OSW Review | Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Alongside Capcom’s Ace Attorney series, 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors & Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward are two of the best visual novels ever released. I absolutely love both of them, so I was over the moon when Danganronpa (released in Japan in 2010) finally got a western release on the PS Vita. Following those great games is no mean feat, but let’s see how Danganronpa fares. No pressure!

Developed by Spike Chunsoft
Produced by NIS America
Console: PS Vita
Reviewed by V1

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You are Makoto Naegi, a completely average teenager chosen by lottery to attend Hope’s Peak Academy. Hope’s Peak is a top highschool where the very best students in Japan are chosen to attend. Each student is the “Ultimate” at their specific talent, e.g. writing, hacking, singing or sports. However, upon entering the school Makoto finds out he & the 14 others are trapped & must take part in a sick game if they want to survive. Oh & this game is run by a robotic Teddy Bear called Monokuma….. & he’s mental! Monokuma explains that you must murder a fellow student & make it through the subsequent student trial without being convicted if you are to escape. If you manage this then everyone else dies & you’re free, however if you fail you’re dead & everyone else moves on to the next round. Throughout the entire ordeal students form bonds, deceive each other & eventually discover the truth behind their situation & Hope’s Peak Academy.

It’s not the most original story or setting for a visual novel, but like most stories it’s the characters & writing that matter the most & in this regard Danganronpa just knocks it out of the park. Danganronpa has the best writing seen in a Spike Chunsoft game yet, as well as the richest characters. They still fall into the same basic groups i.e. sexy girl, criminal, nice guy, smart geek, sly untrustworthy lad etc., but these are the most realised, fleshed out characters I’ve seen in a Chunsoft game. I also want to praise the translation by NIS America. There are so few spelling & grammatical errors that I almost forgot I was playing a Japanese game (as if the giant talking bear, crazy hairstyles & general perviness could ever let that happen lol!)

The story starts out fairly slowly. It’s not until half way through chapter 1 that things really heat up. From then on out Danganronpa is an exciting, unpredictable & thought provoking story which deals with some heavy themes e.g. suicide, sexuality, gender equality, rape & torture. It has a wacky slant on everything but these are still themes largely untouched by the medium as a whole. The only issues I have with the storytelling in Danganronpa revolve around its very slow start (I’m currently playing Danganronpa 2 & it suffers from the same slow intro) & lack of meaningful choices. Danganronpa is a linear story with no dialogue trees, no morality system or true replayability.

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Danganronpa doesn’t deviate too much from the usual Spike Chunsoft formula. We have some short animated cut scenes between chapters, anime style character sprites, pre-rendered backgrounds & lots of text. Although despite being the exact same as previous games, Danganronpa still manages to feel distinctive enough to stand out from the crowd. It uses very stylish 2D characters (unlike the 3D characters of Virtue’s Last Reward) with lots of bright colours to separate itself from the much darker palettes of 999 & VLR. Small touches like shaking the screen during arguments or changing the font colour/size really manage to bring the characters to life. There are also some nice 3D effects such as spinning the camera around new environments & a cool pop-up book effect when changing location.

Danganronpa gives players the opportunity to play the game in English or Japanese. English voice work is well-performed, with particular praise going to Monokuma. However, only some sections are fully voiced, while the rest of the game features a handful of reused sound bites. These are fine when heard sparingly, but there are some conversations when you’ll hear the same sound bite over & over again. It manages to ruin the illusion & annoy my ear holes at the same time!

The soundtrack is the weakest part of the game for me. Most of the original tracks are ok at best & Monokuma’s theme is a bit irritating. The rest of the soundtrack is made up of reused songs from other games. I heard songs from both 999 & VLR, as well as from Hotel Dusk & Last Window. I’m just not a big fan of the soundtrack, regardless of where the songs came from.

One last thing that bugs me about this game. The developers decided to change the colour of blood to a hot “Bret Hart” pink. I believe they did it to lower the age rating it was given at certification. I understand why they did it, but I feel this decision lessens the impact of a lot of the deaths in the game. (I assume ABACABB didn’t work! – Jay)

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Danganronpa is a visual novel, so the vast majority of the game is spent reading text. Each chapter is broken up into three sections: story section, investigation & finally the class trial. The story & investigation segments are similar to those seen in previous games in this genre. You walk around the 3D environments (although you can use the map to quick travel anywhere) & talk to fellow characters, as well investigate items related to the latest murder. There are no puzzles during the first two sections of each chapter, as these are specific to the class trials. There are also “free time” segments in each chapter. Here you can talk to any remaining student & give them a present. Giving the correct present increases your friendship level & unlocks extra information on each character. This is the only point in replaying Danganronpa, as there aren’t multiple endings like previous games. I couldn’t be arsed personally.

Class trials are where the majority of the “gameplay” comes from. There are no actual puzzles (as in 999, VLR or Prof. Layton) during the trials, but there a number of minigames to beat. Some of these are taken straight from Phoenix Wright (select the right evidence to counter a statement), others are a fun way to make you feel as though you’re making a difference to each trial, instead of merely reading a story. These include a version of hangman, a meh rhythm-based confrontation & a great interactive comic book finale to each chapter. None of these are amazing gameplay hooks when looked at individually, but they make each of the trials stand out & feel important. Class trials are without question the best part of Danganronpa.

If I had one major complaint about Danganronpa’s gameplay, it’s the feeling of familiarity I had while playing it. It feels like a Spike Chunsoft story, has investigation & trials like Ace Attorney & uses music samples from other games. Although it manages to separate itself from the crowd with its unique tone & characters, one or two original mechanics could’ve made Danganronpa great, instead of very good.

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Good Points:
•Great writing & translation
• Interesting story & characters
• Excellent art
• Gets better as story continues
• Great trials

Bad Points:
• Slow start
• Re-used stock music
• No meaningful choices
• Little replay value
• Very few puzzles
• No original gameplay mechanics

Overall: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a great story with excellent artwork & a completely unique style & tone. It cherry picks elements from all of the genres greats, making this a very enjoyable game. However it’s lack of original content & mechanics prevent Danganronpa from being a great game. 7.5/10.

7.5-10 stars


Release Date
April 3, 2015