Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair - Recensione
Led by Capcom's Ace Attorney, a large number of games made their way out of Japan, from Cing's Hotel Dusk and Last Window, through Konami's Time Hollow, Lux Pain and the Zero Escape saga with 999 and Virtue's Last Reward. The last to join this cheerful brigade with a high rate of texts and puzzles was Spang Chunsoft's Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, who brought his load of investigations and bizarre characters to PSVita introducing the western audience to a series born on PSP which in Japan has already enjoyed an anime adaptation and a sequel. The latter, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, now arrives in Europe less than a year away from its predecessor, thanks to the lightning-fast location of NIS America.
This canvas, whose archetypes recall Battle Royale, Agatha Christie and series like Infinity, Zero Escape and Umineko no Naku Koro ni in no particular order, fully follows the adventure of Makoto Naegi and other students of the academy in the first Danganronpa, much that having played the previous episode will soon prove to be fundamental not only to grasp all the references present in the dialogues, but also to understand and appreciate the main changes in the story. Just the close relationship with the first episode, often referred to by Monokuma, allows us to grasp the fundamental features of this sequel: the atmosphere of the story proposes the typical features of the narrative of Kazutaka Kodaka, writer and director of the series, who knows how to harmoniously mix self-irony, ethical dilemmas, violence, various citations and ruptures of the fourth wall with a characterization of characters and antagonists brought to paroxysm by the extremeization of the character models on which they are based, as confirmed by the artistic direction of Rui Komatsuzaki with his deliberately exaggerated and kinetic trait.
If the initial impact of Goodbye Despair is less fresh than its predecessor due to the many narrative and stylistic traits that unite them, the differences emerge as soon as the plot and the investigative component are deepened. Although the story initially unfolds at a slower pace than Trigger Happy Havoc, after the first chapter the situation improves markedly thanks to the way in which the stimuli offered by Monokuma manage to give each narrative unit (and each murder) a theme different, in an attempt to exacerbate the relationships between the survivors more and more, thus reiterating the centrality of the conflict between hope and despair, on which the series bases part of its identity.
While Hajime will deal with group logic and try to recompose the complex puzzle relating to Monokuma's plans, the player will have to come up with more interesting and less predictable mysteries than those of Trigger Happy Havoc, where it was often possible to anticipate much the outcome of the investigations. On the contrary, Goodbye Despair has no problem proposing false tracks and exploiting the player's expectations against him in order to confuse him and to distance him from the truth, setting up an intricate criminal choreography that knows how to properly exploit the backstage of the protagonists and the peculiarities of the various areas, providing parallel clues about the main story.
If the traits described so far dominate the whole of the story, from a playful point of view, the tense routine of poor Hajime ends up following a cycle divided into three phases. The first sees the Ultimate exploring the new areas that are unlocked at the beginning of each chapter, alternating sliding movements on the map of each island with first-person movements within the individual areas and points and clicks in the smaller rooms, where you can interact with other characters and examine the scenario. There are also large narrative sequences, managed in visual novel style using the characters' sprites. Once the crime on duty is committed, the investigative sequence begins, which sees Hajime lingering on the minute details of each murder, gathering clues and food for thought by examining the environments and comparing himself with the other survivors.
In many similar titles the sequences of this genre translate into unpleasant moments of pixel hunting, but in Danganronpa it is possible to view all the interactive elements by pressing Triangle, not to mention how it is impossible to exit the areas without completing the investigations in order to avoid the player unnecessary frustrations. If so far Goodbye Despair's canvas follows the style of infinite graphic adventures, the third phase fully shows the identity of the series. In class processes, where the characters must identify the murderer in order to avoid that the latter is saved by sacrificing the rest of the companions, the arguments and twists are in fact conveyed through a long list of minigames with logical and action repercussions, expanding what had already been seen in the first Danganronpa.
The most common - and successful - remains the Nonstop Debate, where the drum of Hajime's mental revolver must be loaded by firing arguments and evidence against the claims of the other characters in order to deny or confirm them, arriving to have to eliminate from the screen phrases aimed at concealing the targets, to stop time to take aim or to borrow a phrase from others to exploit it in our favor. This mechanic joins other more or less successful allegorical sequences, in which it is necessary to cut an enemy contradiction with a "argumentative sword" after rejecting minor objections, recompose keywords by joining pairs of letters making sure they do not collide, slip with one mental skateboarding in ducts that branch out together with Hajime's thoughts and fight in a rhythm game against opponents in panic. The clear objective of these colorful sequences, which can be altered by exploiting skills gained by conversing with other students, is to diversify the procedural phase, raising and lowering the player's tension and changing the rhythm of the scenes according to the challenges proposed, thus giving at the most excited moments of the story a playful and narrative identity that remains the main feature of the series.
Not all minigames are effective in the same way, either for touch controls that are not always perfect, or for the imbalance on the action component at the expense of the purely logical one (best example, in this sense, the Rebuttal Showdown). Fortunately, the closure of each trial is entrusted to another mode consistent with the underlying intent of the game, which sees us recompose a manga related to the events of the murder by inserting the missing panels in order to summarize the conclusions of the debate.
Although the story of Danganronpa 2 is linear, excluding the alternative choices and scenarios typical of many other more or less hybrid visual novels, it cannot be said that the game has a reduced amount of content. Once you reach the pyrotechnic conclusion of the story, lasting about thirty hours in total, you are confronted with a large catalog of extras and additional methods. The main one is certainly the Island Mode, equivalent to the School Mode of the first episode, in which the tropical life of Hajime and companions proceeds without being hijacked by Monokuma, allowing you to focus on deepening the relationships with the supporting actors (which recalls the Social Links of the last person) and on the creation of objects, the ingredients of which must be found every day by the students. There is also an absurd action mode that sees the bunny Usami defeating the Monokuma jokes so as to open the group the exploration of new islands during short levels with a bird's eye camera, not to mention Danganronpa If, scenario additional presented in the form of a pure visual novel, which re-elaborates the initial events of the first episode in a curious alternative scenario that will not fail to interest the fans of a certain character.
I completed the digital version of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair in about 34 hours, then moved on to dedicate some time to the additional modes.