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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

3
  • PSNV

You're never going to be bored in Hope's Peak Academy's wild world of murder, despair, and bears, but you might occasionally wonder why it's a game.

A group of people have been locked in a building, and the only way out is to kill one another. To most people, that sounds like yet another predictable entry in the Saw movies. But it's also part of "escape the room," a surprisingly lively subgenre of games familiar to players of the visual novels 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors, Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward, and others. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc even comes from Spike Chunsoft, the same developer of both 999 and VLR. This game happily follows in the genre's footsteps--sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. If you're looking for a narrative-driven experience unlike just about anything else out there, Danganronpa delivers handsomely and weirdly.

Besides you, every character in Danganronpa is one hell of an eccentric, but they're all reasonably fleshed out.

Danganronpa takes place in Hope's Peak Academy, an elite school for elite students. Only a select few are admitted every school year, and each must be the best of the best. In Danganronpa's world, these pupils are deemed ultimates. Sayaka Maizono, for example, is the "Ultimate Pop Sensation," Leon Kuwata is the "Ultimate Baseball Star," and Chihiro Fujisaki is the "Ultimate Programmer." Players are cast as Makoto Naegi, a humble but affable youngster who is, at first glance, unexceptional in every way. He's the "Ultimate Lucky Student," as he's been granted the opportunity to attend Hope's Peak Academy, despite his lack of special skills. As each student arrives at the school, they pass out. Upon awakening, the students introduce themselves to one another before meeting the master of ceremonies, Monokuma. He's a, uh, talking and murdering bear. (That's not really anymore ridiculous than the talking doll from Saw, to be fair.) The group has the option of living out the rest of their lives in the school, or "graduating" by killing one another. If you can get away with murder, you can leave.

From there, when you're not tapping through dialogue, the game transitions to a relationship simulator of sorts. Looking around unlocks tokens to buy presents from the school's store. These presents, if used appropriately, can advance your relationship with the other students. (But not in a sexual manner, from what I saw.) Sadly, with some rare exceptions, you don't learn much from these moments that wouldn't arrive via the main storyline. It's mostly a means to unlock new abilities for the courtroom portion of the game and gathering trophies. The lack of meaningful insight into the characters meant I'd often find myself picking which one to spend time with at random, simply hoping to advance the storyline to the next major beat. There is no real upside or downside to who you spend time with, as the story does not adjust based on your choices, and the abilities aren't necessary to complete the courtroom segments. It's a missed opportunity for a game that is, largely, all about its story.

The main storyline does spend plenty of time with the characters, though. And while Danganronpa has moments of shocking violence, unlike your typical horror, it's not entirely about the gore. In fact, Danganronpa even swaps the color of blood from red to pink. What makes Danganronpa different is context. The many quiet moments with each character give each death a sense of weight and loss, and while you should never grow attached, you will. Learning about Byakuya's ambitions for greatness as a means of living up to to his family lineage or Hina's secret desire for donuts in moments of weakness means each chapter and each death is not just a bodycount. Many of the characters are purposely unlikable, but their intentions are, often, logically justifiable and create a wild, unpredictable dynamic that unfolds over the game's 20ish hours.

As one might expect, it doesn't take long for things to go awry. Not everyone is content to stay inside for the rest of their lives, and murder(s) come quickly. When a body is discovered, the game transitions to an Ace Attorney-style investigation mode. Searching the world around you is easy enough, as tapping triangle brings up all the interactive parts of the environment. You can't really fail, as the game's story won't move forward until you have all the evidence that's available, which are stored in your inventory as "truth bullets." (As silly as this sounds--and it's definitely silly--the game's title is derived from the Japanese words for bullet and refutation.)

After you've clicked on everything, Monokuma will ask everyone to head to the school's basement, which happens to house a circular courtroom. (It has a bath house, so why not?) These hour-long unravelings of each murder(s) is where the meat of Danganronpa's gameplay takes place, and happen via a series of logic-based minigames. The most common one involves listening to a conversation between several different characters and pointing out a contradiction with either a piece of evidence from the crime scene or within the dialogue itself. These are the most fun, working as little riddles to tease out a new strand of truth. Every once and a while, there's a shooting gallery of letters used to play a game of Hangman, and when you're trying to completely break an argument, a quick rhythm game appears. Neither are very fun. However, every case closes with you arranging an elaborate comic outlining the murder from start to finish, which are easily the game's most enjoyable puzzles. A dozen more of these instead of a single game of Hangman would have been great.

The boring Hangman sections of Danganronpa are, thankfully, over almost as soon as they begin.

I found it hard not to scratch my head during the courtroom sequences, too. Danganronpa desperately wants to make its story interactive, and does so with a false sense of drama. The game trips over itself so your character is the one to solve everything, even if others have already figured it out and have zero motivation to keep it from you. Plus, for whatever reason, you have a health bar? Point out a contradiction that doesn't work or mess up the rhythm game too many times and, for whatever reason, you're dead. Logic be damned! Even if the whole case has been leading towards another killer, the game needs a game over screen, so it employs a contrived reason to generate one that doesn't have a ring of truth to the story. Besides setting up the game's trophies for solving cases without a single mistake and fulfilling a design desire for the player to somehow "lose," this does nothing but fuel a story twisting itself in knots to make sure the player has something to do.

But for a game that opens with a seemingly ridiculous premise, it finishes remarkably well. The ending is delightfully and daringly ambiguous, and most games wouldn't show this much restraint. Now, sure, if I were to tell you the game's ending, you might laugh. I wouldn't blame you. It sounds pretty goofy! But it works incredibly well within the world Danganopra sets up, and, hey, almost any game ending sounds goofy out of context.

Bears are dangerous. Who would put a bear in charge of a school? True horror.

For a game about subverting expectations, though, Danganropa is not one without its creepy moments. This is a game that has a character, Hifumi Yamada, meant to lampoon the unfair stereotype of an anime fan. He's fat, sweaty, and obsessed with 2D. It's really well written, and means Danganropa is acutely aware of its own genre tropes, both in and outside of the game. Despite this, it can't kick all of them. There is zero reason for one of the game's women to be shown in a provocative, seductive position on her bed, with her underwear fully on display...but it's there. Call it fanservice, call it whatever you want. It adds nothing to the game, and it's not part of a romantic relationship arc. Another scene involves the player being able to spy on the women in a bath house. It's only viewable if the player has a particular item from the school store, however, and is not presented as a "choice" for the player. It's unnecessary, the kind of thing where you have to hide your Vita in the middle of a bus ride, hoping you don't have to explain you're not looking at porn. Games are a medium that shouldn't shy away from sex and romance, but doing so requires a maturity not found here, and nothing in the story suggests these were needed.

(Another moment that should be mentioned is also a spoiler, so feel free to skip this paragraph, if you'd like. One character, whom I won't mention, has the discovery of their "true" gender used as a cheap plot device that's not handled with very much sensitivity.)

Though Danganronpa comes from a niche genre, I'm convinced it's only niche because more people haven't given it a chance. Visual novels have a bad reputation, albeit not entirely unearned. But don't let that stop you. As far as entry points go, Danganronpa is a great one, even if 999 and VLR are better games. If you like what you see here, more strangeness awaits you. Danganropa's tongue-twisting sci-fi (or is it?) narrative will have you constantly second guessing, and while the game-y parts aren't its strongest point, they work well enough.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
118 Comments
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Edited by Milpool

Boom

Posted by Snail

Surprise review!

Edited by Tampler

Monokuma was a pretty awesome Baddie. Genuinely made me laugh several times.

Edited by Popogeejo

Dang it, Ron Paul!

Seriously though, nice to see this game getting a review here. having read the fan translated LP I thought this would slip under the radar being so niche. Thanks, Skoops.

Edited by Atwa

WHAT

I never expected to see a Danganronpa review on Giantbomb! I love it!

Posted by Milkman

Anime editor Patrick Klepek on the case!

Posted by AlisterCat

I'm not interested in getting gameplay from a visual novel. The logic puzzle elements in Phoenix Wright are about as much as I want. This sounds perfect for me.

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Posted by Generic_username

I'm glad you tried to look at the ridiculousness of the story through the lense of "well, this is ridiculous, but so are a lot of western pieces of entertainment." You gave the game a fair shake, and the review still sounds completely honest. I also agree that sometimes fanservice can be really hard to sit through, too.

Edited by JayDubya

An 3 out of 5 bums me out as I loved Virtue's Last Reward. I'll read Scoops review to know why it got that score.
[EDIT] Looks like the game sections aren't that interesting; shame but no biggy. I still want to play it.

@patrickklepek The game is, with 20 hours, a lot shorter than VLR, isn't it?
How many endings are there? I bet not 24 like VLR.

Posted by Lausebub

This read a bit more like a 4 to me, but nevertheless, I'm glad that you actually played through the whole thing.

I haven't picked it up myself yet and plan to give 999 a shot first, since the iOS version is coming out next week. I always liked the concept of visual novels, but never really played any. Unless you count stuff like Hotel Dusk or Prof. Layton.

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Posted by DragoonZero
Posted by Suits

@snail: Yup, he definitely didn't anounce it in Bombin' the AM or anything

Edited by HammondofTexas

So... is this game about Anime?

Posted by MormonWarrior

Whoa what? Three stars? He always seemed so positive on it in the morning shows. Even yesterday he sounded like he'd wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone that likes these kinds of games.

Posted by AlisterCat

Also, Patrick, you sound like you'd hate Phoenix Wright for exactly the same reasons. Information being kept from you by allies, health bar, instant failure at the end of a health bar no matter where the logic of the case is going.

Still, you should really give those games a shot if you haven't already. There was one last year and the crossover coming soon.

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Posted by aquacadet

@milkman said:

Anime editor Patrick Klepek on the case!

Posted by Video_Game_King

you might occasionally wonder why

That guy who wrote all the words at the top

Yes, this describes my general reaction to this franchise.

Edited by Zeeco

It's really cool that Patrick will cover a lot of the games that the other guys won't. I know they don't really have the manpower to cover a lot of the niche stuff, but it's nice to see Patrick stepping outside of his "gaming comfort zone". I'll agree though that this read a bit more like a 4 than a 3.

Edited by Bocam

@patrickklepek Regarding that one character I don't remember anything insensitive being said. It was basically "They were a [spoiler]!?!" and then they move on. Though I may be mistaken as I played Danganronpa back when It first came out it japanese on the PSP.

Posted by officer_falcon

I also really disliked how it handled the Game Over lose state. Save for a few instances, having the main character become the convicted feels very contrived. It would seem it would make more sense to make the justification something more along the lines of the class failed to find the true culprit and thus they all die. That's the entire point of finding the correct character anyways. It's something small but always irked me about the game.

Posted by HerbieBug

hot

Posted by smcn

On one hand, I'm glad the sequel is coming to the USA.

On the other hand, it sucks that the fan translation is therefore cancelled. The first one was really good and I'm poor.

Posted by MetalBaofu

It would seem it would make more sense to make the justification something more along the lines of the class failed to find the true culprit and thus they all die.

Maybe I'm misunderstanding your statement, but that is exactly what the game says. If everyone votes wrong, then everyone dies except the actual culprit.

Posted by Fatalis

@jaydubya:

I think he gave it a 3 based on the merit that he's putting more weight on the gameplay portion of the game, which makes sense.

But I think even if the game was a pure visual novel it would still work well.

Rather than a game, if you look at it more as a VN with some mini game sections, I think it would be scored more favorably.

Your mileage definitely may vary on how much you enjoy the gameplay, but the story is real reason to play this game.

Posted by Morningstar

Truth bullets!

Posted by officer_falcon

@metalbaofu:

Maybe I'm not remembering that part correctly. I thought the dialog said that the class ends up voting for the main character.

Edited by JackiJinx

@jaydubya: Just finished this game last week, and there are two endings. If you get the bad ending, you just redo one section and move on.

Once you get the true ending, an alternative mode is unlocked and it's pretty much solely based upon socializing with everyone. It's considered the alternative scenario, and the gameplay part of it involves collecting materials and cleaning the school. Might now sound like fun, but I found it a great part of the game as well.

FYI, as someone who thoroughly enjoyed 999 and VLR, I don't think this game is quite the exact same as those two as most of the mysteries can be figured out after gathering one or two investigation clues, and so the only big mystery is the one I ended up pondering over for awhile, and one other case in the game.

That said, I definitely still loved this game and appreciate how Persona-y it is. The court gameplay part I could live without a little bit as the back tapping parts were kinda annoying when it came to the whitenoise, but it was otherwise an interesting approach to how to handle that style.

My overall thoughts: great game, no huuuuge surprises though enough to keep you going, lovely characters (especially Monokuma), and I'd say 4/5 with the extra unlocked content considered.

Posted by LiK

This is one of my fave games this year. A lil disappointed Patrick got hung up on a few things I didn't really find that bothersome. But I'm glad he finished it so his review is fair even though I disagree with some points. Hope you check out the sequel.

Posted by soundlug

Disappointed of the review. I understand his point gameplay wise but his complaints story and tone wise are kind of all over the place.

Edited by drac96

Well, from this review it sounds like Patrick won't really like the gameplay of Ace Attorney either.

Posted by Random45

Most unexpected review ever?

Probably.

Posted by Haze

I freaking love this game. Its like Persona and Phoenix Wright had a psychotic baby.

Posted by mattscout007

Despite the score, it's very clear that Patrick really enjoyed the game. Great news! I knew it was in the vein of 999 and VLR, can't wait to play it!

Posted by MjHealy

#TruthBullets

Posted by Solh0und

Guess I'll wait for it to be part of a PSN sale.

Edited by Bobbyr

Totally agree with the flaws that Scoops mentions especially gameplay wise. Not sure a whole paragraph is worth a couple of scenes of fan service though (one of which I never came across). Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending it. It's super dumb and eye rolly (if that's a term haha) but I was pleasantly surprised that was the only pandering thing I saw. Heck, I'd even say there's more fan service in Persona 4

Posted by hollitz

I'd argue that Danganronpa is better than 999 but not VLR. 999 is terribly written or maybe just terribly translated.

I had a lot of the same issues with the stupid fan service and general tone deafness regarding any character that wasn't just a cis-type male, but I've come to expect that kind of stuff from Japanese games. That's not an excuse for it being there, but maybe just a reason that it didn't bother me as much as it might have if it came from a developer in the states.

Really glad Patrick took the time to play it and write up a review, even if our thoughts on the game differ. Keep seekin out wierd shit, Patrick!

Posted by EskimoSnow

@jaydubya:

I bought this to scratch that VLR/999 itch and it does scratch it but it's just not on that level but it'd have to be a REALLY fantastic game to be close to VLR/999.

Posted by CharAznable

Man, this is way too Japanese for me.

Posted by heatDrive88

You know how you become the official anime games review editor?

YOU WRITE A REVIEW ABOUT AN ANIME VIDEO GAME.

Posted by Seroth

About what I expected. Based on gameplay alone, I would've given the game the same score, but the lasting impression the characters made on me would give it an additional star in my book.

Awesome that Patrick played through all of it. I hope he moves on to Ace Attorney. He expresses familiarity with that series, but I don't think he's actually played through one of them, and since the rest of the Giant Bomb crew ignored Ace Attorney 5, I'd love to see Patrick tackle it. The AA series has, I feel, infinitely superior court room segments compared to Danganronpa, as the puzzles in AA are pretty much 100% logic based, focusing on using truth bullets (or "evidence" as Ace Attorney games call them) to prove your theories, rather than the arbitrary hangman and rhythm games in Danganronpa.

Posted by funkpanda

Man. I hate when they do a review for games they don't have a quick look for.

Posted by EskimoSnow

It's unnecessary, the kind of thing where you have to hide your Vita in the middle of a bus ride, hoping you don't have to explain you're not looking at porn.

That's totally over the top, porn without any nudity? We don't all consider lingerie catalogues pornography.

Edited by patrickklepek

It's unnecessary, the kind of thing where you have to hide your Vita in the middle of a bus ride, hoping you don't have to explain you're not looking at porn.

That's totally over the top, porn without any nudity? We don't all consider lingerie catalogues pornography.

False equivalency. When I'm browsing a lingerie catalog, I know what's inside a lingerie catalog.

Staff
Posted by TheManWithNoPlan

I really wish I had a Vita to play this.

Posted by MetalBaofu

@metalbaofu:

Maybe I'm not remembering that part correctly. I thought the dialog said that the class ends up voting for the main character.

When you lose during a trial they do vote for you, but that means they picked wrong so they all die except the real killer.

Posted by EskimoSnow

@patrickklepek:

I just wanted to trick you into saying you read lingerie catalogs, gotcha! Although I honestly expect the worst in terms of letching over women in Japanese games but this wasn't bad at all. Although the image you posted on neogaf was the one time where I felt it was unnecessary but I'd hardly be embarrassed by what I saw. I am European though and I'm riding naked on a horse through the town centre as I type this.

Posted by JackiJinx

@patrickklepek: True, though I feel those moments are so few and far between. Besides, we are talking about an M rated game here. I don't think it'd be appropriately to play in public because of the violence more so than the nudity. Most of those corpses go through a lot of physical trauma.

I consider it cultural differences. In Japan, that sort of peeking is a lot more common, so it's not as big of a deal, which is probably why it's in the game in the first place. Not that I'm saying that I like seeing upskirts. I'd prefer games avoid that in games, but I'm not going to let two minor scenes ruin the game for me. I'll take it for Danganronpa, but won't take it for Ninja Gaiden or Soul Calibur. There's a line.

Edited by AlexanderSheen

This is definitely a Patrick review.

Posted by officer_falcon

@metalbaofu:

So I did remember it correctly. That part still annoys me, mostly due to its context. I feel it doesn't make sense to vote for the main character when the at the point of the trial where you Game Over the accusations and presented evidence thus far usually points to one of the other characters. I would have much preferred it to be left ambiguous as to who the class actually chose.

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