Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has one of those quirky titles instantly indicating a Japanese origin, but doesn’t define what the game is all about. Unless you’re a dedicated fan who’s been impatiently waiting for a translation, it’s a fairly easy game to overlook on store shelves.
Developer: Spike / Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Platform: PS Vita (Reviewed)
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Release: (JP) October 10th 2013, (NA) February 11th 2014, (EU) February 14th 2014, (AUS) February 14th 2014
Danganronpa is a visual novel experience and part of a niche genre that hasn’t really taken off over here in the West. In Japan, the Danganronpa series has been popular enough to spawn a sequel, anime, manga and novels, including a re-release of both volumes on the PS Vita (Danganronpa was originally a PSP title released back in 2010).
Thankfully, NIS America has translated the first volume into English for the rest of the world to enjoy. Asides from Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, visual novels have had limited success with titles such as 999, Virtue’s Last Rewards and Zero Escape also garnering a fair share of avid fans in recent times. Danganronpa caters towards this niche audience and is one of the better examples of visual novels done right.
Jumping into the average shoes of Makoto Naegi, an average student living out an average existence, Makoto is accepted to the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy thanks to a random lottery selection. Hope’s Peak is an educational institution for the best of the best, or as Danganronpa likes to call the successful candidates, the “Ultimates” in their field of expertise.
The fields are varied and wild to say to least, from the ultimate “pop sensation”, to the ultimate “fashionista”, and the more conventional ultimate “baseball player” and “programmer”. Upon entering Hope’s Peak for the first time, Makoto mysteriously falls into unconsciousness, only to awaken locked inside the hallowed confines of the school with 14 other talented students.
Held captive by the demented Monokuma, the two-faced remote-controlled teddy bear sets out the basic rules to “graduate”. In order to escape Hope’s Peak, the students need to kill one another without detection from their peers, or else live out the rest of their days within the bunkered down building. Stabbing, strangling, bludgeoning, crushing, hacking, drowning, igniting are all acceptable forms of murder, at least according to tormentor Monokuma. With that one simple premise, the intrigue and plot quickly thickens to an engrossing storyline that will keep you gasping until the very end.
Being a story driven title, the gameplay is fairly sparse and uninvolved compared with more action-centric gaming. Essentially an interactive novel at heart, the story is pushed forward through exploration of a 3D representation of the school corridors and rooms through the eyes of Makoto. Interaction with other students provides narrative and dialogue in-between murders, where the game mechanics takes on a simple point-and-click analysis of evidence and detection.
Chapters are concluded with a trial where statements can be analysed for contradictions to determine who the culprit is. Testimonials with highlighted phrases can be shot down with ‘truth bullets’, as a form of counter argument that surprisingly creates tense and adrenaline charged scenarios. It all sounds peculiar but the same could be said about Phoenix Wright’s “Objection!”, and as unorthodox as an approach it may be, the immersion it creates is the payout Danganronpa does so well.
Without the interactive involvement, you may as well be reading a book, but having too much also detracts from the storytelling. Danganronpa goes at lengths to establish a plot, before adding twists and branching turns to keep its player/reader clambering for more detail, with its dead-end trails and arching story. At times predictable, it’s the mature themes touched upon that propels the story from a generic tale of adolescents to something with a bit more substance, much like the demographic Danganronpa seeks to capture.
Localization is the greatest hurdle faced by NIS America and thankfully the publisher has done a commendable job translating the heavy script without losing too much of the Japanese culture, references or general meanings. There’s the odd hiccup with some definitions coming off half-way there, but the personalities and engaging characters keeps Danganronpa floating aloft with few stumbles.
Voice acting performances are suitably appropriate, so it’s a shame that it isn’t carried throughout the entire game. Rather than voicing all the dialogue, characters express themselves with single quotes for a string of sentences which is bluntly put, downright off-putting. For example, to express exacerbation one character echoes, “Piece of s—!”. This type of outburst is detracting from the immersive qualities of a visual novel experience. There is an option to turn on the Japanese dialogue which is strongly advised as the incomprehensible voice-over proves to be far less jarring on the ears.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc won’t be for everyone. Without much gameplay to support its well-written tale, you’re effectively reading a picture book in the simplest of sense. The title is well suited for the portable nature of the PS Vita and those inclined to kick back for a ripping good read with vibrant visual assistance. A great deal of patience is required to appreciate Danganronpa for what it is, and if you can get through the first couple of murders without bemoaning the game, then perhaps you’re one of the special individuals Danganronpa was intended for.
7.5 – Good. Entertaining but is held back by a couple of flaws. It will certainly capture its intended audience but it won’t appeal to everyone.