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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review


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On 03/17/2014 at 12:00 PM by Nick DiMola

It's so good, I can bear-ly stand it!
RECOMMENDATION:

A must-have for all fans of Zero Escape, Phoenix Wright, Persona, or visual novels.

If there’s one thing that Spike Chunsoft has proven, it’s that they know how to make a damn good visual novel. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is their latest title to be localized to America and it stands up to the high standards set by their Zero Escape series. While similar in premise, Danganronpa eschews the puzzle-based design and offers up a unique gameplay style that blends Ace Attorney, Persona Social Links, and a touch of Rhythm Heaven. It all comes together to form a gripping and zany experience that doesn’t let up till the credits roll.

Danganronpa opens with a stunned Makoto Naegi who’s shocked to learn that he’s been invited to Hope’s Peak Academy. You see, he’s a completely average Joe and completely average Joes don’t get to go to the prestigious Hope’s Peak. Each year’s class is extremely small, including only fifteen students to be exact, and each student is exceptional in some way. Whether they’re the Ultimate Gambler, the Ultimate Martial Artist, or the Ultimate Affluent Progeny, they all have something that makes them special; all of them except Makoto Naegi, of course. As his acceptance letter comes to state, he’s only been accepted to Hope’s Peak because he’s the Ultimate Lucky Student – a mere stroke of luck.

Upon arriving at Hope’s Peak, it quickly becomes clear that he might not be quite as lucky as the letter makes him out to be. Along with the fourteen other Ultimate students, he’s been barricaded within the walls of the school by a strange mechanical teddy bear named Monokuma who’s instituted a killing game of sorts. In order to “graduate” from their new school, a student must kill another and get away with it; otherwise they will be locked in the school indefinitely. As the game proceeds, students are subjected to more rules, new motives, and crazier twists to keep the bizarre plot moving forward.

Of course, the initial rules serve as enough motive to put everyone on edge at the start, fearing that their future assailant or murderer might be standing right next to them. Naturally, this culminates in a murder, which is where Danganronpa really takes a note out of the Ace Attorney book. You’ll need to search the crime scene and various spots around the school in order to gather evidence for the impending class trial. As a group, the students must identify the “blackened” among them so they may face “punishment” (AKA death) for disturbing the peace.

Thanks to the user interface, it’s very easy to search for clues in the environment. A tap of a button will illuminate all of the hot spots in the room that require a look. Unfortunately, these hot spots don’t disappear or change color as you investigate them, but at least knowing where to look is a huge help. There’s also a quick warp around the school via the map, and exclamation point indicators showing you what rooms or people you need to link up with during the investigation.

However, things aren’t quite as smooth when you hit the trial. Here, you need to use the evidence you collected as “truth bullets” to shoot down comments made by classmates that are contradictory to your known facts. As the trial progresses, the details of the murder come into greater clarity, thanks to information other students collected in the field. It’s all scripted, of course, but it’s great fun trying to figure out whodunit before the trial spells it out for you.

If you play on the harder setting, each trial that passes makes the truth bullet system more and more complicated, which became quite frustrating at times. Despite the fact that you might know exactly what’s up, it can be tough to pick the right phrase to shoot down with the right truth bullet. The class trials are also extremely long, especially later in the game, so it might be best to play on the easier setting to avoid these frustrations.

Once you’ve reached a point where you’ve got the suspect on the ropes, the trial switches into a rhythm-based mini-game that has you shooting down their phrases and lowering their health bar. Once it hits zero, you shoot one final truth bullet to incriminate them. After some short dialog, you’ll assemble a comic strip that lays out the entire sequence of events, putting a close to the trial. This too can be a bit annoying at times because it’s not always clear from the small pictures, exactly what the designers were trying to represent. That being said, there’s no real penalties for messing up along the way, allowing you infinite retries if you mess it up.

Due to the nature of the game, it’s hard to say much about the fantastic story that undercuts it or the various twists and turns that make it so loveable. At the start of the game, you’re overwhelmed with all of the new characters, their patently Japanese names, and their quirky personalities. As time goes on, you become attached to this ragtag crew, thanks in part to the Persona-esque social linking you do in your spare time. You’ll learn more about them and even have the opportunity to give them a present, which if gifted properly, will unlock skills to make the trials easier.

With all of the story progression and relationship building, you really start to feel like you know these characters, which makes it all the more devastating when they show up dead or are convicted. It’s truly a testament to the strong writing (and localization) of Danganronpa.

If you like the Zero Escape games and have a Vita at the ready, I can’t recommend Danganronpa enough. It’s a phenomenal experience that had me hooked from beginning to end. Even when I wasn’t playing it, I was thinking about it, and it’s not often that a game can do that. With a lengthy story and copious post-game content, you can’t go wrong with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:


All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.


These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.


This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.


Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.


Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.


A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.


 

Comments

bullet656

03/17/2014 at 12:38 PM

I had never heard about this game prior to this review, and now I really want it.  Being a fan of Zero Escape, Ace Attorney, and the social links aspect of Persona, this game really looks like something I would enjoy. 

Nick DiMola Director

03/17/2014 at 01:43 PM

Well then, this one is right up your alley. I definitely suggest giving it a go if you've got a Vita.

BrokenH

03/17/2014 at 01:29 PM

I could like this. It's pretty much a Persona flavored version of Battle Royale! (A Japanese movie about sudents sent to a remote island to kill each other off) Seems to be kind of a popular theme right now. I don't know what that says about human nature. Tongue Out

Nick DiMola Director

03/17/2014 at 01:47 PM

Well, funny enough, the plot you just described (from what I understand) is the plot for the sequel, which continues the story of this game. NIS will be localizing that one as well for release later this year.

I absolutely adored this game and I think anybody else could too, assuming they don't mind reading through a lot of dialog and putting up with some of the more annoying idiosyncrasies of the class trials.

Alex-C25

03/17/2014 at 05:06 PM

If I get a Vita, this might be the first game I buy. I'm already a fan of the saga because of the anime adaptation that was localized last year before the game, so even though I know the story, I haven't really experienced the character development of the games and the social link system.

Just if you didn't know, the game was already popular here in the west thanks to a Something Awful Let's Play that got the attention of everybody.

daftman

03/18/2014 at 07:03 PM

Wow, this sounds great! I have copies of 999 and Virtue's Last Reward that still need playing, though, so I'll hold off getting it. And maybe, like VLR, it will shop up on PS+ Smile

Super Step Contributing Writer

03/22/2014 at 03:07 PM

Sounds good, wish it were on DS. What is it with murderous teddy bears lately?

jgusw

03/28/2014 at 07:38 AM

I'll keep my eye on this one.  

xDarthKiLLx

04/05/2014 at 06:19 PM

sounds badass.  Makes me wish I had a Vita..I still want to get one, just gonna wait til I catch one at the right price.

Persona-style social links?  I'm all about that.

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