There's an adage along the lines of 'you shouldn't say in ten words what you can say in one'. As a writer, it's a good way to test your work: is your exposition clear and brief? Does the action keep a good pace? How's your dialogue's rhythm?
I wish whoever localised Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair had run that test (it definitely sounds and reads like the fault is with translators pushing for 'fidelity' - the way the script avoids contractions is evidence enough). Characters regularly repeat themselves; trials double back to drive home things that have already been established; tutorials are verbose and difficult to follow. Take a look at exhibit A, perpetually-frustrated protagonist Hajime Hinata. He has a habit of repeating what others say. His self-pitying internal monologues get caught in ruts, almost like he's thinking in mantras. At one point, he stands in front of a red door and asks himself "Is this the door?" three times. In a row.
That said, this problem is just one illustration of the game's otherwise-heartening quest to go 'big'. Danganronpa 2, the follow-up to Let's Play darling Super Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, rinses and repeats: we got absurdly talented teens, we got them killing each other, we got them solving those murders in high-tension Class Trials. This time, though, series villain Monokuma (a monochrome teddy bear made into an exuberant sociopath by voice actress Nobuyo Oyama) has gatecrashed a heart-throbbing Hope's Peak Academy field trip, and the backdrop for this mash-up of Battle Royale and Phoenix Wright is a series of tropical islands.
But to get back to that point about repetition. There's no economy of language on this killing field trip. Everybody blabs forever and nobody can hold a thought for more than a minute. It speaks to a lack of editing, but also to a lack of faith in the audience. When a point in a class trial is patiently explained thrice over, the action is effectively being brought to a standstill to labour that point for the player. Not only does it kill the game's pace, it tells the player that it doesn't trust them to Get It.
That's odd, because it's not like Danganronpa 2 can't be challenging and sly when it wants to be. The Class Trials are made up of several different deduction exercises dressed up as action minigames. Some challenges emphasise timing and reflexes over puzzle-solving: see the lightweight snowboarding minigame 'Logic Dive', or the clumsy rhythm shooter 'Panic Talk Action', whose central mechanic is difficult to grasp because of a - wait for it - overly verbose tutorial. Others, though, push the Phoenix Wright angle hard, and minigames like 'Nonstop Debate' and 'Rebuttal Showdown' occasionally throw up tough puzzles with solutions built on extrapolation and thinking outside the box. Every time a deduction challenge throws a respectable curveball, the hand-holding seems a bit more incongruous, a bit more condescending.
That's sad, because the rest of Danganronpa 2 is lurid and thrilling, a series of Agatha Christie mysteries shot through with the sensibilities of Sion Sono and teen manga. Playing out a grand tragedy against the vivid backdrop of Jabberwock Island - candy-coloured pop-up landscapes, a pumping electro-pop score that throws back to Jet Set Radio Future's gold standard - each character fills their role as an outsized 21st Century variation on drawing room mystery archetypes. Irrepressible Ultimate Musician Ibuki Mioda has DNA tracing back to And Then There Were None's effervescent drunk Prince Starloff; pint-sized Ultimate Yakuza Fuyuhiko Kuzuryu and icy-cool Ultimate Swordsman Peko Pekoyama play like a distaff version of Murder on the Orient Express' Mary Debenham and Colonel Arbuthnot; hot-headed Ultimate Gymnast Akane Owari and larger-than-life Ultimate Team Manager Nekomaru Nidai are entertaining riffs on the typical muscle role. Everyone in Danganronpa 2 is a big presence, in a visual and a narrative sense.
These blown-out personalities drive the story, clashing and cooperating to draw out revelations that push things into increasingly bizarre territory. Danganronpa 2 makes a habit of pulling the rug out from under us, and to its credit these surprises don't normally feel like they're pushing the story in directions it wouldn't otherwise go. From the way characters develop during Free Time sessions to the reveal of the blackened at the end of each Class Trial, each twist is the organic result of a genuine inquiry in the inner lives of the characters, the dichotomy between their performance (that is, their 'talent') and their reality.
When the game does force things, though, it's obvious and strained and undercuts any emotional resonance the scene's otherwise getting. Take, as already stated, the game's disregard for economy of language - when an explanation is dragged out and repeated over ten text windows to make sure the player is 'appropriately' coached, the characters speaking stop being characters and turn into mechanics.
But you can also see it in the way it kicks into full gear with the hormones. Trigger Happy Havoc took a generally restrained approach to the problems of puberty in a time of mass slaughter; Danganronpa 2, in contrast, isn't shy about pushing spurious and male-gazey fanservice. One of Ultimate Nurse Mikan Tsumiki's defining character traits is her clumsiness and the script plays her heavily-sexualised humiliations as a mean-spirited joke. Imagine if, on Parks & Recreation, Jerry kept getting forced to expose his penis and everyone always laughed about it, and you'd be some way to getting how Danganronpa 2 treats Mikan. There's also Akane Owari's oblivious sexual advances, a barely-foreshadowed mid-game development that's uncomfortably linked with her lack of intelligence. These aren't dealbreakers, but it's a confusing regression from how Trigger Happy Havoc approached its women.
Danganronpa 2 is faithful to the spirit of Trigger Happy Havoc, picking up the school killing life's ball and running with it. It goes bigger and weirder than anything Trigger Happy Havoc did, jamming its 30-35 hour central mystery with exquisite twists and turns. As a piece of written fiction, though, it could stand to trust its audience a bit more. And, perhaps, see an editor or two.