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Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc Review

In the last two years or so it seems that the teen aged dystopian survival adventure has become a big thing in Western media. Some attribute this to the very successful Hunger Games franchise, at least in the West. In Japan there have been several movies, anime and even video games that places teens in survive or die situations way before the Hunger Games. The most well-known and famous of these is of course Battle Royale. Now imagine taking the ruthlessness and utter despair of Battle Royale and mixing in gameplay elements similar to the Ace Attorney games. Add in a sadistic bear and you have Danganronpa. Danganronpa originally was released on PSP only in Japan on November 15, 2010. The game saw a re-release on the Vita and this time it received a Western release as Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc.

 

Academy of Hope

 

Engaging story– You are Makoto Naegi, a fairly average student who haa been chosen by lottery to attend Hope’s Academy, a school for students who are the “ultimate” ones in their certain fields. It so happens since you lucked out in getting into the school, you are designated as the “Ultimate Lucky Student”. However things are not what they seem to be as you get a strange feeling before entering the campus grounds.  As you step foot on the grounds,  your strange feeling proves to be right as you pass out and then wake up inside the school. You see a note saying to assemble in the gym for the welcome ceremony. As you enter the gym and meet your fellow classmates, a strange bear named Monokuma appears out of nowhere and explains the situation. There are only two choices: live in the school forever or kill one another till there is only one left. Instead of being the first day of your hopeful school life it has become a school life of despair and mutual killings.

 

This is the basic set up for the game and as much as I want to go into detail about the story, I feel that I’d be spoiling what happens to be a very engaging murder mystery/high school drama. The most I’ll say is what I’ve said in the beginning, take one part Battle Royale and one part Ace Attorney and you’ll have an idea on what to expect. I will say that I really enjoyed the story and the twists it occasionally threw out.

 

Colorful stereotypical cast- With such a dreadful yet unique situation for a game, it’s no surprise that Danganronpa also has a cast of very colorful yet stereotypical cast of students. Right off the bat you can tell what character represents which anime stereotype/trope by their design (more on that later) and yet when you get to interact with them, it feels that there is much more to the characters that just what trope they fall into. This is especially true when deadly life and class trials start to happen. True colors start to seep out and what you once thought about a character has you thinking twice.

 

Deadly life/Class trials- Besides the story, the deadly life and class trials portions of the game were to other things that I enjoyed about Danganronpa. As I mentioned before, I described the game as one part Battle Royale and one part Ace Attorney. The basic set up is that in order to graduate, the students must kill each other and get away with it. Once a victim was found, the game goes into Deadly Life mode. This is where you gather evidence and piece together who the culprit is.

 

Unique yet bizarre art style- The art style of Danganronpa is both unique and bizarre at the same time. The cast seems to have been designed the stereotypical anime tropes, but yet they have a bizarre feeling to them. Colors clash with each other yet within the chaos of blacks, pastel pinks, purples and other colors it makes sense. If I had to guess, the developers wanted players to feel despair along with the cast, so they pick the colors that give off that eerie despair feeling. This is a good example of color theory in work, at least in my opinion and is my best explanation as why to I like the art.

 

What if mode included- Once the game has been completed once a new “What if?” mode opens up. As I mentioned before the students of Hope’s Academy have two options: kill each other till there’s only one left or accept the fact they are stuck and live in the school.  This mode explores the side of the story if the students refused to kill each other and their interactions with each other as they live their lives stuck. The game basically becomes a VN/dating sim at this point. Personally I think its really interesting to see a different side of the story.  I know I’m not the only one who wonders what would have happened if they just accepted the fact that this is their new home and can’t leave.

 

 

Academy of Despair

 

Voice acting inconsistent- I do appreciate the fact that NISA has added dual audio to Danganronpa, an option that sometimes gets left out due to budget or time constraints in most Japanese games that get localized, but I feel that the English voice audio seems to be a bit inconsistent at various points in the game. This mostly happens during school life and deadly life sections of the game.  Some characters will have dialogue that is spoken and then a few sentences later it’s not spoken even though it’s within the same conversation. This isn’t a too big of a deal breaker, since most people will opt to play the game with Japanese audio instead of English audio. It’s something minor that bugged me.

 

Deadly life a bit tedious- Much like the investigations in Ace Attorney, Danganronpa has you investigate and gather clues for you to use in the class trial. But in Ace Attorney (at least in my experience) you are able to gather as much evidence or talk to whoever you want to build your case. If you think you gathered enough you can leave and get started on the trail. In Danganronpa you do the same thing, however it’s a bit more tedious than Ace Attorney. By that I mean you have to not just look at the initial crime scene but all other places that the victim was at, the places that the culprit was at and talk to every single person who isn’t the victim.

 

Can be a bit long for those not used to visual novel format- Unlike most VN hybrids, Danganronpa leans more towards VN aspects i.e. the game is dialogue heavy with the investigations and class trials happening towards the end of the chapter.  Sometimes there might not even be a trial. I really do recommend this game who are really into murder mysteries and like Ace Attorney gameplay, just know it take a while to progress if you’re not used to games that incorporate VN aspects.

 

 

When I had first of Danganronpa, I first thought that it had a great premise mixing elements of Battle Royale and Ace Attorney into a game. However in the West and especially in the US teens killing each other to survive was kind of a taboo. That is until Hunger Games came out and then it was a free for all for the genre. Danganronpa separates itself from other VN hybrids by having an engaging story that everyone, even non anime/VN/manga fans, will get into. The cast is very colorful and have stereotypical elements/tropes designed, yet there is much more to them than what their trope dictates. The art direction is bizarre and yet you will gravitate towards it, not really knowing why (at least that’s what I felt). And once you escape from the school, there is a What if mode that lets you experience school life if the cast decides to accept their fate and try to live a normal life. The only problems that I had with it was that the English voice acting can be a bi inconstant, deadly life can be tedious if your not thorough enough  and for non-VN fans can be a bit long.

 

Regardless of the flaws I enjoyed Danganronpa very much and I think I’m not the only one. Other fans enjoy the game so much that panels about the game have been appearing in anime conventions, much like this panel that a few fans put together for San Japan 7 last year:

 

 

 

If you have a chance and want something a bit different, then I recommend picking up Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc.

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