Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PSVita)
Developed Spike Chunsoft and Published by NIS
Release Date: February 11th, 2014
Picture your ideal high school experience; If it doesn’t involve a boatload of murder then you may want to steer clear of Hope’s Peak Academy. Such is the nature of the school that acts as the backdrop for the PlayStation Vita’s newest, and perhaps quirkiest exclusive.
Hope’s Peak Academy is quite arguably the most prestigious school in Japan, allowing only the most talented individuals to enroll. Makoto Naegi, Danganronpa’s overly-average-in-just-about-every-aspect protagonist, considers himself extremely fortunate when receives an invitation by way of lottery and thus becomes the “ultimate lucky student”. The first day of school is always intimidating, even more so when attending such an elite institution, but Makoto’s luck takes a turn for the worse after he falls unconscious shortly after arriving.
Upon awakening in an abandoned classroom, he ventures forth and chances upon the other 14 members of his class. Each one of these other students have a certain ability or talent, some of which Makoto had researched prior, which got them into Hope’s Peak making Makoto the odd one out. After thinking things simply couldn’t get any stranger, Monokuma, a remote controlled bear appears whose sadistic nature quickly becomes apparent. Monokuma candidly explains the premise of the twisted game of which Makoto and his fellow classmates are now a part of. There is only one way to avoid eternal imprisonment at Hope’s Peak: murder.
In order to “graduate”, or regain their freedom, a student must murder another student and thus become “blackened”. This initiates a trial of sorts in which the student body must discover the true culprit behind the murder, if they choose correctly, the culprit is sentence to death. However, if the accused is not the “blackened” the entire class is summarily executed and the guilty student “graduates” from Hope’s Peak.
These trials comprise the core of Danganronpa’s gameplay, and much of the game is spent either actively participating in one, or gathering evidence to use in one. When a body is discovered by three or more students, the investigation phase is launched in which you must gather clues and collect testimonies from various sources. These clues become invaluable assets once a trial begins, and will help piece together the murder and hopefully, the real killer. This is actually a lot easier than it sounds, like most games with similar mechanics, only certain items can actually be inspected, and Makoto is unable to leave an area until all clues have been discovered. Important locations are also marked on your map, making it very difficult to become stuck on any given portion of the game.
While the game’s dialogue is presented as a visual novel, the exploration of the school is handled from a first person perspective. You will find yourself more often than not traversing the school in order to discover new rooms and key plot elements. As you progress in the game, more sections of the school become available and give you more ground to cover during your investigations. Thankfully, you are given the option to fast travel to certain hotspots, ensuring that traveling about the school never becomes a chore.
The class trials are complex, multi-stage events that can go on for quite a while. The clues you collected during the investigation phase are saved as “Truth Bullets” which are essential during the debate phase of the trial. You can use your truth bullets to “fire” back at your classmates in order to shoot down false statements and counter their arguments. As the game progresses these statements and arguments become blocked by what is known as “white noise”, random words and phrases being blurted out during the debate. You’ll have to shoot these out of the way first before being able to take a shot at your true target. The debates fly by quite quickly sometimes and you’ll have to shoot quickly if you wish to hit your target, perhaps earning the “Trigger Happy” portion of the games title. If you do miss the targeted statement or argument, there is no real penalty other than waiting for the debate to repeat itself.
Once you overcome the frenzied madness of the debate, you’ll be presented with yet another challenge in order to weed out the true killer. First you must engage with the accused in an extremely bizarre mode referred to as “Bullet Time Battle”. This mode consists of rhythm game type element in which you must keep in time with the beat while shooting down your opponents cries of innocence. As the game progresses the tempo will pick up speed and your opponent will attempt to “blind” you, hiding the icons you’re supposed to be keeping up with. Even when blinded however, all you really have to do is keep the beat and you’ll quickly come out on top.
The final portion of every class trial is the “Closing Argument”, the part where all the pieces come together and you present the entire murder sequence from start to finish. In order to do this you are presented with story of the murder drawn out in a comic book format but with certain panels left blank. You are given a choice of various objects that pertain to specific panels and must place them, correctly, so that the order of events plays out in the right sequence. Most of the time it’s fairly obvious what goes where, but occasionally the icons for the pictures will be a bit difficult to make out. Still, this final mode is by far the easiest and shortest.
The main complaint levied at Danganronpa is how simple it is. You may go into trial unsure of who actually committed the murder, but the game will continually lead you along to the answer no matter what. Aspiring detectives may leave disappointed but Danganronpa does a great job keeping you on the edge of your seat as the story twists and turns in directions you didn’t even consider.
When you’re not hunting for evidence or sentencing your classmates to death, you can wander about the school in a halfhearted attempt at mimicking normal student life. These moments of “Free Time” as it’s known in the game, offer you the chance to become closer with your fellow classmates. Striking very much in the vain of the “Social Links” found in the Persona series, these interactions not only deepen your relationship with that individual but grant you extra abilities for use in class trials. Of course, you’re only given a limited amount of free time to spend, making impossible to max out everyone’s friendship, especially given the fact that any one of them could die before your next encounter. You can also present your classmates with gifts, which are obtained by purchasing them via vending machine with Monokuma Coins, earned from completing trials or exploration of the school. These gifts give an added boost to your relationship on top of simply talking with them. Be careful however, as there are specific gifts relating to each character, and offering the wrong gift could potentially offend them and worsen your bond.
Despite having quite a bit of gameplay, Danganronpa is still very much a visual novel and so it should come as no surprise that there is a lot of dialogue, whether it be between characters or simply internal monologue. Personally, I had no issues with it being so text heavy, but it may turn off some players unused to the concept. While much of the plot is serious, the dialogue can often talk a more comedic turn, though occasionally the jokes will fall flat.
Originally a PSP game, the game does an excellent job at sprucing up the visuals and doing a bit of a tune up for this enhanced Vita port. The visuals have their own unique flair to them and every character’s design stands out in some way. Audio-wise there isn’t much to write home about since much of the game is text-based, but the soundtrack does a solid job at keeping up with the tone of the game.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc offers about 20 or so hours worth of gameplay and may warrant additional playthroughs for completionists. However, with no additional endings or alternate routes its replayability is significantly reduced. Danganronpa’s gameplay is incredibly straightforward but truthfully it isn’t so much about solving the mysteries laid out before you as much as it is simply going along for the ride and enjoying the thrill of a good ol’ fashion murder mystery.
Final Score: 8.5/10
A code was provided by the publisher for this review.