Beautiful despair.

This is the best way I have to describe Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, an eclectic and dark hybrid of visual novel and court room drama. Long after the final credits roll and the twists have been hashed over in your mind (and there are quite a few), Danganronpa 2 will leave you with some philosophical conundrums. You will also be reviewing earlier events in light of later twists, making connections that will haunt you.

In this manner, Goodbye Despair is a rousing success.  The key to the Danganronpa games has always been its manner of investing in the characters’ relationships. Even the flawed or unlikeable students found in the game will reveal unexpected facets as you engage with them, and develop something of a “friendship”. Which makes the inevitable murders and investigations a roller coaster ride of emotions as you discover one of your favorite characters  has become the victim or wind up exposing them as the culprit. Danganronpa has always been highly successful at undermining and manipulating the emotions of its players (an unsurprising trend given the very first murder investigation in the original installment).

But there are some hard questions that are asked once it’s all said and done. The game’s keen at subverting the neat and tidy “happy” endings common in media. What makes up a person’s identity? Can excised memories truly make someone a better person? Goodbye Despair smartly sidesteps cleanly answering these questions, instead relegating them to your judgment.

As good as the visual novel and mystery elements are, Goodbye Despair is weighed down by some of its game mechanics. While the debate, Panic Talk and Hangman’s Gambit return, not all the new additions are welcome. In particular I found Logic Drive a perfect example of “feature creep”.

The setup seems simple enough: a snowboarding metaphor is used along a wireframe virtual track to answer multiple choice questions, and all while avoiding obstacles and pitfalls. Except the game mechanic feels completely out of place in the context of the game, and failures feel more like trial and error (see what I did there? HO HO HO). Missed a gap or chose the wrong path? Feel free to start again and waste time. It feels arbitrary and a flavor of artificial difficulty.

These are minor quibbles, however, with an otherwise engrossing adventure. If you love mysteries and genre-blending storytelling, Goodbye Despair is a great pick-up. You will wind up sinking more time into this than the original game, and that is before unlocking the alternate game mode (similar to the original’s School Mode).

Goodbye Despair is a smart, mature gaming experience while offering a lot of value for your money. Easily one of the best titles on the Vita.

Rating: A

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