From trapped on a ship to trapped in a school, I take a look at another adventure game with visual novel traits this fortnight – the stylised murder mystery game Danganronpa. When fifteen students are trapped in school, a whimsical bear gives them an ultimatum: kill another student and escape suspicion or live forever within the school’s walls.
Close to the beginning of the school year, fifteen students from across Japan are invited to Kibougamine Academy. These students are the cream of the crop and are granted a Super Duper High School title to reflect what they excel at. The protagonist, Makoto Naegi – the Super Duper High School Luckster – is invited after he wins the enrolment lottery. Naegi soon finds he’s more of an ‘Unluckster’ when he falls unconscious at the school entrance and wakes up in the middle of a death game. A quirky teddy bear by the name of Monokuma appears and tells the group that they must kill another student to escape. The other students get a chance to catch the killer, but if they pin the wrong person, everyone but the murderer dies.
Danganronpa’s stylised visuals, ridiculous dialogue and cast of vibrant characters makes solving murders pretty damn fun. The game is divided into story, investigation and a class trial, with this occurring more or less over each of the six chapters. You can interact with characters and explore the school before a murder occurs and you shift into sleuth mode. There, you collect a number of clues to present at the class trial. During the trial, you must complete a number of mini-games to present your argument, refute evidence, silence unreasonable comments and point out the murderer.
A number of things are in place to make it easier to find your bearings. Your ElectroiD gives you access to student profiles and the information you’ve gathered during your latest investigation. As fifteen characters are a little too much to handle, this can come in real handy. You can also collect Monokuma medals and redeem presents to give to other characters, but with only a handful of opportunities to do so, the presents system is a little underused.
While it may seem that Danganronpa’s story can branch as much as 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours, it’s actually linear. Difficulty levels only influence how much the game guides you to the right answers or interferes with you during mini-games. The only variety in the story comes in the ‘Free Time’ segments scattered across each chapter, where you can talk to other characters and hear small tidbits about their lives. If you’re looking for a lengthy story where you uncover the mysteries of Kibougamine Academy over the course of a few branches, this isn’t the game it. Rather, it’s an entertaining action mystery game where the fun is in character interaction and how well you score in class trial mini-games.
That’s not to say the game is not worth it. Danganronpa still offers an interesting mystery with enough red herrings and things unsaid to make an intricate puzzle. The all-star Japanese voice acting during the fully voiced trial sections cement characters’ personalities, while painterly event graphics and expressive character sprites lend to the ‘psychopop’ aesthetic and support characters as caricatures. This is another character-centric game, perhaps a little more so than others because everyone is elevated to ridiculous level.
Danganronpa is like a fast-paced mix of 9 Doors, 9 Persons, 9 Hours and Phoenix Wright loaded into a revolver and fired at close range. Story sections soon lead to moments where you can take charge, investigate crimes and solve murder mysteries. The end can be disappointing and the overall game a little short, but it’s a quirky and entertaining character-centred game.
Danganronpa is available for the PSP from Play-Asia and Amazon starting at £22 / $33. NIS America will be releasing a localisation for the Playstation Vita version, under the name of Trigger Happy Havoc: Danganronpa.
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