Saturday, March 22, 2014

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc - Review


Danganronpa, the name may sound strange to those in the West, but in Japan when people hear it; they think of a well known Visual Novel series released on the Sony PSP. The game originally came out back in 2010, and it soon received a strong cult following. Players fell in love with the characters, the story, the and the gameplay, but despite this success in Japan, the game never made its way to western shores. Around that time, the PSP was declining overseas, and Visual Novels were still not quite as popular; so releasing the game would have been quite the risk.

Jumping ahead four years, things have completely changed. With the success of other Spike/Spike Chunsoft Visual Novels such as Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, and its sequel Virtue's Last Reward, Spike Chunsoft decided to take yet another chance; or rather NIS America did. Although it had been almost four years since the initial Japanese release, NIS decided to get the rights to publish Danganronpa in the west; however, this is not the original Danganronpa.

During the long wait, Danganronpa not only received a sequel, but it received spin off novels and an anime as well. On top of that, a PlayStation Vita version was developed which contained updated versions of both games, complete with new features for the original release. This is the version NIS America licensed; however, not all in one piece. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the first Danganronpa's Vita version, but on its own. It does not contain the sequel, but it does however include the updated graphics and features introduced with the collection. Still, does this mean that the west was ripped off? No, no it does not. Although we only received half of the Vita collection, with the second half already making its way to the west later this year (2014), it is still very much worth it. That is, if you're into this sort of game.

The Story:

Danganronpa is a Visual Novel, and as such the story is the most important aspect of the game. The game follows the life of a young boy named Makoto Naegi, who has just been accepted into the "Ultimate" school, Hope's Peak Academy. Unlike most schools, Hope's Peak only accepts the best of the best. In order to get in, you must be already attending high school, you must be the "Ultimate" student in a specific area, and you must be chosen. A normal student, with no special skills, or outstanding record can get in; at least under normal circumstances.

Makoto is a normal student. His grades aren't that great, he doesn't have any special skills or abilities, and he never applied to go to such a school. He was happy being an ordinary student, living his "basic" life, but then everything changed. Out of the blue, Makoto's name was picked in a random lottery, and he gained the title of the "Ultimate Lucky Student." Although Makoto was unsure of attending this new school, where he was just an average student while everyone else was truly unique, it was an offer he couldn't pass up. Only a select few would ever have the chance to go to this school, and anyone who graduates were guaranteed to succeed in life. It was the ultimate school of hope, but sadly it would soon fall into despair.


Upon entering the school, Makoto became dizzy, and he soon passed out, only to awaken face down on a desk in a classroom he had never seen before. Unknown to him, he had just entered a world of nightmares; one where no one can escape. Soon after Makoto finds himself face to face with 14 other students at the school's entrance, which had been replaced by a large metal gate. After speaking with each one, Makoto soon learned that they had all had a similar experience. Each of the 15 students had entered the school, passed out, and awoke in an unknown room.

As the students stood in complete confusion, an announcement played asking them all to go to the gym for the opening ceremony. Despite the confusion upon entering the school, the student's fears quickly vanished, and they each headed towards the gym to start their new school life; however, what awaited them there was not what they expected. Once everyone had gathered in the gym, the headmaster made his appearance, and each student was thrown into a living version of the Prisoner's Dilemma.


When the headmaster first appeared, none of the students could believe their eyes; it was a robotic talking bear named "Monokuma." Half the bear was white, with a friendly looking face, while its other half was black with a menacing red eye. According to "him," all of the students were now trapped in Hope's Peak, and would be forced to live a communal life for as long as they shall live. All each student had to do was follow the guidelines set by the headmaster, and they would be able to live a long "happy" life at Hope's Peak, but for anyone who wanted to leave, nothing but despair awaited them. According to the rules, there was one way a student could leave Hope's Peak and return to their life on the outside world, and that was by graduating; however, in this twisted school of horror, the requirements were nothing any of them could have expected.


In order to graduate, all students had to do was one simple thing; kill someone. They could stab them, choke them, bash their head against the wall, or do whatever they wanted; all they had to do was make sure their victim was in fact dead. If the student managed to kill someone and get away with it, they alone would graduate, and all others would face punishment. And just what was this punishment? It none other than death. If anyone broke the rules of the school, failed to solve murder, or got convicted of murder, they would die; there was no way around it. So begins the deadly school life at Hope's Peak. Will students really kill other students just for a chance at freedom, or will they band together and find a way to escape on their own? Only time will tell.

Deadly (School) Life:

As mentioned above, Danganronpa is in fact a visual novel, and the majority of the game will be spent reading text, and listening to what the other characters have to say; however, unlike in most visual novels, you must pay full attention to what is going on. While you never truly want to skip over text in an almost fully story based game, in Danganronpa the text and information you learn during such segments is actually key if you want to beat this game. Sometimes just skipping over one small section may be enough to leave you completely confused, and it may even cause you to fail the game.


When you first start the game, you will soon notice that you have more control over your character than in a standard visual novel. Instead of seeing still screens with locations to select from a menu (which is the case in some visual novels), you actually get to walk around the school from a first person point of view. As each day starts in Danganronpa, you are given a set "objective" for that day, or time of day. Typically each morning the characters will meet up at the cafe, but other times you're given the option to semi-explore the school and talk to the other students who are doing just the same. Some of the time these mini chats just serve as a way to develop the different characters, but most of the time you'll have to speak to them to actually advance the story. Truthfully you do not have that much control over these sections of the game, considering talking to npcs or going into a specific room will most of the time advance the story, but you can search other rooms if you really wish to. When entering rooms you can click on different objects (by either aiming with the analog stick or tapping on the screen with your finger), but even this adds very little to the story. Sometimes Makoto will make an interesting comment, but other than that, there isn't much of a point to search until the investigation parts of the game.


Once in awhile, normally between key story events, you will enter a special time of day called "Free Time." During this free time, you can walk just about anywhere in the school, and choose to spend time with one of the other classmates. By spending time with them you can learn more about them, and even unlock special skills for use in class trials. These skills will add bonuses to make the trail sections of the game easier, but they are not actually key to beating the game; in fact, you can completely ignore the skill system if you wish.

After going through the daily grind, and completing some free time events, the investigation phase of the game will begin. Although you'd like to believe no one would harm their "friends," the sad fact is, people want to escape from this school. Students do die, and it is up to you to try and figure out who killed them, how they killed them, the series events which lead up to the murder, and sometimes other mysteries as well. If you fail, the killer will escape from the school, and the rest of the students will die. According to the school rules that is.


During investigations you are given the chance to search the school for clues, as well as question the other students. Each time you uncover a major clue, a "truth bullet" is unlocked for the use during the school trial, but minor clues are typically hidden within the dialogue. This is why it is very important that you pay attention to what each character tells you as you go around questioning them, and why you must look at every small detail. Sometimes a small clue which the game didn't point out to you will hold the answer, and unless you realized it for yourself; you are screwed. Once the investigation is all said and done however, you will be thrown directly into a class trial.

Class Trials:

While the first half of each chapter focuses on visual novel standards, interacting with characters, searching the school, and following the storyline, the second half of chapter is much more "action" based. While you will still be reading a lot of text, the Class Trial section of the game features full voice acting, and it requires a lot of fast input from the player. You cannot simply just take your time and try to recall every little detail, you have to think fast, and act fast.


Once a class trial starts, you will be faced with different "phases." At the beginning of the game each phase will be pretty simple, but as time goes on, more and more gameplay elements will be thrown in, making the game much harder as you progress. During the beginning of the game, the main phase you will come across requires you to listen to the characters as they discuss the murder of a fellow classmate, and it is your job to find contradictions in their statements. Characters will begin to talk, their words will appear on the screen, and specific key words will be highlighted. By aiming the reticle on screen (or by touching on the touch screen), you can use your "truth bullets" you collected during the investigation to shoot said key word, and prove there is a contradiction. The text/key words on screen do move around however, and the truth bullet you shoot at it does have a delay; in other words, you must have perfect timing if you want to hit the key word, and move on with the trial. Now, at first this does seem simple, but as time goes on, things do become pretty hectic.

After awhile, a lot more elements are added to this phase of the trial. Soon instead of having one truth bullet to pick from, you will have to switch between multiple ones, and you will have many more key words on screen to shoot at. Not only will you have to listen to what the characters are saying, but you will have to be able to recall just about everything from your investigation, select the correct truth bullet to contradict said key word, and you will have to shoot your truth bullet with almost perfect timing. But, that isn't all! Soon other pieces of text will show up to block said shot. As the main character Makoto thinks about what the other students are saying, his words will appear on the screen, and they will block you from shooting your truth bullet. So now, not only do you have to shoot the truth bullet, but you also have to shoot these thoughts before hand, and quickly switch over to your bullet, and hit the key word before it vanishes off the screen. If you fail, you will just have to keep looping through the section until you manage to land the shot, and move on; all while the class trial timer is constantly counting down to your doom. Once you have mastered this section however, the game throws yet another curve ball at you. Soon you will receive the power to turn key words into truth bullets, to use against other key words, and things become even harder. Once this happens, you will have to really pay attention to what is being said, look for contradictions between different key words on screen and your truth bullets, you will have to shoot down Makoto's thoughts, and you'll have to shoot your bullet at the text which now may be spinning around on the screen trying to dodge you. It becomes a challenge.


Now, although this section of the gameplay can be quite challenging, and it requires a lot of fast thinking, you can actually use a special meter to slow down time for a bit, and by becoming close to the students during your free time, you can unlock skills which make these sections easier; however, most skills will not be unlocked until you complete the game. You only have so much time to spend with the classmates, and because of that it is impossible to do everything on a single run; by the time you go back in however, you will already know the answers to each trial.

Besides the whole truth bullet show down thing, other sections of the class trial ask you to call up notes you made during your investigation, notes which have been put into your file. Most of the time these notes include easy to overlook details you found during the investigation, and can be even harder if you truly didn't pay attention. Sometimes missing just one small detail, which may have been gone unstated by the characters in the game, will cause you to get stuck, or even lose your current trial. While the game does in fact have an M rating, meaning it isn't for the younger audience, sections such as this may make it nearly impossible for younger gamers to advance. Adults should be able to pick up on the clues no problem, but that's only assuming they didn't skip over text. On top of that, the game will sometimes also ask you to pick between three or four options to answer a question Makoto was asked, or sometimes it'll even ask you to select a classmate. These last two sections are just about the easiest parts of the trial, and even if you guess and get it wrong, the punishment isn't as great. There are also moments where you must spell out a word for yourself, but these sections only show up a handful of times, and are very easy.


Another gameplay element in the class trial is a music like mini game. During these sections you must tap to the beet, and destroy the arguments a character yells at you to prove he/she is innocent. Pressing the X button taps to the beat and selects the text on the screen, and you can then use the "shoot" button to destroy it. At first this too is very simple, but as time goes on a reload element is added in, where you must tap square to reload your shots, and even a blind element is added in where you cannot see the beats at the bottom of the screen. These sections can be quite hectic, and they are very easy to fail if you do not know what you are doing; especially considering how confusing the tutorial is the first time it shows up.

Once you have manged to make it through all phases of the class trial, and cleared up every mystery there is to solve about the case, you enter a final phase where you must retell the events in order. A comic strip appears on screen with some of the panels filled in, and at the bottom of the screen you are given many other pictures to fill in the gap. At first this section may seem simple, but truthfully, it is not. Not only do you have to recall every little detail, and remember how every thing happened in the correct order, but you also have to try and figure out what each picture actually is. For example, you may know that in one case a character hides in a locker, but there are two panels shown. One panel is for them actually getting into the locker, while the other is them exiting; so, which one do you use in that section of the timeline? Sometimes it is very hard to tell what is actually happening in the picture, and that will often lead you to putting the wrong picture in the wrong spot; even though you know what is actually happening. This can become pretty frustrating later on in the game, especially when they start throwing pictures in from previous trials. Soon the timeline of events become very long, and it truly does become a challenge. There is a reason they give you so much time to solve these sections, in fact, they give you more time to sort out the timeline than they do for the rest of the trial combined.


After everything is said and done, you will witness the student who was behind the murder face a horrible death, and the school life will continue. New areas will open up for you to explore, new secrets will come into the light, and the overall plot will advance. This is a pattern which will repeat itself time and time again, but things do change later on.

The Good and the Bad:

Danganronpa is really a hard game to rate as it all comes down to what you, the player, enjoy. If you love visual novels, anime, over the top Japanese humor, twisted stories, and if you love to use your brain, then you will love Danganronpa. It really is a great game, which has no true "flaws." Even after the main game is over, there is an extra mode that unlocks, so it is a game you can come back to even once it is over. Really the game is well worth it is you own a PlayStation Vita, and its only real let down is that the game isn't 100% voice acted. It doesn't hurt anything, but it would have been nice to have a bit more outside of the class trials themselves. It isn't needed though.


On the other hand, if you don't like anime, if you don't like reading, if you hate the whole "who did it" type of storyline, or if you prefer to play games for the gameplay and NOT the story, then you should stay far away from this one. At least give it a rent if possible, but there is a pretty good chance you will not enjoy this one at all. This is a game you play for the story, and if you don't care about it, you might as well not even bother.

Now with that being said, if you are a fan of the genre, then this game easily gets a 10/10. It did what it set out to do, and I am personally really looking forward to the sequel. I can't call it the "best" story or visual novel out there, but it was great. One of the few rare games to keep me hooked from start to end.

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