Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the first in the now recently 3 game series developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America. Although the game is often described as an adventure visual novel, I'm hesitant to give it that title due to it's immersive and active gameplay. Make no mistake Danganronpa is more game than visual novel and never will you feel like you're just turning pages in a book.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is available on PSN Store.
In Danganronpa, the player controls Makoto Naegi, a Japanese high school student who wins a random draw to enter Hope's Peak Academy, an elite school that recruits only the best students in each of their respective fields. For instance, in the game Makoto will team up with characters like Sayaka, a national pop-idol, Byakuya, the heir to his family's multi-million dollar corporation, and even characters as wild as Mondo, the leader of the largest motorcycle gang in the country. These characters are all given the title of "Ultimate", such as The Ultimate Pop Idol, or The Ultimate Manga Artist. However, Makoto has no talent, and is thus branded "The Ultimate Lucky Student" for simply winning the random draw.
Makoto heads to Hope's Peak Academy, excited to take on this new exciting journey. However, the moment he walks through the door he loses conciousness and wakes up alone in an empty classroom and things quickly take a turn for the worst. After exploring the school, Makoto learns that the entire school is locked down and there is no way out. He and the 14 other Ultimates are held captive by Monokuma, a robotic bear who monitors their every move. Monokuma explains that they can live in the school for the rest of their lives. It has numerous amenities including a swimming pool, gym, dorm rooms, class rooms, and a fully stocked kitchen that will be restocked every day. However, the only way for someone to leave the school is to commit a murder without being caught.
Monokuma explains it as a sort of killing game. IF anyone wishes to leave, they must play the game and win.
The gameplay of Danganronpa is entirely unique to anything I've seen before. This includes the Professor Layton series as well as Virtue's Last Reward. I mention those two games/series specifically because Danganronpa is essentially a mystery game, but more specfically a murder-mystery roleplaying game. However, while Danganronpa does include puzzle-solving, it is always a puzzle directly relevant to the murder, and imperative to discovering the true culprit.
The gameplay essentially follows this structure:
1. Walking around investigating the school and talking to the other Ultimates to strengthen bonds.
2. Someone is murdered and everyone investigates, which includes both interrogation of fellow classmates as well as inspection of the crime scene and surrounding areas.
3. The Trial
In the trials, the Ultimates go over the case together and rule out those who have alibis. With the knowledge the player has accumulated in the investigation, the player must object when another character tells a lie and essentially discover who the murderer is and explain the evidence. However you are not merely talking, each portion of the trial is delivered with certain mini-games some as simple as firing a piece of counter-evidence at a false claim or as quirky as a short rhythm-game.
I love mystery films, and mystery shows like BBC's Sherlock, however never before have I played a game that made me feel like an actual detective. While the discovery of the culprit occurs at the trial, the clues are explained so thoroughly that if the player is intelligent and deductive enough, the player can figure out who the murderer is before the trial even takes place.
I found myself investigating the clues and challenging myself to decide on a murderer before the trial actually started; this made the trials more realistic because I would often pay closer attention to certain characters dialogue trying to catch them in a lie. Although the game is quite meta at times, I found myself lost in it's brilliant, thrilling story and immersive gameplay. It's definitely a must-have for any JRPG, puzzle-solver, or mystery gamers out there.
Graphics and Audio
The graphics of the game are incredibly well done and stylistic. The animations are fluid and seamless and when dialogue changes from character to character there is virtually no sense of abrupt shift, allowing the allowing player to have a smooth playthrough of each conversation. When exploring the school, the characters appear almost as cardboard cutouts or pop-ups and while some may see this choice as tacky, or low-budget it actually gives the game an interesting comic book esque flavor. Furthermore, it allows each area to be loaded almost instantly.
The audio and soundtrack is upbeat and engaging and brilliantly directed to elicit emotion and set the mood every step of the way. Courtroom trials are fully voice-acted and all the dialogue in-game begin with a short voice-acted phrase to allow the player to feel the emotion and personality of each character with each piece of dialogue. All in all, the graphical and audio direction of the game will help it age well and allow players of any generation to enjoy it's brilliance.
Danganronpa is a hidden gem in the industry, especially in times where PS Vita releases are given less and less attention in retail stores. The game's captivating and mysterious plot keeps the player on the edge of their seat and the active gameplay pulls the game away from the visual novel medium. The graphics and audio of the game are brilliantly directed and stylised giving the game a smooth polish and giving the players a seamless and fluid gaming experience.
|+ Incredible, enticing plot and well paced story||– Low replayability|
|+ Immersive and active gameplay||– Occasionally excess dialogue|
|+ Highly-stylized graphics and beautiful animation|
|+ Easy-to-navigate exploration system|