Tags Posts tagged with "danganronpa"

danganronpa

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Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (13)The first Danganronpa was quite the deceiving little gem: underneath the guise of its saccharine-sweet visual style, (deceptively) shallow characterization and general swathe of uguu~ anime charm lied a narrative that painted itself with the same dark and light swatches that its raison d’etre Monokuma displays. One that consistently leads its protagonist and the player through murder, mystery, and the loss of the human condition, segueing at times into what can be construed as a… dating simulator. I booted up its sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair with both excitement and trepidation; expecting another well-spun yarn leading me through another twenty or so hours of furrowed reading, attachment to characters who—spoilers—might not even make it through the end of the game, and the eventual existential crisis the game puts the player through. At the risk of sounding like a total putz, Danganronpa is a very emotionally-demanding videogame.

As with the first game, the plot centers around the ominous Hope’s Peak Academy, a school vaguely located in Japan that recruits only the best of the best. Goodbye Despair expands upon the first game’s cast of Ultimates and comes up with new über wunderkinds to interact with; and while some of them may sound lame or forced at first glance, each character once again has several underlying secrets hiding behind their archetypal titles.

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Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (10)Unlike the first game, which cast the player as the “Ultimate Lucky Student,” a faceless, unremarkable schmuck that only got to Hope’s Peak because he won a random drawing, the events of Goodbye Despair are now told through the eyes of one Hajime Hinata, a bombastic, oft-arrogant and sometimes unlikeable avatar that professes to be the ultimate…. Plot twist! He doesn’t actually remember what he’s supposed to be at the game’s onset. Even this simple bit of unreliable narration clues the player in to the game’s greatest asset: being able to take what is essentially an unbelievable set of circumstances and somehow weave that together into a narrative that appears to be spun-out by the first chapter, off-the-rails by the middle of the game, and somehow neatly tied-together by the game’s conclusion.

For those that haven’t had the opportunity to go through the first Danganronpa, the game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999 (or its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward) and Phoenix Wright, with the design sensibilities of Persona hewed in. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. At its core, however, the game is a visual novel through and through, with exploration elements that undoubtedly give the player some semblance of freedom; that is up to the point that he or she realizes that a certain character or event is awaiting to be triggered for the storyline to progress.

As a sequel, Goodbye Despair does not disappoint. The first game ended on a little bit of a cliffhanger, and while the second game does expand on the first game’s lore a little bit, it stands alone well enough without relying too much on the first game’s keynotes. That being said, I think you got to stretch your suspension of disbelief with this game a little bit more than you had to with the first game. It’s not quite the claustrophobic, urgent thriller that Trigger Happy Havoc was either—while one could understand why someone would go stir-crazy in the first game’s sealed, cramped school corridors, the deaths in Danganronpa 2 hit you way harder than they should in that “aw man, why’d you have to do that” sense, simply because there appeared to be a common goal between the participants in part deux of this sick social experiment.

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Goodbye Despair’s failings come at the hands of its own linear trappings. As with its contemporaries in the adventure game genus, solving the game’s myriad mysteries oftentimes falls under the hands of the player understanding the writers’ and developers’ logic, rather than the player’s own. No matter how early or late the player’s own “whodunit” epiphany comes into play, during class trials you are still at the mercy of the game’s pacing, and each mini-epiphany that leads to each chapter’s crescendo needs to be played out first; and that may frustrate some. I personally am numbed enough by “videogame logic” where I can shrug my shoulders and exclaim “welp, comes with the territory” whenever this happens.

Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair Screenshot (8)I cannot deny the stigma that the game faces as being part of the visual novel pantheon (a bias that, unfortunately, most cannot look beyond as the genre is saturated with less-than-savory entries). However, with expectations in check I can guarantee that any player will find Danganronpa’s convoluted tale one of the most compelling chronicles to be found on any videogame system, ever.

Platform Publisher Developer
PlayStation Vita NIS America Spike Chunsoft

Disclosure: thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts today for the R3 release at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers. The game comes out on the US PlayStation Network this September 2nd.

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I’m playing a visual novel that stars high school students physically and psychologically pitted against each other by a sadistic, faceless higher authority figure binding them with the allure of freedom and the constant fear of death and betrayal. What game am I playing? If you answered 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, or even Corpse Party, then you are wrong. Danganronpa (5)Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes place in (what appears to be) Hope’s Peak Academy, home of only the most elite students Japan has to offer… And you. The protagonist, Makoto Naegi, is your standard faceless teenager that happened to win the opportunity to join this elite school as part of a random drawing. Unlike most of his schoolmates, Naegi has absolutely zero special skills or remarkable characteristics apart from his apparent luck in being picked to join Hope’s Peak, hence he is dubbed the “Ultimate Lucky Student.” Other such “Ultimates” reside in the school with equally-wacky titles such as the “Ultimate Biker Gang Leader,” the “Ultimate Swimming Pro,” and even the “Ultimate Fanfic Creator.” After much proselytizing from the main character on how lucky he is to be part of that elite academy, he steps foot into the school and faints, awakening to find that all is not what it seems: He and fourteen other schoolmates meet in a soiree of confusion, fear and uncertainty as a deceptively-cute headmaster named Monokuma explains their current predicament in no uncertain terms: they are trapped. Trapped indefinitely inside the very school they wished to attend, with only one option for escape: kill. More precisely, kill and not be caught by the rest of the student body. The game can best be described as a strange amalgamation of 999, Phoenix Wright, and some elements of Persona hewed in. The first comparison shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as both games were birthed from the twisted minds over at Spike Chunsoft. The game plays like a standard visual novel for the first half of every chapter and abruptly segues into a morose version of Ace Attorney where you gather clues about each murder, pointing out contradictions later on in the classroom trial and ultimately piecing all of the information you’ve gathered to finger a final suspect. Danganronpa (3) The characters are but the emptiest of empty vessels and simply serve two purposes. Firstly, to provide the player a fetishistic reference to an understandable common context he/she can latch on to; hence the fifteen initial students presented to the player are relatable, one-dimensional caricatures that the player has probably seen in other media (i.e., anime “archetypes”) or in real-life, perhaps drawing upon his/her experience as a forgettable, nondescript high school student with no discernible skills or abilities (already assumed). Secondly, as each character has unique strengths and inevitable character flaws, they inevitably serve as glorifed storyline cues and ways to advance the plot. Danganronpa (4)To be fair, you do get to know more about each characters’ respective back-stories by building relationships in the game’s “free time” mode, a more shallow take on Persona’s “Social Link” dating-sim aspect wherein the player receives the option to seek the rest of the game’s cast leisurely strolling about the campus. Once you’ve found your target, the game mechanically asks you if you “want to spend time” with that character, which pulls up a choice to give your “date” a gift. Gifts are trinkets that can be won on the game’s solitary capsule machine, which the player can discern and match up to his current date as to what little curio is appropriate to hand out. Positive responses give you additional Skills and Skill Points that make the “lawyer-y” parts of the game a little easier. This, however, exposes an inherent issue with the genre—one can spend easily spend 30 hours taking the “scenic route” in Danganronpa, talking to each and every character, pushing every switch, opening every door; but invariably it will always be the same character that triggers the next sequence in the plot. I realize at this point that deconstructing the mechanics of a visual novel of all things isn’t really giving the game any justice. Ultimately, the game provides the player with a linear path from point A, the opening, to point B, the conclusion; with several false endings strewn throughout. It’s shallow entertainment and isn’t supposed to let the player in on the true meaning of the human condition or anything like that. Danganronpa (2)I suppose a more legitimate reason to fault the game is because it tries to do too many things at the same time. Instead of presenting evidence directly and pointing out contradictions like in the Ace Attorney games, one of the class trials’ (many) mini-games has you shoot “evidence bullets” towards statements that fly by the screen to point out inconsistencies in your classmates’ statements. Then after that you get to play hangman (Hangaroo for the plebians out there) by shooting letters that fly into the screen to suss out key words that turn the case around. Then after that you play a rhythm mini-game reminiscent of Bust a Groove to shoot down any further objections. After you’ve proven your point, you get to rebuild the whole scenario as it played out by putting panels on a little comic sheet that illustrates what really went down during the case. If this all sounds incredibly convoluted to you, that’s because it is; and the same confused design ethos follows through the other mini-games and distractions that permeate this title. They don’t appear frequently enough as to hinder the rest of the game, but are definitely jarring experiences. Danganronpa’s aesthetics shine on the Vita’s OLED screen, with crisp character portraits and bright UI elements that take more than just mere inspiration from Atlus’ Persona 4. And for once, high school kids in a Japanese game look vaguely like high school kids should—i.e., not like toddlers with bolt-on breasts. That said, the audio side of the presentation fares just as well, with a variety of aurally-pleasing tracks that range from cheery to spooky to downright terrifying. The English voice-acting team also deserves similar praise as each character’s voice is spot-on and adds a lot to the game’s ambiance. Maybe I’m a sucker for this particular subset of the genre, but I had a hard time putting Danganronpa down. There’s nothing particularly sophisticated about the game’s plot, game mechanics, or presentation; but as someone who barely reads fiction, I’m assuming my experience with the game wouldn’t be that far from what most would feel reading a good novel from cover to cover. Perhaps it’s because my current living situation mandates I live a boring, vanilla suburban life but I simply could not lay my PS Vita to rest until I reached each chapter’s conclusion and find out what messed-up situation these kids get into next. Thanks to the folks at NIS America for providing us with a pre-release copy of Danganronpa. Class starts tomorrow on the PlayStation Network and at your friendly local Datablitz or iTech-type retailers.

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