Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the best anime I’ve ever played. Originally released on the PSP in Japan, NIS America blessed us with the localization of the PS Vita version of the game, released a year ago in Japan. Making it one of the best Vita games of this year. From it’s Walking Dead-esque art style, to it’s insane Class Trials, there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t already own Danganronpa.
Danganronpa is, at it’s core, a visual novel. Makoto, the Ultimate Lucky Student, is chosen to join what he thinks is an elite high school, but little does he know that he’s about to be thrown into the biggest killing game ever conceived. He’s technically the Ultimate UNLUCKY Student, but you’ll hear that joke more than you can BEAR throughout the game’s six chapters. Each chapter takes up to three to four hours to complete, making it a lot more meaty than it initially seems. And you’ll want to use every minute, as it can mean whether you live or die.
I loved every minute of the story, it basically being an interactive anime, it’s about as linear as it gets. It’s kind of like a modern Naughty Dog game. Yeah, the gameplay is great and all, but what we really came for is the plot. You’re trapped in a school with 15 other students, all with distinct personalities. No two people are the same. Some love to sing, some love to kick ass, and some even love to… kill. The only way to get out is to get away with a murder, but if you’re busted; you’re dead. This ultimate despair brings out the worst, and sometimes even the best out of the students of Hope’s Peak Academy. You can really feel the game shine through its character interactions, with everyone being so different, you never know who will hate whom, and vise versa. It even creates a comedic environment, putting characters you’d never think would smile, in the most ridiculous situations. How does a family heir deal with a psychotic killer that’s madly in love with him?
When it comes to gameplay, you’re mostly along for the ride. You can’t change the direction of the plot by confiding in one student, and ignoring another. The plot will carry on how it’s intended to. You are given time to explore the school, called Free Time. You can spend it however you wish. Whether you want to test you’re luck on the MonoMono Machine, or try to fill every student’s page for those trophies, it’s all up to you. Just be careful when spending time with characters, you never know who will be in a casket next. You can also use Free Time to better your chances of survival during the Class Trials by talking to others, earning you SP points.
Class Trials take place at the very end of a chapter, and boy, are they long. You could spend up to two hours on one, but there are plenty of ways to go about it. The Class Trials are where every student, and the cruel Monokuma, come together to figure out who killed the deceased. Trust me, you’ll need every clue you can find. These Class Trials can be brutal if you didn’t take time to look through your evidence. There’s also a chance that events from the past can play a huge role in a future Class Trial, so always be Vigilant. Nailing clues and shutting down your opponents always feels so rewarding, but never let your guard down, Class Trials sometimes build upon themselves. You don’t want to get stuck because you weren’t paying attention to an important detail back in Chapter 1. It’s kind of like math.
Despite being long, Class Trials always keep you on your toes. Not only do you want to find out who committed the murder, but you also need to be constantly alert, you won’t want to miss an important detail that could give away the guilty party. One frustrating thing is when you know exactly how a scenario went down, but can’t convey your findings to the game, since you have to follow its lead until the bitter end. Having to sit through arguments over tragedies you’ve already figured out is never fun.
Each Class Trial has various phases, Bullet Time Battle’s, Hangman’s Gambit (being the absolute worst), all of them are there to stop you from exposing the truth, adding a tiny bit of difficulty instead of just sitting there, scrolling through blocks of text as a bunch of kids try to put together some of the best fictional murders I’ve ever witnessed. But the problem is, there’s too much of it, I get trying to make things harder than clicking a button but once I got to the awfully put together comic strip in the Closing Argument, it almost drove me nuts. I mean, I already solved the case, but they’re trying to make me explain it again with tiny missing comic panels? There’re so small I can’t even decipher them half the time. The SP points that I mentioned earlier do help ease some of the difficulty of getting through some of these obstacles, rewarding your social activities with ability boosts, but it was never anything noteworthy.
The folks at Sipke Chunsoft deserve some kind of award for the crime scenes they were able to put together. I often wondered how anyone would even think of some of the brilliant situations they came up with for the murders. What makes it even more impressive is how every character is utilized, there isn’t a single character that is thrown away, or doesn’t have some sort of impact on the over arching story, or just to a murder case. I thought that cases would get less complicated as more students died, but it was quite the opposite. Even doubling in creativity as the Chapters went on.
When it came to the difficulty, I wasn’t very satisfied with it because as the difficulty increased, so does my frustration with the game. The difficulty did nothing but make it harder to solve cases that I already solved. Instead of a Bullet Time Battle being as simple as finding a contradiction in one of the student’s arguments, it became a game of trial and error. Something I always dread. The game actually isn’t hard at all, it just makes it seem that way by putting up more roadblocks in your way of getting the truth out into the open. You’re better off putting it on the easiest difficulty and enjoying the ride.
Playing on Vita is simply the best way to experience Danganronpa. You can control most of the game with the front and back touchpad’s. Cutting through dialogue, shooting your Truth Bullets, finishing off your opponent. At times, the game was playable using one hand, being that I love laying down in bed and playing Vita, it greatly benefited me. My need to use buttons and joysticks was fulfilled, as was my need to use touch controls. I can’t imagine playing Danganronpa on any over device, especially the PSP.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s story is as good as the best anime out there, and it plays just as well as any other point-and-click video game. I can’t help but to praise almost every aspect of the game. Danganronpa will be as enjoyable for an anime fan as it is for a fan of games in general. Spike Chunsoft did a hell of a job putting every little detail together and weaving a masterful story, if only the Class Trails were up to par. And a huge thank you to NIS America for continuing to bring over these japanese games, knowing that the Vita hardcore will buy them. It may have taken 4 years, and even a fan translation, but don’t fear, Spike Chunsoft’s completely bonkers visual novel is a success in America. As Danganronpa’s sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, release date is evident of that.
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