Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc runs on one thing insanely well: Style. To explain the appeal of it is to ask whether or not you find any of the following elements cool in some way: David Fincher, Takashi Miike, Battle Royale, Saw, Oldboy, Ace Attorney, and the bastardized works of Friedrich Nietzsche. If any combination of those elements caught your attention, then you might want to hit the jump and find out more about this game about despair.
Danganronpa begins with the illustrious Hope Academy, a school where the best of the best go to learn and graduate on to successful lifestyles. The brightest talents from across the country ranging from the best in athletics to the best in delinquency are drafted to attend. You however, are Makoto Naegi, a student with no discernible talents or personality whatsoever, you simply won the lottery to admission. That’s about it for normal scenarios because soon you’ll find yourself trapped in a deadly game amongst the most highly skilled students overseen by an autocratic bear (it makes sense in concept) named Monokuma. What happened is that you and your schoolmates have all been trapped and the only way to escape is by getting away successfully, with the murder of one of your classmates. Things quickly escalate from there.
The game functions under various rules and mechanics, but it essentially breaks down like this: There’s the story portion of the game, free time where you socialize with your fellow inmates, and the trial and investigation phase. I think you can assume that eventually people will die and it’s up to you to successfully uncover the truth behind the murders lest you let them escape the prison-school free as a bird. For the most part the investigation phase functions similarly to the Ace Attorney series allowing you to explore the crime scene and gather evidence and testimony to use for the trial.
Danganronpa actually allows you to move around in the first person view in a way reminiscent of the PS1 classic LSD which I found incredibly refreshing. Trial is a much different story however. You’ll be looking for contradictions and opportunities to show your evidence you gather to implicate a culprit, but the trial acts more like a game than a text adventure combining elements of timed shooting (trigger happy, you get it?) and text to create a fairly intense courtroom. It’s unique to say the least and there’s a lot riding on your success.
While my summary can’t do the game complete justice, it’s safe for me to tell you that the whole style of gameplay is strong, creating a mix of varying elements to create something wholly unique. Additionally, if you haven’t seen it by now, but the art style already places the game heads and shoulders above any other text adventure in the market. Presented in a 2.5D perspective which makes the whole world seem like a diorama, I was instantly enamored by its character design and visual presentation. With its hyperstylized take on the demented world, the animation and HD presentation on the Vita’s amazing screen really brings the world to a fever-pitch. Similarly the music, composed by No More Heroes composer Masafumi Takada, gives the whole game a soundtrack that’s more akin to a synth-heavy score from a David Fincher film. It’s pretty stellar.
Oh and the whole thing is fully dubbed.
While the quality of the English cast is generally strong if a bit inconsistent; for instance, Monokuma’s hammy deliveries are hit-or-miss but his menace is all too real, you have the option of choosing the original Japanese dub. Now I say fully dubbed but that’s not quite accurate. The characters voices are heard throughout but not every line of dialogue is dubbed. However, every line during the trial portions of the game are dubbed and it really adds to the experience. With students voicing their testimonies and accusation and of course their eventual confession, the whole phase is cinematic and as exciting as it sounds.
I hope you realize I tried to refrain from talking too much about the game as to spoil some story elements would only hurt it. I personally found it to be a wholly engrossing, if sometimes silly, narrative. I can’t fault it however as you should consider Danganronpa a genre piece. It understands its premise and it understands it well playing up the strengths of this type of story while delivering surprises via its amazing art style and sometimes shocking set-pieces. Even if you know the general plotline, to see the game actually in action is a wholly different experience.
All-in-all, with amazing visuals, a strong voice cast, compelling story and mechanics, as well as one of the more unique takes on the kill-or-be-killed premise, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc deserves your attention, just don’t dig too deep lest you spoil yourself. I assure you, the ride is more enjoyable the less you know.
[+Amazing visuals][+Animation is much more impressive in-person][+Narrative relies on its strengths rather than focusing on the more ridiculous nature of its plot creating a strong overall story][+Fantastic cast of characters][+Great soundtrack][+Plays to a lot of grindhouse tropes][+Game earns its M-Rating][-Plays towards a lot of anime tropes so if you’re already not a fan of those well…][-Controls during trials sometimes unresponsive and confusing]