While everyone else was celebrating Christmas a few days ago, I was on a very special mission. NIS America gave me the opportunity to attend Hope’s Peak Academy. That’s right, I got to see what Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was all about. It’s the Spike Chunsoft adventure/visual novel people have been buzzing about since the PSP version was released in 2010, and in February 2014, North America is getting the Vita version. And now I’m ready to share my first impressions of life at Hope’s Peak.
Hope’s Peak Academy is a very special place. Only the best and brightest high school students are invited to attend. Each one has some kind of special gift, and are known as the “Ultimate” something. For example, Sayaka Maizono is the Ultimate Pop Star, Junko Enoshima is the Ultimate Fashionista, and Leon Kuwata, the Ultimate Baseball Star. In the midst of all this is Makoto Naegi, who’s researching all of his classmates as Danganronpa begins. He’s an absolutely ordinary and average students, but he managed to get an acceptance letter and chance to attend Hope’s Peak Academy. He isn’t any kind of “Ultimate,” but is initially dubbed the Ultimate Lucky Student, since luck got him into the school.
Except, it’s more like he’s Danganronpa‘s Ultimate Unlucky Student. He arrives at Hope’s Peak almost an hour early for the orientation, and when he opens the doors to enter, something knocks him out. He’s just gone, and wakes up at a desk in a classroom at just about 8am. Orientation is already starting, and he’s not there. But, there’s something more concerning than that. The windows are covered with heavy, metal plates that are bolted on and a strangely drawn pamphlet is on his desk.
Makoto heads to the gym, where he finds his 14 classmates. All of them underwent the same experience. They were drugged, woke up somewhere in the school, and have only just come around. While they’re trying to piece together what happened, a strange, two toned bear named Monokuma appears. Monokuma says that they’re trapped in the school, but will have everything they could possibly need and should enjoy the rest of their lives living there. However, if someone really, absolutely feels like they need to get out, all they would have to do is kill one of their classmates to become blackened.
The 15 then head out to explore Hope’s Peak Academy. Only the first floor of the school is open, initially, and not every room is available. The Nurse’s Office is sealed off, for example, as is a strange room behind a red door. The bathhouse and warehouse in the dormtory are also closed off. However, people can access the gym, main hall, an A/V room, a store, two classrooms, a dining hall, a kitchen, a laundry room, a trash room, and their own dorm rooms. There are no exits. The group agrees to a voluntary, 10pm curfew, and settles in to think.
Meanwhile, Makoto bonds with Sayaka. The player has the option to spend free time with the other students, giving gifts to build friendship, and earning special trial skills and the skill points necessary to equip them in return. It turns out he and the pop star went to school together for a while, and there may have been unrequited love on both sides. Sayaka dubs herself Makoto’s assistant, and he promises to do everything to help and protect her.
Which becomes a very critical promise early on in Danganronpa, because Monokuma gets bored when no one starts killing each other, and decides to provide ‘motives.’ DVDs are left for each player, and each one apparently shows something horrible. In Makoto’s case, it shows his parents and sister wishing him well in their home’s living room in one shot, then shows the room torn apart and destroyed in the other, saying he can find out what happened to him only if he graduates. apparently, others’ DVDs are even worse, and Sayaka’s sends her running from the A/V room in a panic.
I’ll cut to the chase to avoiding spoilers as much as possible, since so much happens in Danganronpa so quickly. Monokuma’s plan works, and the DVDs do cause a murder. It turns out the blackened student doesn’t get to immediately leave, however. There is a trial, at which all the students must decide who is guilty. If they name the culprit, he or she is executed. If they don’t, the blackened gets to go free and everyone else dies. While the prior gameplay segments took place as something of a visual novel, the Investigation and Trial are more active and akin to a Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney game. Makoto has to explore the open areas of the school, looking for clues that he can use as Truth Bullets in the trial. This can involve other students’ testimony, crime scene details, and little oddities around campus that don’t add up. It’s especially crucial for this first case, because everyone believes Makoto is the killer. Once all clues are found, Monokuma starts the trial.
The trial takes place in a circle and has an array of different segments to it. To start, there’s a point where Makoto has to make his argument. Everyone will talk at once, making statements, and Makoto will have a Truth Bullet based on information he found during the explanation that can contradict one, highlighted part of these statements to make the truth come out. There is also a Hangman’s Gambit section, where Makoto will have to spell out a word that explains a key point that shows whoever everyone assumes is guilty, really isn’t. If a suspect or other student won’t listen to Makoto, a rhythm game starts up where he must eliminate the person’s objections in time with the tempo, eventually wearing him or her down so he or she will accept the truth. Finally, once all of the facts are out, he must perform a Closing Statement where he puts missing images into comic book panels to show exactly how a murder happened. The various skills earned from making friends can make different aspects of the trial marginally easier, though it is possible to win without them.
Once the closing statement is accepted, it’s all over. The guilty party is sentences and life goes on, as it were, in Hope’s Peak Academy. Except it’s never going to really be over, because Monokuma has plans, and unless the students think smart and work together, he could find a way to beat them all.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc comes out on February 11, 2014. A standard edition will be $39.99, though NIS America was selling a collector’s edition for $49.99 in its store for $49.99. If you’re at all interested, I recommend either preordering, perhaps from Amazon or a similar store, or getting it at launch, because if it does well, maybe NIS America will consider picking up Danganronpa 2.