Title: DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Release Date: February 11, 2014
Publisher (Developer): NIS America (Spike Chunsoft)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, and Suggestive Themes
Spike Chunsoft has a reputation. If this developer makes a story-centric adventure, you better pay attention. After 428: Fuusa Sareta Shibuya de, 999: 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors and Zero Escape: Fortune’s Last Reward, the company has proven it is one of the best storytellers in the realm of video games. With that kind of lead up, expectations for Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc are high. Fortunately, it meets and exceeds them, and NIS America should be commended for wonderfully translating and releasing this game outside of Japan.
Class is in session. Hope you survive!
Makoto Naegi is an absolutely ordinary high school student. There must be something special about him though, because he received an invitation to Hope’s Peak Academy. It’s the most elite high school in Japan, and every student is something special. They’re the Ultimate Gambler, Pop Star, Baseball Star, Swimming Pro, and so on. Everyone except for Makoto, though I suppose you could consider him the Ultimate Lucky Student, because every year one ordinary student is invited to attend the school.
So Makoto shows up early at Hope’s Peak for a special admission ceremony, and passes out the second he walks through the doors. He awakes at a desk in a classroom, but something is wrong. A bizarre, hand drawn pamphlet with a monochrome bear stars in it, no one else is around, and, oh yeah, there are huge metal plates screwed over every window.
He heads to the gym, where the ceremony should be held, and finds 14 other students in the same predicament. While they’re trying to figure out what’s going on, a robotic bear calling itself Monokuma appears. He claims he’s the headmaster and says all of them have to spend the rest of their life in there, inside the school. Naturally, the teens don’t take this well.
But, there is an out. If someone kills someone else, they can become Blackened and leave.
It isn’t that simple though. The Blackened must also get through a class trial and not be discovered as the killer. If they manage this, they will be allowed to leave Hope’s Peak, and everyone else will be killed. If they’re found out, they are executed for their crime and the students go back to their new life.
So the game begins, and Makoto must survive, discover who he can trust, learn the truth about Hope’s Peak, and find the Mastermind behind Monokuma.
Reading the description and checking the developer, you’ve probably come to some assumptions about Danganronpa‘s gameplay. It’s by Spike Chunsoft, creators of 999 and Zero Escape: VLR, so it’s probably an adventure game with visual novel elements. Which is true, but barely scrapes the surface of what Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc accomplishes.
The visual novel elements are the first kind of gameplay introduced in Danganronpa. Players learn about Hope’s Peak Academy, Monokuma, the other students, and their dreadful circumstances in this manner. Yes, there’s the ability to walk around the school and point and click in areas to learn more about them and earn Monokuma coins, but this earliest portion is all talk. Dialogue options are even abandoned in favor of a reaction system, where players highlight a specific word in a conversation to gain further information.
It’s after the basic outline is obtained that things open up a bit to transform into include what can only be described as dating sim elements. During Free Time periods, players can have Makoto use Monokuma coins to get presents from the gacha machine in the shop, then talk to the other students to form bonds. Choosing the right dialogue options and providing appropriate presents can create a friendship, backstory, and valuable class trial skills.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, by discussing class trials. Instead, an investigation sequence invariably follows every Free Time instance. Somebody dies, and the remaining students must investigate the crime scene and murder for clues, checking the body, collecting evidence, and hearing other students’ accounts. It’s here that Danganronpa becomes a point and click adventure, where every suspicious item could prove essential in the trial to come.
The class trial takes place after a player has found all evidence. They then head down to the trial room to see if they can weed out the Blackened student. Here’s where Danganronpa truly shines, as it starts to take on elements familiar to those who’ve enjoyed the Ace Attorney games. Players will have to use truth bullets, created by finding evidence, to shatter false statements in a segment where all characters present arguments based on what they discovered during their investigations. White lines must be removed so bullets can fire true, and sometimes players own statements must be copied and used against others. A Hangman’s Gambit always comes up during this time, where a player must shoot at floating letters to form a word that proves a prevailing theory false. If another student won’t listen to an argument you’re trying to make, you enter a rhythm battle where you have to fend off their accusations by pressing buttons in time with the music until you can force them to hear and accept the truth.
Misfiring and failing during these segments reduces Makoto’s health and influence with the other students, and too many mistakes could result in everyone, except the Blackened, dying. Fortunately, people can get a second chance if they run out of hearts without any penalty. Plus, befriending other students during free time can bestow skills upon Makoto that make the trial segments easier. My favorite is Hina’s Ambidextrous, which comes in very during the end-game rhythm segments since it allows a player to lock onto and eliminate two of the opponent’s disputes at once.
The Danganronpa class trials are peppered with the various, aforementioned elements, until finally Makoto has proved his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Then, players get to present a closing argument. This is done by creating a comic showing exactly how the murder happened. Panels are missing, and must be arranged in the right order to sum everything up perfectly. If a conclusion is correct, Makoto will successfully persuade the rest of the class, the Blackened student will be outed, and he or she will be executed while the survivors go on to fight another day and repeat the process with another round of exposition, socializing, investigating, and prosecuting.
It may sound like a lot is being thrown at people, but it’s all wonderfully mixed together, and flows so well that players will find themselves compelled to go through one more day, one more investigation, and one more trial. I credit Spike Chunsoft’s incredible work and NIS America’s translation skills for making Danganronpa the kind of game you can’t put down.
But who dunnit? Oh, right. It was him. (Or her.)
The only possible fault I could possibly assign to Danganronpa is that it isn’t too difficult to really determine who’s responsible for each murder, if you’re thinking critically. The first murder was the only one where the case was truly shocking and I had no idea who could have done it until the investigation was seriously underway. After that, though, the only real question was the Mastermind’s identity, and hints as to who was behind the bear appeared in the final murder.
Yet, it’s impossible to even call that a flaw, because it actually serves to make Danganronpa better. It means you go into the class trial knowing who’s at fault, but then struggling to prove he or she is responsible for the crime. The Blackened students aren’t going to go down without a fight, and trials grow more difficult as the game progresses, so you’ll need that extra edge.
Plus, it makes replays easier. Personally, I can’t imagine anyone getting anything other than the True Ending the first go around, mainly because I’d hope people would have made the same, smart decisions I did. But for those who don’t get that best ending, or want to go back to master trials, build friendships, earn more Monokuma coins, collect more presents, and enjoy the additional post-game game.
Yes, there’s a game within a game with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It’s a supplemental game mode called Dangan Academy: Purely Prismatic Souls that’s pretty much an alternate reality situation. There’s a time management simulation portion, which I don’t want to say too much about because of rampant spoilers, as well as the opportunity to interact with characters during additional free time opportunities. It’s a wonderful bonus and great way to reconnect with characters you loved and lost.
You need Danganronpa.
If you grab Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, you’re starting 2014 right. It is an amazing adventure game with a fantastically strong story and a cast of characters you wish would live longer, so you could further enjoy them. It perfectly blends an array of various gameplay mechanics together, even ones you wouldn’t think would compliment one another, coming together in an absolutely sublime experience. It’s entrancing, and I credit Danganronpa for keeping me up past 1am every night for a week because I couldn’t put it down. Play Danganronpa. Love it. Let it ruin your sleep schedule. Then, join me in a vigil outside NIS America’s offices in the hopes they’ll have mercy on us and also localize the sequel. I’ll bring the candles.