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Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair opens up much like the first game. A group of students from Hope's Peak Academy are torn from their daily lives by a mechanical stuffed animal. In this case, Usami is a bunny-shaped animal with a cheerful and optimistic personality. She kidnaps this class of students and brings them to Jabberwock Island, a tropical paradise. Her goal is to force them all to befriend each other and collect Hope Shards before they can leave the island. Unfortunately, things go south quickly. The sky turns dark and Monokuma, the villain of the first game, appears. He usurps control and changes the rules so Jabberwock Island is the newest iteration of his game. The only way off Jabberwock Island is to kill another student. If one of the students can get away with murder, he or she will escape, and everyone else dies. If the student fails, he or she will be executed.
The cast of Danganronpa 2 is entirely new, aside from Monokuma's return. The ultimate affluent progeny, Togami, has also returned in a very different form, but he shows no memory of the first game's events. Players take on the role of Hajime Hinata, whose ultimate skill is a mystery to everyone, including himself. He's far more assertive and sarcastic than the prior game's protagonist, and that is useful because he is up against a wilder cast, including a scatalogically fixated ultimate coach, a narcoleptic ultimate gamer, a sadistic ultimate traditional dancer, a perverted ultimate cook, and many more.
In the chapter that we played on the preview build, Danganronpa 2 follows a structure very similar to the first game. The gameplay is divided into Daily Life and Deadly Life segments. In the Daily Life segments, you can wander around Jabberwock Island and slowly piece together the mystery of the strange world. Since Jabberwock Island is significantly bigger than Hope's Peak Academy, you can use a world map to travel from one location to another. It's a simple 2-D side-scrolling map, and you can either walk or instantly teleport between locations. The locations are divided into two types: static areas, where you can point and click to explore, and larger areas, like the hallways.
As before, you're stuck in on-rails exploration for a good chunk of Daily Life. You follow the plot and gradually find out more about the characters and setting. Every so often, you run into a patch of time where not much is happening. During this free time, you can talk to the other cast members. These events allow you to learn more about the characters and their history, and you can give them a present to improve your relationship with them. These events have changed from the first game. You no longer get skill points and new skills by simply talking to characters. Instead, you gain a Hope Shard for every event you have with a character, and they can be traded in for new skills. Several skills reference skills that are not available to purchase yet but are clearly tied to a character based on their name, making it very likely the skills will be the reward for finishing all of a character's events or for a higher tier of friendship.
Instead of skill points as a reward, you gradually level up as you walk around and talk to people. This encourages you talk to everyone and investigate everything. The more you talk and investigate, the more skill points you'll have for the trial segments. I was able to reach level 10 by the end of the first chapter, but it seems that is only enough to equip a handful of skills. Walking around has a second benefit. When you arrived at the island, you were given a Chibimi virtual pet, which is like a Tamagotchi. You can give it presents to increase its hope meter or clean up its waste to keep its despair meter low. It tracks the number of steps Hajime takes and evolves into a new form. Since it only counts actual steps taken, any form of quick movement isn't counted, so you need to balance quick movement with potential power-ups. I received no Chibimi rewards during my playthrough, but there will be a reward by the time I reach the end of the game.
The Deadly Life section is the most similar to the first game, at least during the first chapter. Once a murder has occurred, the investigation must begin. The students need to figure out who among them is the culprit, or else all of them will be executed. The investigation involves going through the unlocked areas and checking the environment for clues and hints about who committed the foul deed. There's no way to fail at this. As in the first game, you're prompted when you've found every necessary clue. Each piece of evidence is saved as a truth bullet for use in the trials. Once you've compiled a full set of truth bullets, Monokuma drags you to the trial room to begin.
The trial segment has also seen an upgrade, and the trial structure has changed. As before, they're a mix of Phoenix Wright-style puzzle-solving and minigames. Previously, the characters were very static, but now, the other characters in the trials puzzle things out or interrupt to point out contradictions in Hajime's argument. Not only can you point out contradictions in their arguments, but you can also use evidence to agree with them. All of this is done in a very similar manner to the first game, where you shoot "truth bullets" at moving text.
There are also a series of minigames, both new and old. Returning from the original game are the nonstop debate and the closing argument. Nonstop debate is the aforementioned ability to agree and be interrupted. Closing arguments ask you to combine scenes into a comic book to show the murder timeline. There is also the Panic Talk action, where you play a rhythm minigame to shoot down a character's statements and eventually point out the truth they're trying to hide. This replaces the Bullet Time Battle from the previous game and plays very similarly. The major difference is that at the end, you need to form your own Truth Bullet with four words assigned to the face buttons, rather than shooting the correct truth bullet.
The new minigames we saw included rebuttal showdown and improved hangman's gambit. Rebuttal showdown is effectively a swordfight that happens when another character interrupts your argument. You have to use either the touch-screen or d-pad to "cut" through their words until they reveal a contradiction you can shoot with a truth bullet. Improved hangman's gambit is quite a change from the original version. Letters float through the air, and if two letters are the same and hit each other, they combine. If they're different, they explode and take damage. A combined letter can be selected or destroyed. What you need to do is combine letters that spell out the Hangman-style clue while destroying the ones that don't match the clues. You don't need a high score to solve the puzzle, but it's fun to go for one. A third kind of minigame, Logic Dive, is mentioned in the buyable skills but was not a part of the first chapter.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is shaping up to be a very straightforward sequel. Based on what we've seen in the initial chapter, the core gameplay hasn't changed much from the first game. The gameplay has been refined and updated, the new minigames are fun, and the wacky cast of new characters is even more eccentric than the ones in the first game. There are a lot of little refinements that make it an easier game to play without drastically altering the gameplay. Newcomers may want to try the original game first, as Danganronpa 2 expects a lot of prior knowledge from its audience, but fans of the original Danganronpa will find a lot to like here. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is due out exclusively for the PlayStation Vita on Sept. 2, 2014.
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