First released for the PSP in Japan on November 25, 2010, Dangan-Ronpa is a detective adventure game about a group of high school kids trapped in a school building by a sadistic mastermind and told their only way to escape is by killing each other. The game borrows heavily in structure and execution from the Ace Attorney franchise, but adds its own action/rhythm twist to the court phases. Literally, the game's name translates to "bullet-arguing down: academy of hope and high-school students of despair". A universal iOS version of Dangan-Ronpa for the iPhone and iPad was released on August 20, 2012.
In the middle of Tokyo stands Kibougamine (Hope's Peak) Academy, a private prestigious high school shroud in mystery. It is told many of Japan's elite are graduates. The school does not accept applications, and scouts for students on its own. Rumor says you have to be the top in your field to be asked in.
Makoto Naegi, a thoroughly normal high-school kid, is surprised to get an acceptance letter from the academy, saying he was chosen by lottery from among Japan's high-schoolers to attend school as "the top in good luck". However, when he gets to the academy an hour early on the first day of school, Makoto soon feels dizzy and loses his consciousness, waking up later alone in a strange classroom marked by security cameras and thick metal plates barring the windows.
Makoto finds his way back to the entry hall where he meets the other 14 new students - a strange bunch of kids ranging from the nation's top high-school programmer to the nation's top high-school baseball player and the nation's top teen idol pop-star. The group is not left confused for long - they are quickly confronted by Mono Bear - a weird moving, talking plush teddy bear - who informs them he is the school's headmaster, that they are trapped inside the school building for life, and that the only way to "graduate" and escape is to kill on of their fellow classmates.
The game is divided into 6 chapters, each consisting of three stages:
- High school Life: The player explores the school and interacts with the other characters in typical adventure game style. The school halls are traversed in first person 3D, while rooms are shown in a panoramic view that can be tilted to different angles. The game takes place over many days - some of these are led by pre-scripted events that must be followed linearly, while others allow the player to choose which characters to interact with. By spending time with the other classmates, the player can discover more about their background and also receive some special abilities that enhance gameplay while exploring or in the court action phases.
- investigation: Once a murder occurs, the game shifts to investigation mode. While interaction remains the same, the player has to focus on investigating the scene and interviewing characters, collecting "word bullets" - pieces of evidence that act as the weapon in the court phase.
- Court: Makoto and his classmates enact a school trial, where they try to find out and accuse the culprit. As opposed to the adventure parts, this section is fully voiced. The court phase consists of some regular multiple-choice decisions, but most of it is devoted to an array of mini-games: in "Endless Argument" characters discuss the argument in real time, while their statements fly over the screen. The player must find a contradiction with pieces of evidence and shoot them with the appropriate word bullet. In "Flashing Anagram" the player must complete a word that makes the mystery clearer by shooting the correct letters as they fly by. "Climax Reasoning" takes place near the end of the trial - the murder is displayed in the form of a comic strip and players must place missing panels in their correct location. The final mini-game, "Machine-gun Battle" is a rhythm game where the player must break the accused character's arguments by shooting them to a beating rhythm.
Dangan-Ronpa was never localized into other languages but a group named Project Zetsubou released an unofficial English version of the game's demo on October 6, 2012. Project Zetsubou is also currently working on creating a full translation patch for Dangan-Ronpa as well as the game's sequel Super Dangan-Ronpa 2. An English fandub was also created for the Dangan-Ronpa demo on April 19, 2013 which was produced by Michaela Laws with support from the Zetsubou Team.
- In order to hide the identity of the first death, Spike not only planted fake imagery showing the victim alive during the court phase in press screenshots and trailer footage, but also changed the character for the playable demo that was available on PSN prior to the game's release.
- The game boasts an impressive array of veteran a-list voice actors, but chief among them is Nobuyo Oyama, who was the voice of Japan's cat-robot icon Doraemon for over 25 years. She uses an eerily-similar voice to great effect as the evil sadistic Mono Bear.