"If you don't wish for hope, you won't be assaulted by despair either"
"Super Danganronpa 2 - Farewell Academy of Despair"
It's been more than a year since my last translation, and I really want to do a new one somewhere in the near future again. Not sure whether people actually read them though. And I'd have to look for appropiate material. As fun as it would be to translate an actual novel, as long as I don't get paid for it, it would take too much time/effort to do anything more than a short story (and even then I tend to do little more than the bare minimum...)
The story of the PSP game Super Danganronpa 2 - Sayonara Zetsubou Gakuen ("Super Danganronpa 2 - Farewell Academy of Despair") once again starts at Hope's Peak Academy, a high school which only accepts students of super class. Whether you're a super class gamer, or a super class cook, or just have super class luck, you need to excel at a field to be accepted at Hope's Peak. This time, a group of 16 students, including protagonist Hinata Hajime, can definitely remember they arrived at the school, but for some reason they all wake up on a tropical island. They are told by the rabbit doll-like Usami being that they are on a school trip and that their only task is to bond and become friends with each other. Of course, nobody has any clue of what is going on at the beginning, but the 16 students slowly get used to the idea and really start to have fun on the island.
Until the evil Monokuma, a bear-like doll, appears on the scene, violently usurping the control of the island from Usami. He reinstates the system we already from the first game: students are only allowed to leave the island if they succeed in committing murder and getting away with it. After a murder has happened (and Monokuma makes sure a murder happens by giving incentives and motives for the students), the students have to hold a classroom trial, in which they have to figure out who the murderer is. If they guess correctly, the murderer is executed by Monokuma and the murder games continue, if they guess wrong everyone but the murderer is executed.
The set-up is the same as in the first Danganronpa: a closed circle situation with 16 students, with them having to solve the murders they commit among themselves in a courtroom setting, whilst also trying to figure out why they are being held captured by Monokuma. But Super Danganronpa 2 is an improvement in practically all aspects compared to the first game. First of all, the cases you have to solve are much better. In the original Danganronpa, anyone of reasonable intelligence could solve the murders (including all the 'surprise twists') during the investigation parts of the game, that is, the sequences where you collect the clues you would use in the classroom trials. The clues were so obvious and the plots were so simple, you could figure out everything there already, making the actual classroom trials rather boring: every plot-twist had been telegraphed long in advance because of the clumsy clues.
In Super Danganronpa 2 however, the murder cases are structured much better, meaning you can't solve the cases completely before entering a classroom trial, because some essential hints are only made known during the trial. Sounds unfair, but that's part of the suspense: the students are forced to hold classroom trials by Monokuma, with their own lives at stake. They know one of them is the murderder, but not who. They have to be careful with sharing information, sometimes only bringing things up if it is essential for the current topic of discussion.
This is reflected in some new game mechanics. It's still an action-packed variation of the Gyakuten Saiban games and you can read the Danganronpa review for a more detailed explanation, but it is essentially reacting on statements made by other people. This is usually done by pointing out contradictions with the help of evidence, but one new mechanic is to agree with statements made by other people: sometimes a person makes a suggestion or a guess which actually warrants back up from you (and evidence). It seems like a simple improvement, but it adds a lot to the idea of all students working together through way of discussion to arrive at the truth. On the other hand, another new system introduces specific one-on-one discussions, once again strengthening the atmosphere of having a group of differently thinking students whose really have nothing else but words to get them out of these cases.
There are also some other improvements in the mechanics that make Super Danganronpa 2 a lot more easier and more fun to play, though they aren't related to the plot: there are some shortcuts that make it a lot easier to interact with your fellow students and there are some minigames included for some extra replay value, making the package indeed look like a Super version of the original Danganronpa.
But to get back at the game's story. as mentioned above, you can look at two parts of the story with Super Danganronpa 2. One is the overall story, which deals with the question of how the 16 students are going to escape from the island and finding out what Monokuma is planning to do. Two is the seperate murder cases that occur among the students. So, it's much like a connected short story collection. What makes Super Danganronpa 2's story so great is the high meta-conciousness it has of the genre and itself as a game sequel. For one, a lot of the characters and events that happen over the course of the game are actually references / subversions / inversions of the first game. You sometimes get the feeling you're looking at the original game through a laughing mirror when playing Super Danganronpa 2, but the writer makes great use of this trick, collecting seemingly familiar tropes and archetypes to play with your expectations, but letting them engage in completely different ways. This way the sequel interacts with the original game is really something special.
Where the game doesn't seem to take its cues from the original, it still manages to shine. One case for example is an excellent example of the mansion murder case as often seen in Ayatsuji Yukito's yakata series, which was strangely something not really present in the first game. Also, one student who appears as a twisted version of the protagonist of the first game because of his belief in his fellow students, creates some of the most interesting situations I've seen in detective fiction in years. There is no way you'd see such a character in conventional detective fiction, but I'd recommend him as a sort of character study for any fan of the genre, as an example of a great new type of character in detective fiction.
But Super Danganronpa 2 doesn't interact with the first game just on a meta-level, but also on an explicit level, meaning you'll probably won't understand most of the ending if you haven't played the original. The story of Super Danganronpa 2 can't be seen seperately from the first game and a lot of the game works because it is a subversion of the expectations created in the first game, so one should really see the two games as one set. The sequel is better in both story and game mechanics, but one should not skip the first game, as you'll miss out on a lot what makes it so good.
Oh, and like the first game, Super Danganronpa 2 is full of references to popular culture, from an ingame- horro game called Twilight Syndrome to Monokuma using special moves from various manga to beat up Usami.
In short, recommended material. But you'll need to play the original Danganronpa to get everything out of it. It takes some time, 20+ hours times two, but the reward is great and for fans of detective adventure games certainly, but also for detective fiction fans in general, I'd even say that it is required playing.
Original Japanese title(s) 『スーパーダンガンロンパ２ さよなら絶望学園』