If for some reason you aren’t familiar with Danganronpa by this point, you should absolutely go play the first game. It’s a great murder mystery visual novel, where a group of “Ultimate” (talented) high-schoolers are forced to kill each other to escape a locked building. Go read my review of the first game if you’re interested, and then start playing it. If you like exciting stories, murder mysteries, or great characters, I’d absolutely say it’s worth getting a Vita for. As soon as you finish it, make sure you watch the hilarious (spoiler-filled!) Abridged Series.
Now that you’re fully versed in Danganronpa thus far, let’s talk about what makes the second game even better.
Danganronpa 2 wants to subvert your expectations in every way possible. The game opens with an identical scene to the first game, with the main character entering Hope’s Peak, and then waking up in a classroom. And then everything goes sideways. “What’s really happening?” You’ll constantly ask yourself. Just when you think you know where something’s going, Monokuma will poke fun at you for thinking you ever knew anything at all.
Danganronpa 2 constant jabs at the first game wouldn’t work if it wasn’t so much better. It earns the right to poke fun at its predecessor because it ups the stakes in almost every way. Rather than putting you back in a locked school, now you have an entire island to explore. While there is certainly more mystery, claustrophobia, and fear in the first game’s atmosphere, I feel like that scenery was explored in its fullest. In the rival Zero Escape series, both games take place in very similar dark halls, and both games are excellent. I feel that Danganronpa has raised the bar, though, because it accomplishes the same effect with an infinitely more interesting locale.
Danganronpa 2’s writing is even funnier and smarter than the first game’s, and even the less likable characters have redeeming qualities. Characters I didn’t expect to like in the beginning became fully fleshed out human beings by the time they met their gruesome ends. One character in particular, is bar-none, the best character I’ve ever seen in a visual novel. They bring so much weight to the story, and the way characters react to them is completely reasonable in their situation. Imagine the serial killer twist from the first game, but amplified by a thousand.
The trials are much more substantial too. Instead of literally telling you who committed the first murder like the first game, Danganronpa 2 has no “tutorial” cases. The first case comes fast and hard, leaving me with no clue who would be the culprit, even an hour into the arguments. And each case raises the stakes higher and higher. By the end of the game, my mind was blown into pieces by the events unfolding on my screen, and I loved every minute of it. Except for maybe the very end, but we’ll get to that a little later.
The minigames during the trials are still about as boring as they were before, but none of them last long enough to be too troublesome. Make sure you play on the easiest difficulty, because it smooths over so many of the rough edges. The reason I come to these games is to see a great story unfold, and not to spend one entire hour breaking my was through a case with trial and error. (You’ll see it during the second case, I promise.) One cool addition, is that characters can interrupt you and other during arguments, much like your character does when someone makes a mistake. You’ll end up dueling with people who may not necessarily be involved in the case, but still have a problem with your logic behind a situation.
Exploring the world is vastly improved by limited the time you spend in first-person mode. Except for a few rare instances, the navigation is controlled almost entirely through a simple world map system, making navigation much less time consuming if you plan on walking from place to place. You’re also given a Tomogatchi-like pet that grows as you walk around, giving you a reason not to teleport everywhere and to explore you’re surroundings. Hidden Monokumas also reward careful investigation, as several are hidden in places throughout each chapter. Rather than madly clicking every object in search of coins, currency is now smartly awarded by playing “I-Spy” with Monokuma.
My biggest issue with the game is one I’ve mellowed on since finishing it. There are several things in the game that I found didn’t quite hit their mark by the end of the game. I had grand ideas for places some of the characters could go, and for mysteries to be revealed that just never happened. I was sure I had found interesting things that needed to be discussed, only for the game to move directly past them and onto something else. It’s probably my fault for expecting even more than was delivered, but during the credits I was struck with the disbelief of “that was it?”
The biggest events of the story are things I could have never predicted, however, and that’s probably what Danganronpa wanted all along. It throws little oddities at you hoping you follow the red herrings, and proceeds to blindside you with a reveal that you had no chance of guessing. As long as you don’t let your imagination run too wild, it’s hard for me to say the ending wasn’t a satisfying one. When compared to the first game’s ending which I thought was a little rushed, this one feels so much better. The themes aren’t as phoned in, and some real emotional moments sneak in during all the exposition and huge reveals. I still think they’re leaving too much to be answered in Danganronpa 3, but I’m hooked either way. I’ll be the first one in line as soon as I can get more.
The Danganronpa series has been my favorite ongoing new series of the year, (well, besides that one card game) and I haven’t had more fun discussing a story and characters from anything in 2014. Danganronpa 2 is probably the best visual novel I’ve ever played, and I can’t stop myself from thinking about it, even weeks later. If you’re in for a Metal Gear Solid-style journey of self-awareness, comedy, horror, and twists, Danganronpa 2 is the best I’ve found since Kojima picked up a pen.