Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Vacation With A Bit of Murder in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair - The Take Your Time Review

Quick Note: This sequel takes the story from the first and improves it in many ways, but also inflates play time with some pretty useless systems. If you're a fan of the first and enjoy mystery games, dive right in. If you didn't like the first one or never played it, move onto another game.

Earlier this year the delightfully devious Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc came to the states. The twisted premise of solving your fellow classmates murders while trying to figure out why you're trapped in Hope's Peak Academy was enthralling, though there were a few confusing design choices. The sequel, Goodbye Despair, does a great job of answering some questions while stacking on many more queries, but with even more unnecessary grinding in the middle.

The Ultimate Affluent Progeny has put on a bit of weight...
The game kicks off on the island paradise of Jabberwock Island. The player, taking the role of Hajime Hinata, is thrown onto this tropical wonderland with 15 other students, all Ultimates in their own right. The talents of each are even more obscure than the previous game, and include the Ultimate Breeder, the Ultimate Photographer, and even the Ultimate Team Manager, though Hajime can not remember his own talent. Originally placed on Jabberwock Island by the angelic pink rabbit Monomi to gather all of the Hope Fragments, things go awry when Monokuma takes over the island and initiates the Killing School Trip.  

From there the game plays very similarly to the first game. Hajime will spend time with various classmates, exploring the island and building bonds. Movement around the game world has been altered from the previous game, as half of the world is built in the first-person, 3D environment style, while the other half is composed of a side-scrolling, 2D art style. The swapping between the two keeps things interesting, but ultimately doesn't add or subtract anything. 

2D Traveling Action with a funny looking walk cycle
What does take away from the experience is the leveling system for Hajime. Unlike the first game, where players accrued skill points by spending time with classmates and growing the bond between them, skill points are given to Hajime based on his level. Hajime levels up by interacting with the environment, finding hidden Monokuma dolls, talking with classmates, walking, and raising a pet (more on that later). All of this isn't so bad, unless you're trying to fully level him up. His final level is 99, and it is quite a grind to get there. You also do NOT gain experience for fast traveling, and running earns less experience than walking, which pretty much forces you to have to walk everywhere. From travel time alone, my play time increased by four hours over the first game, which all feels like artificially inflated play time. The worst part is, most skills can not be  obtained until after beating the game, meaning leveling him up passed level 20 is pretty much pointless. 

Then there's the virtual pet. This pet is always with Hajime, and can grow into one of six variations depending on how much Hope and Despair it has. Once the pet has reached it's final level, after roughly 3200 steps, it lays an egg and leaves, giving Hajime some experience, some Monokuma coins and a present or two. In a way, the pet system is a god send, because players no longer have to grind trials or School mode for coins like in the first. The hardest pet to obtain gives the player 350 Monokuma coins, so reaching 999 is much easier, which also leads to obtaining presents to share with your friends and help boost your relationship with them. 

No one really cares...
However, the pet needs constant attention. You have to clean up it's poop every few hundred steps (sometimes even less depending on the pet), which means opening your menu, accessing pet and hitting square. Had there been a more streamlined approach to the pet system, or maybe even some more interaction, I feel like this added layer could have been a lot of fun and really added to the game. Instead, it's just kind of there, slightly a help and slightly an annoyance.

Okay. Now that the griping about the new systems is out of the way we can jump into the meat of game play. Of course, this is Danganronpa, so after a few days pass a body is bound to turn up. Once an investigation starts, players are tasked with finding all the clues to prepare for the class trial. The investigation aspect feels more fluid in Goodbye Despair, but that comes mostly from the fact that Hajime is more often forced into areas and can't leave until all the clues are found. Once he's turned over every leaf, he is forced to the next. There's less freedom of traveling between crime scenes and important areas while investigating. On the one hand, some players will find this annoying because they don't have as much control over where Hajime goes next, but on the other hand I found it a great way to avoid walking into areas that have no meaning to the current case. There's plenty of time to explore the island and its landmarks outside of investigating the murders, so the limitation really is only to help the player.

Good ole' truth bullet action
After the investigation has completed, it's time for the Class Trial. The gameplay remains mostly unchanged from the first, with Hajime having to argue back and forth between his classmates, using clues to help solve the crime. He'll fire truth bullets to show where the lies are and can even consent with fellow classmates when they are telling the truth as well as use a silencer to deflect white noise comments that may keep truth bullets from being heard. There have also been some added adjustments to the trials, and some work better than others. 

The first to note is the inclusion of arguments in the form of a Rebuttal Showdown. When a classmate disagrees with Hajime, a Rebuttal Showdown starts. In this showdown, Hajime uses truth knives to cut through the opponent's argument. Using the touch screen or the left joystick, the player slices through comments to move forward in the argument until the large yellow lie sticks out. With the correct truth knife, Hajime can cut through and move the case forward. However, cutting a lie with the touch screen/joystick and not the correct truth knife will make Hajime look suspicious, forcing him back to the beginning of the argument. It's an interesting mechanic that iterates on what players already know how to do, but the touch screen slicing can be inaccurate at times, cutting apart lies you weren't intending to cut. 

Class Trials: now with truth knife goodness!
The other big change comes in the form of the two minigames played in the middle of the trial. The Hangman's Gambit is back, but in a different form. Rather than grabbing the correct letter from the air around Hajime, letters move forward from the sides of the screen. Players must tap (or move and click with the reticle) to pick up a letter and combine it with another of the same letter to create a usable letter and then tap Triangle to add it to the word below. However, if two letters hit that are not the same letters, Hajime takes damage and the letters are destroyed. This game can be very frustrating, mostly because the letter placement and speed is completely random. I often found letters colliding off the side of the screen because they spawned on top of one another and the second letter was faster than the first. Eventually you find a rhythm, but it feels like there is less strategy to this and more luck than the previous iteration.

A new minigame has been added to Danganronpa in the sequel. This game, called Logic Dive, puts Hajime on a board as he travels down a course to obtain the correct answers to questions. The course consists of holes to jump over, ramps to travel across gaps, and obstacles to knock Hajime down. After a few segments of the course, a question pops up with the answers leading to various paths. Only the correct answer will allow Hajime to continue. Logic Dive does what Hangman's Gambit did in the first game: it gives you a little bit of variety and change up from the trial while continuing the trial along, and I appreciate it for that.

There is one final, small change, but it's worth noting none the less. The Closing Argument has been changed just slightly. Rather than being given all of the pieces to fill in the blanks, players only receive five or less (depending on your difficulty). This forces you to think more about the correct order and less relying on using context clues with all of the pieces there, making it just a little bit more challenging and rewarding. 

Once the trial is over and the blackened punished it's back to school life. The continuous loop feels very familiar to the first, which isn't a bad thing, but Spike Chunsoft has done a great job of playing with the players expectations in the sequel. Though it starts off slow, the story has several, well placed twists that help elevate it above it's predecessor. Several characters have deeper hidden darknesses behind them and the overall connection to the first game is pretty incredible. Interestingly enough, several burning questions from the first game are answered, but much like a hydra with it's head chopped off, several more queries have sprouted up to replace them. The series has some great depth that isn't fully realized until after you beat the game, and I am personally excited to see what Spike Chunsoft has to offer next. 

That being said, if you have not played the first game in the series this is a terrible jumping off point. The crux of almost all of the twists rely on players being familiar with the story of the first game as well as the characters involved. Hell, one of the 'new' characters is from the original game, and the enjoyment of his dialogue and his importance to the plot can only be fully realized if you understand what happened in the first game and why he is so important to that story.

After the game is over there is a variation of School Mode, dubbed Island Mode. Just like in the previous game, Hajime spends time with his fellow classmates, getting to know them while also collecting supplies and creating items for Monomi (rather than Monokuma). I enjoy this mode, but similar to my complaints for the first game, the mode feels awkwardly placed. On the one hand, placing it within the story would throw off the pacing and feeling of being constantly hounded by your classmates deaths, but would also make it less of an add on. However, keeping it as an added mode after the story maintains the feeling of despair the story builds while also allowing those not interested to skip it all together. I almost wish there were just a way to cut down the content of Island Mode and slide it into the story so you don't have to play it over and over again just to learn about every character, but it seems like there just isn't a way to do it cleanly. 

The show must go on!
Overall, the new systems of the game brought down Danganronpa 2 to start, but as I came closer to the end it became easier to realize how great this sequel is. Despite some pacing issues and annoying new tweaks (please bring back the original Hangman's Gambit) the game tells a great story and has even better murders to solve than the first. With its intersting narrative, intriguing characters and a diabolical antagonist, Dangronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is the perfect time sink for fans of the franchise looking to continue the deep story telling and thought provoking mysteries. The franchise has some real depth if they can keep up this intricate, interesting story, and the wait for the next game seems even longer now.

8.0 out of 10

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