. The first notable thing to mention are Rebuttal Showdowns, where someone will counter your counter, and you’ll have to use a “sword” of evidence to hack apart their argument and crush their statement to regain control. Hangman’s Gambit makes a return, but is now (Improved) Hangman’s Gambit, which involves letters sailing in from both sides of the screen while you pick up and put down letters to make stationary, larger letters, which can then be shot to create a word… or crash into each other to deal damage. Bullet Time Battles have now been replaced with Panic Talk Actions (or PTA, ha ha), which are similar, but honestly a lot easier to manage, so even those who aren’t good at rhythm games at all can handle them. Finally, there are now “Logic Dives,” which are essentially snowboarding mini-games down a digital course, where you have to evade traps and pick the right choices or fall off the course. Needless to say, there’s a lot of variety here, and you’ll find that if you were hoping for something new, Dangan Ronpa 2 definitely has that down.

9.) There are a few other novelties that bear mentioning before we wrap up here that change how the game is played a bit. For one thing, you can no longer find Monocoins by poking around in the environment; instead, you’ll have to find hidden Monokuma dolls, of which there are five in each Chapter, to earn coins (and a Trophy if you’re into that) as you move around. This limits how many coins you can get from exploration, but this is a minor issue, as while that’s painful in the early stages of the game, you’ll barely notice it later on. Also, you now have a virtual pet in your student ID, which evolves as you walk around, making walking a worthwhile activity not just for leveling up, but also to evolve your pet. Your pet also needs to be cared for, though instead of the normal virtual pet measuring metrics, this pet has two measurements: Hope and Despair. Hope can be raised by giving your pet presents from the vending machines in the game (which fans of the prior game will remember can also be used during free time interactions to make friends), while Despair rises if you don’t clean up your pet’s poop regularly. There are multiple different evolutions you can create for your pet based on its Hope and Despair, it seems, though (as we can see from the screenshot to the right) my first evolution… could have gone better. Regardless of how your evolution goes, if your pet lives through to the end, it rewards you with Monocoins and presents, as well as an egg to try again, making it worthwhile to take care of your pet. Finally, once you complete the first chapter, you unlock a mini-game that lets you take control of Monomi as she fights off Monokuma’s evil forces; it appears that a new one unlocks after each chapter, and as you complete them you might get random drops that you can equip to Monomi to improve her stats. It’s not something you’ll likely spend a lot of time with, but it’s cute so far at least.

10.) While it’s still fairly early on in the game, Dangan Ronpa 2 is looking to be an impressive experience, though whether or not it’ll end up being on par with the first game will take some more time to determine. The plot certainly seems like it’s going to be just as strong and full of surprises as the first, and there’s a lot of new content here to play with to keep the game from falling into a rut. Whether or not the game can keep up the surprises like its predecessor did until the end remains to be seen, and while there’s all sorts of additional content here so far, it’ll be interesting to see how it holds up in comparison to that of the first game. We’ll have a review ready for everyone soon to let you know how the game pans out, so keep an eye here for more Dangan Ronpa 2 coverage in the next week or so.



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