Review of Super Dangan Ronpa 2 Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen
|Subject||Super Dangan Ronpa 2 Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen|
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
|By||Vote: 8.1beliar on 2020-09-15|
|Review||(This review has been originally published in June 2020)|
In reality, I have played the sequel to "Danganronpa" a few years ago, but never got around to writing a review for it. Recently, with an intention to finally play the third part of the trilogy, I have reacquainted myself with the game and decided to write a post regarding it.
"Danganronpa 2" is the middle part in the trilogy (not counting a side action title), thus a review of it will inevitably have mild spoilers for the first part, though I will try to minimize them. And thus, without further ado, I invite you to attend the Hope's Peak academy once more... Wait, what?!
As you probably remember, Hope's Peak fell at the end of DR1, thus a new player to DR2, who hasn't been exposed to undue spoilers will be understandably confused, as we once again start the game with our protagonist enrolling into the infamous institution of learning. One might even wonder when does the game take place in the timeline, and that is exacerbated by a presence of a certain character within the new cadre of classmates.
We are obviously introduced to a new protagonist, whose shoes we are gonna fill in for the reminder of the game - Hinata Hajime. In comparison to Makoto from the first game, Hajime is slightly more proactive and self assured. Not by much, mind you, but considering how bland and shallow I found Makoto, Hajime looks like a huge improvement. Not only is he more outspoken and less timid than the previous protagonist, this time he is intrinsically linked to the actual plot of the game and is not just an "at the right time" observer, who ends up ruining the Big Bad's plans almost by a complete accident. Moreover, his awesome ahoge should be considered a superpower in its own right.
That said, if you, dear readers, think that we will have to explore the Hope's Peak Academy once more, even if we have already become familiar with it in the past, fear not. No more boring school for us, for we are going on a vacation! Or rather a school trip to the tropical island, led by a stuffed magical bunny girl, to be precise... Yes, if you thought Danganronpa was crazy, fasten your seatbelts, for DR2 ups the ante to the eleven.
Just like in the first game, we experience a bout of dizziness upon arrival to the Academy and somehow end up in a classroom with another fifteen students. We are then introduced to our class teacher Ms. Usami, the aforementioned stuffed bunny, who promptly transports the classroom to the tropical beach. Some genre savvy students try to inquire if the class is a participant in some sick game where they will be forced to kill each other, but Usami completely denies such accusations. Instead Hajime and the other classmates need to enjoy their vacation and get to know each other, where they will collect Hope Fragments as they get along with their fellow vacationers.
As you can see, DR2 is a very different game. No more murders and detective mysteries. Instead it's a pleasant slice-of-life game where we get to know our friends and possibly develop romantic attachments...
Yeah, no, I'm just kidding, because then the
Frankly, at this point we don't even know if Monomi and Monokuma are enemies, or are they on the same side and are just playing a standup comedy for the participants. We also have no idea who sits at Monokuma's wheel, as the Big Bad of the first game perished, and it is just so damn hard to imagine someone else than them controlling the murderbear.
But don't worry, the endgame will reveal all the answers and the revelations are done in such a clever manner that I readily forgiven some inherent cheesiness that is found in many Japanese games. The final confrontation between the participants and the Big Bad is much grander in this game and has major implications both in regards to the wider global situation, and the craziness that the developers can unleash on us in the final part. Talking about the cheesiness, the very end featured a moment of deus ex machina that was somewhat hard to swallow, but everything else that happens, outshines the outcome I had a hard time believing in.
But I believe I have hurried forward and started talking about the endgame, when we didn't even discuss the game proper. So let's introduce at least some of the characters. And I have to say that the situation with the characters in DR2 is an... interesting one, mainly because many of them almost perfectly mirror the characters in DR1. And that is somewhat of a negative as far as my impressions go, as we have to deal with very similar archetypes to the first game, and what's more - even some of the cases mirror the situations in the cases of DR1. It might be that the Big Bad has actually intended to repeat the same events as in DR1 with very similar characters for their own amusement, but that is not explicitly stated and I'm not sure if we can imply that or not. Be as it may, the characters in the sequel are even more outrageously crazy, which is even lampshaded by a certain redhead. On the other hand, majority of them are as bland, as majority of the cast was in the first game. Only a few characters rise in prominence above the horde.
I have already introduced you to Hajime, so now it's time to give the stage to his counterpart Komaeda Nagito. He is somewhat of a red herring that gets people playing the game for the first time, because his name is literally an anagram for Makoto Naegi. He also just happens to be voiced by Makoto's voice actress in the Japanese track (yes, I did say "actress"). And, if that weren't enough, he also steps into Makoto's shoes as the Ultimate Lucky Student, due to being selected to attend the Academy with a lottery. However, there is actually no relation between the two, other than Nagito having a huge hard-on for "hope", to the point that he has turned it into his fetish. In this he is basically a counterpart to the Big Bad of the first game, who has turned their "despair" into a fetish. Nagito is probably the most complex and best written of the game's characters, and the homoerotic tension between him and Hajime is just so delicious ;-)
Near the beginning of this review I have mentioned that there is one character who also muddles the timeline of the second game just by existing, and that person is no other than Togami Byakuya. He was one of my favourite characters in the first game, where his pride and cold disdain helped both to raise him up above the others, but also results in his fall, when he is unable to comprehend people performing actions that do not directly benefit them. In the sequel he also shows aloofness and disdain, but where in the first game he tried to distance himself from others and played a lone wolf, in the sequel he takes up the mantle of a leader and tries to foil Monokima's plans. The interesting thing is, he seemingly doesn't remember the events of the first game and he is also... fat, which creates questions if DR2 takes events before or after its predecessor.
Nanami Chiaki is the Ultimate Gamer and initially seems to be an introverted, somewhat slow and perpetually sleepy girl, but as the game moves on, she becomes one of the most important characters plotwise, as she takes up the same role played by Kyouko in the prequel. She is both a detective and the person to help Hajime connect the dots in a tight situation... and she is also cute as a button!
Other characters are much less explored. Of course, you can do their events during your free time and get to know them better, but I somehow found the outlier cast of the first game to be somewhat more memorable than those of the sequel. It might be due to most of them conforming to the same archetypes, or maybe it's the craziness of them all that prevented me to take them too seriously. Anyway, Teruteru is just a less funny version of Hifumi, Akane and Nekomaru are literal expies of Asahina and Sakura, which includes their close relationship and them training together. Kazuichi is a mechanic with a prevalent crush on Sonia - he is also a slightly less dumb version of Yasuhiro. Mikan is a bundle of nerves with a massive inferiority complex and thus a less crazy version of Touko. Ibuki is a genki version of Sayaka with a filthy mouth, and so on. Some characters, like Gundam, might not have their counterpart in the first game, and he has many fans online, but I didn't really like him, due to his supreme chuunibyou, which manifests in his tendency to speak in a way no one can understand.
Just like the first game, "Goodbye Despair" is separated into different parts, with different goals that cycle after each trial. We start with "Free Time" which is mostly a slice-of-life chapter. You can hang out with your fellow classmates and get to know them better. For your interactions you get "Hope Fragments", which you can use to purchase skills from Monomi. You also get a special character skill after you complete all interactions with a certain person. While interacting with a classmate, you can give them a present, which just like in the first game, can be purchased from a special lottery machine with monocoins. After each item obtained from the machine, the chance that the next item will be a repetition, will increase, but don't bother wasting your coins by adding more of them to the machine, until the repetition rate reaches at least 90 %. You can also purchase some items from the supermarket, but most of them are very expensive.
The overall game mechanics have been improved and expanded from the first game. While the game is still mostly a visual novel with some adventure elements, these elements have been expanded in the sequel. Now you can actually move around the island you are stuck on in third person and investigate various places. All actions, including walking, raise your level, and the higher the level, the more skills you can equip during the inevitable trial. There are actually neighboring islands that are initially inaccessible and are only unlocked after trials, hence they serve the same function as the floors of Hope's Peak Academy. There is one more interesting addition to the gameplay elements, and it is an actual virtual pet. Similar to the nigh forgotten Tamagotchi, you raise your own pet, clean its poop, and can even give it presents. A few different pets can be raised and they offer different rewards, including some skills for the highest level pets.
Once the "Deadly Life" section starts, we enter a certain event that will inevitably end with one of your fellow classmates dying, which quickly transitions into the investigation and the trial. I have previously mentioned that some of the murder cases mimic events in the first game, but from a pure investigative aspect they are much better done. I had some problems with murder cases from DR1, where the culprit was obvious in one case and in another case all the evidence was virtually useless and the culprit was only discovered due to the slip of the tongue. All the cases in DR2 are better crafted with actually challenging and brain twisting reasoning, and one "Deadly Life" actually results in us playing a game within a game - an old school type horror adventure, similar to "Alone in the Dark".
Trials themselves have been upgraded with new mechanics and mini-games. Almost every returning mini-game has additional feature, and there are new puzzles, like "Rebuttal Showdown", which I hated and which actually killed me multiple times, and "Logic Dive", which I loved.
The overall plot of "Danganronpa 2" is much more mysterious, and the developers actually got some of the first game mysteries out of the way, so we could focus on the new ones. For example, Monokuma almost immediately reveals that we have lost our memories and that there is a traitor in the group - two of the plot points that were major mysteries in the first game. I personally felt that DR2 was an improvement in that department, but cannot help but criticize that the game, which had nice pacing up until the end, suddenly crams us with massive infodumps before the final showdown. It's kinda jarring, and I think the relevant information could have been spread more evenly during the final stages of the game, instead of giving it all to us at once.
Graphically the game looks mostly the same as the prequel, which is to say, it has a pretty unique look that has really endeared me to it. I cannot imagine Danganronpa without two-dimensional character sprites in a three-dimensional space, or a colourful look to the said characters, with sharp teeth, wild hair and outrageous outfits. No wonder some of the characters complain for being mistaken for cosplayers:-)
"Danganronpa 2" is partially voiced and has both Japanese and English tracks. I personally only play with Japanese voices, but I have listened to English voices on Youtube and the actors actually do a good job, however, I have a hard time imagining someone else but Ooyama Nobuyo to be Monokuma. The BGM has majority on the same tracks as were present in the original, but is expanded with new cheerful tunes that just scream vacation. It's just so heartening to listen to such good-natured music, while imagining your friends killing each other :-)
The English translation of the game flows very well, and while I cannot say if it is correct, I haven't really noticed any gaffes. From what I have found on the internet, there is a pretty infamous mistranslation near the end of the game, though it doesn't really affect anything important. There were also a few questionable translations of pop culture references. At one point Monokuma referenced "Dragon Quest", but the game translates it as "Final Fantasy". In the same scene "God of War " is mentioned, but the translation says "Kniferella" (an obvious parody name for "Bayonetta").
And the final stone goes into the developers' lawn: At one point in the game you are supposed to be presented with a serious medical document about brain structure, but if you squint at the tiny text by the pictures, you realize it says something about North Korean economy... That's one way to make you laugh, but I don't think that was the intended effect. Did the devs really think no one will try to read it?
Anyway, to sum up, I personally feel that "Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair" was an improvement regarding the story, the murders and the trials, and the ending was positively epic, but I still had reservations regarding the characters and the game had serious pacing problems not as noticeable in the first game.
And when you finish the game it's not yet the end of your adventure. Just like the predecessor, the game has an after game mode, called "Island Mode". Island mode has no killings and is a simulation game / dating sim. You have to collect materials and build things Usami tells you to, moreover you can continue collecting Hope Fragments you have missed during the main game. You can also go on a date with your classmates and get their ending after dates. One playthrough lasts 50 days and you most likely won't be able to get any endings during the first playthrough, but your building levels carry over to the subsequent plays, which makes it easier to gain date tickets and collect endings. I never have enough patience for these simulation modes, hence I got one or two endings and dropped the whole affair.
"Magical Miracle Girl Monomi" is another mode you unlock after completing the game, and it actually is an action game. You control Monomi and fight various monsters that come in waves and the last wave will have a boss. So in other words - nothing really spectacular or worth talking much about.
The third unlockable is "Trigger Happy Havoc IF" - a non-canon story about what would have happened if Makoto got button to unlock the school door from the Monokuma Machine and started to regain his memories. It's a pretty short read, and as I said it's not canon compliant, so read it if you want.
And that I think finishes my review. Somehow in all the years I have managed to avoid all spoilers for "Danganronpa 3" (I only heard the game was pretty divisive to the fanbase), so I'm really interested to see what kind of craziness I can experience with it.
[Originally published on Carnival of Sin]