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DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) artwork

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) review

"Puhuhu... puhuhuhuhu.... (ʳ ´º㉨ϟ)ʳ"

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a game that wears its influences on its sleeve. With an art style inspired by Persona, gameplay elements borrowed from Ace Attorney, and a story reminiscent of Zero Escape, DanganRonpa is a quality visual novel that can't help but feel a little derivative.

The game begins with your player character, Makoto Naegi, somehow getting accepted into the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy, despite being completely average in every way. Students of Hope's Peak are said to be the best of the best at what they do, be it computer programming, writing, or even gambling. Makoto is simply known as the Ultimate Lucky Student, for literally winning a spot at the school in a contest in which he didn't even know he was an entrant.

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) image

Makoto can't really be that lucky, since he immediately blacks out upon arriving at the school and wakes up in a bizarre classroom with giant metal plates blocking the windows. After wandering around for a little while, he meets up with 14 other students, and they meet their captor, a strange mechanical black and white teddy bear, wearing half of a sinister, toothy grin. This bear, Monokuma (a mix of Persona 4's Teddie and Zero Escape's Zero III), explains that they will be trapped in the school together for the rest of their lives, unless they can “graduate.” The only way to graduate is to murder someone, and make it through a Class Trial without being exposed. If the murderer is found guilty by his or her peers, they are “punished” (executed), but if the wrong person is found guilty, the murderer will be awarded their freedom, and everyone else will be punished instead.

It's a very interesting premise that's reminiscent Zero Escape's Nonary Game in some ways. The characters must work together to survive, all the while suspecting that someone in their group is secretly the enemy.

Each chapter is broken into three phases. First comes the Daily Life phase, where the characters explore the school and interact with each other and try to get along. DanganRonpa features a social link system, similar to the Persona series, where you can choose to spend your free time with other characters to learn a bit more about them. These conversations don't affect the gameplay at all, and it's impossible to get to know everyone during a single playthrough, though there's an unlockable bonus mode after completing the game that will give you as much time as you want to get to know everyone.

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) image

At some point in each chapter, someone will die, starting the Deadly Life phase. During this phase, you'll examine crime scenes and talk to people to gather information and evidence to use in the third phase, the Class Trial phase, which, unlike the other phases, is fully voiced. “DanganRonpa” translates to “Winning an argument with a bullet,” and the Class Trial phase is where the game's title starts to make sense. No, you won't literally be shooting anyone to shut them up (as satisfying as that would sometimes be), but evidence and arguments are represented by bullets, which you can fire at contradictory statements to argue against them. The trial phase consists of several minigames, which mostly seem pretty unnecessary. Aside from aiming evidence at lies in the Non Stop Debate game, there's the Hang Man's Gambit game where you'll play hangman by shooting letters out of the air to complete the word Makoto is thinking of. There's also the totally pointless Bullet Time Battle game, which is played when a character is being stubborn. You'll press buttons to target stubborn phrases, shoot them, and reload, all to the beat of a simple song. None of these things are particularly fun or interesting, and these moments would be just as interesting but less irritating with simple dialogue choices.

One interesting mechanic from the climax of each trial phase is the moment where you recap the entire crime using a comic book-style storyboard, filling in missing panels yourself. It's a good way to show your total understanding of the situation, though it calls attention to DanganRonpa's biggest flaw: its tendency to repeat itself.

It feels like DanganRonpa doesn't trust you to remember or understand anything. It repeats every important piece of information half a dozen (or more) times. Certain scenes will be flashed back to so many times you'll start mashing the X button every time you see the screen turn sepia toned. This isn't just for the more complicated later trials, either. Certain cases are much more straightforward than others. One egregious example comes from the very first case, when you find a word written upside down in blood and its meaning is very, very obvious to the player, which means you'll likely solve the case right then and there. The characters, however, don't even recognize it as a word, and are completely baffled by what it could mean. This word is shown to you many, many times throughout the trial, until the characters finally realize what it means at the trial's climax and the case is solved. It makes the entire trial phase seem completely pointless. If you were really taking part, you could stand in the middle of the room and explain the whole situation in 30 seconds and that would be that (thankfully, that's the game's low point, and anything else it beats you over the head with is at least a bit more complicated and vague than that).

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (Vita) image

The murder cases aren't always interesting, but the overarching plot is more than worth playing for. The most interesting elements are things that other visual novels have handled better, but it's a mix of story elements that mostly works well. The ending is a mixed bag, with an interesting idea for a situation that is sadly under detailed.

The cast of characters, while largely one-dimensional, is varied and mostly intersting. Some characters are great, like giant martial arts master Sakura and Ultimate Biker Gang leader Mondo. Pop singer Sayaka, on the other hand, couldn't possibly be more boring. The player character, Makoto, feels like a one-size-fits-all suit the player is supposed to wear. He's technically a character with his own personality, but he's so dull it feels like he only exists to give the other characters a way to talk to you. He's also strangely short, about eye level with most characters' crotches when you're exploring the school with the first person view.

The art style is surreal and perfectly fits the tone of the game. Lights in the school's hallways are brightly coloured, giving each section its own colour theme. Classrooms have strange messages written on the blackboards, with gaudy wallpaper that you'd never seen in a public place in the real world. Giant steel slabs cover all of the windows, held into place by bolts that aren't straight or uniformly sized. Monokuma seems to be drawn with thicker, messier lines than the human characters The game's art style is a strange mix of 3D environments with 2D objects and characters. The walls are slanted and everything looks a bit (or a lot) dreamlike and “off.”

DanganRonpa is a mix of new ideas with borrowed elements, both in its mechanics and in its story, never quite reaching the heights of the games it borrows from. The visual novel genre still doesn't have much of a presence in North America, with only the best of the best making it here from Japan, and DanganRonpa doesn't quit stand as tall as its contemporaries like Ace Attorney and Zero Escape. It's more on the level of Hotel Dusk, which is to say, while it's not the cream of the visual novel crop, it's still a very good game in its own right, and fans of those other games should definitely consider playing DanganRonpa. It might not blow your mind, but you'll still find plenty to love.


Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (February 10, 2014)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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Germ posted February 19, 2014:

Your review has me very interested in this game. How many hours would you say you got out of your first playthrough?

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