Developer: Nippon Ichi Software | Year: 2014 | List Price: $29.99 | Buy from Amazon
Last weekend, I finished a game for the first time on my (somewhat) new PS Vita. That game is none other than Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, a very Japanese visual novel-style murder mystery game. I’d heard it was sort of a darker take on Phoenix Wright, and I can’t get Phoenix Wright Dual Destinies on 3DS yet (Nintendo knows I’m not quite 17 and is refusing to take my money for an M-rated game). I’d not played any visual novel games before, and I find myself quite enjoying the genre. Not to spoil the ending of this review too much, but let’s just say I hope that the Ace Attorney Trilogy that hits the 3DS on December 9 is rated Teen!
Right from the get-go, Danganronpa pulls you in with a unique premise. The story takes place in a high-school run by an insane robotic teddy bear who is keeping a group of children there against their will. To escape, one must commit murder and not be caught. If this happens, the murderer will be allowed to live and everyone else dies, but if they are found out, then they instead are executed. It’s all quite interesting from a psychological standpoint, since you really get to know and like these characters before they start dropping one by one. The plot also starts to thicken towards the end of the game, as you learn more and more about the school itself.
Gameplay is mostly separated into three parts in each of the game’s 6 chapters. First, there’s a couple of days where you’re free to roam the school and socialise with the other students. After a murder occurs, the game moves on to an investigation sequence in which you explore the crime scene and other related areas, gathering evidence before finally putting it all together during a ‘Class Trial’, when you’ll have to decide ‘whodunnit’. However, the meat of each chapter, timewise, is concentrated into the Class Trial, during which you’ll play mini-games to refute erroneous statements given by the other students using evidence you found during your investigation. While the mini-games were fun, I found the tutorials hard to follow and consequently, I was getting game over screens and not really realising what I did wrong. Also, some of the class trials can be up to one-and-a-half to two hours in length, and with no way to save or suspend the game except for suspending the system itself, I did find myself getting burnt out as they dragged on.
Aesthetically, Danganronpa is excellent, with anime-style characters and pseudo-3D backdrops. The developers decided, rather interestingly, to render the blood in this game pink, however, making the murder scenes look a lot less gory than they could. The localisation seems quite good, apart from a couple typos and the misleading tutorials I mentioned above. Finally, the game has great music in the form of electronic themes rocking in the background keeping you pumped as you investigate murders.
Without further ado, it’s time for the score breakdown:
Design: 9/10 Danganronpa takes a good idea and executes it well, with likeable characters and an interesting 20+ hour story that you’ll want to see to the end. Monokuma, the robotic teddy bear that serves as the story’s main villain, is sadistic, charismatic, and downright hilarious in some instances. The individual crimes are intricate and require some thought to solve, but it’s the overarching plot where Danganronpa really shines. I couldn’t put the game down during its second half and played it for the entirety of a day.
Visuals: 9/10 The game looks amazing, with well-drawn characters and backgrounds, not to mention a clean interface that you’ll be seeing a lot of. Apart from a Japanese aesthetic that may take some getting used to and a couple of stylistic choices (I’m looking at you, pink blood!), Danganronpa is visually immaculate.
Sound: 8/10 The soundtrack fits the overall mood of the game very well, with upbeat techno for the exciting moments to melancholy tunes for character exposition. However, the themes do seem to repeat after a while and are altogether not too memorable.
Gameplay: 7/10 Gameplay does sort of take a backseat to story in Danganronpa’s case. The investigation sequences are quite linear, requiring you to find evidence in a specific order most of the time. The class trials are exciting but rather long and can feel dragged-out in the middle before getting truly exciting. Also, the mini-games, while not too difficult, can get frustrating due to clunky controls.
Value: 7/10 The game is roughly 20 hours long and that feels like a good length. The story isn’t rushed and all the loose ends seem to be tied. That said, apart from getting trophies and interacting with different characters, there isn’t much incentive to replay the game. Luckily, you can replay individual chapters to get all the trophies and fill out all the characters’ report cards if you so desire.
Total: 40/50 (B)
List Price: $29.99 | Buy from Amazon
Have you played Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc? What did you think of it? Tell us in the comments!
I’ve put Persona 3 on hold to play Final Fantasy VII, so that’ll probably be next in my series of JRPG reviews. I also just finished Freedom Wars, so that review’s coming down the pike really soon. I bought Uncharted: Golden Abyss and Persona 4 Golden, both of which I’ll play eventually. I’m not too sure if I should finish Persona 3 before playing Persona 4 Golden. I’m only 20 hours into the former and it doesn’t seem to be picking up quite yet, but I’ve heard the ending’s good. Anyway, if you have any suggestions for games I should try, put them into the comments! I have a PS Vita, a 3DS, a Gameboy Advance, and a GameCube.