Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, a visual novel for the PlayStation Vita, was released last Friday for €44.99. It is developed by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America, they previously released another visual novel on the Vita, Virtue’s Last Reward. This game required you to solve puzzles, but Danganronpa has you solving murders.
You play as Makoto, one of the students that has just woken up to find he is trapped inside a locked down school. The only way to escape is to murder another student without getting caught. If a student is murdered and you can figure out who killed them, then you win the trial and your life continues, if you lose however, the murderer escapes the school and all other students are executed.
When a body is found you begin by examining the crime scene, none of the scenes are too graphic, everything is done in an anime style and all the blood is an electric pink colour. Once you’ve gathered what evidence you can, the class gathers for a trial to decide on the killer. The trial is made up of a series of mini games such as rhythm games and picking images and adding them to a comic to play out the story of how you think the murder happened. When arguing your case with the other students their statements will float across the screen, if you want to disagree with a piece of their statement you think is weak then you ‘shoot’ your own statement at the weak point in their sentence. Contrary to what the title might make you think, the students don’t go around shooting actual guns.
In between trials you can move about the school and spend your free time talking and getting to know the other students. You can also buy them gifts at the school store with coins you find by looking around the rooms of the school and completing trials. Danganronpa is similar to Persona 4 Golden in this way as the more time you spend with a person the closer you become, it is made all the more bittersweet since you never know who the next victim will be. Another obvious similarity to Persona 4 Golden is the visual style and colour scheme of the interface. Comparisons can also be made to Virtues Last Reward, instead of a robot rabbit giving you orders a manic mechanical bear, Monokuma, rules the school giving you instructions. He doesn’t make half as many bear puns as Teddie from Persona 4 though…
Danganronpa isn’t a difficult game, the evidence collecting section makes sure you don’t miss anything by prompting you to check a room further and a trial won’t start until you have collected all the necessary evidence. Some of the mini games during the trials can be frustrating but what annoyed me more was the unnecessary scenes that purposely show up the female characters short skirts. I know this is standard when it comes to anime but it still feels tacked on. In the middle of a killing game where everyone is trying to figure out how they ended up in this school and why, there is still time for a scene where the boys decide to gather together and spy on the girls in the bath. Without revealing any details about the ending I will say how the plot wrapped up was also disappointing but I was still hooked and interested to see how it would all play out right until the credits rolled.
In terms of replayability there is no new game plus but there is a ‘school mode’ which tasks you with finding materials to build Monokuma robots. This mode also gives you the opportunity to spend more free time with the other students developing your relationships rather than having to restart the main game to do it.
Danganronpa’s main story is of course similar to Battle Royale and The Hunger Games but at the same time it takes a new angle on the killing game plot in that they aren’t forced to kill each other. There is no collar around their neck that will explode if murders don’t take place or a game maker that will destroy the environment around them. These students are given the option of living in the school in peace but still murder each other anyway. It is finding out about the different motivations that lead them to these acts which added another interesting element to the game. If you enjoy visual novels then Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is worth picking up. It has already found success in Japan with a sequel and an anime series. The sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, will get a Western release this autumn.