Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a revamped version of the original 2010 Japanese PSP game, initially never released outside of Japan. The series has two manga adaptations, two light novel spin-offs and an anime adaptation that aired in 2013. In 2012 a sequel was released on PSP. Now, finally, Western gamers can get their first taste of this colourful and unique story in all its glory on the PlayStation Vita.
The game plants you in the shoes of Makoto Naegi, an ordinary student who has been selected, by raffle, to attend Hope’s Peak Academy; an elite high school for only the best and brightest. However, pretty soon the new students have their hopes and dreams splattered into the ground by a remote-controlled, black and white, sadistic, malicious…bear. Called Monokuma. Who announces that they will be living in the academy for the rest of their lives! End of. Apparently, the only way to escape from this fate is to fall into despair and murder a fellow student…without getting caught.
The game is broken into sections, which makes it feel like multiple games rolled into one. In the ‘Daily Life’ section you have the text-heavy, visual novel side to the story where the plot progresses, but after a while, you are given ‘Free Time’ where you are able to chat with your fellow classmates, give them presents and take steps towards forming friendships before the inevitable murdering begins.
The ‘Daily Life’ section allows you to explore the different areas of the school, collect Monokuma Medals that can be used to buy presents from the Monomono Machine, as well as art and sounds from the main menu. Collecting Monokuma Medals is actually rather fun, as is learning more about the characters, who usually have an interesting story to tell or want to divulge their most private thoughts and fears.
The ‘Deadly Life’ section begins after a classmate is murdered, you wander the school in search of evidence and interrogate your friends about the murder, in order to find out more information about what the victim was doing leading up to their death. It’s a shame that such an important aspect of the game seems resigned to hold your hand, it would have been nice to have a time limit or some device to create pressure for the player to carefully consider which areas they should visit. But that said, it’s still enjoyable piecing together the puzzle, even with the linear clues.
Once all the evidence has been collected it’s time to begin the most fun and fast-paced aspect of the game, the ‘Class Trial’. This involves you picking apart a classmate’s argument; achieved through the use of ‘Truth Bullets’. Using the evidence you have compiled in the ‘Deadly Life’ section, you are able to choose a superior piece of evidence to destroy your classmate’s feeble argument. Which is just awesome!
Thinking fast and remembering intricate details of the murder is key in this part of the game, which at times can be tricky but it never becomes too difficult to the point of hurling your Vita out the train door at the next stop. Without giving too much away the Class Trials are an absolute joy to play, expect fast-paced decision-making moments, rhythmic gameplay, shooting letters to spell out clues and presenting a closing argument, realised with true stylistic grace using a very nice comic-book-panel effect.
The true pleasure of this game lies in its aesthetics, which are beautiful. The character designs match their personalities perfectly, the vast majority of the cast is deep, twisted and suffering from their own problems, anxieties, and emotional weaknesses. Outside of your classmates, the evil devil-bear Monokuma is a fantastically designed villain. Playful but sinister and violently unpredictable, he’ll either give you a hug or harpoon you through the eye.
The only real gripe with the characters are during the exploration/exposition sections, at this point, they become 2D paper cut-outs, which can look quite out of place at times and is a real step down from the previous artwork. Luckily the script holds strong and this doesn’t diminish the characters likeability or emotional depth.
The game’s loading time is satisfyingly quick, the control layout won’t cause frustration and you can even make use of the Vita’s touch screen, which works really well. You also have the choice between the Japanese and English voices and in each case the voice acting is solid, I gave them both a go but decided to stick with the Japanese version for my play-through.
Danganronpa is a deep, thrilling and rather harrowing adventure. It can be silly at times and there is rarely a dull moment. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable experience that continues to stay entertaining throughout its 20-30 hour playtime. It's a shame it’s so linear, it would have been nice to have various paths to take and alternate endings to experience. However, all said and done Danganronpa is one of the best English visual novels available, it won't be quite to everyone’s taste but for those who are fans of the genre, this is an absolute must. Let's hope that the sequel isn't too far off.