Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a murder mystery visual novel. For those of you who don’t know what a visual novel is: they are an interactive fiction with a whole lot of dialogue, static images, and very little gameplay. Danganronpa was originally released in Japan on the PlayStation Portable in 2010. It was so popular that it got a sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, that was also on PSP. In 2013, both games were ported to the PlayStation Vita in Japan, and the same treatment is happening in the West this year. Danganonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was released in the West this February, and it was immediately confirmed that the sequel would be coming West later this year.
Danganronpa has a very anime style of storytelling, as most visual novels do. The premise is that when 15 students show up for their first day of class at Hope’s Peak Academy (a school that only accepts the best of the best, or “ultimate students” if you will), they all pass out and wake up in a school that looks similar, but is VERY different. The school now has giant steel plates bolted over all of the windows, there are machine guns hanging from the ceiling at every exit, and many doorways are completely barred off or locked up.
You play as Makoto Naegi, the “ultimate lucky student”, who realizes he might just be the unluckiest student in the world now. When a devilish teddy bear creature named Monokuma shows up, the students quickly find out that there is no escaping this school and that their lives are about to become a living hell. Monokuma tells the students that the only way out of the school is if they kill one of their fellow classmates and get away with it. As you would expect, all hell breaks loose after this. One by one, students began dying off around you, leaving you to figure out who killed each person.
The story is full of characters with vastly different but crazy personalities all the same. The different characters is Danganronpa’s strongest hand. It was fun to find out more about each person’s backstory, find out their quirks, and befriend each of these strangers. The overarching story of it all, however, was off the walls crazy and exactly what you would expect from an anime’s story. I sometimes found the story a little cliché and annoying when it seemed like it was trying to be too crazy just for the sake of being crazy. Overall, it was still a very enjoyable experience.
Danganronpa is not exactly a “pretty” game. The environments are very generic and are just anime art style backdrops that can be explored in 3D. The character models are 2D static images that turn as you move around the room. Although this can sometimes be boring, it was fun to see the different character models they would use for each of the character’s mood changes. The voice acting for most of the game is nonexistent, aside from the important main story scenes. Even though the voices were not used as often as I would have liked, they were solid when used. Many of the voice actors/actresses are established anime voice actors so they did a great job and made the story more fun. I really enjoyed Monokuma’s creepy voice because he made many of the scenes hilarious when they shouldn’t have been due to the dire situation they were in.
The gameplay in Danganronpa can be compared to that of the Ace Attorney series. After each murder, you have to find clues throughout the school, and then use those clues in a trial to find out who the killer was by finding contradictions in their argument. The trials are very fast paced and very fun, but you have to pay attention otherwise you will miss which part was a contradiction. There are different mini games during the investigation that help change the pace and keep you on your toes.
When you are not investigating or in a trial, you are given free time to explore the school. During these sections you can freely walk around the school, interact with objects, and hang out with classmates to get to know them better. This friendship building part of the story is very similar to a dating sim game, as you have to pay attention to the things they like in order to answer their questions right and give them gifts that they enjoy.
As cool as the trials were, I enjoyed the free time of Danganronpa more. I really liked getting to know the wild cast of characters that you are trapped with in the school. They all were so different from each other that it made it exciting to talk to new people each and every day. The gameplay is so limited in Danganronpa that I almost don’t even consider it a game. I know that won’t sit well with the visual novel fan base, but honestly I would have enjoyed this story more as a TV series rather than a “game”. I found myself reading much more than actually playing, which just isn’t what I want in a game.
The Verdict: 7.0 out of 10
I really did enjoy my time with Danganronpa. It had a fun story that always kept me on my toes. It was almost impossible to guess what was going to happen next and why because every character had wildly different personalities and motivations for doing things. However, the lack of gameplay really turned me off. For a 20-30 hour game, I would rather be playing something than reading. If I wanted to read that much I would have picked up a book. I feel that this story was much better suited as a TV series. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc will most certainly appeal to fans of virtual novels, however, it may be best if everyone else stays away.