I am a big fan of Battle Royale, so when I heard a game with a similar concept was coming out I was excited. Danganronpa was made by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS and as all games NIS publishes you are in for a crazy ride. Filled with murder, mystery and deceit, this is the most I played my Vita in months.
You play as Makoto Naegi, your everyday normal highschooler, who by winning a lottery was allowed to become a student at the prestigious Hope Peak School. It is said students who graduate from this school are set for life. What makes Hope Peak so special is the fact that this is a school only the best student in a specific field can enter. These students are called the ultimate students and include: The ultimate pop sensation, ultimate fashionista, ultimate biker gang leader, ultimate martial artist, ultimate fanfic creator, ultimate gambler, ultimate swimming pro, ultimate programmer, ultimate clairvoyant, as well as you, the ultimate lucky student.
Once you arrive at your new school things quickly take a turn for the worse. Your vision goes blurry and you faint, shortly after which you wake up in a classroom with barricaded windows and filled with cameras. You soon come to realize you are locked in the school along with 14 other students with no way out. Everyone is then greeted by a creepy two colored teddy bear called Monokuma, self renounced headmaster. He tells you that you all will have to spend the rest of your lives here and the only way to leave is by “graduating”. In order to graduate you need to kill a fellow classmate and get away with it by framing someone else instead. If the killer succeeds he is set free and all the others are executed, but if the killer fails only he is executed. You then realize that instead of being the Ultimate Lucky student Makoto is the Ultimate Unlucky Student. Through the story you will unravel the secrets behind this game, all while trying to survive this backstabbing game, before everyone is dead.
What makes Danganronpa so exciting is the fact that it’s unpredictable. Each chapter introduces one new culprit and you never know how the next chapter will play out. Who is going to be killed and who is going to be the culprit? This makes things all the more interesting when you find out the truth. The motive behind the murder may sometimes be the key to the mystery, but it is usually well hidden. All the culprits do well to hide by framing other people so you are never certain as who you can trust.
The puzzles are quite good and the majority of them are actually solvable before you enter the court room. Each of the murders will have you wondering how all the clues fit into place and you will be really satisfied when you finally grasp the whole picture. All the locations are diverse and usually serve as a big factor as why the murder took place there. The mysteries are enjoyable and never get stale or repetitive, since each one of them has a totally distinct aspect to it.
Since all the characters have different reasons to have been selected as an ultimate student they are a crazy bunch. You will meet from intellectual students to more athletic ones. Some will be outgoing while others are introverted. So there is something for everyone here. Each of them have their own backstories. While some aren’t too interesting it is nice to learn more about the motivation and past of these characters. Characters develop overtime and by the end some will seem like a totally different person. Most of these characters will grow on you no matter how wacky they initially seem and you will be sad when you see some of them die. And let’s not forget Monokuma. He jumps out when you least expect him and always changes the course of a conversation, never allowing you to get an answer out of him.
Danganronpa also has a Persona-esque social link system where you are given time in-between the murders to talk and build up relationships with your fellow classmates. Like in Persona you are limited by the amount of free time you have, but here you barely have enough time to fully build up a relationship with two other students. While it’s an interesting addition it does little for the story, since these sections are short and don’t go into much detail for any of the characters backstories. And since you live with these people it’s awkward that there isn’t any romance to speak of. Another potential issue is the fact that you never know who will die when, so it’s even harder to fully see all the scenes of a specific person.
Danganronpa plays like a mesh of Phoenix Wright, 999, Virtue’s Last Reward, Fate/Extra and Persona. You are confined to the school ground and neighboring dorm. As time progresses you will gain access to new locations, allowing for further exploration and more twisted murder mysteries. Like in Fate/Extra the number of people constantly drop making it feel more and more empty. But it never feels dull. You will never have to backtrack, since the game gives you a fast travel system, shortening your travel time between all explored locations. Everybody is also marked on the map allowing you to quickly find a specific person.
The school is fully rendered in 3D, allowing for free exploration. Once you enter a room the camera shifts to a first person perspective, allowing you to move the cursor and interact with an object, not unlike your traditional point and click games.
Once a murder starts the game shifts to a more Phoenix Wright approach forcing you to find clues and talk to people for evidence. Everything you find will be saved as a truth bullet which can be used to find contradictions during courtroom sessions.
The investigation sections aren’t too complicated. You will never get stuck because things are usually laid out in a linear fashion, not allowing you to exit a room until you’ve found all the clues. The map also marks all important areas so you will never be left wondering where to go.
The courtroom is the place where all remaining students go in order to discus who is the murderer. Here everyone goes out on a debate, talking about what happened and it’s up to you to find the contradiction in their sentence, shooting a clue you found, truth bullet. This will fire off the traditional “OBJECTION”, oops I mean “COUNTER”.
Unfortunately these can also be the most frustrating sections of the game. Everything occurs so fast and the screen is so chaotic that you will have a hard time presenting the truth even if you know it. The game constantly presents new mechanics which don’t really bring anything useful to these sections, while other more interesting ones are downplayed such as using a previous statement as a truth bullet on a future one. Another problem with this section is that it is not only limited in lives but time as well. So if you are uncertain as to exactly how everything played out, you are probably going to replay this part a couple of times.
There is also a variety of other mini games during the courtroom section of which only one is genuinely enjoyable. These include Hangman’s Gambit, a hangman puzzle where you must shoot the letters to compose a word that spells out a clue; Bullet Time Battles, a rhythmic game where you must shoot statements in rhythm; and my personal favorite, Closing Argument, a manga with empty panels where you must select from a list of events and compose it in order to reconstruct the entire murder.
Even if you know how things played out the court room sections are still enjoyable, because the truth is often hidden behind a multiple lies. You are always guessing as to why someone acts like they do. Did they commit the murder and are trying to cover it up, or are they just so proud of their detective skills that they don’t allow anything to change their mind.
Danganronpa will take around 25 hours to complete which is quite nice for this type of game. While there are no additional endings, the Danganronpa features a new mode exclusively made for the PlayStation Vita called School Mode, which will last you a couple of hours featuring a very addictive minigame.
The graphics in Danganronpa are very stylish. While the environments are in 3D, everything else from the characters to objects in the rooms are a 2D plane. This makes for an interesting mix of 3D and 2D, which suits the entire presentation of this game.
The game is popping with style. Everything from the super stylish menus to the graphics and music are visually quite pleasing, similar to the kind of stylizing seen in Persona titles. The visuals are extremely sharp and you would have a hard time believing this game was originally made for the PSP. Danganronpa features both English and Japanese voices, but unfortunately the game is not fully voiced. You will only hear a word or phrase when you start talking to someone, while the only real voiced dialogue comes from key story elements and courtroom sections.
If you are a fan of Phoenix Wright, Zero Escape or any murder mystery you are in for a treat with Danganronpa. Its creepy sense of humor gives it its charm, while the characters and mystery are genuinely entertaining, never allowing the game to become stale. The fact that you don’t know who you can trust makes the game all the more thrilling forcing you to suspect everyone. While some of the elements didn’t perfectly fit this game, none of them really make the experience any less enjoyable. All the gripes I had with the game are said to have been refined with the sequel so I am super hyped and can’t wait to grab that one once it’s translated. Don’t miss out on this title because its one of the best games out on Vita to date.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is out today in the US and on the 14th in Europe.