In early 2015 I was looking for a game to get on my PS Vita during the January sales and stumbled upon a title named Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. Being a fan of visual novel investigation games, such as Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, the concept intrigued me. 15 kids are trapped inside a school and are forced to kill each other in order to escape. Ever since making that purchase via the PlayStation Store, Danganronpa has continued to be one of my favourite video game series ever, combining brilliant writing and character development with rewarding investigation and court-room gameplay. Now, due to the series’ increasing popularity and the upcoming release of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (which you can read my spoiler-free preview of here), Abstraction Games and NIS America have brought Spike Chunsoft’s masterpieces, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, to the PlayStation 4 for the first time ever. For those hoping to jump into the despair-filled world of Danganronpa, there’s no better time than now.
Both games follow a very similar main structure. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc follows Makoto Naegi, an average high-school student who has won a placement at Hope’s Peak Academy, a school created solely for enrolling the most talented youths in Japan. Those selected to join Hope’s Peak Academy are said to have guaranteed success for the rest of their lives, and accompanying him are the likes of the Ultimate Pop Sensation, Ultimate Programmer, Ultimate Affluent Progeny and even Ultimate Gambler. Being so painfully average in comparison, Makoto wonders if he’ll fit in in a school full of such potential. That quickly changes when he enters the school and is knocked unconscious. He later awakens to find the school entirely closed off from the outside world, and he and his fellow Ultimates later find that the school has been taken over by an evil bear named Monokuma, and in order to escape a student must murder another and get away with it. If they’re caught though, there’s no way out but execution. Thus ignites a killing game where Makoto must not only keep himself alive but, with the help of his classmates, also put a stop to the mastermind behind their kidnapping.
I’ll refrain from mentioning too much of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair‘s story to avoid spoilers for the first game, but it does basically follow the same formula. You play as Hajime Hinata, a high-school student enrolled at Hope’s Peak Academy but unable to remember his ‘Ultimate’ talent. Upon arriving at the school, he and his 15 fellow Ultimate students are greeted by Usami, a pink bunny similar to Monokuma in design. Usami claims to be their teacher and, to add to the student’s discomfort of having an anthropomorphic rabbit as their teacher, reveals that they are instead trapped on an isolated island known as Jabberwock Island. The island is later raided by Monokuma, who once again ignites a killing game that all of the students must take part in if they hope to escape.
It may seem like an idea that could easily become stale by the second game, but the superb writing of the Danganronpa games always crushes every possibility of monotony. Trigger Happy Havoc sports a fun cast of characters who initially refuse to trust each other but grow excellently over time and become some of the best developed characters you’ll find in a video game. There are specific events in the game dedicated to fleshing out each of the individual characters, which makes it sting a lot more once they take their bloody leave. While the first game’s characters are endearing and excellent in their own right, they don’t hold a candle to Danganronpa 2‘s incredible cast. The second time around the characters are put through hell and back, and by extension, so is the player. This is all a result of writer Kazutaka Kodaka’s amazing talent that will keep you gripping your controller for hours.
The stories, and in turn gameplay, for both these titles are split into two sides: Daily Life and Deadly Life. Daily Life takes place at the beginning of a story chapter, either introducing the story or following the previous events. It’s during these moments where you can take part in Free Time events, where the player gets to spend time with the characters in moments similar to Social Links from the Persona series. These flesh out the characters on the side of the main story and deliver unique conversations that increase the player’s attachment to them. It’s also during these moments where the player can reward a character with a present that can be bought by spending Monocoins, which are acquired by investigating certain areas and completing certain story events. Presents open up even more dialogue options for certain characters, depending on if the present resonates with them or not.
Deadly Life is the main meat of the game. This occurs after an Ultimate student has been murdered and consists of the investigations and Class Trials. The investigations are similar to those found in the Ace Attorney games where you search the crime scenes and related areas to obtain evidence in the form of Truth Bullets. These Truth Bullets can later be used in the Class Trials’s Non-Stop Debates to literally shoot down the contradictions in the characters’ testimonies in a bullet-hell mini-game. Other mini-games in the Class Trials include Hangman’s Gambit, where the player travels into the protagonist’s mind to remember a key word to progress the trials. A large group of random letters will float about the screen, and the player must shoot the ones that spell out the word. Bullet-Time Battles are rhythm based mini-games in which a character the protagonist is trying refuses to give up a certain stance, which is in most cases admitting they’re the culprit, so the player must time their attacks to the music, with the tempo gradually increasing. Finally, there are the Closing Arguments, in which the player must fully explain the case from the beginning by matching certain panels to a manga strip depicting the case. The images subtly hint at a certain event that caused an impact on the case, and the player must match them according to the chronological order in which they occurred. The second game introduces more on top of these to the Class Trials and improves the elements from the first game, but these four are the main structure of the Class Trials.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair know how to keep varied yet enticing gameplay throughout their entirety and keep the gameplay evenly paced with the story through being visual novels. This is undoubtedly the most fun you will ever have with a visual novel, as the investigations and Class Trials keep the player constantly longing to find the culprit and unveil the bigger picture behind the meaning of these killing games.
Being originally developed and released on the PSP in Japan and being visual novels, these games are certainly not the fanciest looking games you’ll find on the PS4, though a lot can be said for not only the amazing art style and character designs of Danganronpa but also the fantastic UI and visual flash the games have to offer. Being ports of the PC versions of the games, this collection helps these games look great, with the visuals bumped up to 1080p and 60 frames-per-second. The games have simply never looked better, fitting for their first ever release on home consoles. The English dubs introduced in NIS America’s localisations of the PlayStation Vita versions are also some of the best you’ll find in any video game localization, period. Especially in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Luckily for those who aren’t fans of English dubs as a whole though, the Japanese voiceovers have also been included for both games, which is a great option to have.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload combines two of the best games to come out of Japan in the past 10 years into one affordable bundle that every fan of Japanese games should play. The zany yet stylistic nature of the games should be enough to draw in any fan of visual novels, but combine that with some of the best storytelling in video games and enticing detective-styled gameplay, and you truly have two of the best video games ever made now easily at any PlayStation 4 fan’s disposal. Should you find yourself jumping into this world of Hope and Despair, you’ll surely exit having experienced some of the most fun characters ever and some of the most emotional moments by extension.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PS4, PSVita, PC
Release Date: 17th March 2017