By biggiedubs 0 Comments
Some of the most infuriating moments in gaming are when the game won’t let you do what you want. The kind of thing where you know what you want to do, and you think you can do it, but the game just won’t let you for whatever reason.
The tried and tested invisible walls that cordon off parts of the world, the ammunition that just doesn’t quite stretch to killing all the enemies, the objects that could be used as weapons that you’re not allowed to pick up, and every single goddam game where you just can’t attack, defend or roll quick enough.
But the most iconic one must be the locked door. Some may have thematic reasons to be locked, such as the hundreds of locked hotel rooms in the Silent Hill series that would have been tiresome to traipse through.
And some have gameplay reasons, such as Deus Ex doors with their pass codes you have to scour emails for, and the Resident Evil crested doors that force you to explore every part of the spooky Spencer mansion.
Splinter Cell made an artform of locked doors, in fact, what with sliding the camera snakes under them, and the knocking on them, and their amazing abilities to be used as a weapon when you kick them.
But they are locked doors, and does unlocking a door really count as gameplay?
I think you could argue an answer either way, but my answer is this: Yes, but it is bad gameplay. And, unfortunately, this is where Danganronpa 2 comes in.
I loved the first Danganronpa game. It was madcap, it was ridiculous, it was funny and it so was bright and colourful it glowed-in-the-dark.
There were a couple of rough edges, sure, like some twists and turns that maybe shouldn’t have been made, and some carefully pruning of its forest of dialogue would have been appreciated, but I still loved it.
Danganronpa 2, on the other hand…well, let’s just say I’ve not beat it yet.
Both the Danganronpa games involve similar gameplay mechanics, with the sequel inventing a few of it’s own. The most obvious analogy to draw to the series to the Phoenix Wright games: you investigate a mystery, find clues, then use said clues to poke holes in other people’s testimonies.
Where the two series deviate, however, is in it’s characters. Danganronpa’s main characters are comprised of 16 high-schoolers living together on an island. If one kills another and gets away with it, then they can go home. And if they’re found out they’re dragged from the courtroom to a hyperbolic, cartoony, day-glo death.
But while Phoenix Wright has depended on the pure gameplay loop for finding evidence then finding the bad guy, the Danganronpa creators seem unable to just let their gameplay speak for itself. They inundate their gameplay with gadgets and doodads which often infuriate the player, rather than entice them with some brand new gameplay options.
The meat of the gameplay revolves around it’s courtroom scenes where you have to determine how the murder was committed, and then deduce who the culprit amongst your classmates is using your accumulated evidence.
However, whilst Phoenix Wright allows you to inspect the testimonies of the allegedly guilty at your leisure, Danganronpa has no interest in letting you off so lightly.
Even at the beginning of the game, the statements whirl across the screen frantically and you have to carefully aim and fire the evidence shaped ‘Truth Bullets’ at them. (Which, admittedly, is somewhat enjoyable)
But by the end of the game, the statements have gained multiple shields of ‘fake’ statements that you have to pick away at, and you’re even required to fashion selected statements as pieces of evidence against falsehoods.
And whilst Phoenix Wright vs Professor Layton also uses this ‘statement as evidence against other statements’ mechanic, in that game there was at least some indication as to when and where to use it. Danganronpa does not, often resulting in the player completely forgetting that mechanic even existed.
This whole process of the finding the murderer becomes increasingly convoluted throughout the game until it becomes a downright chore to play by it’s rules. Or ‘unlock it’s doors,’ even.
Very often you know the answer to one of the game’s puzzles, but you’re simply unable to give it. Sometimes the process of selecting the right piece of evidence, swatting away all the nuisance fake statements, and then nailing the statement with your truth bullet just becomes too much to actually pull off. Usually meaning you have to restart and try all over again.
But is there too much going on for a good reason? Apologists could speculate that finding the truth is so complicated because it mirrors the character’s own plights. The truth in Danganronpa is nebulous and elusive, and it’s characters strive and strive to find it, often to learn that it’s changed shape and tune entirely.
The gameplay does reflect this, but when the outcome only results in the gameplay becoming unenjoyable to play; is that actually a good thing? If the impediment that is stopping you from doing what you want to do has a narrative or a thematic excuse, is that enough to warrant it?
If unlocking a door is not fun, why was locked in the first place?
In the midst of this courtroom antics, Danganronpa 2 also forces a number of mini-games on you. As a certain resolution in the trial become clearer, maybe the real murder weapon or a new suspect, you’re often taken to a mini-game in which your forced to spell out the answer in excruciating detail.
A prime example is the new ‘Logic Dive’ sections. In them your main character is shrunk down into a tiny techno-snowboarder who’s carving up the inside of a F-Zero pipe. You swerve around obstacles, before taking certain paths that link to certain answers about the ongoing investigation.
It’s rubbish. And as well as being a roadbump to the rest of the game, due to murdering the momentum I had from nearly uncovering the truth, the bad design of the mini-game only compounds the problem.
Making the section timed, but forcing you to slow down to take some of the trickier paths, bad checkpointing, questions you’d never know the answers to, and my most hated trope: having something you can fail after the last set-piece but before the end of the section.
You can get the last question right, then fail a tricky jump that you never see coming, right next to the finish line. It kills all of the hype you did have for finishing the section, and only served to frustrate me even more.
But what’s even more frustrating is that this section is nothing more than a bloated version of the ‘Revisualizations’ section in Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations. The section in Phoenix Wright takes a fraction of the time, and only involves clicking on a few options, but it is infinitely more exciting than its Danganronpa counterpart.
The first reason is where it is scheduled. In Phoenix Wright they fall after some intense courtroom drama of objections and counter-objections. You think you’ve exhausted all of your objections, that you’ll never get to the bottom of the mystery, and then the revisualization section kicks in to boil down your findings into 3-4 simple multiple choice questions.
The whole segment works as an incredibly satisfying victory lap for getting through the rest of the trial. Danganronpa’s, meanwhile, slaps you in the face mid-trial, and then shoves you back into the trial to do the exact same thing you did before.
Here’s another thing about the metaphorical doors. If what’s on either side of the door is the same thing, is there a reason for having the door in the first place?
I hope we can all agree there, that there isn’t.
Anyway, you swish around on your neon snowboard for a bit, then back to the trial you go. It could be called a pause for breath it wasn’t a supposedly fast paced action scene without a pause button.
Another reason why Phoenix Wright’s Revisualization section is far superior is the way it rewards you for corrects answers. Each right answer ignites with some swooshy fire effect before shooting off the screen, all while this intense piano and bass combo is blasting in the background.
If you get an answer right in Danganranpo’s Logic Dive, however, you get the chance to answer the next question. The gaming equivalent of your boss saying your prize for working hard is keeping your job.
I presume this lengthy chunk of writing is the most anyone has ever written on the Logic Dives in Danganronpa 2, but to me they are the most obvious example of the tiresome obstacles that this game places between you and enjoying the game. The biggest example, though, is another beast entirely.
Throughout Danganronpa 2 explanations are sparse. It seems that the creators crunched the numbers, and figured the only way to get the crazy pace that they wanted for their game to was to cut all the boring plot stuff out. So they did.
But when they got to the end of the game they realised: Crap! We needed that boring plot stuff! Now we don’t have an ending!
Then they realised that they could shove all the exposition in at the end, and hacks like me could find excuses for them. Stuff like ‘oh, the characters we’re being led astray the entire game, of course they wouldn’t know what’s going on. It’s really interesting to learn about the world alongside them.’
The first Danganronpa did something similar also, but at least that game had characters that were actively working throughout the game to try and understand the predicament they’re in. It becomes Portal-esque, with you sneaking around places you shouldn’t, and learning information about things they wish you didn’t.
Danganronpa 2 does not do this, however. Or rather, it does, but only in the last few hours of the game. Whilst the finales of both games involve unveiling the twisted reasons of where the characters are, and why they’re there, the first Danganronpa’s characters have much more agency over the situation.
You get the feeling that they are working together to bring down the system, and that they can actually do it. Danganronpa 2, however, the characters just go along with everything for 20 hours, only for then to the game remember: ‘Oh wait, these characters have got to take down the ultimate bad guys.’
And so they do. The power of ‘friendship’ and ‘belief in each other’ making up for the continued detective work and graft you see in Danganronpa 1, apparently.
If you put some effort in you can write yourself out of anything, something which they seem to have done, judging by the warm reception to Danganronpa 2. Most people seem to have made it to the end of the game and just accepted the hastily revealed plot details. Some have even gladly eaten it up.
Me, though? My save has been left in the midst of the final trial. Untouched for a good week now. A silent protest, even.
Before the final trial the game grabs you by the shoulder and walks you through every tiny detail of the plot that wasn’t in the previous 15 hours of play. It says, ‘here. This is the world. This is why the world is like this. Look at this and this and this and this and this. You need to memorise this. You should be writing this down.’
And you should be writing down, because it all comes up in the exam. The exposition exam. The final courtroom drama that I simply refuse to finish.
From the boring hand-holding nature of gathering the evidence before hand, to the trial itself, the finale of Danganronpa 2 is a troublesome, finicky affair. It uses every mini-game there’s been throughout the game, every nuance, every little thing they can possibly use to make the trial as complicated and convoluted as possible.
And I was done. Not only was all the unnecessary additions still in there, but there wasn’t even a murder mystery to solve. There wasn’t an ex-friend of mine to avenge, a surreptitious murderer to uncover, and there wasn’t any building on the revelations that we’d uncovered throughout the game, such as how it worked in the first Danganronpa.
And if the door is going to be a real hassle to open, you need a pretty good reason for to be there is going to get me to open it. And there wasn’t, so I’ll probably never see what’s on the other side of it. And I probably don’t care either.
Door metaphors! Love ‘em!
It shames me to say it, but I’m going to do a hack video game writing thing here and say: ‘Despite all this misgivings, Danganronpa 2 is a good game.’
Because it is a good game, but it does make it incredibly hard for you to enjoy sometimes. Mysteries require precise answers, all evidence must be found in a specific order, all the mini-games are tedious and detract from the exciting courtroom action, and the final chapter devolves into ‘it was all dream’-esque plot nonsense.
But it is a good game, and I’d be lying if I said you’ll have no fun playing it. It’s just that you’d just better be prepared to bang your head against some doors sometimes.