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04/11/2018 20:49:26 •••

Ultimate Despair

I can't remember the last time I played a game so engaging that it took over my life from the moment I started it to the moment I finished it. I marathoned DanganRonpa over the course of a long weekend, barely eating or sleeping because I was so obsessed with finishing the story. And that has led me to two conclusions.

A) DanganRonpa is one of the most gripping games I've ever played.

B) I never want to play another DanganRonpa game in my entire life.

This isn't just a story about my lack of self-control; DanganRonpa is a game in which you are a student, trapped forever alongside 14 other students in Hope's Peak Academy, which is run by a psychotic robot teddy bear and the only way to leave is to kill someone and not get caught at the following class trial. The bear then very forcefully... motivates the students by implying that their loved ones are in peril, threatening to reveal their darkest secrets, and generally doing anything he can to ensure that they kill each other.

Given the murders, investigations and trials, the comparison to Ace Attorney is inevitable. DanganRonpa's overarching storyline means you truly care more about the characters who die and kill, and they have more depth; every murderer is sympathetic, because you are almost literally being forced to kill each other. But this also really sucks, because in Ace Attorney, the victims are strangers, but the crime is still fun to solve, and the murderers are usually antagonistic assholes and it's fun to watch them break down when caught. In DanganRonpa, you're gutted that someone died, uncovering the killer is painful, and once caught, the psychotic teddy robot brutally murders the culprit in what I can only describe as ironic anime Final Destination traps.

I found the plot addictive, but unrewarding. I liked the story, but every time I advanced it, things just got even more depressing as my senseless battle against an invincible Complete Monster continued to get worse. You do eventually get to make progress on this front, but only after more than half of the charming, likeable cast have been savagely murdered.

This does tie in to the game's overarching theme of Hope VS Despair, the power of not giving up, no matter how bleak the situation, but to be totally honest with you all... I wasn't having fun. I was hooked, but I didn't really enjoy much of it; actually, I felt like shit. And I'm not sure if I can recommend a 25 hour visual novel where I spent 20 hours legitimately depressed, and 5 hours repeatedly combing the school for Monokuma Coins I could use to buy gifts for the other students, which rarely mattered because so many of them died.

I can see why people like these games so much, but if I wanted to slog through a neverending journey of despair where my victories were short-lived and ultimately just brought about more misery, I'd start speaking to my family again.

01/30/2018 00:00:00

I did like Dangaronpa more than you did, I think, but I too intemperately hated that goddamn Monokuma every step of the way, and still do. The actual villain has a bit of charisma, but the bear is just dumb and unfunny. Apparently, he\'s some kind of parody of a Japanese cultural icon, but I\'m Amurican, and I don\'t get the supposed jokes. Boring Invincible Villain is right.

I guess I was able to cling to the main protagonist\'s personality, sorta, as the guy who can\'t break. But I certainly see where you\'re coming from about the bleakness of the premise.

If it\'s any consolation, just as well you got out here. It\'s all downhill from this point in the franchise, unfortunately.

01/30/2018 00:00:00

It\'s true that Danganronpa is dark, and that every class trial you clear means that another (relatively) sympathetic character dies. Of course, that\'s part of the game\'s appeal- the victims and killers are actually important characters, rather than simply introduced for the trial. In Ace Attorney, the first victim was some woman that your character\'s best friend was dating, but in Danganronpa, the first victim is the character you\'d assume to be the female lead and main character\'s Love Interest.

It\'s also true that the villain\'s winning for most of the game, and loses after most of the cast is dead. The fact that graduation seems to be the only way out is largely the point, and a large part of why Celeste plotted to commit murder.

In short, your review has some fair points, but I can\'t help but wonder whether Danganronpa just isn\'t for you. As for my own opinion, I personally consider the second point the high point in the series, and while I have certain complaints about the third game, it improved on many things from a gameplay perspective.

01/30/2018 00:00:00

I do feel that was the point, Valiona. He himself admits that he was gripped, but not entertained, and that he sees its artistic merits without really wanting to experience them again. What is that but an admission that the game wasn't bad, just not for him?

...Also, I want to argue with you about the second title, but I can't help but feel this is neither the time nor the place, so...

01/31/2018 00:00:00

I would definitely say that rather Danganronpa being objectively bad, it just isn\'t for me. There are a lot of good points I can\'t include in a 3,000 character review - the presentation and design is exceptional, the puzzles work, and while it\'s tempting to complain that you\'re still getting tutorials halfway through Trial 4 of 6, it\'s nice of the game to add little tweaks to mechanics at a steady pace. Also, the School Life add-on looks like a more laid back approach, and since I wanted to go for the \'Clear a trial without ever taking damage\' achievement, it was nice that you can replay any chapter and choose to start from the trial if you want.

But there were negatives; I hope it doesn\'t sound kind of preachy, like I disapprove of other people liking things that I don\'t, but there was a line in a Zero Punctuation review - not that I\'m really a fan of his - where he said something about Mortal Kombat about how the gallons of blood spilling out and the bones getting broken and necks getting snapped didn\'t make him uncomfortable at all, but knowing that someone out there was thinking \'Whew, I am fucking loving this!\' actually did make him feel a little grossed out. And I\'m like that with the executions.

I kind of imagine that there\'s this one guy at the Spike Chunsoft offices who makes them all up and has his own desk where he sits far away from everyone, and at the end of the day he just quietly shuffles up to the group and announces \"Okay, so, I think I have a new one. A woman is running away from an angry mob, when they corner her, but a rope drops down for her to climb. But the rope is covered with thorns, so her hands and legs start bleeding as she climbs it to escape. And then buzzsaws appear and start moving back and forth, and they slice her up really badly as she\'s climbing, but she survives long enough to make it to the top. But then it turns out that the escape at the top was just painted on, and the rope snaps, and she falls several storeys, screaming, before crashing to the ground and finally dying.\" And he smiles really proudly, and the rest of the office is silent, and eventually one of his colleagues says \"Derek, I\'ve been meaning to ask; how\'s marriage-counselling going?\"

Plus the pacing of the main cast dying is a bit off. More than half of your classmates die in the first three trials, and then practically no-one dies in the next three. And while I liked every character - ah screw it, we\'re already naming them - Yasuhiro was really boring compared to, say, Kiyotaka. A lot of the interesting ones died quickly and a few boring ones survived the whole way through.

I wholeheartedly encourage you both to argue about the second title.

01/31/2018 00:00:00

...See, until you put it like that, I was not really thinking of the horrible and disturbing execution scenes in terms of how that one guy was clearly enjoying them just a bit too much, and now I can't un-see it. Bleh. Just as well the third title was a tire-fire that killed my interest in the rest of the franchise. And just as well you don't want to read more. Future titles went even further in terms of graphic violence and the like, clearly chasing the edge crowd. They also went out of their way to retcon that Hope's Peak Academy was a horrifically corrupt place full of dickheads and run by assholes, rather than just being corrupted by the dark influence of the mastermind. So, if this was a bit much for you, rest assured, you only got out when the getting was good.

Also, I hated Byakuya almost as much as that bear. Like, to the point of zombie-movie "Why doesn't someone just nut up and kill this asshole already?!" frustration. Yeah, Yasuhiro was stupid and boring, and the fact that he outlived all the other characters I was more interested in is lame.

But... I like to see it in terms of Makoto, whose strengths as a protagonist are understated. After he finally snaps and tells that horrible bear what we're all thinking (that they're only killing each other because it keeps psychologically torturing them into it, and that it's attempts to paint them as the real bad guy are just stupid), they actually do stop killing each other for the rest of the game.

I think most of my complaints about the second game are in my series-wide review I posted a while back. Yes, it didn't ruin itself as completely as the third did by chasing after more lurid, explicit content and wilder, more surreal twists, but it definitely took more characters over the top, kept up the trend of having more-interesting characters die while more one-note ones survive, and also while I appreciate that Kuzuryuu was essentially a far-superior second swing at making a more-sympathetic Byakuya, Nagito was an awful, awful character I hated far, far more than I ever hated Byakuya, ability to make hilarious jokes mocking him aside.

02/01/2018 00:00:00

Aw, now I feel bad because I kind of like Byakuya. He\'s incredibly arrogant and condescending and smug, and coming into a murder game scenario with a title like \'Ultimate Affluent Prodigy\' made me think \'Ohoho, you\'re gonna last one, maybe two trials at most!\', but I liked that... well, he kind of brought his A-game. He\'s 100% self-serving, but legitimately very intelligent. And depending on how you look at Trial 2, he single-handedly discovers that there\'s a serial killer in their midst, forces them to reveal themselves, and then arranges things so that the serial killer can\'t kill anyone else during the games, because everyone would immediately recognize the method and know it was them. And despite being only interested in himself, he also never ever murders anyone, even after all of his \'I only haven\'t killed anyone already because I\'m figuring out how to do it without getting caught!\' shtick. Yeah, it gets old the millionth time you help him out or he helps you out and he has to point out yet again that you\'re not friends, but I kind of liked him. Or at least, I feel like they didn\'t waste his potential.

02/01/2018 00:00:00

I guess I just found him exhausting because I legitimately felt he was such a rotten person, and would hold so much power if he got out of the school, that the whole world would legitimately be better off without him. When Aoi punched him right in his stupid face and screamed that it shouldíve been him instead of Sakura, itís *supposed* to be an early sign that sheís falling apart and will serve as the de facto villain of the chapter, but I was too busy cheering to notice. Legit lifted my spirits during a very dark part of the game.

Besides, itís sure easy to look smart when youíre deliberately desecrating the dead and forging evidence that other people then have to sort through. The one chapter when he legitimately has to figure something out, he crashes and burns because, as the actual detective points out, being a dickhead who commodifies other people and sees the world entirely as a sequence of cost-benefit diagrams is actually more of a hindrance than anything else, because normal people arenít that kind of selfish monster and actually are motivated by their love and connection to one another.

Itís hard to buy his face turn when he spends most of the game being just as much of an evil waste of skin is that stupid bear is all Iím saying.

02/01/2018 00:00:00

I would agree with a lot of that. Aoi punching him in the face was one of the brightest moments of the game, as was him completely failing to solve the 4th case because he doesn't realise that people have feelings. I was honestly expecting him to do something really bad that would make me hate him, but it never quite happens. And also, if you get the alternate ending in Chapter 5, it turns out that if forced between killing someone to escape, or living in Hope's Peak Academy forever, he'd actually choose the latter.

I guess I just liked that I thought he would turn out to be evil, so it was a pleasant surprise when he turned out to just be a massive tool. The evil bear will murder your family and tease you about it and force you to kill your friends and then ironically murder you with an evil robot version of your favourite childhood toy. Byakuya will pass you over for a promotion because he remembers that one time eight years ago that you were late to work because your car broke down.

What's Nagito like?

02/01/2018 00:00:00

I guess I see Byakuya as more of the "Hey. I'll give you ten million dollars to murder your child for fun. Don't bother being offended, it's more money than he'll make in his whole useless life. If anything, I'm giving you more than his cash value. Be grateful that he at least gets to give one of his betters a bit of simple, visceral pleasure in his brief, meaningless existence," class of rich guy. But hey. I guess there's evidence in the text for both...

...Eh, it's a massive spoiler for the first case of 2, but, since you're never gonna play it anyway...

Nagito's a crazy loon with a difficult life. He's kind of an evil take on Makoto, as demonstrated by them having the same "ultimate luck" talent and their names being similar. He goes on these massive rants about how hope is wonderful, while also being a lunatic driven mad by despair, after repeatedly improbably surviving disasters that killed off his family, leaving him wealthy from all the inheiritance and insurance money, but also lonely. And he's dying of a brain disease that might or might not account for some of his... wilder rants and crazier actions.

But, as part of the general thematic confusion and shallowness of the second game, Nagito's lunacy is all-too-often given disproportionate thematic weight and heft, and his insane ramblings about how it's fine that he tried to murder someone for no reason because he loves seeing the hope in someone's eyes right when they're about to die most aren't really dismissed as thoroughly as they should be.

I guess, in hindsight, I don't think he's a bad character or a bad villain per se, just one whom the narrative is weirdly reluctant to condemn the way it really should. Sorta the same way Monokuma's supposed to be a darkly hilarious cartoon character you love to hate, but for reasons of cultural difference instead comes across as the worst kind of sadistic, annoying, invincible villain that you just plane hate, if that makes sense?

04/11/2018 00:00:00

Sorry to interrupt this feedback loop of franchise hate, but I liked Dangan Ronpa because it had what so many franchise mysteries lacked and that was tension. Phoenix Wright had some decent mysteries but I often had trouble keeping myself awake as many of the mysteries did not have any personal investment from Phoenix himself. More often than not, the only thing Phoenix risked was professional integrity. Phoenix's role was to defend his client, figuring out the bad guy was just circumstantial, in addition to coincidental as they are nearly always in the court's audience. In some of the early cases finding out the bad guy was easy because there was only one or two people other than the defendant involved and later cases had at most 5 people, some of whom had very little characterization. You may like purely evil bad guys, but I found grey culprits more interesting and memorable.There are a dozen Sherlock Holmes games on steam that have a similar good/bad qualities as Phoenix Wright but I found got bored of their episodic mysteries just as fast. The only other game I think that has the same level of tension is The Council, which to my frustration is coming in Telltale style installments.

When I think of invincible villain, I think of someone that regularly beats up the rest of the cast and the narrative focuses on just minimizing damage. Essentially something along the lines of the anime, Overlord, which I find insufferable. Monokuma tries to project this aura of omniscience but he isn't always successful and games generally involve the characters figuring out the mistakes and pointing them out. As far as his personality is concerned, the contrast of whacky humor and terror can be effective when put side by side, just look at Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit?!, I found him way creepier than Freddy Krueger or Jason. The Zero Escape series used the whole trench coat gas mask approach and the resulting villains weren't nearly as prolific. Monokuma presents a mask to the audience for them to try and decode, separating his casual attitude remarks from secrets he wants to keep hidden.

There were parts of DR 2 which I felt actually surpassed the original, by both having some more immersive story arcs, inventive twists, and development that actually added more characterization to the original cast as well as the new cast, so I'm going to agree to disagree with Spectral Time. If there is anything that I do agree with in this overall discussion, its that you quit before V3. If you didn't like the orginal DR, then you would have hated V3.

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