Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Danganronpa 2

Yesterday I discussed a video game that I think might have had one of the most profound emotional impacts on me since the time I tried to foolishly save everybody in a video game about the zombie apocalypse.  Today I discuss its sequel, which handles being a sequel better than most games I've played, and still manages to be one of the most amazing game experiences I've had in a long time.

We're talking Danganronpa 2.

First, the trailer.  I love this trailer.

The set-up is very similar to the first game.  Sixteen students all meant to attend the same "best of the best" school from the first game find themselves deposited on a strange tropical island.  There's nobody else anywhere, and it appears the place was fully abandoned.  The airport has planes with the engines removed, grocery stores are stocked with goods but devoid of life, and a farm has animals, but nobody tending them.  Again, there are certain areas blocked to the player to explore until later in the game, and again there's a strange creature there who states that everybody's there for a project they have no control over.

Truly the face of evil.
However, unlike the first game, Usami here says that all everybody needs to do in order to escape is make friends with all of the other students and have fun.  There's no challenges, no motivations to hurt each other, nothing but just being young, having fun, and living life in peace.

Then, of course, Monokuma shows up, hijacks the "experiment," and immediately starts trying to get everybody to kill each other again.

Now, I'm not going to spoil any of the stuff from the first game, but I will say that all of the major twists in that game are laid out right at the beginning of this game.  Every twist and shock is presented right off the bat, since, well, you the player already know them, it's rather meaningless to try to turn the same surprises into a new surprise.  It'd be like doing Citizen Kane 2 and having everybody wonder what this "Rosebud" thing is.

That's not to say there aren't equally impressive twists later on in the game.  In fact, this game does a better job peppering the game with huge story twists that leave you wondering what you're supposed to do or whose side you're supposed to be on.  Usami claims to be the enemy of Monokuma, but it was her and her organization that brought you to the island in the first place.  Is there a second group worse than the first?  Is Monokuma lying about where his allegiances lie?  Where is this island?  Why is it empty?  If Monokuma was defeated in the first game, what's his purpose this time?

Every question gets neatly answered at the end (while also providing several new questions), but what I want to focus on is how I came into this game.  I already had my heart torn apart a few times by the previous one, and I knew this one was going to attempt to do the same thing.  New characters would be presented, each one would have a distinctive personality and appearance and trait that separated them from the others.

I knew that if I went into it with the same foolish idealistic perspective, I was doomed, so I thought I'd cheat.  I avoided the characters I immediately had the most interest in getting to know and allying myself with.  Instead, I went for characters who were less "my type" but not "geared to quickly become evil."  The punk rock girl.  The shy, quiet gamer.  The other "misfits" who didn't really fit.  I focused my attention on them, figuring that I had figured out the system and that by playing the game this way I could outsmart a large collection of 1s and 0s.

You can guess how well that went.  Partway into the game, it once again yanked the rug out from under me and rubbed my face in my expectations.  I was once again playing each chapter dreading the revelation of whose time it was to die.

I have to say, though, that this game did a much better job of making each case emotionally gut-wrenching.  There were certain times where the murderer would be revealed, and you'd be left going "wait...I understand the circumstances of what happened there, surely we can't punish the person for THAT."  I'm not going to say that I was ready to condone or justify one student murdering another student, but certain character circumstances left me understanding why they chose to do what they did, and wondering how I'd react in the same situation.

With more creative locations, more game play challenges, and overall, I think, more story than the first game, Danganronpa 2 (subtitle: Goodbye Despair) is a perfect sequel to a great game.  It adds to what works, strips away a few things that didn't work, and manages to keep the second chapter of a story engaging and as fresh as the original, even if it regularly had me reaching the end of a chapter, turning the game off, and staring at the ceiling while silently thinking to myself about how the world works.

No comments: