• Graphics
  • Gameplay
  • Story
  • Sound
  • Emotionally Unstable Teenagers

Between viewings of True Detective and Sherlock I fancy myself to be at least a decent armchair detective. If a show gives me enough of an idea, I can usually figure out whats going on for myself at least a few minutes before the character’s on screen… sometimes. It’s rare to find a game that lets you play detective in a way not unlike an interactive crime drama. I found one, although in supremely bizarre form, with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the NISA published western remake of the popular japanese title of the same name.

Spike Chunsoft (999, Conception) front this entrancing dark, anime storied mystery title that is off the wall in as many ways as it plays by the books. A group of 15 high school students, each with vastly different personalities and skills, are known as “Ultimates” considered as the hope of humanity gather at the prestigious Hope’s Peak academy. The main character, Makoto Naegi, serves as the player’s personal vessel and the game’s narrator, made relate-able by his normalcy, just being allowed into the school of greats by chance with the title “Ultimate Lucky Student”. When the students arrive at the school, they all black out, and appear to wake up in a bizarre, nightmarish version of the school. From there, a demonic robotic bear informs the kids that the only way to escape this nightmare world is to kill another student and get away with it.

Danganronpa takes many gameplay cues from the Phoenix Wright and Persona series. Exploring the school is rewarding, and a big emphasis is placed on interacting with the other characters, much like Persona. After the first student is found dead, the tone of the game shifts immediately from nearly whimsical reflecting Monokuma’s decidedly cutesy anime persona to a visceral and shocking murder mystery. Teaming up with other students, you explore the school from a first person perspective and search for clues. Meanwhile Monokuma reveals the catch, if you don’t solve the murder, everyone but the murderer will be brutally executed.

The game has a hold-hands sort of approach to the investigations, each of which vary in length. If you pay enough attention to the dialogue, which you should to get the most out of the experience, it is very clear what you should be doing next. So no need to be an expert on mystery pop culture to participate. Rather than having you walk around in circles aimlessly clicking everything you can, this trims down the experience into one about story above all else; and it’s a story you’ll want to stick around for.

After the investigation is complete, the most exciting part of Trigger Happy Havoc begins: The Class Trial. This is where the game hits the ground running with super intense, Phoenix Wright style gameplay. The trial accumulates all of the knowledge you acquired throughout the investigation and tasks you to use them wisely in the trial modes handful of “minigames”.

In nonstop debate mode, other characters chatter on incessantly and it’s your job to fire a “truth bullet” first person shooter style into whatever contradiction you can find. It starts off easy, but gets trickier as more lines of contradiction appear, and new elements are added. Moment of Truth is the weakest of the mini games, and has you playing a rhythm style game, keeping the beat while shooting down white noise and contradictions flying out of the opponents mouth like fireballs. The trials usually end with a massively fun Conclusion mode, in which you reconstruct the entire crime bit by bit in an interface designed to look like a manga. This was one of the most interesting and satisfying gameplay moments I’ve played in a while.

Class trial battles are conducted in a way that replicates boss battles. You have a set amount of health and making mistakes in your argument, which is easy to do if you don’t pay attention, will knock you down. Likewise, opponents in modes like Moment of Truth also have life bars. It makes the game feel much more action oriented than it’s earlier, more graphic novel style events.The Trials aren’t particularly difficult with quick reflexes, and it pays to pay attention there too.

While Class Trials are immensely fun and engaging, I found the most fun out of Danganronpa when it comes to becoming part of it’s world and enjoying it’s dialogue and characters. Danganronpa is really an experience for someone looking to experience a story. While not all of the game’s characters are as fleshed out and interesting as preferred, several characters feel very deep and interacting with them inside and out of cases is a genuine delight and brings Danganronpa‘s despair ridden school to life.

Visually, Danganronpa does what a lot of anime style games don’t. It realizes that it looks better when it doesn’t try to settle for weak 3D models of characters. All models, objects, and murder scenes are clearly drawn in gruesome detail. Going for an anime style cut out approach for rooms, each area is great to look at. Colors and text boxes are vibrant and colorful, reminiscent of Persona 4: Golden. It takes a more traditional approach that reveals the Vita’s shortcomings when walking around the school, but even that is covered by fascinating color design choices that gives everything a great feel.

Verdict

Danganronpa is obscure, interesting, engaging, and all of those other buzzwords you can throw in when discussing a great story driven experience. Players who love anime, Phoenix Wright, Persona, or anything involving mysteries have stumbled upon one of the best games you could find. Becoming part of Danganronpa‘s wacky world, as dark as it is, is such a treat for anyone willing to put in the effort to enjoy the game’s character’s, style and atmosphere. From a game so mysterious going in, it has a lot to offer, and it’s bizarre-ness is a terrible reason not to give it a go. It’s one of the best games on the Vita.