It's that time again, doing a review of a game I Let's Played. The Let's Play is up here, although I recommend skipping to part three where I give up on trying to do voices for everyone.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
I actually cannot remember why I decided to play this game. It had been on my radar for a while, because most things that are sufficiently popular end up on my radar, 'well known enough to be recognisable by people who aren't fans' being practically the definition of popularity -- but I'd never had much desire to play it until literally just before I started playing it. Maybe it was because it seemed somewhat like Phoenix Wright, which I adored.
The Phoenix Wright comparison is an apt one, because it would be disingenuous to say that Danganronpa doesn't take very obvious inspiration from the Ace Attorney series, which started some five years prior to the release of this game, to the point that many of the basic plot beats and structural moments are identical. In fact, I think you could very accurately describe Danganronpa as 'pop punk Ace Attorney', or even more accurately as 'Ace Attorney as filtered through the imagination of a teenage edgelord.'
While that is meant as a jab at the series, I did actually find myself enjoying Danganronpa, actually quite a lot. I won't say it's a particularly clever game, but I'm a sucker for a mystery, and Kazutaka Kodaka is not altogether unskilled at weaving an intriguing mystery throughout a larger narrative.
We follow Makoto Naegi, a depressingly average student (as he rather frequently informs us) who won a lottery to enter Hope's Peak Academy, a prestigious high school where all of the students are at the top of their respective fields, whether that be more traditional fields like programming, writing, or sports, or slightly odder ones, like gambling, clairvoyancy, and having rich parents. Before the opening ceremony can begin, however, Makoto blacks out, and when he wakes up, the school's doors and windows have been locked and covered with metal plates. Makoto and fourteen other students then encounter Monokuma, a black and white bear who proclaims himself headmaster of the school and informs them that they must live out the rest of their lives there -- unless one of them can murder another and get away with it. As people begin killing each other, spurred on by Monokuma's threats and promises, Makoto, working with a mysterious student named Kyoko, must unravel each mystery and the bigger mystery of the school itself.
Much of the game is a very standard visual novel format, where you can roam around the school, either collecting evidence in point-and-click style, or talking to people. The gameplay only really deviates from that format during trials, and man, it deviates a lot from that format -- and also, incidentally, from anything resembling logic or good game design.
Instead of simply pointing out contradictions or incorrect information, you must load 'truth bullets' and shoot down the incorrect information as it appears on the screen. Added to this are, bizarrely, a hangman game where half the time you'll be relying on luck (at one rather frustrating point, the game wanted the word 'schizo' to describe someone with multiple personalities, despite that making no sense); a rhythm game in which the screen flashes with rainbow colours as you tap the 'A' button in time to a beat; and a section to each trial in which you arrange often confusingly vague comic book panels in the right order.
(I was playing on easy mode, which was a blessing, since nearly every trial involved the game trying to add further complicating factors to these gameplay modes, with only those playing on easy allowed to escape those additions.)
|Look at this. Just look.|
It's a bewildering smashgrab of game mechanics with no clear theme, which seem to have been implemented in order to make the Ace Attorney trial format -- a format which is inherently neither fast-paced or filled with pulse-pounding action sequences -- fast-paced and filled with pulse-pounding action sequences. It's bizarre, the kind of gameplay I would barely be able to imagine a professional game developer coming up with had I not just finished playing the game in question.
As far as story and writing goes, the game is definitely somewhat variable.
Despite my reaction to meeting the cast in the prologue being one of intense disinterest, I found them all growing on me very quickly, and by the end of the second chapter, I actually quite liked all of them, and I found myself invested in their lives and struggles (well, except Hifumi's, he can go die in a fire). It's odd, because most of them aren't exactly layered -- I'd go so far as to say that with the exception of maybe four, most of them are pretty one-note, even -- but they are all endearing and fun to watch.
|A murder scene.|
It helps in no small amount that the comedy in this game is actually fairly on-point. Not every joke is a winner, obviously, but it eschews the traditional unfunny anime humour and makes an actual effort to be original and earnestly comedic, and a good two thirds of the time, it works. Humour is a great tool for getting an audience to bond with characters, so its usage here worked out pretty fantastically, enhancing the drama that results from the characters dying one by one.
Similarly, while the individual murder mysteries are often depressingly easy to figure out, to the point where I figured out the entire mystery before the murder had even happened in one chapter, the greater mystery woven throughout the narrative was actually pretty intriguing, and the game's storyline was at its strongest when it was focusing on that. That was the mystery that drew me in, the one that had me formulating theories, and the one that still has me formulating theories and picking apart the game for new evidence now.
I actually did really enjoy Danganronpa, even if I'm not certain whether I'd call it 'good' or not. I'm certainly coming down on the side of giving it a recommendation, though, and I'm looking forward to playing the second game.