To simplify the description of this game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a murder mystery visual novel. However, it’s unique mechanics and cast of colorful characters are what makes it a memorable experience.
The game takes place at a prestigious school called Hope’s peak Academy. A high school that hand picks students of the highest caliber in “whatever: skill that may be; with an emphasis on whatever. Giving their students a variety of titles like the “Ultimate Baseball Star” and “Ultimate Programmer” to the “Ultimate Fanfic Creator” or the “Ultimate Biker Gang Leader.” How these skills are academically related is unbeknownst to me but that’s beside the point. The school wants the best of the best no matter where it comes from.
All of this is explained to you by protagonist Makoto Naegi, who is the Ultimate Luck Student, as he is about to walk through the school doors. In a sudden twist of events, he falls unconscious upon entering the lobby and finds himself waking up in a random classroom. After he finds other people in the gymnasium it is revealed that there are also fourteen other students who passed out and don’t remember anything past entering the school lobby.
After character introductions and some confusion on what has happened to them, a cute yet disturbing looking bear appears. Calling himself ‘Monokuma,’ he jubilantly and enthusiastically explains that everyone is trapped in the school and the only way out is to kill another student and get away with the murder. However, if the murderer is proven innocent, everyone else will be executed.
There are several different art styles that can be found throughout the game but it’s obvious pop art was an influential factor. When roaming about the school, environments and characters have shadows that actually separate from it’s castor when changing the viewing angle which makes everything appear as if they’ve sprung out of a pop-up book. High quality vector graphics are used when engaging in conversations and cutscenes look like someone had painted in water color with thick coats of paint.
There’s is also one other feature that should be mentioned. When the game was originally released in Japan on the PSP, the creators decided to change the color of blood to pink in order to be less controversial. This minute change adds so much charm to the already charismatic game and has become a defining trait of the entire series.
After somebody has been killed, you are then tasked to search the crime scene and relevant locations to gather evidence as to who committed the murder. Since this is a visual novel, majority of the time is spent reading dialogue. Talking to people may give you clues on where to look, provide alibis for yourself or other characters, or that they’ve noticed something that can aid your investigation. However, investigations aren’t timed and you cannot progress until everything is found. Even if you don’t know where to look, pulling up the map will tell you where you need to be with a red “!”.
After the evidence has been gathered, you participate in a class trial, which is the most engaging aspect of the entire game. Trials are separated into four different segments; Nonstop Debate, Hangman’s Gambit, Bullet Time Battle, and Closing Argument.
Nonstop Debates are when everyone reviews the circumstance around the crime and give assertions as to what happened. On the upper right side of your screen is your health and on the bottom left is a revolver cylinder next to a bullet that is labeled with one of the evidence was found. During the discussion, certain phrases will be highlighted that may or may not be contradictions to what is being said or information that you are aware of. Those are considered weak points in a person’s argument and as the player, it is your job to choose the correct bullet that will discredit what that person has said. In a way, you’re “shooting down” a person’s argument. Shooting down the wrong phrase will diminish everyone’s trust towards you and decrease your health.
Hangman’s Gambit is where you assist Makoto find a word that will help him solidify his line of reasoning in the trial. Letters will appear in Makoto’s head and you have to shoot the missing letters of the word in chronological order. Often, you’ll be perplexed as to what on earth that word could be, but finding the first two letters will probably remove any confusion. A lot of those “Aha moments” can be found here.
Bullet Time Battle is beat/rhythm mini-game that occurs when a character refuses to listen to what’s being said in the trial. You’ll then have to shoot down their statements and claims with your bullets while still maintaining a rhythm that gets progressively faster.
Lastly, there is the Closing Argument which, in my opinion, is the best part of the entire game. You have to reconstruct the events of the the crime in the form of a comic book strip. The strip will have missing frames but they can be found at the bottom of the screen as bubbles. Putting the bubbles in the correct frame will allow Makoto to relay the events of crime in sequential order and prove who the murderer is.
Between plot progression and class trials are moments where you have free time. You can use this time to explore the school or spend time with the other students who are trapped with you. In the vain of visual novels, spending time with someone will increase your friendship and allows you to learn more about that person. In Danganronpa’s case, you’ll learn how and why each person became the “Ultimate___Student”, what they hoped to achieve at this school, and an even learn about some of the insecurities that they wish to overcome. Unfortunately, there is barely enough time to do this with one character let alone all fourteen.
There is a School Mode option, a “what if” scenario where murders don’t occur, that is available after completing the game. It is possible max out your friendships in this mode but it only accentuates how much the main game would have benefited from then extra character information because it’s really the dynamics between characters that make it an such an enjoyable experience.
Because everyone is an “Ultimate___Student”, they all have extreme personalities to match their affluent skill. Each person reacts to their current dire situation differently and although everyone shares the same goal of leaving the school, they all have their own methods to achieve that goal which will often create conflict amongst one another. Animosity between individuals can manifest itself during trials adds to tension the tension that already exists.
There will be characters that you like, love, hate, love to hate, find annoying, think are shallow, stupid, or un-empathetic but each of them adds to the experience of the game.
Even Monokuma remains charismatic whenever he bursts into a scene to fulfill his role as the antagonist as well as the comedic relief.
The biggest downside to Danganronpa is that their is no real punishment for your actions. You’re never unprepared for a trial; if you fail a trial you don’t have to start over, just restart at the part you messed up on; and when dialogue trees are presented, you can just re-pick them after getting it wrong. However, that’s not really much of an issue because the real reason your playing this game is for the story and characters. Any kind of gameplay reasoning that would halt or undo your progression may have severely harmed the enjoyment of the game.
Danganronpa is at the very least a memorable experience; as a game and as a visual novel. Veterans of visual novels will find something special that differentiates itself from other titles. For anyone who’s willing to try something outside of their comfort zone or has wanted to try a visual novel, this is a great place to start. If you do not find the idea of reading dialogue between characters as if it were a book appealing, Danganronpa will probably not change your mind.
+class trials are an interesting implementation
+characters keep things fresh and enjoyable
+Monokuma keeps everything lighthearted
+every case has a twist that is revealed during the trial
+remains mysterious even after finishing the game
-mistakes can be redone/no real punishment
-not enough time to boost character relationships
+/–school mode is great for those who want more but would have been more appreciated in the main game
Play Session: 25hr 29min 49sec
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was released on February 11, 2014 for the Playstation Vita. Developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America.