Despair. That is the main theme at Hope’s Peak Academy. Fifteen students are trapped in a school for the rest of their life, unless they murder one of their classmates. The catch is, if they get away with it, everyone else dies in return. If the innocent classmates manage figure out who the killer is, the killer dies instead and the remaining students continue to live their life at Hope’s Peak… Until someone decides to kill again. This dark premise sets the stage for amazing “who done it” mysteries. As the main character, Makoto, you don’t have the option of killing anyone yourself, but solve the mystery behind Hope’s Peak and he may walk out alive.
An A+ in Chemistry
Danganronpa is very formulaic, but not in a negative connotation. The game is broken down into three modes. First there is school life mode, where you spend most of your days loafing off and hanging out. Then in investigation mode, you roam around the campus and look for clues to solve a mystery after a classmate suddenly meets their demise. And finally, there is trial mode, were you make a case for yourself after a murder occurs and try to find the killer, before you and your innocent classmates are sentences to death. Even though it has this basic layout, the three modes are woven together so nicely that you’ll never complain, and enjoy the entire experience.
Things that happen in regular school life mode may connect with a future murder case so you will always have to be attentive. No line of dialog can be shrugged away since you must piece those verbal cues with hard evidence later on to have a successful class trial. Accompanied with this detective-like set up, Danganronpa has very grim big-picture story. These fifteen students are desperate to find a way to get out this prison-cell of a school. Some will turn to murder and others will always be looking for an alternate way out to avoid becoming a killer or victim.
In their way stands the students headmaster, Monokuma a talking half light, half dark teddy bear. Monokuma quickly establishes himself as a boss who shouldn’t be crossed. He seems evil, but at the same time, he is always fair. The twists and turns that Monokuma presents and the students deal with are fantastically done.
+A grim and depressing story that can somber the most cheerful of hearts
+Masterful writing that would make most television writers despair over their own inadequacies
Class is in Session
inmates students of Hope’s Peak have unique backgrounds and personalities. Before being trapped in the school, these students were the best at a particular subject or job. Ultimate baseball star,Ultimate programmer, Ultimate Fashionista, swimmer, fan-fic writer and etc. The fifteen ultimates will either use their talents in order to survive or will partner up to make up for their lacking skills. During school life mode, you can get to know these characters by having optional conversations with them and giving them gifts to sort of max out social links (Similar to the Persona games). The twist to this basic social link system is, you may be befriending a future killer or you may get close to someone only to find them dead the next day. It adds a certain aura to the entire experience, because anyone you talk to, or don’t get a chance to talk to can end up dead at any minute.
+Marvelous characters to socialize with that will make you wish you had better friends
Bring your Goggles and Earmuffs to Court
Danganronpa looks almost perfect on the little screen on the Vita. Colors are bright and cutscenes are magnificently animated. This is a visual novel game, so still images are mostly used to show characters and environments. The only time you’ll walk around is through the hallways of the school. Entering a room will show to room popping up, sort of like a picture book. Besides the flat characters you pass by in the hallway, and for some reason you being at the height level of a doorknob, this presentation works well. One thing that is weirdly held back is the blood. Instead of being bright red as blood should be, it is bright pink. With the overall tone being so grim, censoring the blood works against it.
The soundtrack of Trigger Happy Havoc is both whimsical and murky. Some tracks you’ll hum along to for days after completion and others will be quiet enough to bring out a very gloomy situation. However, these sounds aren’t very varied. The class trial, investigations and student life all have one basic tune that you will hear far to often in your playthrough. They tend it get banal after a while. Danganronpa also has the unique privilege of having good English AND Japanese voice acting. Games with the option to switch to Japanese voice overs usually means that the English voices are horrid, but this is a fine exception. Most of the spoken dialog are through class trials however, so don’t expect to hear characters talk much during investigations and regular days; instead you’ll be reading most of the dialog
+Crisp visuals that will make your eyes soar with joy
= A good but repetitive soundtrack that will pierce your ear drum’s taste buds
= Good but limited voice acting that will make you want to learn Japanese (Or English)
-The game is rated M but still censors blood which will confuse the mind
Attending Shop Class
As most video gamers know, a valuable story means nothing if the gameplay is rubbish. So how does Danganronpa’s gameplay hold up? Very substantially. Finding clues on a static screen is never cumbersome, and clues aren’t as inconsistent as other detective games. Finding and dissecting clues is never the task, it is in the class trials were the challenge begins. You may not have a doubt in your mind who the killer is upon entering a trial, but after halfway into the trial you may be doubting your original hypothesis after discussing the case.
During these trials, you listen and read off dialog that pops up on the Vita’s touchscreen. Words that appear orange can be “shot” down using evidence as bullets. If you see an orange set of words that contradicts a clue, load up the clue as a bullet and tap the word on the screen to fire at it. It is similar to the Ace Attorney games were you look at dialog until you can find flaws in someone’s argument. The difference is, you have a time limit and instead of having one witness at a time to cross examine, you’re dealing with multiple potential witnesses and suspects all at once.
Other segments of the trials are also touch based, and the difficulty increases as new mechanics are introduced. The problem with this system is the execution of it all. The touch mechanics are a bit slow, and the window of entering touch commands are very small; causing you to make mistakes because you didn’t react in time instead of finding the wrong evidence. The problem is very annoying and at times frustrating, especially if you’re playing on the highest difficulty. Nevertheless, the touchy command system shouldn’t influence you from getting this game. Yes, the story is that good.
+Straight forward, but not easy trials that inspire the player to seek a life as a detective
– Touch mechanics will put a damper on your experience with this otherwise masterful game
The Final Verdict
Danganronpa could have easily been a failure. There is little room for errors in an interactive drama game like this but Dangan executes its formula so damn well. The game is written with wit and cleverness that the player wouldn’t skip over dialog that he/she desperately needs to solve cases. Evidence and clues are never arbitrary so piecing the puzzle together is never tedious. The touch mechanics hinder the experience a bit, but the story more than makes up for that flaw. It also boosts an interesting mode after you beat the main story; adding replay value to the game. Danganronpa is a must have experience for Vita players who enjoy a grim, yet fascinating story.
Overall: 8.5 out of 10
Play Danganronpa if you liked:
- Persona 4 Golden
- Ace Attorney: Phoenix Wright
- Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward
P.S: Danganronpa has apparently sold well in the U.S, and Danganronpa’s sequel is coming to North America later this year.
Thanks for reading!