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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc review

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc review

There seems to be endless mileage in the “trap a bunch of teenagers together and make them kill each other” concept. It was great in Battle Royale, it was surprisingly still great in The Hunger Games, and guess what, it’s bloody great in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

Danganronpa is a Japanese visual novel on Vita, and merely typing that sentence put a smile on our faces. It’s a massively niche genre on a relatively niche system, so the fact that the game even made it to our shores is fantastic enough. That it turns out to be really bloody good is icing on a very tasty cake.

The game takes place in Hope’s Peak Academy, a high school where only the absolute masters of their field can attend – whatever that field is. Every student is the “ultimate” something, from the ultimate writing prodigy or ultimate swimming star through to the ultimate bike gang leader and even the ultimate gambler. The exception is your character, Makoto, a thoroughly average student who wins an incredibly rare chance to attend the school, making him the “ultimate lucky student.”

Turning up for his first day at school, Makoto blacks out and awakens inside to find all exits and windows barred, trapped along with 14 other new students and forced to partake in a bizarre game by the strange, two-tone bear Monokuma. If any student wishes to leave the school, they must murder another – and get away with it. After a murder has occurred, a “class trial” takes place. If the guilty party is correctly identified, they are executed and life for the others goes on. If not, everyone else is killed and the murderer alone gets to go free.

2013-11-04-152338It’s a great premise, sewing seeds of suspicion among the students and a constant sense of paranoia. Thing is, it wouldn’t work as a story or a game if the characters weren’t worth caring about, but Danganronpa does an excellent job of creating a cast of relatable, realistic people that really get their emotional hooks in you. The anime art may be stylised and over the top, but the excellent writing and translation leads to a cast of characters you will come to care about.

There’s a tad more gameplay in Danganronpa than other visual novels, albeit not much. The player gets free time every now and then to wander around the school and spend time with who they like. Here, the game almost resembles a dating sim, although Danganronpa finds some clever ways to subvert the tropes those familiar with the genre will know. This is a life or death situation, after all, and these young men and women have more important things to worry about than who fancies who.

Once a murder occurs, players investigate by tapping on aspects of the environment, similar to the Phoenix Wright games. This isn’t an irritating pixel-hunt, as a press of triangle will highlight everything in the area you can interact with. After you’ve had a poke around, the best part of the game begins: the trial.

2013-11-04-145356Danganronpa is an incredibly stylish game, and this is never more obvious than in the class trials. Pumping trance music swells in the background as the students debate the facts. The player must keep an eye on contradictory statements and shoot them down with “truth bullets,” as well as taking part in minigames like the excellent, rhythm-action-based one-on-one debates. If it all sounds like nonsense, that’s because it is, but it’s extremely compelling. Behind all the madness lies a mystery that must be solved, and deducing the true culprit is always a thrill.

All the pitfalls of the visual novel genre still apply, including the large issue of replayability – once you know the story, that’s pretty much it. Still, if you are a fan of the genre, this isn’t a problem, and if you aren’t, Danganronpa is not the game to convince you otherwise. Everyone else should pick up and enjoy one of the most exciting and brain-twisting adventures on a PlayStation system.

Playing like a mixture of Phoenix Wright, Virtue’s Last Reward and Persona, Danganronpa is a compelling and thrilling visual novel with great writing and characterisation. Anyone in the mood for a good murder mystery should get on it, quick sharp.



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