Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PS Vita review)

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My high school years were pretty boring. I had good grades, hung out with friends, had my first crush, you know all the menial things that you expect to happen. What would you do if you made it in to the country’s most prestigious high school by chance? Maybe throw in a malicious talking stuffed-bear? And the only way to “graduate” is to off one of your fellow students undetected. That’s what Hope Peak’s Academy has in store for you in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

Danganronpa was previously released in Japanese markets on the PSP back in 2010, which I’m actually glad for as when they announced the PSVita Remake, NIS America made a great bet in bringing over a more visual novels. You see, visual novels often get a lot of rap in mainstream games. They’re heavy on dialogue and some try to argue they aren’t technically games. They’re often relics of a time where the technology simply didn’t allow much in interactivity other than a series of choices. But I assure you, the genre is as interactive and engrossing as your Mass Effects or Skyrims. So what’s on the curriculum in Dangan? Murder 101.

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The games starts off with a nice prologue cinematic before throwing the player into the shows of Makoto Naegi, a seemingly average kid whose only talent to make it into the renowned school was simply being the Ultimate Lucky Student. Once there, he gets knocked out and wakes up inside of the school only to found out it’s been isolated from the outside world. The only person that knows anything is the school’s supposed headmaster, a devilishly cute animatronic bear, Monokuma. Along with 14 other prodigies that include the Ultimate Bike Gang Leader and the Ultimate Fashionita, the class is given an a choice: to live the rest of their lives within the confines of the school or “graduate” by killing one of their own. However, killing them won’t be enough, they must also survive the class courtroom trials undetected. If the player correctly identifies the killer then only they will be subjected to a death penalty, but convict the wrong person and the true killer is set free while the rest of the students wallow in their despair and certain death. In other words, they must perform the perfect crime.

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By the time I met all my fellow students, I was already beginning formulating my own theories based on impressions and relying on my wealth of background knowledge on anime character stereotypes. The popular girl, the superstar sportsman, the delinquent, all ripped out of one anime or another and gathered under one roof. Like most people, they’re also sensible human beings so killing each other is out of the question. But we all know there’s a breaking point for everyone and once the ride starts, it doesn’t let up for one second. Despite these initial one-side caricatures, they really develop once you spent your day to day with each of them. Whereas most visual novels are content will leading you based on your choices, the entirety of Hope’s Peak Academy is open for your exploration.

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Danganronpa does have several stages of modes that allow you to flex your detective skills. When a murder happens, Makoto must investigate the crime scene ala point-and-click style mode, gathering all the necessary evidence and testimony in order to prove his case. A welcome feature conveniently highlights important points of a crime scene minimizing the amount of time needed to poke around an area and get straight to the juicy bits. After gathering all the necessary evidence, the survivors are ushered into a classroom courtroom to face off in the game’s electrifying class trials.

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The Class Trials are split into four mini-games: the Nonstop Debate, Hangman’s Gambit, Bullet Time battle, and Closing Argument. Nonstop Debates are the most abundant, where the class debate with one another another what transpired. The player is loaded with Truth bullets, statements or evidence used to combat contradicting statements. In Hangman’s Gambit, you must correctly shoot down letters to piece together a clue. Bullet Time Battle is a rhythm mini game that pits Makoto one-on-one with a naysayer. Finally, the Closing Argument, a fill-in-the-blanks comic strip constructed by the player outlining the events of the murder.  Even on the hardest difficulty, the games did not poise much of a challenge. Other than the nonstop debates (which comprises the majority of the arguments you make) and Closing Argument, the rest of the mini games feel added on simply for the sake of variety.

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Thanks to a script masterfully localized by NIS America, Danganronpa’s story is a twisted and grim one, wrought with unexpected twists and revelations that gripped my attention and never loosened. The colorful characters and pop art visuals sensationally clashes with the remarkable 3D scenes. The English voice overs were very convincing and generally fits the character well. By For those that desire the original Japanese audio, NIS has also graciously provided us with that option as well.

With a plot thick with despair and misfortune, Danganronpa is a killer (no pun intended) courtroom murder drama that’ll throws curveballs at you even to the very end. My only hope is NIS America brings over its even crazier sequel soon.

Grade: A-

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Hokan Lo
Hokan Lo 324 posts

Hokan Lo is a contributing writer and photographer for Nerd Reactor. He likes Pizza Butts and Mello Yellow. You can contact him on twitter @colorinlive. <a href="http://nerdreactor.com/about/">Meet the Nerd Reactor Team</a>