Following a similar path as "Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc", Spike Chunsoft's "Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair" pits the latest Hope's Peak Academy "Ultimates (students with varying ultimate talents)" against themselves, and against the murderous intent of the returning Monokuma as they try to figure out why it is they are where they are, and who is behind their current predicament. As with the first game the second installation in the series begins with the unusual meeting between a main character (Hajime Hinata), and his accompanying classmates at the supposedly prestigious Hope's Peak Academy. It's after the classmates arrive, and meet up with "Usami" (a mystical stuffed rabbit) that the students are magically transported via the school building to an island resort meant to build their hope. Of course things go to hell in a hand basket rather quickly as Monokuma arrives on the scene once again with his usual trial, jury, judge, and executioner ploy. As the plot thickens, murders occur, and trials go underway even more underlying facts surface in the origin of Monokuma, and the driving force behind his actions. Secrets to the core story are ultimately revealed through the characters that are fighting for survival in this second go around. You'll find as always that in returning to the world of Danganronpa nothing is ever as it seems, and digging to the truth of it all will require some serious attention to detail as well as some serious detective work. It's mystery mayhem at it's finest! ...
As Hajime Hinata, the main protagonist of the game, you are thrust blindly into a strange world with little explanation as to how you got there beyond the point where you entered the Hope's Peak building. The mystery of Hope's Peak as well as your role in the school's class weighs heavily upon you as you sojourn forth into something that is not exactly your everyday occurrence. What your ultimate talent is amongst the other Hope's Peak students remains a mystery to you as you get to know more about them. Despite your memory loss you try to rationalize your situation through various character, and environmental interactions similar to those made in "Trigger Happy Havoc". In the prologue, or island resort portion of the game you will initially meet up with Monokuma's sister, "Usami (later 'Monomi')" who is your current teacher at the academy. After Usami discloses the fact that the class is scheduled for a trip the building in which you have just arrived abruptly falls apart, and reveals to the entire class that they are now on a set of mysterious islands. After getting situated, and told the rules via Usami's provided lectures, and accessible e-notebook you are tasked with getting to know those around you as well as the island itself. Of course island travel, and interactions therein will provide the clues you need so desperately. As you traverse the main island, and 1st island territory the view in which you (Hajime) travel will switch from a layered 2D side-scrolling map representation to the more traditional 3D first-person perspective that made up a majority of "Trigger Happy Havoc's" out of trial gameplay. Clicking "X" at subtitled points of interest will take you from area to area as you do as Usami has told.
Like the first game your daily activities on the island will be divided up in search, and research phases which will ultimately get you acquainted with the vast island resort, and your fellow classmates. During your "free-time", or character interaction phases you will learn of your surroundings, and gain hope fragments as you get familiar with select persons of interest. From time to time Usami will also let herself be known just to make sure you, or your classmates don't break any of the rules, or in order to initiate a plot forwarding event. Exploring the farm, airport, supermarket, restaurant, cottages, and other areas of interest are a must for story progression, and the events included in each will change as the various phases of interaction play out. For map access during your island ordeal, and help to better understand gameplay you can press the "TRIANGLE" button to bring up the main menu, and access everything from the e-notebook rules to a map of the island, and even a virtual pet that is not unlike a "Tomogachi (digital pet that requires nurturing care)". As you progress through the game more options within the main menu will be afforded to you, and become usable in such parts of the game as those tied to the trial & jury phases.
When Monokuma finally enters the new island scenario via a forced "Chapter 1" entrance your tasked duties will go from the fun-loving vacation activities that Usami had planned for you to a more grim, and grisly investigation routine in which the characters will kill one another, or help you find those who are doing the killing. It is Monokuma's hope that his influential despair will lead the main cast of characters to distrust one another, and murder each other, because of said distrust. Like the prologue gameplay you will have a daily schedule to follow that is divided up between meetings, environmental investigations, character interactions, and plot moving events. All of which are dictated by Monokuma himself. Getting to know your surroundings, and those who inhabit them with you will provide crucial clues before the killing actually begins, and will help you better understand who's telling the truth in the classroom trial portions of the game.
Traversing Jabberwock island/s (the mysterious islands I mentioned before) within the game can be done in a few different ways, as I previously mentioned. This point "A" to Point "B" travel includes both 2D, 3D, and map oriented traveling. As the main character you will traverse the mainlands of the island in a 2D side-scrolling perspective that is not unlike what you'd see in a simply designed 2D platformer. The view will switch to a 3D first-person perspective only when you reach the main cottage/resort area, or when you reach accessible areas along the island trails. Interacting with objects, and persons of interest during the 3D/first-person travel/investigation phases is as simple as moving the cursor with the "Left Thumbstick", and pressing the "X" button to engage said object, or person as their name, or title appears near them. In regards to the 2D travel in which Hajime's avatar will be visible in a sideways point-of-view you can make him run using "CIRCLE" for quicker travel, and interact with the area entrances you happen upon by following up with a pressing of the "X" button when the area's title appears onscreen. For the quickie way out you can also click on an area of the main menu map, and go to a location of choice instantly. Of course the game advises against this course of action as it will take from your overall in-game experience. One thing to note in regards to the first person points of view is that clicking on every environmental object, and every character avatar before you is usually crucial to advancing the story. Not only that, but it will also level up Hajime as he does so, and get him more familiar with the accompanying characters within the game.
When walking in the island area via 2D travel it is also important to note that Hajime's footsteps will evolve your virtual pet, and make it grow from an egg into something entirely different. When the pet evolves a Monomi icon will appear at the bottom of the screen with an exclamation mark beside it letting you know it has done so. Even with the evolution warning in place though it is important that you check up on your virtual pet often as it will leave sh*t on the floor which must be cleaned up via the virtual pet menu. In order to influence the pet's mood you can give it presents which can be bought at the beach later on in your playthrough with the tokens that are gifted to you whenever you find the hidden Monokuma statues. Gifting the pet a present will add a heart to the hope stats while neglecting it will add a mark of despair on your virtual pet's stats. Like other in-game extras it's up to you to figure out what role, if any the virtual pet will play in the latest storyline. Trust me when I say that this particular Danganronpa has some interesting extras should you prove to be a proper investigator, jury member, and finish the game.
Aside from character, and environmental tasks you will eventually have to find the killer/s amongst your classmates via a class trial. In 'Danganronpa 2', like 'Danganronpa' murder is inevitable once the proper mood has been set. It is up to you, and the remaining classmates to thoroughly investigate the crime scene/s at hand, gather necessary clues, use the Monokuma files that are provided, and deliver your verdict as a jury member through a series of interactive quick time events. Your actions, and reactions during the trial phases will ultimately decide the fate of the killer, or the rest of the class should you fail to pinpoint the guilty party. The class trial in 'Danganronpa 2' is similar yet different in some ways when compared to the previous release. The trial process in which you use 'Truth Bullets', for example remains basically the same as before. Words from key evidence will be used to dispute what is being said through a virtual shootout in which the correct truth bullet (which can be selected/loaded via "Left Shoulder") must be shot (TRIANGLE) at the correct highlighted words. The only new addition to this phase of deliberation is the blue words that must be struck with truth bullets that prove the complete statement to be true.
The "Hangman's Gambit", "Panic Talk Action (Formerly "Bullet Time Battle)", and the comic strip solving phase which were also included in the first Danganronpa game remain practically the same as before as well with only minor changes. In "Hangman's Gambit' you will be tasked with matching the correct words/phrases up as they draw inward from either side of the screen in order to spell out clues. In "Panic Talk Action" you'll find that it's the same music mini-game as before, but that you will have to make a correctly matched phrase at the end. This will then lead to comic book style panel assembly which wraps up the case, and offers the full series of events that led up to the killing. Along with the old also come some new trial features as well. Trials in Danganronpa 2" will not be as straightforward as before, and will be more lengthy than they were in the previous game due to these new additions. The new trial additions include an argumentative trial phase known as "Rebuttal Showdowns". In these phases of the deliberation process you (Hajime) will have to discount another classmate's contradicting ideas in regards actions taken in a prior phase of the trial. This phase like, the others is multi-tiered, and will have you swiping onscreen letters, and applying a "Truth Sword" via a press of "TRIANGLE when the highlight words come into view.
During the "Rebuttal Showdowns" your "Truth Sword" applications must be applied before 'white noise' appears onscreen making it impossible to do so. White noise, as it likely sounds is onscreen dialogue that appears, and interferes with your "Truth Sword" actions. If you set the trial settings to "Gentle" though the white noise will not even appear onscreen. Keep in mind the difficulty of the trial is all up to you, and will only serve as a more difficult challenge should you be willing take it on. Another trial phase addition is that of "Logical Dive" in this trial phase you will play an interactive snowboarding-like mini-game which will require you to dodge pits as well as choose selective paths that tie-in with a question that is being asked of you. This will ultimately lead to what is known as a "Logical Conclusion". Lastly you'll find in place a trial phase known as "Spot Select" which will have you picking out certain spots on a given image. Like any real-life trial all these phases will eventually help you solve the murder, and convict the killer in your midst, assuming you don't run out of time, and your favor meter in the process. A couple of details I forgot to mention is that each phase of the trail is timed, and that each time a trial phase has to repeat itself you will lose favor via a pink heart meter. While the trail phases will repeat the words, phrases, and onscreen mini-games until time runs out you have to keep in mind that you will lose the game due the loss of favor meter, and time. This is one reason why you should save the game frequently, and especially before you enter a trial. In the end the execution will be dished out by Monokuma as usual, and will be overkill most definitely. Expect carnage to the extreme!
The Verdict ...
Overall "Danganronpa 2" was not a disappointment. It offers a unique style of interactive gameplay that you'll not find elsewhere. Like the first game it is also filled with twists you won't see coming as well as shocking death scenes you won't soon forget. Getting to the who done it, and why am I here point of the story is a roller coaster ride worth riding to the very end. During your virtual journey you'll have the pleasure of meeting lots of interesting characters aside from Hajime including a jock type leader guy who is obsessed with sh*tting, and a perverted chef who wants to get it on with all of the ladies of the island amongst others. In fact there are 16 characters in total not including Monokuma, and Monomi (aka, Usami).
One significant downside to gameplay in "Danganronpa 2" is that often times the rushed, and knowledge filled aspects of the classroom trail can be overbearing in more ways than one. Explanations to the different phases are usually vague, and to the point leaving you to have to figure some things out through trial, and error. The fact that the trials are extremely lengthy, and require you to remember all the clues that you picked up during the investigation makes beating the clock in the various phases of the trial a truly nerve racking experience. Even so you will find that the game is seriously rewarding once you complete a trial, and get to witness the demise of the murderer amongst your classmates. Always keep in mind that if you find the trial to be a bothersome ordeal that you can set the difficulty to the lowest setting in order to make things easier for you.
For those of you looking for the original Japanese experience without losing the ability to read, and understand the plot in English you'll find that 'Spike Chunsoft' has included a Japanese voice-over option just for you. For those of you wondering about the art style within the game it remains mostly true to the first Danganronpa in regards to character design, but adds to the free-time travel by changing the way you get from location to location. I wasn't particularly impressed with the 2D island travel, but I do realize it was necessary for the developer to divide the game up into different perspectives. Having a mixture of 2D, and 3D areas didn't really take from the experience in those regards.
When it comes to a recommendation I'm going to stick to my guns, and say that "Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair" is definitely worth a purchase. It can actually be played as a standalone title, but is much better understood if you own, and have played through "Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc". I do suggest getting both games if you can find them, and afford them. You should also know that the official NISA site is offering a limited collector's edition, assuming it's still available. That's the main reason I wanted to get this review out to you as soon as possible. Either way be sure not to miss out if you own a PS Vita!
Keep in mind that this is an "M" rated JRPG for a good reason, and is not meant to fall into younger hands. It features grisly death imagery, brutal death animation sequences, sexually suggestive dialogue, and sexual images, as well as cussing (to the extreme). If you are old enough, and mature enough to handle such content then I say go for it!!!