Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS Vita
Release Date: February 11, 2014
ESRB: M for Mature
Back in 2010, a game with the name of Danganronpa arrived on Japanese PSPs and never left the region. With the Vita out, Spike Chunsoft decided to bring their title to this newer handheld as well. It“s thanks to this more recent port and NIS America that Western gamers can finally get a taste of the oddball adventure game - and many have been waiting quite a while for the official debut! But what exactly is Dangaronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc?
Dangonronpa is a title focusing on a cast of teenagers with incredible skills. Each is the ultimate in their respective interest (such as baseball, business, and programming) and have been selected to go to an incredibly exclusive high school. Hope“s Peak Academy has long been known as the launch point for students that will make them set for life in their future careers. Unfortunately, as the introduction quickly reveals, something has gone seriously wrong at Hope“s Peak.
For some reason, aside from the newest entrants into the school, it is completely empty. Windows are covered with massive metal plates, the exit blocked by a vault-style door, and there“s also a weird bear ordering everyone around. This teddy bear-like being, named Monokuma, plainly states that the group of students are to be stuck in school for the rest of their lives. The only way to leave is to kill a classmate - and get away with it.
Of course, getting away with it entails fooling everyone during a trial between peers. If they peg the right person then that student is punished with death. However, point to the wrong person and everyone except the murder will receive death sentences. It seems ridiculous which is why no one wants to believe Monokuma is even capable of carrying out his threats! But soon enough they realize that the claims are real and every one of them is in mortal danger. Players take the role of an â€œaverageâ€ student named Makoto and do their best to find clues, solve murders, and make sure innocents aren“t killed.
Playing Danganronpa reveals a host of varied gameplay modes that mix point and click adventure, visual novel, and a few other things. A lot of the game is spent watching the story unfold as characters discuss topics with a static image showing who“s speaking. On occasions, you have time to freely choose who to chat with or can scour crime scenes for important clues. Segments like these are played from a first-person perspective, although navigating the school is pretty dull. There is a map function to quickly warp between areas, at least. When on the hunt for clues you simply interact with static screens by clicking on objects to learn about them.
After watching events transpire and collecting clues, the gameplay shifts into a class trial mode. At this point, all the living classmates gather up and try to decide who among them has committed murder. This is a recurring event and only gets more stressful as the class body dwindles. As everyone presents their ideas (or accusations) it is your job to find the lies or mistakes and expose them. For better or for worse, almost all of your classmates are complete imbeciles meaning it“s on your shoulders to discern what really happened in each crime.
In a way it sounds like a Phoenix Wright game. Actually playing the courtroom aspect of Danganronpa shows it as a completely different beast, though. To go with the theme of murder, you are granted â€œtruth bulletsâ€ to shoot at incorrect statements being made. During another courtroom event, you“ll have to play a simplistic rhythm game while shooting down lies. Finally, you have to completely reconstruct the series of events around each murder in comic book format to prove you“ve got it down. Most of these elements seem like silly attempts to make the experience more game-like. Honestly, it would have been fine with simple menus rather than the strangely complex system that is eventually build up during these sections.
Although there might be reason to gripe with some of the game“s constraints, it“s hard to get too angry about the writing. As it turns out, it is a surprisingly gripping tale filled with unique characters. Each student is completely different and almost all have their own weird quirks. A few characters fall into stereotypes, but it was nice to see more unique members among the students as well. Eventually you“ll find the students you like most and seek to spend more time with them but you never know who might be murdered next. Part of the tension comes from hoping your specific clique will make it out aliveâ€¦but that is very unlikely.
Another high point for Danganronpa is its art and music. The visual design of each character is fairly unique and drawn nicer than a standard RPG. Similarly, there are special scenes and a few animated ones that showcase even better quality visuals than the main game. As for the soundtrack, it is composed by Masafumi Takada who has worked on a great many Grasshopper Manufacture titles over the years. If you liked his music in titles like Killer7 then you“ll almost certainly love the soundtrack here.
Danganronpa offers at least 15 hours of gameplay which spans across a handful of murders that must be solved. The main disappointment is that it isn“t all that difficult. Even when you aren“t clear on how a murder occurred, everything is written to lead you directly to the solution over the course of each case. However, an easier difficulty means this game can be enjoyed by many more people which is a great thing. The main reason to play is to watch the story unfold and see if you“re a good enough detective to pinpoint who will be murdered and by whom before it occurs! The game tells a compelling story all the while offering up a totally unique experience to players. If murder mysteries are your thing then you“d be doing yourself a disservice by not checking out Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
+ Dark, sometimes humorous writing, sets the tone for a very engaging storyline
+ Very nice artwork and animation to compliment the large amount of reading segments
+ Excellent soundtrack that shifts from melancholic to manic
- Gameplay elements feel awkwardly tacked on
- Skilled sleuths will find each murder mystery a bit too obvious, especially during courtroom segments
- Some of the students are cliched which clashes with the far more interesting ones
Overall Score: 7.0 (out of 10)
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is quite the unusual game but its compelling plot is worth investigating.
A download code was provided by the publisher for this review