Let's get this straight from the start, I find the visual novel genre a strange one. I feel that it is more like an interactive story than a game but games of this genre do add extra features which expand the genre a little bit. Like novels, they have a very steady beginning and when you are staring at a Vita screen reading, it can be hard to get into. This was my personal issue with the first title. I do love a good mystery story but it has to grab me early one. So, does the sequel do anything to rectify this? A simple answer - yes it does.
You return to hope falls for another year of despair but this time around you are all set up for a field trip - on an uninhabited island! And you host this time is a loveable Pink Rabbit.
Let me expand on this for you as the setting is rather key to this visual novel. Again there are sixteen ultimate students picked due to excelling in their particular fields. They all enter the academy full of hope as their future is apparently going to be great. What happens though is they all end up blacking out and ending up stuck in a classroom. Still with no clue of what is happening you host shows up, a pink and white bunny (Monomi), who then cracks open the class room (yes this happens) to unveil your new home; a paradise island!
What I like straight away is that playing the first one is not completely necessary to enjoy this title. It is just a sequel to the style of visual novel that was created in the first game. If you did play the first title you will be well aware of how the story will develop during the course of your stay on the island.
Even though the first was a murder mystery it felt like it lacked an engaging mystery from the start. Where as here the mysteries are present from the start. Whether it being why you are stuck on the island or why other students are acting so calm in sure a situation. The later point more than the first because if you know what happens in the first game, you cannot just cannot put your finger on why everyone is calm. It gets you absorbed into the story from the go. This all changes after a freak storm hits the island and a familiar face appears on the local tv monitors - Monokuma. So up to this point everything told to you by Monomi is all wrong! It is not a free loving paradise island - it is now the students prison for life! Now the real game begins and it is the same as before; to escape the island students must kill each other and not be found out.
The first part if this story is well written and very well paced; it really gets the player interested fast. I managed to clear the prologue in just over two hours and honestly it did not feel like it took that long at all.
As the story progresses in chapter one a big secret is revealed (in fact it is the same secret which ended the last game) and at this point the game parodies itself by asking why should they keep the biggest secret until the very end plus that this story is very familiar. But this is what sort of character Monokuma is - he is very blunt and upfront. Not a character who keeps a lot of secrets - he tells it how it is (other than the true motive for all the events happening in the game, of course)
I will now stop discussing the story elects of this game as this game is pretty much all about the story and I do not want to spoil one more thing for you.
Moving around the game has been changed to a 2D side scrolling game. If feels like a whole different game due to this and it really helps break the game up between scenes.
You can quick travel but if you walk you get a reward later in the game. It feels a lot better than the 1st person view of the first game as it feels more natural as the world is already 2D.
First person traveling is present in some sections such as the hotel and moving around buildings. It works ok here as you only have to move between the students rooms but I am glad they decided to move away from it for the majority of traveling in the game.
Exploration of rooms is the same as previous. You move the cursor around the screen and fire at the target you wish to interact with whether it be a fellow student or something which sparks your interest.
Let's move onto the actual gameplay elements of this game. First and foremost is the “Free Time” sections. These are times of the day where the story does not progress until you carry out one of two things; hang out with two classmates or just go to sleep on your bed. I would recommend that you hang out with your classmates as it build bonds with them which in turn award you with a hope crystal. What are these you ask? Well, you can trade these with Monomi for a skill which then can be used later in the Class Trials. Bonding with classmates can be as simple as just spending time with them or by giving them presents. Presents are either rewarded to you or you can buy them. I am not sure how it fully works as it is not explained that well. I just ended up giving presents based upon what the other classmates Ultimate talent is; there is no gage showing how close you are to upgrading your bond with them.
The core of the game presents itself in the form of the Investigation and the Class Trials. This is what the game has been building up to. Once a murder has been committed you must around the scene collecting various items of evidence which could be used in the trial. At the time some may seem completely stupid but they also may be the key to solving the murder. Do not worry though, you cannot miss anything as the game will not allow you to move on to the next scene unless you have found everything. The collecting is very straight forward but the toughest part of the game is filtering through all the evidence, remembering all the classmates accounts and discarding anything which you may think is rubbish (at the time). Also, you must try you best to remember any scenes leading up to the murder as they are not always stored as evidence.
The Class Trials are a bit frustrating to start with as they are very fast paced and you are stricened to a timer! In order to progress and solve the murder you must present your arguments to the others and this is done using your truth bullets - these are just the pieces of evidence that you have found during your investigation. You have to fire your truth bullets at possible holes in people's stories as you all discuss what happened before and during the murder.
One big issue I had is that when you need to choose the evidence you wish to “fire”. It can be a little tricky to select the evidence you want and the game does not pause during your selection meaning you miss your chance. This does not really matter as the arguments repeat but when you are on a time limit it is a pain.
You can go one on one if another student does not believe your point. Basically you have to slash away statements which the other student fires at you regarding your latest point and to finish it off you must present a piece of evidence which contradicts their argument.
I found these section infuriating to start as I do not believe the tutorial is very clear and it is a hell of a lot quicker than the “bullet” section before - it would have been better (for me) if there was a visual guide but once you start to understand what to do (and not use the touch screen) they begin to make sense and these sections add a lot more tension to the trials.
Another gameplay addition to the trial is the Hangman section. The best way I can explain it is like when you have a certain word on the tip of your tongue but you just cannot remember it. Well this is what this is - letters fly across the screen and you must join the same ones together and then fire them into the right order to create a word which will help move the case along.
With all these sections if you fail, life will be taken off you and if your life hits zero (or the time tuns out) you lose and you get blamed for the murder - I never fully understood why this happens as there is not one point in which you are marked as the leader so why should I take all the blame if I cannot work it out? I know that it is just a game over mechanic but it just does not make any sense whatsoever!
I found that some of the evidence needed to clear an argument can be a little vague and really heavily relies on you remembering things which are not stored in your evidence. It may just be to me not paying attention but this is a portable game and players will probably not play each chapter from beginning to end in one sitting - heck I do not think I would play it for that period of time if it was on a home console.
Putting this to the side this is the real fun of the game begins. The trials are intense and very quick. You need to be on your toes, know your evidence and it helps to have a rough idea of what happened and who may have done it. I went into the first trial with a rough idea on what the murder weapon could be and it turned out to be true but was not picked up until further into the trial. If you go in without a clue you may find it it difficult but once some of the truth starts pouring out you can easily make a connection to what may have happened.
Again, it is down to the player playing the game. If you hate these styles of games and go in without. Clue then you will seriously hate this and maybe end up throwing your Vita across the room ( maybe even use It as a murder weapon too)
How the script plays out on trial is brilliant. You start by thinking it is one person and they through many twists, many accusations later you finally pull the culprit from the class. It is amazing the writers thought of every way to cover up evidence to make you think differently about the situation. The smallest things which you never noticed may end up to be the biggest hole in the killers plan!
Once you are confident (as a group) that you have found the killer you must prove it and to do this you must break down the culprits final shields by completing a rhythm game. The shields surround the classmate in question and to break them down you must hit the correct buttons in time. Once all shield are down you have presented with four words which you must put together to build you final statement and prove once and for all who the killer is.
The trial is not finished there though! You must recap all the events which took place on the night of the murder by putting a comic together showing what truly happened. This is a fun way to make sure you have been paying attention.
And because it's a game.... You get rated at the end based upon your actions in each section of the trial plus you get coins which you can use buy gifts for your friends to help development.
After the trials ends, well the culprit is punished and the search for hope in despair continues.
Just like the first title, Dangenronpa 2 has a unique style. It looks like a novel itself. The backdrops are forced into a 3D perspective with 2D characters and objects placed within it. As each scene opens up, all the items unfold (like a pop up book) and the characters are dropped in, just as if you were setting a scene up yourself.
Compared to the first title this game feels like there is more hope due to the vibrant backdrops. You are stuck on an island which is known for being a mini paradise so you would expect the bright colours of the sun, sea and sand. A lot of detail has gone into the set designs and so too the characters. As it is a visual novel, there is no real animation but characters to change poses depending on what they are saying. Each character has a huge range of poses and emotions throughout the game and it is credit to the artists for doing so as it adds that little more to the story. Finally the music; this is mainly to fill the empty void as you are reading through the countless lines of text. Most of the songs are loops of a simple sample so expect to hear repetition but to be honest it is not that noticeable. The only time I thought the music had a great effect was during the trials. The music changes to the current situation of the trial and adds a great deal of atmosphere. Overall, the art design and music suit this game genre perfectly and if it was any different I think it would have ruined it.
How do you rate a visual novel? It is tough as these games are aimed at a really small part of the gaming world. It is the definition of niche - this game is not for everyone. Some would call it boring and ask what is the point. Others would see it for what it is though; a murder mystery wrapped up in a game.
Unfortunately it is let down decisions which may put players off rather quickly such as poor tutorials, trials that are infuriating at first and that it is very text. Yes, before you come at me with pitch forks I know that is is a visual novel but gamers who do not know that need to be warned before hand as it may ruin their experience.
Overall the story itself is a good one. It plays smoother than the original, the pacing is well balanced, the setting is so ironic and the characters are a lot more interesting. If it is that you want to give this game a serious go I just have one piece of advice; push through the text heavy section and get to the first trial. Once you have completed that you will be wanting more and for those still on the fence with this one, it is like a cross between Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright but with a darker twist in the story.
Who Should Play This?
- If you love visual novels then this is a must
- Any fan of a murder mystery should give this a go
- If you loved the dark story of the first title then again, this is a must
- Taking a long journey? This is a perfect companion
Who Should NOT Play This?
- There is a hell of a lot of reading here so if you are not a fan of reading then please give this a miss
- Not too great at putting clues together? This will be your own personal hell
- If you are after a game which gives you short bursts of entertainment then you will not find this here.
Review copy supplied by NIS Europe