One of the driving factors of wanting to buy my PS Vita was the constant yammering about this game called Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. At the time, I didn’t know that this was a visual novel. After finding this out I became doubtful of my purchase because the last time I played a game like this, I found it very tedious to get through. Fortunately, this was a very pleasant surprise.
The plot is fairly simple; you are recruited by the very prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. This school takes in the students that are the best in their respective fields; baseball, writing novels, strength, math, speech, and so on. Soon after you arrive to the school, you find yourself locked in with over a dozen of, well, interesting characters.
Through the doings of a sadistic, remote-controlled bear named Monokuma, you are locked in the building for the rest of your natural lives…unless you murder another student and get away with it. If this seems extremely ridiculous, that’s because it is.
When a murder is discovered, the game puts you into a first person perspective to roam the halls of the school, looking for clues and conversing with your other classmates. When talking to other students, sometimes certain dialogue options can unlock new information in the case. After you collect enough that you think you’ll need, you are then put into a room with several podiums making a circle and you and your classmates need to come up with a unanimous decision on who you think the killer is. However, before the case begins, you can equip certain skills that allow certain moments during the trial to become a bit easier.
During the trial, you are asked multiple choice questions as well as being able to present evidence to the class that counters a point made by another. If this seems like a familiar Capcom franchise on the DS, then you are not far off, but to dismiss this game as a sort of Phoenix Wright clone wouldn’t be doing it justice.
Also, during the trial there are other mini-games that take the case further along. One of which is using what is referred to as a “truth bullet’. As the students are talking the dialogue shows on the screen and when you reach a statement that can be disproved, you can tap the dialogue and a bullet will break it apart. As the game goes on, the dialogue scrolls along faster but if you have enough energy, you can slow down time to make it easier. You will also get to the point where other dialogue will pop up on screen that is used to block your “truth bullet”. To keep this from happening, the player must use the Vita’s back touch screen to break them apart.
A couple of other parts to the trial are the “Bullet Time Battle”, where it becomes more like a rhythm game where you have to keep up with the beat, a “hangman” type game where you have to figure out the piece of evidence you need to refer to, and the “closing argument” that will have you taking drawings that represent the crime that was committed and putting the pieces in order in comic book/manga style.
There is a lot going on to say the least.
The one thing I can say positively about Danganronpa is the scenario detail in each of the murders and trails. There was a lot of thought put into each chapter which all lead to big finale in some way. While you are solving murders to stay alive, the ultimate goal of the game is find out who is controlling the creepy teddy bear, Monokuma, and why. The story gets very deep. So deep in fact that the dialogue seems to keep going on forever, but it needs to get the player to understand what is happening. Plus it’s a visual novel, so of course there is a lot of dialogue.
The deaths in this game are very brutal. Initially, just the murders within the halls of the school are macabre, but the punishments that Monokuma gives the guilty students are extreme, yet perfectly ironic, to the point that you can’t wait to see what punishment he sentences next.
One of the components to the game that I had heard about was building relationships with the other students, and since I love games like Persona, I figured that this game would be more up my alley. However, this is where the game fails a bit.
While this is a nice feature on paper, it simply didn’t make much sense in the context of the story. I had figured that you might be able to gain alliances during the game, but that was never the intent. So why have an option to further a friendship? There is none, other than receiving an item to put in your inventory that you won’t really need unless you want to platinum the game. What is even more frustrating is that when you start to get to know someone, more times than not, they will be murdered or be the murderer which just brings you back to square one most of time. The only way to get a total friendship level up is to play game that is made available to you after you beat the campaign, which once again, you will have to do in order to get all the trophies.
I believe that Danganronpa may be one of the best mystery games to come out in a long time clocking in at around 30 hours. Being able to take certain plot points and making sure that you will probably be consistently surprised, band making it cohesive enough for the players to understand is not an easy feat; much less those who had to translate it from Japanese. The only other problem I had with the game was a lot of the characters.
With anime style character models, it is expected that some of the characters would probably have their quirks. Unfortunately, while the scenarios and story were well written, most of the characters were so off the wall that it made it hard for me to take some of the cases seriously, and that took away from the game in my opinion; the characters and their dialogue were questionable. To be honest, as I played the game and had to listen to the annoying yammering of some characters, I started to wish they would be the ones to die next, and it wasn’t just a few of them either; I couldn’t stand most of them. In fact, the only characters I could relate to were mine and a few others. It was almost as if the developers were trying to keep the most obnoxious ones around as much as possible.
But maybe that was some kind way to make me not have a connection with them, so if they did die, I could enjoy their deaths a bit more. That may come off as a bit strange and demented, but there is no other way I can word it. When it comes down to it, the game just uses way too many anime tropes at once and it becomes overwhelming sometimes.
The soundtrack for this game is stellar. As I was in the court area solving cases, I found myself bopping to the music and whenever I turned on the game I had to listen to the menu music for at least a minute. If I had played this game in 2014, I probably would have nominated it for best soundtrack for that year.
As silly as the premise may come off, Danganronpa can leave you consistently surprised by the scenario writing, and dumbfounding in its consistent plot unraveling that you will want to see it to the end. Aside from its anime clichés and lack of relationship system they try to instill, Danganronpais one of the best games for the Vita and probably the best visual novel you will come across for a while. Its creative use of other type of game modes from other titles, and the use of the touch controls on the Vita, gives it the ability to be more than just a potential clone of other games and while I had my few issues, I will be buying the next one very soon.