Visual novels come in many shapes and sizes, but in the West they rarely come at all. There has been difficulty in the past to even have popular titles such as Phoenix Wright localized for fans, and many other fairly popular titles that are simply visual novels rarely are released outside of the PC. As such, when NIS America announced that they would be bringing the first game in the Danganronpa series to the West in the form of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, fans rejoiced. Now that this title has been released, did they celebrate too soon?
Hope’s Peak Academy is a school that will only accept the best of the best from the high schools around the nation. This means that only the “Ultimate” student of any category can enter the hallowed halls of the school and those who graduated from the academy are guaranteed success and the best life imaginable with connections reaching all the way to the top. While fourteen students have been invited to the school based on their skills, such as being the Ultimate Swimming Pro or the Ultimate Gambler, one Ultimate student simply got in because he was lucky.
Thanks to a raffle held by the school, an average boy named Makoto Naegi, has been called the Ultimate Lucky Student and is invited to join the academy. However when he reaches the school gates the Ultimate Lucky Student will soon find himself in surrounded by despair as he suddenly passes out. Upon awakening, Naegi finds himself locked inside of a school with a giant vault like door guarded by Gatling guns and thick metal plates embedded over every window.
As Makoto, players learn that not only has he been locked in this school but the other fourteen Ultimate students have been locked in with him. They assemble in the gym and are greeted by a strange stuffed-bear named Monokuma who informs them that they are now locked in this school for the rest of their lives. Of course there is one way to graduate from the school and that is to murder another student and get away with the perfect crime.
Monokuma is a stickler for rules however, and since it would be boring if someone were to kill everyone at the school to escape, any time a murder is committed a class trial must be held where the surviving students will attempt to figure out real murderer. Makoto and the others must be sure about their answer, for if they choose wrong, that person will graduate and everyone else will be punished, but if they choose correctly, only the murderer will be punished.
With fifteen “Ultimate” students trapped in a school and the sadistic Monokuma making the situation worse, it is only a matter of time before someone snaps and the murderous game begins. Considering the nature of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and how it is a mystery title, that will be as far as we go here but let’s just say that as players progress through the chapters they will slowly begin to realize that there is much more going on behind the scenes as numerous revelations occur throughout the title.
That being said, whenever players aren’t investigating murders or something else, the cast of characters players find themselves trapped with are all enjoyable in their own right, with colorful over-the-top “Ultimate” personalities that players can interact with and learn more about whenever they have some free time. Some characters are expanded a bit more than others, but considering the fairly large cast for a game such as this, they mesh together quite nicely.
All of the dialogue in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc plays out with a visual novel style allowing players to talk to various characters and occasionally respond to certain topics via a “Re:Action” system to advance the dialogue. While everything is calm and simple, players are free to explore the school at will, allowing the player to walk through the halls and various rooms, examining bits of furniture for pieces of dialogue or collecting Monocoins that can be redeemed to gather presents or unlock pieces of art or cutscenes in the main menu.
During this free time players can also choose to talk to other students and spend some extra time with them, learning more about their past or their personality and even giving them a present to try and become better friends with them. Becoming friends with your fellow classmates is similar to a Social Link in Persona, where players will either unlock a special skill that can be used in a class trial or more skill points to allow more skills to be equipped. There is only so much free time available in a school like this however and when time is up and the day advances, the story will as well. Though it is worth noting that a “School Mode” that allows players to interact with characters without the horror of the killing game breathing down their necks is available once the game is completed.
When free time is over, the deadly nature of the game is rampant as the cast discover that one of their classmates has been murdered. With Monokuma alerting everyone that a body has been found, the bulk of Danganronpa begins. Players will first begin examining the crime scene and various areas around the school as they gather clues that are stored away as “Truth Bullets” to be used in the class trial. These investigation sequences are fairly straight-forward and gamers usually can only leave an area or begin a trial once they collect every piece of evidence available.
Once they do, the Class Trial begins and herein lies the best part of the game. These class trials involve every member of the surviving cast attempting to figure out what happened and choose the murderer and to do this players must make use of their Truth Bullets and navigate through a number of mini-games to come to truth. Since all of your classmates can discuss what happens, most of the action revolves around Nonstop Debates where players will need to target specific statements to shoot down with evidence.
Other minigames appear in the form of an anagram puzzle, multiple choice answers, Bullet Time Battle, a potentially challenging rhythm game where players will need to rapidly try to get the point across to a difficult member of the class, and closing argument style puzzle where the player will need to try and put piece of the puzzle together and explain how the crime happened from start to finish, with extra unnecessary pieces of information mixed in to throw the player off the right track. While these sound simple, wrong moves can quickly earn the player a game over as Makoto only has so much trust to work with.
These sections of the game can be made harder or easier depending on the difficulties players chose at the start of the title. There are Gentle, Kind, and Mean options for Action and Logic, with there being more options to throw the player off base the higher the difficulty level for both options. The game also makes fair use of the Vita’s touch screen, allowing the player to advance text by tapping the screen or taking certain actions in class trials, such as shooting statements down with Truth Bullets.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a highly stylized game with a few different styles mixed in. Most of the environments that players will examine will be a mixture of 2D and 3D while all of the character portraits are 2D, but highly detailed and expressive.
Class Trials are a real sight to behold, especially during Nonstop Debates as players can see and hear their fellow classmates arguing and growing more frustrated or desperate as a trial drags on. There are also some rather gruesome looking death scenes in the game, and punishments that occur as well, all of which are stylized with pink blood and, as sadistic as it sounds, amazing looking.
With the release of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc players have the option to play the game with the English voice work provided by NIS America or the original Japanese voice track. There is no option to switch the dialogue in the game while you are playing it, but if you choose to return to a previous chapter you can always select a different language. That being said, the English dub is nicely handled and although the game isn’t completely dubbed, with most of the basic visual novel dialogue being unvoiced, the Class Trials and important scenes are completely voiced and are rather impressive sounding in English.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, the title features a wide range of background music that always seems to fit the theme of what is happening at the time. There are a number of highly enjoyable pieces of music found inside of Danganronpa and it really helps add to the feel of the game.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc could have easily gone wrong somewhere but I am happy to report that that isn’t the case. Gathering evidence can be fairly simple endeavor with there being little room for error; players will find themselves enthralled with the Class Trial segments of the game and the characters that are trapped within Hope’s High Academy. In the end, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a game that is impossible to put down as players will want to continuously push forward and see what will happen next.
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