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Review of Super Dangan Ronpa 2 Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen

SubjectSuper Dangan Ronpa 2 Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen
ByVote: 5scipe on 2020-11-17
ReviewDanganronpa 2 is a mess.

There are a few parallels with the first game, which are explicitly noted yet never actually go anywhere. Beyond that, DR2 does not feel like a game that was made by people who learned from the first game.

It repeats the same mistakes of its predecessor in spades; the amount of tropey anime fanservice scenes has increased exponentially, the endless rambling about hope and despair has somehow become more incomprehensible, the comedy even more inconsistent. Some of this can be attributed to the large tonal shift: rather than a claustrophobic academy, the setting of this game is an idyllic tropical paradise. One would think that the juxtaposition between this location and the grim events could make for an interesting experience, but the way that the series segments "daily life" and "deadly life" effectively means that the game is an unusually long dating sim without stakes - until it suddenly isn't.

DR is a series that more than anything relies on its characters. Every single installment has a main plot that is divisive at best and gameplay that is baffling in its irrelevance, but the franchise still has its fans, and this can largely be credited to its ensemble cast(s). So, how does Danganronpa 2 hold up in this regard?

Eh.

For one thing, it's hard to review them due to the fact that it's hard to say *anything* about the characters as a whole. In DR1, the entire point of the Ultimate/SHSL Students was that they were high school student stereotypes cranked up and subverted. The popular girl, popular enough to be a genuine celebrity who is nonetheless not what she seems. The tough guy who is a full-on gang leader yet his toughness conceals desperately suppressed feelings of weakness. So on and so forth, with all these sorts of layers unfurled over time as the students are placed under pressure.

There is no unifying motif to the ragtag group of teenagers this time around. Technically, the conclusion of the game implies a possible shared motif, but it's both incredibly generic and doesn't even effectively cover the entire cast. With that said, a quick rundown of how it handles characters that are worth mentioning:

Hajime Hinata is the protagonist of the game, and his inability to remember his talent is the one real continuous mystery for the early chapters. The protagonist of a VN is always at risk of becoming a complete non-entity, partially due to the fact that they almost always lack a physical appearance. I will give credit at the very least for trying to make their MC a character this time, but they did not succeed. Founding a character arc on drawn out amnesia creates a very predictable problem. By the time Hajime remembers what his character depth is, it's resolved mere moments later in a manner that feels like a joke. Anything else is connected to the completely incoherent and overly long final chapter exposition fest.

Chiaki Nanami takes on a similar role to Kyoko Kirigiri from the first game, aiding the player in trials and becoming their only real consistent ally. While her personality can be entertaining and her role near the endgame is pretty interesting, she spends most of the game doing little other than speculating on the mystery in trials, and is more interesting as a twist than an actual complex character.

Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu is the most coherent character in the game. His role and intended significance is obvious even without the game spelling out for you the fact that he is attempting to develop as a character. His arc is competent and raises interesting questions about forgiveness, but any further character exploration is essentially stamped out at the end of chapter 3, and he does nothing of note for the rest of the game beyond being "The Guy Who Curses But He's Friendlier Now". He's not a main character, but he's notable for being the only real time aside from *arguably* Gundham Tanaka that the game attempts to develop one of its side characters.

Nagito Komaeda isn't just the best character in DR2. For plenty of people, he IS DR2. He's the cause and center of the games most iconic moments, and if DR2 has any themes, they basically amount to "whatever Komaeda is prattling on about". He's got a strange yet pretty internally consistent worldview and he's the one source of tension throughout most of the game, and creates this tension beautifully. Maybe too beautifully. Nagito's spotlight hogging focus is probably part of the reason so many characters end up underdeveloped, and while his philosophy and motivations are interesting, the fact that they are given center stage every single chapter can lead to some amount of fatigue.

There is no other character I consider worth addressing. The rest are a hodge-podge of comic relief or missed potential. I'll give Danganronpa 2 this: It's certainly competent and writing character *concepts*. Playing through the hilariously unsubtle optional events where the students explain their backstory to Hajiime shows that the developers really did have a lot of ideas and pride in each and every one. Most of the students in the game could be the pretty compelling protagonist of a different story. But they're not in a different story. They're in Danganronpa 2, and the game sidelines the things that are interesting about these characters for forced repetitive humor, or simply kills them off before they can amount to anything.

There is only one way in which I would say DR2 improves upon its predecessor, and to be fair, it's not a trivial way at all. The aspect of DR that pulls it beyond being a pure story-driven visual novel is the mystery solving aspect, and the second game absolutely blows the first out of the water here. Perhaps its due to the writers feeling more comfortable in challenging people they can assume went through the first game, or perhaps something about the larger setting made for more creative freedom, but this group of students are way more capable and creative when it comes to killing each-other. There are a lot of scenarios that are incredibly interesting to speculate on and puzzle out, and the game contains far more "eureka" type moments where you are led naturally to suddenly figuring out the one detail that turns everything around.

Danganronpa 2 is a game. Seriously. It focuses more than anything else on the aspects of the *game* Danganronpa. The minigames, the general polish, the mysteries and how you go about solving them. But it does this at the expense of nearly everything else. The characters are mostly shallow and one note unless you bother to go through optional events that describe to you a more interesting character who isn't actually in the game. The plot is a disjointed mess that fails as a mystery. It's strong suits prevent it from being anything I would call outright bad, but it's still incredibly disappointing in a variety of ways.

Comments

#1 by behappyeveryday
2020-11-18 at 10:09
< report >Interesting, so there ARE actually people who liked the first Danganronpa way more than the second one? Most of your points are reaaaally subjective and even after reading your review I still don't get it and how exactly are story and characters are weaker in this game than they were in the first. You said it yourself - Nagito is MVP, he is one of the best characters in the series, moreover, his arc is probably the best one in the whole series as well. "He is too good and so everyone else seems bland compared to him, so it is bad". I mean, in all SDR games most characters aren't deep and only a couple of them in each game are well developed, it was the case for the first game as well. I would understand if you just disliked the series, but your statement that SDR2 did nothing better than SDR1 other than game elements requires WAY more justification.
#2 by onorub
2020-11-18 at 11:04
< report >Not by a huge margin, but i thought Danganronpa 1 was the best one in the series. As for 2, i thought it was the worst (all three games are neck in neck though) because i hated case 3 and the plot twists for the last case. Also, the novelty of those sterotypical (in the surface at least) anime characters killing each other wasn't there anymore.
#3 by behappyeveryday
2020-11-19 at 13:07
< report >@2 It is enough to check the ratings for two of those games to see that most people consider the second SDR as the best in the series, but of course there are always people who have a different opinion and they have this right. But I at least can understand it if someone loved V3 the most as it has some awesome elements that the other two games didn't have and if we talk about SDR1, it has absolutely nothing over the other two games other than, as you said, the novelty of playing this type of game for the first time. I also think that V3 could have the chance to be the best game if not the ending which is too ambiguous and over the top.
#4 by kei-tr
2020-11-19 at 14:08
< report >I liked DR more than SDR as well. Main reason for this mystery wasn't almost only about murders. Questions like "What's happening here?", "How we are locked up in this school and why we don't remember anything?", "What the hell going on at world right now?", "What happened to our families?", "Can we make a contact with outside?", "Can we get out of here without killing each other somehow?", "How can we learn more things about our situation?" constantly asked and their answers revealed bit by bit. I really enjoyed that, even more than solving murders. But in SDR most of mystery (maybe except for last chapter) was about murders. Characters was mostly concerned about murders and gone with flow instead of asking questions like above (I am not saying it never happened but I didn't felt it was enough at all).Last modified on 2020-11-19 at 14:12
#5 by scipe
2020-11-27 at 01:39
< report >I didn't actually expect anyone to read this lmao. Kei-tr is pretty close to my opinion (dr2's actual plot beyond the murders doesn't exist until it does and is not particularly good) but going into it more would really require a whole dive into what works about DR1.

For the characters, compare something random, like the chapter 2 killers. Neither live very long and thus neither are relevant to the game as a whole, but Mondo has an entire elaborate complex about what it means to be "strong" and this is explored in depth through his reaction and motivation for murder.

Peko literally only exists as a tool to make Fuyuhiko more compelling.

There's other things to talk about, too. I think it's strange that someone could come to the conclusion that all DR games have this same problem. I could see it being argued for V3, but the "rival character" in DR1 absolutely doesn't devour focus the way Nagito does. There are plenty of plot points that don't revolve around Byakuya (in fact Kyoko, and Aoi in the lategame, are basically just as significant), and he actually has a tangible dynamic with the cast beyond them moping about how evil he is. For another direct comparison: DR1-4 is a chapter where the conflict is around everyone, including Byakuya's, reaction to the reveal of the traitor, and tensions rising as a result of that. DR2-5 has a similar type of tension in the daily life, but it's caused by Nagito doing some wacky terrorist plot that has no direct connection to anyone (aside from the traitor, who is not a tangible character we can see the effects of the interaction with because by the time we know who they are they are dead).

This is kind of an aside, but it's strange to me to see someone compliment Nagito on his "arc". Maybe it's a quibble about phrasing, but I always thought the biggest appeal of Nagito was that he *doesn't* have an arc: He's a static character with consistent principles whose actions change based on the circumstances around him. Again, this is just my interpretation of his character and not meant to be a complaint about the game; I like this about him.

Aside from characters, theres not many fields I can say much about in which I think the first game is better. The story and underlying mystery is much more well weaved into the narrative and paced in DR1, whereas the second game literally has to explain all the plot twists in the final investigation with very little foreshadowing for quite a few of them. The general aesthetic and humor is something I liked more in the first, but there's not much I can say to argue for that.

I'll give the game more credit in that DR2 definitely has better bonus content than the first game, although that's a bit of a weird metric that I don't care about much myself.