As we play offers the thought strands of the reviewer as they’re going through the game. This offers unique content for the reader so they can come to understand the conflicting feelings of the reviewer as they’re playing a game for the very first time. All feedback on this concept is welcome.

Danganronpa: A Dangerous Game

The Hunger Games, Battle Royale…. Lord of the Flies? Each one has something similar in common; they all revolve around a group of kids or young adults trapped in an intense race for survival and the lengths they take in order to save themselves.

Games like 999 and Virtue’s Last Reward set the trend for visual novel adventure games that focused around a group of characters who, despite their suspicions of each other, have to work together in order to survive. Though niche, these games were massively successful, and have led the way in ensuring that games of a similar trend are gradually finding their way to the Western audience.

I first discovered Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc when I was casually browsing upcoming game recommendations on Amazon and almost immediately it jumped out at me as something I would enjoy. As someone with a keen enthusiasm for visual novel games and a preference for anything remotely off the wall, Danganronpa and I were the perfect match.

So here I am, at the entrance to Hope’s Peak Academy.  Apparently only Japan’s first-rate students attend, which means that I’m bound to meet some interesting characters. It isn’t too long before I realise that Hope’s Peak Academy also is home to a horrific killing game, hosted by the strangest and most manipulative stuffed teddy bear one could ever come across.

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This, in a nutshell, is Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc, a title that is a hybrid between a visual novel, a point-and-click adventure game and a zany mixture of courtroom trials and tribulations.

We’re all doomed!

The game’s option of either playing with Japanese voiceover and subs or English dub is a great decision on the part of the developer. Since I am a huge fan of seeing the game in its original format, I opted for the Japanese voice-acting, which unsurprisingly, is brilliant.

You play as average high school student Makoto Naegi, who somehow finds his way into the school by winning a lottery, and becomes dubbed the ‘Ultimate Lucky Student.’ Lucky he may be, considering his fellow students happen to be a mix of the most outrageous personalities, from the ‘Ultimate Fashionista’ and the ‘Ultimate Baseball Star’ right down to the ‘Ultimate Affluent Prodigy’ and the ‘Ultimate Programmer.’ This instantly adds a whole new layer of personality and emotion to the game itself, now it is seemingly more evident that each character has their own backstory and special talent.

“That tough-as-nails Lolita girl. She must have done it. Who can act this cool about a murder?! I  mean, that’s just really messed up…” My line of thought upon my first impressions of the thick-skinned and cold-hearted Celestia Ludenburg.

It may come across a little shallow at first, seeing as each of Makoto’s fellow students seem to have a stereotype of their own in one way or another. For example, Aoi Asahina, the ‘Ultimate Swimmer,’ is clearly shown up as a ditzy young and naive woman whose only redeeming quality is her healthy athletic curves. Likewise, Hifumi Yamada is your typical hikikomori, perhaps, a guy who’s talent revolves around creating the ‘Ultimate Fanfic.’ It wasn’t long before each of the characters really started to grow on me. The anime-esque character designs are all equally m memorable and stylish, each matched with extremely ridiculous over-the-top personalities to boot. Already I could tell that this game was going to involve some fairly interesting occurrences.

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After the preliminary introductions, it’s not long before the game opens up and events truly unfold. A cold bloody murder occurs when everyone is sleeping, and the dynamic of the story starts to shift. Who can you trust? Who is the culprit? Are your friends really your enemies?

The plot’s multiple twists and turns retrospectively make it really hard to not become seriously engrossed in the game. I think I may have clocked hours before succeeding in putting it down, and even then it was quite a struggle. Between the gripping storyline and colorful cast of characters, its easily become one of my favorite titles for the PS Vita so far.

Partly one of the reasons Danganronpa perhaps doesn’t get tedious is due to its greatly paced storyline and solid structure. In Danganronpa, there are three different avenues of gameplay that make up the overall framework of the game; exploration, investigation and interrogation. Exploring and investigating generally involve visiting a variety of locations around the academy and either looking for clues or conferring with a classmate. The latter however, is a whole different kettle of fish, and offers a whole new spin on the courtroom style controversy that would put Phoenix Wright to shame. The game doesn’t spend too much time feeding you excessive lines of dialogue, and manages to throw off the balance by the sudden initiation of an investigatory sequence or an intense courtroom style showdown.

Trigger Happy Havoc

As Makoto and his remaining classmates gather in a circle, it becomes apparent that they have no choice but to decide who is the culprit of the most recent murder. A matter of life or death, if the real cuprit is discovered and well and truly unveiled, then everyone but the killer gets to continue their everyday school lives until the next incident of foul play. However, if the killer manages to remain inconspicuous, the onus goes to the rest of the party and everyone is brutally executed, bar the murderer who gets away scot-free.

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Along the way, gathering evidence revolves around exploring a variety of locations around the Academy and collecting a series of ‘evidence bullets’, whereby which you will then have to shoot out of the air any inconsistencies in regards to the case. Finding evidence is not really the altogether difficult task that it may seem at first glance. If you’ve missed anything in a room, Makoto will simply refuse to leave. The school is also not overwhelming as there’s only really a handful of places that it seems plausible to check out. With the additional assistance of a map, it isn’t hard to work out where you should be headed, which makes the game perhaps a little more linear than may be expected.

The class trials sound absurd in practice, but are actually some of the most fun I’ve had in the game. The aim is to fire truth bullets (from gathered pieces of information and evidence) at the student’s blurted colored lines of text. Matching the text with the correct contradictory evidence and the argument will therefore be won.

The method, though strange in theory, works great in practice. However, it’s not as simple as one expects, and as the game plods on, it does manage to get increasingly more difficult and less obvious at where the discrepancies lie. Add on to that the fact that each action is timed, and in a similar fashion to Phoenix Wright, the a depleting health bar, and it becomes apparent that the game is far more complex than meets the eye.

Luckily, there’s a couple of tactics of your own up your sleeve to make gameplay slightly less painful. For example, holding down the R button opens up the ability to slow down the time in order to make it easier to hit your target. Add to this the choice of using the touchscreen over the analog stick and you’re laughing.

Regardless of this, there is a ‘Gentle’ mode for those who just like to play for the storyline over everything else. This takes away certain aspects like the need to reload, and limits the numbers of truths you have to choose from so that its a little easier to make the correct decision.

Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer

All in all, I’d say the game can set you back at least a decent 20 hours. The visuals are strikingly beautiful, and fairly well crafted, though the 2D cutouts are a little eccentric to say the least. The animated cutscenes look spectacular, and altogether the game’s unconventional appearance and character expressions add greatly to the sinister tone it tries to go for. Occasionally, the option to spend free time with other students brings up feelings reminiscent of playing through Persona 4. Though the two are indeed very different, there are definitely certain aspects of Danganronpa that feel as though they’ve perhaps been influenced by a good handful of choice games. Building up a relationship with each character also grants you the ability to access a variety of skills which can then be equipped for use during the trial segment of the game. Forming tight friendships comes in handy here, though also can put you more at risk of creating positive feelings towards a character which may not bode well when the time comes.

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One aspect of Danganronpa that stands out significantly is the awesome soundtrack that is filled with the most catchy electronic beats. They also create a great backdrop for every single scenario, no matter the situation. I especially also like the music in Monokuma’s broadcasting videos.

Areas for Development

  • The game can be somewhat frustratingly linear, yet it’s still mandatory to play through the motions even if you’ve ‘figured it out’.
  • Some of the truth bullets in the trial scenes are incredibly vague.
  • Alternative endings would spice things up nicely.

Final Analysis

Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc is the perfect blend of mystery, suspense, and thriller. Though it unsurprisingly has a niche fanbase, it’s nice to see such an undiscovered gem finally makes it’s way to the EU and NA audiences. It may sound altogether outrageously goofy, but in practice it’s a hugely clever game with its own unique quirks. It can be a tad darker than the story lines portrayed in Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors or Virtue’s Last Reward, games of a similar style, but that’s what is so disturbingly beautiful about it. Probably one of the best games on Sony’s latest handheld console, you’d be crazy not to get your hands on this fantastic masterpiece.

Technical Competency – 8/10 

Graphical State/Sound Quality – 9/10 

Network Stability – N/A

Overall – 9.5/10

 (These grades assess our playthrough, taking into consideration how many (if any) bugs were encountered, whether there were any interruptions in gameplay and the product’s final technical state. These scores, coupled with the Final Analysis and Areas for Development, are suggestions for future patches and updates which the developers could (and in our opinion, should) explore. These scores are separate to our DLC/Expansion Reviews but link into our Patch/Firmware Reviews.)

(These scores are not designed as a grading system to determine the entertainment value of a product and should not be treated as such..)

Issues you’ve encountered

Not so much an issue, just a gripe, but the inability to skip dialogue you’ve already seen or read.