Let the sounds of the ocean waves gently rock you to sleep
One of the most interesting holes in the Switch’s library has for a long time been the Danganronpa franchise, a series of murder mystery games originally developed by Spike Chunsoft for the PSP and later the PS Vita. The series originally began in 2010 in Japan and wouldn’t make its way westward until 2014, but despite having been released for just about every other platform in the industry since then, for some reason it just seemed to miss the Switch. That is until earlier this month where we saw the release of Danganronpa Decadence, which brought all three games in the series to Nintendo’s platform, one that perfectly fits this series and its handheld origins. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was originally released in 2012, introducing a brand new cast with a few familiar faces along the way.
Danganronpa 2 puts the player in control of Hajime Hinata, a student preparing for his first day attending the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. Things take a turn for the unusual when he and his new classmates find themselves trapped on the tropical Jabberwock Island, with a magical rabbit named Usami claiming to be their teacher. Usami informs them that they will not be able to leave the island until the group becomes friends and gathers the mysterious “hope fragments”, and so a peaceful if not bizarre school trip begins. This peace is of course broken when the trip is hijacked by series mascot and tenured professor who took an online philosophy course over the summer: the devious Monokuma. With Usami defeated and turned into the pathetic Monomi, Monokuma turns the peaceful school trip into the “Killing School Trip,” and the only way to leave the island and go home is to kill one of your fellow students and get away with it. From there the situation on the island begins to spiral into an atmosphere of distrust as killings begin to regularly occur and the Hope’s Peak students are dragged into numerous class trials.
Gameplay in Danganronpa comes in three phases, the first of which is Daily Life. During Daily Life segments you are given multiple blocks of free time to spend with a classmate of your choice. The students of Hope’s Peak Academy are exclusively teens that are the “ultimate” at what they do from Akane the “Ultimate Athlete” and Teruteru the “Ultimate Cook” to the slightly more zany Fuyuhiko the “Ultimate Yakuza” and Sonia the “Ultimate Princess.” Each character has a distinct and unique personality that makes them memorable, though your mileage may vary on whether or not you find them all likable and fun to interact with. For the most part I found this game’s cast to be overall stronger than the first game’s, though there were still characters like Kazuichi who I started to intentionally go out of my way not to socialize with. Every character has six collectible hope fragments, which can only be collected by spending time with them and then giving them a gift that they don’t hate. These sections have far less depth than the other two phases, but there is still a notable amount of tension when you remember that any of these characters might die at any point in the story.
The second phase is Deadly Life, which occurs when a murder has been committed. During this time the game transitions into something similar to the investigation phase of an Ace Attorney game, tasking the player with gathering clues (represented in game as “Truth Bullets”) and attempting to figure out the culprit. From there the final phase is the most important and most well realized: the Class Trial. Class Trials are made up of a collection of minigames and deductions, with a massive amount of variation in the minute to minute goings on. Returning from the first game are the Endless Debate, where the player must shoot contradicting statements with the Truth Bullets the contradict, and Panic Time Action, a renamed version of the first game’s rhythm game sections that involves breaking down an opponent’s defenses and making them listen to your argument. Endless Debate has received a new function where you can also shoot blue statements with a Truth Bullet that backs it up, which is a fantastic addition to the game. PTA however feels very tacked on and even seemed to be inaccurate in terms of button timing quite often. Hangman’s Gambit also makes a return from the first game though now in a much different form, being changed into something almost resembling an arcade shooter that seemed to constantly toe the line between terribly tedious and overly hectic.
New additions to the Class Trial include the Rebuttal Showdown and the Logic Dive. Rebuttal Showdowns turn your Truth Bullets into Truth Swords and have you go toe to toe with one of your fellow classmates, slashing their statements apart in order to break down their argument. Logic Dive puts you in control of a skateboard riding Hajime riding through an obstacle course, with multiple choice questions presented in the form of branching paths. The Rebuttal Showdown is by far my favorite addition to these sections of the game, as they feel incredibly satisfying once you’ve pulled one off. Logic Dive however never really caught my interest, most of the time seeming rather monotonous until late game trials. Overall many of the additions to the Class Trials are good, adding even more variation to a game that already has a good grasp on how to keep the player’s attention.
There are things to dislike about Danganronpa 2, whether that be the noticeably cheap localization, plot elements that feel rather mean spirited in 2021, or even the existence of Nagito Komaeda. However I found that the game’s eccentric cast, banging soundtrack from series composer Masafumi Takada, and generally interesting and intricate murder mysteries burst through any problems those aspects might have caused. The time I spent on Jabberwock Island was well worth it, even when it killed off a character I had begun to like hanging out with. It may be dated in a lot of ways, but it also still holds up surprisingly well in a lot of other aspects. If you like a good set of murder mysteries featuring a consistent cast of characters, Danganronpa is one of the best places to get that experience, and this sequel is no different in that regard.