Earlier this year, adventure game/visual novel Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc quickly wormed its way into my heart for being one of the most fun and interesting titles I’ve played in recent memory, let alone this year. While NIS America announced from the get-go that they would release the sequel before the year was out, I had my doubts that it could be anywhere near as good as the original, let alone better, as many assured me. How exactly do you follow up a game that throws fifteen elite high school students into a situation where the only way they can escape is by killing one of their classmates and not getting caught?
Well, if you’re developer Spike Chunsoft, you take the stakes established in the first game and immediately turn them upside-down while making sure to slyly poke fun at the player’s expectations. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair opens with the same basic premise as Danganronpa – a group of students, each so proficient in a specific skill that they’ve been dubbed things such as “ultimate nurse,” and “ultimate chef,” have assembled for their first day at the exclusive private high school Hope’s Peak Academy. Instead of being drugged and waking up in the prison-like school of the first game, however, they’re miraculously teleported to a tropical island, where they’re told to have fun and make friends. But just as the bewildered protagonist Hajime starts to enjoy himself, a very familiar face makes its debut…
To reiterate, I was extremely apprehensive that Spike Chunsoft could pull off even half of the style and pizzaz the first game had in Danganronpa 2. While the gameplay and presentation is all very similar to the original game, down to the same minigames and remixes of the first game’s music (which is surprisingly effective at bringing back certain moods), it was very hard to believe that the game could be as good as I’d heard, especially considering the goofy “island getaway” premise.
By the end of the first chapter, Danganronpa 2 had already proved me wrong. It really is just as good as the original, if not better, depending on which plot points and characters appeal to you more as an individual. While I didn’t grow to like the cast of Danganronpa until very late in the game, I found myself immediately attached to a surprising number of characters in 2 – a number that only increased as the game went on. In addition, though the individual trials of 2 weren’t as memorable as those featured in the first game, the overall narrative completely blew me away in comparison. While some may be tempted to jump into Danganronpa 2 first after hearing that it’s the superior game, I would highly advise against it, as it really is a direct sequel and builds on a lot of things raised at the end of Danganronpa.
Gameplay-wise, Danganronpa 2 features the same general structure as its predecessor. Most of the game is in a visual novel-style format, which means a lot of reading, but the writing is so snappy that I doubt many would find this a detriment. After a killing has taken place, there is an investigation period followed by a trial featuring a number of familiar yet improved mini-games, as well as a couple new ones.
Even in the original Danganronpa, I felt the mini-games were better as pacing elements than actual games. The newly-added Logic Dive was one of the most infuriating culprits, as I continuously found myself having to restart the snowboard-esque mini-game after I’d crashed into one too many obstacles. With the narrative being as good as it was, I often found myself wishing I could just skip the games and continue with the visual novel portions so I could see what would happen next. If the game didn’t have these segments, however, I imagine that I would find the pacing not as effective, so I hope the “fun factor” of the mini-games is something the development team can improve on further for a future release.
It’s not often that a sequel really does what a sequel should, that is, build on the framework of the game before it while improving it at the same time. After thoroughly enjoying Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, however, I’m thrilled to say that Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair delivers all that and then some, making it my favorite game, and subsequently favorite series, on the PS Vita to date. I had doubts going in, but from here on out I will look forward to great things from Spike Chunsoft and the Danganronpa team.