The ultimate academy, the school that guarantees success upon graduation. Hope’s Peak Academy is that school and its newest class of 16 is prepared to take on the challenge of proving their worth. Such a shame that things don’t go according to plan. Instead of using their abilities to better the world, their only goal now is to survive, to discover the blackened before they become the next victim. To maintain hope when surrounded by despair. Welcome to Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.
The story follows the latest class from Hope’s Peak Academy on their unfortunate class trip. Usumi, a Monokuma like rabbit, has taken the 16 students to an island resort with the ultimate goal of collecting hope fragments from each of the other students. Too bad the students didn’t consent to this trip and, even worse for them, have no memory of how they got there. To make matters worse, Monokuma arrives to put an end to their “good time” and begin the descent into despair anew. Even if you haven’t played Trigger Happy Havoc it is easy to dive in and become immediately engrossed. The story is easy to like and especially memorable thanks to its lightheartedness, contradicted by a particularly dark and gruesome side.
Goodbye Despair primarily follows the mind set of, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It maintains the beautiful anime styling that looks especially great on the Vita, no matter which model you have. There are even a few minor changes to spice things up and prevent the game from feeling like just a rehash. New characters and a new location for the killing game are the most noticeable. While these changes are to be expected for fans of Trigger Happy Havoc, one is definitely the strength of this sequel while the other doesn’t quite live up to the original.
The cast of characters in this new Danganronpa is, if only a little bit, stronger than Trigger Happy Havoc. While that cast was a bit more all over the place, Goodbye Despair has a mostly likeable group that isn’t quite as nuts, but still fun to watch and learn about. They come to grips with the situation much faster and generally handle it better. Early deaths feature the more one dimensional characters, leaving the more dynamic cast members alive well into the later chapters. Several personality twists make for some interesting interactions and often misplaced distrust. Much as was the case in Trigger Happy Havoc, there will be several characters you’ll wish you had more time with before they were killed, but that is a credit to the quality of the cast. The voice acting, much like the original, is surprisingly good and both English and Japanese dubs are available.
Jabberwok Island, the setting for this particular battle between hope and despair, is a vibrant tropical island. Unlike Hope’s Peak Academy, Jabberwok is an open environment, though only due to the fact it is a series of small islands with resort buildings. There is plenty to explore and each new chapter presents the player with a new area to explore, and of course, a new setting for murder. Despite things being bigger and brighter, Jabberwok lacks a bit of the mystery surrounding the Academy in THH. Don’t misunderstand, a resort island devoid of anyone but 16 students and two stuffed animals certainly has its secrets, but learning about how the academy fell under such nefarious control and the world around it into madness just hit harder.
The islands feel larger than any floor of the academy, thanks mostly in part to the spaced out building placement. Moving from location to location pulls you out into a third person point of view and entering an area returns you to the familiar first person perspective. You can fast travel to most locations on the map, but walking offers many benefits in exchange for a little bit more of your time. As you walk you gain experience and level up your character. Leveling up lets you equip more skills, which becomes very important as the game becomes more difficult. You can also gain experience from finding collectables and interacting with objects. Walking’s other benefit comes in the form of your digital pet. Each step counts toward raising your little digital friend, with the ultimate goal being to raise it and have it go off to live its life, leaving you a gift in return for raising it. Then you get to start again with its offspring.
The real bread and butter of the Danganronpa games are the murders and subsequent trials. Trials are more or less the same as in THH, but with a few new bells and whistles that lead to mixed results. Trials in general are a bit more difficult and take longer to complete, but offer entertaining twists and equally satisfying death scenes. The act of investigating is a bit easier and straightforward, but that is countered by your need to solve problems as they arise in the trial much more frequently than in the original. Some of the trial mini-games come off as unnecessary and, quite frankly, a waste of time. Much of the added trial time could be cut by simply removing even one of these extra sequences without having any negative impact on the trial itself. The new mini-games especially have a gimmicky feel and, quite honestly, have no place in the game. The game would be better without these distractions that do more to take you out of the moment than keep you engrossed.
As was the case with Trigger Happy Havoc, Goodbye Despair is a true value buy. There are several unlockable modes and features as you play and finish the game. As if a 20+ hour adventure isn’t enough, Goodbye Despair is a game you can easily come back to for another 20 quality hours. Your play sessions are only limited to how close you are to a charger rather than how much there is to do. You have spent more on games that aren’t as good, I guarantee it. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is further proof that the Vita not only a great place to play, but a great place to play some of the best games. A strong story and cast, combined with hours and hours of quality content makes for one of the best games you’ll play all year, period. I say this every time I write about the Vita, and you can bet I am going to say it again here. If you don’t own a Vita, games like this are exactly why you need to.