Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a murder-mystery game that became quite the hit over in Japan even before it launched in 2010, with the PlayStation Portable demo leaving quite an impact. The demo even contained an exclusive scenario just to demonstrate the mechanics without spoiling even the story of tutorial chapter in the final release. In Japan, Danganronpa is successful enough that the franchise is seeing it’s third videogame release, with the third non-spinoff title also teased.
I’ve been familiar with Danganronpa for quite a while, having followed the fan translation of the game in a Screenshot Let’s Play over on the Something Awful Let’s Play sub-forum, and I’ve been looking forward to this unexpected release for quite some time. Hopefully, the game plays as fun as it looked, and that the localization does the title justice.
Publisher: NIS America (En); Spike (JP)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Genre: Adventure, Murder Mystery
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Release Date: 14/2/2014
Rating: 16+ (PEGI)
What should have been a dream come true for the most average teenager, Makoto Naegi, quickly turned into a violent nightmare. After being enrolled into the most prestigious school in the entire country for the talent of simply being lucky enough to be picked at random, Makoto finds himself trapped in Hope’s Peak Academy alongside his elite peers with no way out. The playfully sinister, mechanical bear called Monokuma introduces himself as their headmaster, and delights in explaining that they must spend the rest of their lives sealed in the school. However, with a hint of twisted pleasure in his tone, Monokuma explains that there is one way that students may leave the school. They must graduate by killing one of their peers and going undetected.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a delightfully dark murder-mystery game in which the player takes the role of Makoto Naegi and attemps to uncover the truth behind the various murders that occur through-out the multiple chapters of the game. The player is free to roam through-out the school in first-person view, examining objects and talking to characters along the way. It’s a very text-heavy game, with a good chunk of gameplay being spent reading message boxes; although, it’s more interactive than most visual novels that it would be compared to.
Each chapter is split into three parts: daily life, investigation, and trial. This routine complements the narrative by clearly splitting the chapter into the standard three acts of the story, with the first two acts relying heavily on dialogue, and the final act serving as a relatively action-packed climax to the chapter.
During daily life, the player may freely explore the school and choose to spend time with any one of their classmates. These free time events are entirely optional, but also contribute to the development of a character. Given the expendable nature of the cast, this is a great method to further explore the motivations of the students and flesh them out beyond their initial two-dimensions. Players can give characters presents obtained from the MonoMono capsule machine; although, the gifts that the machine dispenses are random and consume the in-game currency–Monokuma medals. Additionally, completing these free time events will also reward the player with skills or skill points for later use during the final act.
Aside from spending free time with students, players may explore and familiarise themselves with the setting. Sometimes the environment will reward them with Monokuma medals, and other times they will discover information that may be useful further down the line. What’s most consistent is the overall atmosphere of the school. It’s just incredibly bleak. Everything is sealed shut with cold, thick steel, and cameras watch the students’ every move. Despite this, Danganronpa is a stylish game, using a blend of colourful sprites containing a very pleasant art style as juxtaposition to the vacant, eerie hallways of the school. This delivers a heavy atmosphere without the title become too dark to actually enjoy.
When a student is inevitably discovered to have been murdered, the game transists into an investigation phase. During this phase, the player must look for clues and gather testimonies for the oncoming “school trial”. Despite the pressure that Monokuma puts on the player, there is no real time limit. The player can only progress after first obtaining all available evidence. The mysteries are often quite compelling and elaborate, but don’t fall into the poorly executed mould of being unsolvable. It is entirely possible for the player to form an accurate theory to determine who committed the murder and how, which, in this reviewer’s opinion, is exactly how a murder-mystery title should be. In this regard, it’s incredibly well executed.
In the final, more action packed act, the player must participate in a class trial. In the trial, characters debate their theories to determine the murderer and new mechanics are introduced to the player. During a debate, the player is able to freely, and literally, shoot down their opponent’s arguments by targeting weak points in floating text with an evidence bullet. Shooting the wrong targets result in losing influence, which can ultimately end up resulting in a game over caused by embarrassment. These are high school students after all. Additionally, players may further use points made by other characters as ammunition. This mechanic makes the gameplay fast-paced and challenging, relying on quick, responsive wit from the player in order to proceed and is also rather engaging.
Other mechanics are also introduced, each enhancing the experience in their own way. Sometimes the player will have to frantically beat down their opponents claims in a rhythm battle, or maybe even re-enact the murder in comic book form. The trial is a unique and interesting part of the game that delivers the perfect climax to the resolution of the murder. Furthermore, the player is timed during each trial event, resulting in a score of Monokuma medals and their own personal time to beat.
Danganronpa‘s soundtrack is powerful, and compliments both the suspense of a threat, and the intensity and momentum of a battle of wits exceptionally well. There may be a couple of weak tracks, the overall soundtrack is fantastic and contains a number of memorable tracks. That being said, the audio of the title isn’t without its flaws. Occasionally the soundtrack’s volume will overwhelm the voice acting during the class trial’s, and a couple of the voice actors don’t really deliver. Fortunately, most of the localization is sound. Monokuma might not be as sinister as his Japanese counterpart, but the English version is menacing in his own right. The translations also stand up and this reviewer personally has few issues with it.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a joy to play. It supplies intriguing mysteries, exciting revelations, and compelling characters all in a well paced package. Furthermore, the title is particularly well adapted in English, offering even those unfamiliar with Japan an enjoyable experience. However, Danganronpa may not be for everyone, relying quite heavily on progressing the story through long exchanges of dialogue messages that may disinterest some players.