It doesn’t feel like it’s been that long since I last plunged into the depths of Monokuma’s killing game, and that’s a good thing as DanganRonpa fans will want to have the original fresh in their mind going into DanganRonpa 2.
The short waiting period works in the game’s favor, as DanganRonpa 2 consistently places characters, plot points, and dialogue in front of you to play with your expectations developed from the first game. While I wouldn’t say it’s impossible to start the series with this game, I can’t imagine a new player would have even remotely the same experience as a DanganRonpa veteran.
Despite the many call backs, however, DanganRonpa 2 develops a distinct identity through sheer insanity. Things just feel grander: instead of an abandoned school you’re trapped on an abandoned island, instead of being blocked off by gates and locked doors there are now giant mechanical Mono-Beasts sanctioning places off, and the game itself is kicked off by one of the most amusing introductions I’ve ever seen to a game.
Once things do get going, it’s a pretty familiar experience. Like before, the game is broken into three parts: daily life, investigations, and class trials. Daily life and the investigations work almost identically to their predecessors, with most of the game being in first-person as you examine objects and talk to people. The only real difference is that when you travel the hub of the island it switches to a 2D perspective as your character runs around to different locations. It’s a pretty superficial change, but it can be fun to look at.
Also returning are the pseudo-social links with classmates, although they’re done much smarter now. In the first DanganRonpa, the amount of events a character had usually corresponded with how long they survived into the story, which could lead to some early spoilers and wasted time if you were looking to max a character’s relationship out. Now every character gets five events (not including their introduction) allowing equal time for everyone to develop, no matter what their role in the story was.
In place of any sweeping changes to quieter moments of DanganRonpa 2 are the addition of multiple subsystems. Everything you do now gives you experience points, and every level-up allows you more room to equip skills that help out during the class trials. The most common way to get experience comes from walking around, which also helps develop a pet that you can have located in the pause menu. The pet is in a constant state of standing around or pooping itself, and depending on how often you clean up after it and give it gifts, it can turn into different animals.
Honestly, I don’t really like either addition. At best they’re completely superfluous and at worst they’re a little annoying. The pet can actually poop itself to death if you go too long without interacting with it, so I found myself compulsively keeping tabs on it despite not actually being interested in the concept. So I guess the mechanic worked on me in that sense, but I don’t think either the pet or the experience system make the game better. If anything, I found it broke up the flow of the game at crucial points, as it would be in your best interest to run around a little to squeeze out a level up before a trial or constantly check on your pet during an investigation.
The class trials themselves have received the most alterations. At its core it’s the same deal: gameplay styles constantly switch in order to keep you on your toes as you slowly use logical deductions to pick away at a murder mystery. Most of the gameplay styles have now been tweaked, but to varying degrees of success.
One change to the Non-Stop Debates that I absolutely love is that instead of just pointing out contradictions, you can now fire evidence to support other peoples’ statements. This adds a whole new layer to the gameplay, as well as the character dynamics as a whole. A lot of the discussions in the first DanganRonpa felt like they mainly between you and the one or two other competent characters, but now almost everyone gets a chance to shine.
The most dramatically changed gameplay element is the self-proclaimed “Improved Hangman’s Gambit.” I got really excited when I first read that, as I thought the version of the mini-game in the original was by far the weakest of the set. Originally, you had to shoot letters in order to spell a word that was relevant to the case, now things are much more involved.
Now pairs of the same letters fly across the screen, and you have to grab and smash them together to form one big letter while keeping them from mixing with different letters. It gets really hectic, especially as the mini-game still suffers from the occasional problem of the question being vague enough to allow for multiple answers. In general the mini game just takes a lot more time, as the words or phrases are often longer and it felt like a long time can pass before the game actually gives you the letters you need. Long story short, Hangman’s Gambit remains my least favorite mini-game.
Along with the more action-packed take on hangman, there are two completely new mini-games: Rebuttal Showdowns and Logic Dives. Rebuttal Showdowns work as a twist on the Non-Stop debates, where instead of having an open discussion with the entire group, you focus on an argument against a single person. Their arguments spread across the screen, and you have swipe in the right directions to cut through their words. I like these parts a lot, as they have an interesting ammo mechanic where you can only swipe so many words, meaning you have to pick and choose the best times to strike.
During Logic Dives, you control a surfboarding version of your character as he goes down a long tunnel. As you surf down the tunnel, obstacles like gaps in the floor and blockades need to be avoided. The logic part comes in during checkpoints, where the game asks you a question relevant to the mystery and you have to slide down the path labeled with the correct answer.
I appreciate that they tried to make the trials even more interesting and dynamic than they were previously, but stuff like the Improved Hangman’s Gambit and Logic Dives don’t really play to the game’s strengths. The original game’s trials worked well because the mini games came and went relatively fast while almost completely focusing on the mystery. Now the more action-y games can take minutes at a time, and I often knew the answer before I even started playing them so I was basically just waiting for the mini-game to end so I could move on. Ironically, the attempts to keep the pace and tension up almost slow things down too much.
That’s not to say the trials are worse overall, as I actually feel the opposite. The murder mysteries this time around are much more complex and satisfying to solve. Mysteries in the original were relatively grounded in execution, but the over-the-top nature of the sequel allows for much more extravagant tactics and requires more imagination to solve. I like both approaches, but the original’s mysteries just feel too simple looking back, while the sequel’s are just right.
While a lot of the new additions don’t necessarily make the game better, there are so many smart smaller additions that make the game work. The quality of the character writing and murder mysteries in particular are huge leap above its predecessor. DanganRonpa 2 is an excellent follow-up that uses the experiences people had with the original to create something that surpasses it.
Food for Thought:
1. After completing the first chapter, a mini game unlocks featuring the game’s new secondary mascot, Usami. It revolves around defeating Monokuma’s robot beasts by drawing magic circles around them and it’s actually pretty fun. More levels open up after every chapter you complete, and with multiple difficulties and a randomized loot system there’s a surprising amount of replay value to this little addition.
2. One thing I noted about the original game was how pointless I thought the Re: Action system was, and I guess someone must have felt the same way because the mechanic is completely absent from the sequel.
3. Bullet Time Battles, which essentially served as boss fights during the trials in the first game, are still here but as far as I can tell remain almost completely unchanged. Oddly enough, the only difference seemed to be that they’re now called Panic Talk Actions for whatever reason.