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Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

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Phoenix Wright meets 999

I'll be honest with you. Before playing Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the first time, I had to dust off my PS Vita, charge it up for a few hours and install a stack of updates. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time I've gone through these motions in order to play a game on this handheld, as the software library just hasn't been that appealing to me. To give you some perspective, the last game I played was Persona 4: The Golden. According to my Backloggery page, I finished it on April 5th, 2013. 

Of course, this is just how I've fared, and I'm sure there are loads of games out there that many others have had a good time with. Saying that, there are a fair few titles coming out soon that have my interest, including Mind Zero, Project Diva F 2nd and of course, Danganronpa

But would this odd-looking bear and his devilish personality ultimately win me over, or would my Vita find itself banished back to a dark corner to patiently await the next game? You're just going to have to read on and find out.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PS Vita)
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher:
NIS America
Release date: October 10, 2013 (JP), February 11, 2014 (NA), February 14, 2014 (EU)
MSRP: $39.99/€39.99/£29.99

Hope's Peak Academy is the most prestigious school around, where only the finest students are offered the opportunity to attend. It is said that anyone that graduates from the academy will be set for life, so those lucky enough to be given an invitation are very quick to snap it up. However, students aren't expected to be the best at everything; rather, they each excel in one particular area. Joining the cast is the 'Ultimate Baseball Star', the 'Ultimate Clairvoyant' and the 'Ultimate Fanfic Creator', among others. Our hero, Makoto Naegi, has been picked at random to attend, even though he doesn't have a specialty to speak of. He is the 'Ultimate Lucky Student'. 

However, it turns out that this academy isn't what everyone was expecting. The students all wake up to discover themselves within the school, with no apparent way to escape. Greeted by Monokuma, the odd bear-like creature above, they discover that the only way they can ever leave the school is to graduate, or else they will spend the rest of their lives confined there. To graduate, all you must do is kill another student and get away with it. If you get caught, you're dead! However, it's not quite as simple as completing a murder without people seeing you do it, as you must make sure you're not selected as the murderer (known as the 'blackened') in a trial conducted by all of the students involved. If you get away with it, then you're free to leave the school while everyone else dies. If you get caught, you will die and the rest of the students get to continue living in the school. 

During the exploration portions of the game, Danganronpa plays much like a typical visual novel. You can talk with other students in the school, both for investigation purposes and to get to know people better. By talking to other students, and maybe giving them a present, you can raise your friendship level with them and acquire useful skills to use during trials. It's very important to build relationships with the other students, if only to increase your overall chances of survival. You can also make use of the 'Re:Action' system, which allows you to press students for more information on particular topics if their dialogue appears pink, like in the image above. It makes the speech segments much more involved, which is a nice departure from what can be a dull click-fest in other visual novels.

Moving about the map and exploring individual rooms in the school is done in 3D, from a first-person perspective. It's unconventional, but it works rather well and isn't at all jarring like you might assume. It adds a lot more depth to exploration in particular, as you can maneuver the camera around to look for clues that'll help you find a killer. While looking around and interacting with objects, you might find a 'Monokuma Coin' or two, which you can spend in a special gashapon machine in the school shop. This is how you can obtain presents, which you'll find incredibly useful when building friendships. There are 114 different presents to register, good news for the completionists out there!

When you're not chilling out, investigating or stumbling upon murders, you're in the 'court room' with the other students attempting to deduce the identity of a culprit. It's a thorough process as you might expect, given that everyone's lives are at stake, so trials are comprised of four different modes. The first, called 'Non-Stop Debate', sees your fellow students discussing a particular point of the murder. You need to pay attention to what is being said, looking for false statements and/or lies, 'shooting' them with a 'truth bullet' by moving a reticle on-screen. Shooting a false statement allows you to present evidence and move proceedings along. You can also lose 'Influence' by shooting statements that are correct, or by presenting the wrong evidence, and you'll get a game over if you lose it all. Non-Stop Debates make up the largest part of the trial.

At certain points in the trial you may get to participate in a 'Hangman's Gambit' or a 'Bullet Time Battle'. The former is a word puzzle that you need to solve, which reveals a word that adds a new idea to the debate. You'll have to guess what the word is by looking at what letters you already have, as well as where the missing letters are, in a process very similar to Hangman. Once you've figured it out, you must shoot the letters that are missing while they appear on the screen. The word will be related to something you've already noticed in your investigation, but even so the first Hangman's Gambit you encounter took me a little while to solve. It was quite the eureka moment once I figured it out, as the current debate topic moved in a logical direction in response.

Bullet Time Battles may sound like fun, but they're possibly the biggest let down in the whole game. They represent an argument over how something transpired during the murder, so you must disprove opponents' statements by...completing a rhythm mini-game? To the beat of the music, you push 'cross' to select a statement and 'triangle' to destroy it, and this continues for a short period while the speed of the beat increases. While not awful, it just doesn't have a place among the other modes. Each of the other three modes has a deduction element, and conveys a real feeling that the debate is progressing towards its conclusion. Bullet Time Battles simply feel like filler.

Rounding it all off is the 'Closing Argument', during which you must complete a manga version of the murder and all of the events that transpire thereafter. Some of the panels are filled in for you, and you must drop small buttons depicting different scenes into the blank panels in order to complete your summary. Makoto will then summarize the argument, making the culprit squirm as you figure out exactly what happened. This serves as a great way to recap the murder, as some players may find it hard to keep track of everything. You've now discovered the killer, and after everyone agrees with your deduction, you must watch helplessly as Monokuma "punishes" the criminal. [Editor's Note: I'm pretty sure I don't want to know what that means.]

Danganronpa is also packed full of options and features, including two alterable game difficulties. These can be set to Gentle, Kind and Mean, so if you want a bit of a challenge or fancy replaying the game at some point, you may want to consider altering the difficulty. You also have the option to use English or Japanese voices, with no need to download voice packs or pay extra for DLC. The main menu is packed full of empty galleries to fill up over the course of the game, and while these are pretty common in visual novels, it does give you handy access to the animated cutscenes, which are one of the best parts of the game. 

For the most part, the soundtrack does a great job of matching the mood of the events on-screen, while also managing to sound unique to this game. There are a few songs that are rather disappointing in that they could belong in any generic visual novel, but for the most part I'm more than satisfied listening to the soundtrack. As for dialogue, the students are only voiced in key scenes, and usually those that feature Monokuma. This means that for the most part you'll be reading through text with only a few grunts and laughs to accompany the background music. It's not really a surprise, and it doesn't really hamper the game in any way.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is proof that there's still plenty of life left in the visual novel genre. It offers a quirky cast that quickly grasps your interest, while never needing to use them as a crutch to hold up the gameplay. As superb as the character interaction is, it's the courtroom battles that really steal the show, and they will prove the deciding factor in whether or not this game becomes one of your all-time favorites. Sure, there's a few blemishes here and there, but nothing that stops it from serving as evidence that the PlayStation Vita has some life left in it yet. 

9 – Superb (9s are a hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage to what is a supreme title.)


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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc reviewed by Chris Walden

9

SUPERB

A hallmark of excellence. There may be flaws, but they are negligible and won't cause massive damage.
How we score:  The Japanator reviews guide

 
 
 

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Chris Walden
Chris WaldenContributor   gamer profile

Some say that he can breathe Some say that he can jump over a All we know is that he's Brittanian, and that we are all He's on Twitter though: more + disclosures


 



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