Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Vita Review: Last Resort

Don't let the anime aesthetic fool you—Spike Chunsoft's ambitious sequel contains some of the best writing you'll ever see in a video game.

Review by Bob Mackey, .

Some of the greatest gaming experiences I've had in recent years have sprung from visual novels—games that tell long, involved stories using relatively primitive means: still images, text, and maybe a little voice acting here and there. Phoenix Wright's DS debut grabbed me back in 2006, and since then, I've devoured any game from this genre with an English localization.

Seeing as my favorite visual novels tend to sprinkle in puzzles or other elements to break up the narrative, this winter's Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc easily became my favorite of the bunch. It operated on a gripping, high-stakes premise with more twists and turns than a later season of Breaking Bad, and dropped 16 well-developed characters into a series of progressively convoluted murder mysteries, with enough devotion to this literary genre's rules to make Agatha Christie blush. Though Danganronpa communicates its plot through low-budget theatrics, it nonetheless put me through a harrowing and unforgettable experience I'm itching to relive just as soon as my brain forgets all the important details.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair understands what made the series' debut so popular (in Japan, anyway), and it doesn't tamper too much with the formula. As with the original game, Goodbye Despair traps 16 characters in an inescapable situation, and with only one way to get out: Kill, and be sure that you're not found guilty at the resulting Class Trial. If the murderer is found guilty, he or she is put to death, and life goes on—but if the wrong person is identified as the killer, the true culprit gets to leave, while everyone else receives an immediate death sentence. As with the first game, Danganronpa 2 offers a high-stakes atmosphere, where at least two characters will die in every chapter—and with absolutely no warning, at that.

Thankfully, as with the first game, Goodbye Despair's cast of compelling oddballs makes it easy to get invested in their plight. The 15 characters you immediately meet may seem to be nothing but explicit stereotypes, since they've been chosen as the "Ultimates" of their respective fields: gaming, animal breeding, cooking, team managing, and so on. But Danganronpa 2 comments on the lack of substance found in most anime-style stories, as each of these characters' stereotypes are gradually revealed to be facades constructed as a means of self-defense. As their personalities gradually unfold, you'll genuinely begin to root for some of these sympathetic weirdos—so don't be surprised their sudden deaths legitimately upset you.

Danganronpa 2 might operate on the first game's premise, but it offers some welcome improvements. The new tropical island setting provides a much more varied set of locations than the first DR's shuttered schoolhouse, and now, 3D navigation is limited to smaller areas, rather than the whole map. And, in the spirit of constantly breaking up the action, Goodbye Despair gives its protagonist a virtual pet that pays out if you attend to its upkeep, as well as an RPG-lite system that rewards players for hoofing it to locations (rather than teleporting) and exploring every last bit of text the game has to offer. Overall, Goodbye Despair does an excellent job of bouncing between different styles of play, so you won't grow bored by only absorbing its story. In the course of a chapter, you'll be investigating new sections of the island paradise, hanging out with characters in your free time, conducting investigations, and tracking down hidden Monokumas (the series' dastardly stuffed bear antagonist) for rewards.

Once again, Danganronpa 2's trial scenes are the main attraction, and they still resemble Phoenix Wright's courtroom antics injected with a crate of Red Bull. Goodbye Despair uses various weapon-based metaphors to simulate deductive reasoning, so instead of merely pointing out the contradiction in someone's testimony, you literally fire a bullet containing the contradiction at the offending text. These trial scenes—which often stretch out to two hours—mix in several mini-games to keep players engaged, even if the mechanics behind them don't amount to much more than choosing the right selection from a list. My favorite one, "Logical Dive," has the main character air-boarding through a Tron-style representation of his thoughts as he answers an escalating series of questions about an unresolved issue.

And Danganronpa 2's mysteries are astoundingly complex and well-written. Since the solutions depend on elaborate premises and the interconnected relationships between over a dozen characters, "whodunnit" takes a looong time to suss out. Going into every trial, I had absolutely no idea who to blame, and the identity of the killer always came as a surprise to me by the end. Though you're given some time to investigate the crime scene before being thrown into direct conflict with your island-bound companions, Danganronpa 2 has a way of deliberately leading you to the wrong conclusion, then doing an immediate about-face to show just how much this particular line of reasoning doesn't pan out. At no point did DR2's "gotcha" moments feel unearned—you can tell these mysteries come from the mind of someone with a deep love and respect for the genre, and success in this style of writing can only be found in keeping the reader's (or in this case, player's) trust.

It's a shame the Danganronpa series has been confined to the Vita just as Sony's abandoned it, since these seemingly straightforward visual novels contain some of the best writing—not to mention localization—I've seen in quite some time. And, while playing Danganronpa 2, as with the first game, I get a real sense of love from its creators that's all-too-absent these days. It's clear that Danganronpa's writer wants nothing more than to tell this type of story, which may explain why these games are so dense—in the kindest sense of the word, of course. I wouldn't go as far as to say this series merits the purchase of a Vita, but if you're looking for the finest example of visual novels to date, Danganronpa 2 continues the trend set by the first game and ups the stakes by being a bigger, better, and bolder adventure in mass murder.

The Nitty Gritty

  • Visuals: Danganronpa 2 sticks to the same type of simple 2D images found in the last game, but there's a lot more variety this time around, and the island setting helps keep things from getting too claustrophobic.
  • Sound: Masafumi Takada's soundtrack is equally strange and catchy, and lends much to the bizarre antics of Danganronpa 2. Also, the English voice acting is superb, even if you're a stickler for the original language track.
  • Interface: Though the Vita's touch controls don't lend much to this PSP port, Danganronpa 2 dresses up its basic interface with UI flourishes that make its basic, text-based interface more interesting than it could have been.
  • Lasting appeal: Danganronpa 2 offers a long and involved story, and a variety of modes to fool around with once you finish the main game. And you'll definitely want to come back to this weird cast of characters once you forget the details behind (most of) their deaths.

While it doesn't have quite the impact as the series' debut, Danganronpa 2 continues the tradition of elaborate murder mysteries featuring appealing characters, and won't let you put it down until the bloody end. If you've been pondering the visual novel genre and don't know where to start, NIS America's answer to the courtroom antics of Phoenix Wright is an excellent place to start.

4.5 /5

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Vita Review: Last Resort Bob Mackey Don't let the anime aesthetic fool you—Spike Chunsoft's ambitious sequel contains some of the best writing you'll ever see in a video game. 2014-09-13T14:30:00-04:00 4.5 5

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Comments 20

  • Avatar for MissDeviling #1 MissDeviling 3 years ago
    How's the story compared to 999? I found DGRP1 to just be a watered down hybrid of 999 and Ace Attorney, so I didn't like it much.
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  • Avatar for SigurdVolsung #2 SigurdVolsung 3 years ago
    I agree with Bob's review. It's a really good game and has quite a few extras packed in as well. While you don't need to have finished DR1 to play and understand this game, if you did, you will have more fun. There are plenty of little call backs and such.

    As far as how it compares to 999, that is down to personal taste. I preferred DR1 to 999 and all the Ace Attorney games. But if you didn't like DR1, you are probably not going to like this one. It's either the best type of sequel or the worst type, depending on the person. It's a new story and scenerio that equals more of the same. And for me, and many others, that's what we wanted.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #3 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    I'll probably hit this next. Playing through the first one right now, since I've heard so many good things and it was on sale.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #4 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @MissDeviling If you didn't like DR1, you won't like the sequel as it's more of the game. It's not as intricate and stuffed full of philosophy as 999, and the characters and situations are more exaggerated and less realistic. I love 999 and VLR, I think they're brilliant, but I also love Dangan Ronpa. The characters are very memorable, I love the game's sense of dark humor, the murder mysteries are always very clever, and they are even more so in the 2nd game.

    I can understand if you didn't like it, perhaps it's not for everyone... but boy, "watered down" seems like the exactly wrong word to use about Dangan Ronpa. Whatever it is, it's potent!
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  • Avatar for XyzzySqrl #5 XyzzySqrl 3 years ago
    What's with that sub-headline? "Don't be afraid! Yes, it's anime so it should be terrible, but it somehow manages to be good anyway!"
    I miss Pete.
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  • Avatar for Exhuminator #6 Exhuminator 3 years ago
    This was a day zero purchase for me. So glad USA Vita is getting some love from NIS.
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  • Avatar for daysofstatic65 #7 daysofstatic65 3 years ago
    Can't think of anyone else who is more well-suited to have written this review. The enthusiasm and passion for the visual novel genre really comes through. Now I want the game...Edited September 2014 by daysofstatic65
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  • Avatar for bobservo #8 bobservo 3 years ago
    @XyzzySqrl Hi, I like anime stuff, but I realize most people don't. That text is there as an immediate way to let people know this game could be for them, even if it doesn't look like it. I am literally trying to get more people into the things you like.
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  • Avatar for nickn #9 nickn 3 years ago

    The word anime will turn some people off. So does the word "shooter" and "moba". I read this as Bob saying you should give this game a chance, even if you don't typically like anime.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #10 bobservo 3 years ago
    @nickn Yep, sad to say but the look of this game is going to turn a lot of people off—even if I love the character designs. It's amazing to see people shrug off games just because they're "too" Japanese, but I've seen it happen.
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  • Avatar for brionfoulke91 #11 brionfoulke91 3 years ago
    @bobservo But I think you kind perpetuate an unfair negative stereotype about Japanese games when you say things like "Don't let the anime aesthetic fool you." There's plenty of people who are fans of visual novels and already know how good the writing can be. I think you should cater an article to people who like a genre, rather than people who have a slanted stereotype.

    But if I'm wrong, then how about the next time you review an American game, use a headline like this: "Don't let the American Hollywood aesthetic fool you... this game has a brain in it's head." If you're gonna point out that games from a particular race of people sometimes have bad plots, lets be fair and do that for every race.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #12 bobservo 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 It was one sentence out of an entire review, and I tried to make the body text communicate the greatness of DR2 while explaining visual novels to people who might not be on board. Also, I give games plenty of shit for pretending to be Hollywood blockbusters, which is a distinctly American thing.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #13 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @brionfoulke91 The same could be said if Call of Duty or Battlefield ever elevated themselves above the Hollywood crowd. Like if they ended up being really good, I could see using that very line.Edited September 2014 by MHWilliams
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  • Avatar for bobservo #14 bobservo 3 years ago
    @lonecow Thanks. Spreading the word about fantastic experiences like Danganronpa seems kinda pointless if you're only addressing the people who are already on board.
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  • Avatar for Namevah #15 Namevah 3 years ago
    I probably won't be grabbing this game for a while since I have to buy and play through the original first.

    Somehow, probably due to the crazy name and odd boxart, I never looked into the original, which is disappointing since the original and this sequel sound right up my wheelhouse. It was only due to talk about the sequel that I was reminded of the original and determined what sort of game it is.

    So, unfortunately, you probably are preaching to a small audience. I mean, I love these games and somehow completely ignored it. Can't imagine what your standard Call of Duty or World of Warcraft player might be thinking of when they see the title.
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  • Avatar for JohnnyBarnstorm #16 JohnnyBarnstorm 3 years ago
    I'm gonna try the first one - I feel the compulsion to go overboard and buy both games digitally right now, but that's... eighty bucks. I understand the amount of work that has to go into these, as they're low-volume and translation-intensive, but they're also visual novels and PSP ports.

    Maybe I should get the physical copy, as it's a bit cheaper on Amazon than the digital version and at least will be an interesting thing for my games shelf. I do want to support NIS for releasing these weirdo games.
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  • Avatar for orient #17 orient 3 years ago
    With all the praise it received for its writing, I was taken aback when I found the first 3 hours or so of Danganronpa: THH to be kind of tedious, with constant recaps of rules you've just learned and events that have just taken place. I know it's just the beginning, and I haven't given up on it, but treating the player like they have Alzheimer's is a pet hate of mine.
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  • Avatar for MHWilliams #18 MHWilliams 3 years ago
    @JohnnyBarnstorm The day DGR2 came out, DGR 1 was half off on PSN, but it looks like that sale is over.
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  • Avatar for Thinaran #19 Thinaran 3 years ago
    @orient I had the exact same problem with 999. The puzzles were decent, but the writing was atrocious, with characters constantly reiterating information and the designers treating the player like an idiot. I wish these games could have been localized by someone who had actually read a book before.

    *prepares to get downvoted into oblivion*
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  • Avatar for JohnnyBarnstorm #20 JohnnyBarnstorm 3 years ago
    @Thinaran I'm definitely not an expert on Japanese stuff, but I think that's par for the course with the writing style. There's something to echolalia in the manner of conveying information in that culture, as evidenced in, say, the Metal Gear codec calls. But, seriously, I don't speak a word of the language so check with someone who knows more than I do.

    In this sense a more concise translation of 9:9:9 would be less faithful to the original. I did find myself skipping through a lot of text in that game.
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