Violence doesn’t really get to me anymore. A lifetime of slasher flicks and torture porn have left me jaded and bored. Not just with most horror, but most violent media in general. The basic archetypes and settings make it difficult not just to be scared, but to be interested as well. The sluts and jocks shuffling through dirty apartments and dingy asylums make it difficult to be invested or spooked by something so familiar. Thankfully, Dangan Ronpa 2: Goodbye Despair makes me feel a little more human by being antithetical to both horror, and crime dramas.
Hajime Hinata is the newest recruit to Hope’s Peak Academy, a place that nearly guarantees success for it’s graduates. But getting in isn’t so simple, as Hope’s Peak only allows the best of the best, hand selecting those that can only be considered the ultimate in their field. However before his high school days can begin Hajime and his freshman class are whisked away to beautiful Jabberwock Island, where they’re told they’ll be spending their days until they can build a hope strong enough to return home.
Sadly the tropical breeze can’t save them from the maniacal Monokuma, a monochrome toy who takes command of the trip and creates a new goal: slaughter each other to leave. Under his new lead the freshman of Hope’s Peak will need to solve the killings to survive, as if the killer isn’t caught, he alone goes free. Armed with his wits and an uneasy alliance, Hajime will have to find the true to survive the mutual killing school trip.
As it’s predecessor, Dangan Ronpa 2 relies on it’s style and it’s characters. Gone is any grit typical of the detective genre and instead we are treated to the bright colors fitting of a tropical paradise. A style that is a stark contrast to the game’s story of violence and broken souls.
Along with it’s style Dangan Ronpa 2’s characters don’t fit into the stereotypes typical of either crime or horror fiction, rather closer to comedy characters than anything. Despite this, DR2’s cast is more restrained than the originals, allowing for the same jarring and surprising tone shift while also allowing more relatable characters.
While most of DR2 is playing around on the beach with it’s colorful cast of characters waiting for them to be slaughtered, the post killing gameplay is a mish mash of genres. The initial section is a slow paced look at all the clues of the crime scene that can’t be failed, but the actual trials are considerably more fun.
The trials, the more familiar game part of DR2, play as a combination of dialogue wheels and a rail shooter. As the other characters being to debate, you can use truth bullets (evidence found at crime scenes) to contradict or back up statements. Later on you can also take the statements of other characters as truth bullets.
As obtuse as the system is, it’s probably the most realistic system I’ve seen when it comes to debates in games, largely because it lets you turn someone’s statements back on them. It also prevents the player from advancing through what the game tells them alone. In the thirty hours it took me to finish Dangan Ronpa 2, never had I been able to simply brute force a solution. It’s a system that manages to really force the player to find the solution on their own.
Unfortunately the other debate mechanics leave a lot to be desired. These playable visualizations of the inner workings of the protagonist slowly understanding the case have mechanics that don’t really assist help the player make these same conclusions. Like all detective games, the player and the player character aren’t going to be in sync, often I found myself being a few steps behind Hajime or ahead of him. These makes the longer mechanics more tedious than they should be.
Of note is the Hangman’s Gambit, a weird psuedo crossword game in which the player combines letters to try to find out the name of something, like a pill bottle or a swim suit. Problem is, by this point you’ve already figured out the purpose of said bottle or club or what have you. The segment ends up playing more like a text adventure where in which you try in vain to figure out exactly how the game has decided to describe an object. I said this trial and error gameplay is frustrating but the game gives you game breaking skills at the start so you’re not likely to die to anything but a time out.
However these mechanics don’t bog down an otherwise fantastic game. The bright and colorful cast contrasts with the game’s merciless tone to recreate what made the original Dangan Ronpa so good, while expanding and improving on it in almost everyway. It’s the most invested I’ve been in a game in what feels like forever, and it’s a game I’d wholeheartedly recommend.