Friday, 19 September 2014

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

Visual novels. I really can't say they're my cup of tea. They always seemed like a way of reading, you know, without actually properly reading. My first and only dip into the visual novel genre was the Silent Hill: Play Novel. Released in 2001 in Japan, and subsequently translated into English by fans shortly thereafter, this visual novel basically told the events of the original Silent Hill on the PlayStation. Inter-cut with various options and puzzles, it essentially played out like those old Choose Your Own Adventure books. I loved those books when I was a kid and had an obsession with Silent Hill, so it goes without saying that I enjoyed Silent Hill: Play Novel, right? Well, not exactly. It was an interesting experiment, but I found it to be an utterly boring experience, and some horrible unappealing limbo between gaming and reading. So when Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair arrived on my desk I didn't know what to make of it. I always keep an open mind when reviewing for CeX, but I had to force myself to do that. It's a good thing too, as not only is Goodbye Despair a fantastic game, but it also showed me that when it comes to the visual novel genre, I was very, very wrong indeed.

Developed by Spike Chunsoft and out now for PlayStation Vita comes Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, one of the most different and more refreshing gaming experiences I've had in quite awhile. First off, you don't necessarily need to have played the previous Danganronpa title, Trigger Happy Havoc, to enjoy this. Admittedly there are times in which knowledge of it will add an extra layer to the game, but it's not mandatory. The story is pretty over-the-top, but I wouldn't have it any other way. You play as Hajime Hinata, a student at Hope's Peak Academy, the location where the entirety of the first game was set. However, this isn't the case with Goodbye Despair, as the player, alongside 15 other students, are brought to the island of Jabberwock. There's only one way to escape this island too, and that's by committing a murder and getting away it. However, after each murder is committed a trial is held by your fellow students to determine who might be the culprit. Though this is the basic premise to Goodbye Despair, there's a larger and greater story under the surface. I won't spoil it for you, but needless to say the story on offer here is full of surprises.

There are three main elements to Goodbye Despair's gameplay: Exploration, crime scene investigation and trials. Exploring primarily focuses on interacting with the various other students, which helps you build up a profile of them and, well, just simply chat with them. However, when someone commits a murder that's when the game begins to take form. When this happens you'll need to talk to the students to form a chain of events in your mind, possible motives, rivalries, contradictions, etc. Simply put, talking to students and listening to what they have to say is the key here. Also, focusing on the world around you is just as important as the characters that inhabit it, as all of these pieces of evidence you secure will go a long way when the case is finally brought to trial. 

When a murder is brought to trial, this is where Goodbye Despair truly shines. As various students offer theories and accusations, the game lets you agree, disagree and straight up shoot down their ideas by means of various mini-games. It's almost like some bizarre mash-up of Phoenix Wright and Dance Dance Revolution at times! Then, once a number of theories have been dished out, you must present the events of the murder as you think it went. Properly finding the culprit will result in their execution, while failing will lead to the killer being let go while you and everyone else is put to death.

Goodbye Despair tries to pack even more content in with a complete Virtual Pet simulator; a mini-game entitled Magical Girl Miracle Monomi, an alternate mode to the game that focuses on friendship rather than murder, and finally a mode that shows an alternative version of the first game, Trigger Happy Havoc. Some of it works while some doesn’t, but when it comes to giving you your moneys worth, Spike Chunsoft try their best.

Overall, Goodbye Despair is a game I was hesitant about, but found incredible charming, enjoyable and packed full of great surprises. The game is presented from a first-person perspective, and the locations on offer to explore here, while not amazing by any stretch of the imagination, are competent and serve the game well. Characters in the game appear as cardboard cut-outs, which is somewhat deflating. However, beyond its often simplistic and sometimes literally thin visuals, Goodbye Despair is a great example of how a simple concept can go a very long way. It's funny, dark, shocking, intriguing and has proved me wrong about what a visual novel can provide.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair will make you say goodbye to the Nintendo 3DS and gets a 4/5


Denis Murphy

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair at CeX

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