Hoo boy this is one I’ve had pent up for a good while… Hello you lovely person, and welcome to another one of my reviews!
I’ve been an on-and-off fan of this franchise for a good few years now, predating the franchises’ official release here in the UK and in other locations worldwide, avidly watching hurriedly translated YouTube videos of gameplay hastily edited with english text over it; this hadn’t really happened to me before, following a foreign new IP from scratch, all the way through until it’s eventual release and success in Western countries!
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the first game out of four in the Danganronpa franchise, with three sequels spawned from this origin point – Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and Danganronpa V3, assorted in story-order, not release order there.
The premise of Danganronpa is that a prestigious Japanese academy, Hope’s Peak Academy, enlists the very cream of the crop of society, those with abilities and talents unlike any other competitor, granting them the rank of “Super High-School Level” (Or “Ultimate” as presented in the English versions of the game; I’m only preferring to use Super High-School Level as it can be abbreviated to SHSL!) in their respective talent. A coding god? Super High-School Level Programmer. Olympic-rank swimmer? Super High-School Level Swimmer. The next Sherlock Holmes? Super High-School Level Detective. Got it? Good! These students are then trained to hone their abilities further, and supposedly go on to become the very best of what society and the world at large have to offer…That is if everything didn’t go pete-tong in the end.
You play in the shoes of Makoto Naegi, standard 19 year old student who won a lottery to gain entry into this elitist, cordoned-off echelon of society, granting him the SHSL title of “Lucky Student”, basically identifying him as just “Someone who has extremely good luck”, and no other notable talents, identifiers, or skills. This creates an offset between him and his peers – Most of which had worked extensively hard to get their respective ranks, yet this kid just straight up won a lottery and got in. Whilst it’s unfortunately not explored in much detail, it would’ve certainly been interesting to have seen Naegi try to win over the acceptance of his peers, and be a step below them socially and skill-wise.
Going back to the plot, as Naegi enters the school he’s hit with some odd feeling that sends him cold turkey, knocking him out to only have him awaken in a bizarre, abstract, slightly damaged classroom – Here he finds the 14 other students that are designated to the same class as him, as they try to find a way out of the now-locked down school…
…Things are never that easy, however, as a malicious little character known only as Monokuma (And yes, I know that pic is from the anime!) is intent on having these students weedle out one another slowly in a game of life and death; a Mutual Killing Game, where anyone who kills a student and successfully gets away with it is let out scot free, often with a personalised reward (I.E. $2,000,000, a chance to see a lover again, happiness, unlimited food, etc), acting much like a wish. Getting away scot free though is an arduous and extremely difficult task, however, since as a student is murdered, the class is gathered to search for evidence, only to present it within a mock courtroom in sessions named Trials.
Still with me here?
Trials are thankfully simple. If you pin the perpetrator, they get executed in a horrific way, and everyone lives another day…But get it wrong, and everyone asides from the murderer gets offed. It certainly ramps up the stakes a hell of a lot! Now if you’re also wondering “So why doesn’t everyone just not kill eachother?”, it’s due to Monokuma – He’s always present, omniscient, like a shadow, taunting, pressing, and inciting people to murder…Soon, one outlier will fall suspect.
Oh yeah. And all the blood is pink. Why? Pschasazz, that’s why!
Now, gameplay in Danganronpa is divided into two distinct phases; the Daily Life stages, where you can chat and mess around with other classmates, and search for evidence after a dirty deed has been done dirt cheap, and the Trials, where you and your cohorts investigate the sloppy, bloody happenings.
Trials are the meat of this gameplay pie here, where you have a variety of minigames to proceed through to come to a climactic resolution – The main one involves you filtering out lies from facts, and ‘shooting’ said lies with good ‘ol evidence; another, Hangman’s Gambit, tasks you with stringing together an abstract word that’s ‘on the tip of your tounge’; finally, when the murderer’s been backed into a corner, you enter a comic-book like replay of the events that occurred, then finally finish off the criminal in a rhythm-game-esque minigame.
It certainly gives you a lot of variety…That is, until you’ve done them the 5th…6th…7th time…Then it all just gets samey. If there was perhaps a new gameplay feature at least once every chapter, then maybe it’d be a bit fresh, but you can expect to stick to the same formula through every one of the game’s 6 Trials. Saying that though, if you like it, don’t worry!
By far, though, either the biggest attractor or repulsor to this game will be the characters. Yes. Some of them will be extremely cliche characters (Such as the stoic quiet one, the loud rowdy guy with a heart of gold, the reserved and perverted Otaku…ETC), and some will grow on you, but if you hate seeing what may be your favourite character either do a 180, or bite the dust, then you’ll be in for a damn trainwreck. The story too, whilst set up on a good premise, is also rather convoluted and makes as many logical leaps and bounds as the Kingdom Hearts franchise, speaking a lot in hypotheticals, using blanket case terms, and often having somewhat generic motives for the characters’ actions…It’s just a bit odd.
Saying that, though, if Visual Novels are getting boring for you, find yourself in need of a new cast of “love-em-hate-em” characters, or are interested by the premise, then give Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc a shot!
I would rate Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc a 7/10
You can purchase the game on PSVita and Steam.