In the same way that the title of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair appears to be a hodgepodge of words, the game is a hodgepodge of mechanics and themes. Part visual novel, part dating sim, and part something else entirely, Danganronpa 2 revels in every odd nook and cranny it can. That also means it relies heavily on tropes, both those that are subverted and some that are played straight.
The premise of the game is that you, a young student, have been accepted to Hope’s Peak Academy—a prestigious school for the elite with “Ultimate” talents—when suddenly your entire class is somehow transported to a seemingly deserted island. A creature named Usami apparently brought the group of 16 students out to the island, and she informs everyone that the only way off is to gather “Hope Fragments”—by spending time with and learning about each other. This is given a particularly goofy sense of camaraderie by the fact that Usami looks like a giant walking, talking stuffed rabbit that is also a magical girl. Welcome to Danganronpa 2.
Half of the game is talking with the various students stuck on the island with your character, all of whom have their own special talents, personalities and tropes. You can even give them special presents after spending “Free Time” with them, and they’ll enjoy some of them more than others. The Ultimate Princess, for example, enjoys the occult, so things like crystal balls go over well with her. “Hope Fragments” gathered this way can be spent on skills for a later portion of the game, though that’s not explained well immediately.
And then Monokuma shows up, who is something like a bear or tanooki or stuffed creature, and things get deadly serious. He says that the only way off the island is to kill another student, and then if the rest of the students fail to determine that the killer was the one that did it, everyone but the killer will also be killed—and said killer is free to leave.
Of course this means that someone decides the only way to get off the island is to kill someone, so they do. This leads into the inevitable investigation where you, the player, gather clues to try and piece together what happened. It feels genuinely puzzling to scour through the clues to try and figure out what happened, and the solution isn’t completely transparent. The first case is especially convoluted. After all the evidence is gathered, the trial commences.
The mechanics of the actual trial are difficult to parse. Not only are there multiple steps that each have their own minigame, but a number of them use different input methods. For example, “white noise”—bits and pieces of talk that are irrelevant—will sometimes crop up during a portion of the sentencing, and it can be destroyed either by tapping it, hitting X while hovering the reticule over it, or using the rear touchpad. You’re also penalized for hitting anything that isn’t considered white noise. Also, all of this is timed. It can get hectic quickly.
That isn’t to say it ever feels unfair or forced. Though the timed rebuttals and the like can be tricky, they all feel logically sound. The game also prompts players before the trial ever begins to set a difficulty for it—just in case they want to experience something on the “Gentle” setting rather than the “Kind” or “Mean” one. Even “Kind” can be a little rough, and I’d likely drop to “Gentle” if I were looking to just experience the game rather than beat it.
Once the trial is over, and the culprit is caught, they’re executed—meaning that at least two students are gone from the roster. It makes the whole “Free Time” period a little more interesting, because it’s hard to say which characters are going to disappear first, and any of them are just as likely to kill someone. The rest of the game plays with this same kind of structure while constantly teasing story tidbits that I can’t get into here. Needless to say, it actually somehow gets weirder—and the weirder Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair gets, the better it is.
Rollin Bishop is a writer and tinkerer who tweets too much about anime and terrible jokes @rollinbishop. He is also bad at briefly describing himself.