Analog Addiction recently reviewed Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, praising the newly released port of the original 2010 PSP release.
Following the tale of 15 students attending Hope’s Peak Academy, we are introduced to the deadly game these individuals must play. Trapped inside the Academy these students will only be released if they successfully murder a fellow classmate without being detected. If you succeed you are given your freedom, and your classmates face execution. Fail, and you are the one facing punishment.
Danganronpa is a unique experience for PlayStation Vita owners. During this feature, AA’s Jaime Sifontes (who originally reviewed Danganronpa) and PlayStation editor Jamie Briggs will thoroughly discuss Danganronpa, giving their opinions on a vast array of aspects regarding this murder mystery experience.
Jaime Sifontes I still cannot believe Danganronpa made it out of Japan. A visual novel murder mystery with the aesthetic it is providing was not something I would have bet on anyone localizing, but now you and I have it in our hands. Granted, I am sure the expectations were likely set at different levels. My experience in this genre is a tad more vast that yours Jamie, but I have to ask – as someone who has barely touched a visual novel in the past, what were your expectations coming into this?
Jamie Briggs I had followed Danganronpa before launch and the trailers were certainly out there, but the premise had me intrigued. As you said this is my first experience playing a title in this genre aside from a small taste of Virtue’s Last Reward. However, my experience was extremely positive as it seemed to combine the adventure aspect of titles I love such as The Walking Dead, with the memorable characters and dense story I enjoyed from Persona 4: Golden.
I would have to say above all, the characters were my favourite aspect throughout Danganronpa. They are all unique and memorable in their own way, not to mention they have some amazing voice acting talent behind them. The written dialogue is excellent and the lines are done superbly, giving each character their own distinct personality. Let us not forget Monokuma, who became one of the most intriguing antagonists I have experienced.
How did you feel about his character? Were you happy with how his character was developed and implemented?
Jaime Sifontes Well with a visual novel, you have to have great dialogue to really stand out from the rest. As you said, Monokuma stole the show with his playful yet disturbing monologues. That said, his role of antagonist was much more watch and see – an overseer rather than a direct instigator. So seeing his reactions in regards to the events of the story is where you get his most colourful words of wisdom.
He is not the most captivating villain I have encountered in this genre, but he is undoubtedly the most unique. And in terms of voice acting, I would say his performance comes a strong second – the final scenes revealed quite the standout. It also follows that rule of thumb for this type of story/game: save the best for last.
Jamie Briggs That is an aspect of Danganronpa that I loved. Monokuma was simply there to push these individuals in a disturbing direction, adding fuel to the fire to see what would happen. It is certainly a dark narrative which directly showcases what some may resort to when they are pushed into a corner. Although the narrative consists of these dark tones, it is especially impressive that the written dialogue is able to also provide some great humour.
The majority of Danganronpa consists of reading text, and thankfully the written work is superb. The text is only one aspect of Danganronpa though. How did you feel about the other gameplay aspects at work? Did you enjoy the investigative moments? How about the courtroom sequences?
Jaime Sifontes I touched on this in the review, but I found the best gameplay moments to be the trials. While I enjoy the investigation portion, it seems a bit too easy to find the clues thanks to the “point of interest” button. It’s a good things to have, but it does dampen the exploration aspect. With games like Virtue’s Last Reward and Ace Attorney, you had to poke at everything you personally thought was suspicious, not what the game deemed for you to be suspicious. But it was a moot point because the investigations were just a means to an end. The real thrill for me were the trials.
While there are some average mechanics throughout Danganronpa, the trial sequences provided a quality experience with some solid gameplay. Loading truth bullets to shoot down testimonials is such a great idea – it keeps your attention to the case and every detail, and makes you work to win. So as not to seem repetitive, the game changes up the pace with new restrictions, new mini-games, and new clues throughout the trials. I think in this regards it is highly successful.
The last bit of interaction is the social part, which is okay. Similar to Persona 4, you get a chance to hang out with other classmates on days off, but unlike Persona 4, I never felt the benefit in doing so. How did you feel about the social aspect Jamie?
Jamie Briggs I felt like the social features were weak, especially if we are comparing to Persona 4. I liked the idea of getting to know the characters outside of the narrative, but it felt like it was meaningless in the end.
No character ever acknowledged you had spoken to them outside of the narrative, which was disappointing. I thought forming bonds with characters would affect how certain individuals would react, but instead they would easily turn on you if it was meant to happen in the story. I also felt the abilities you achieved from forming bonds were unnecessary, they didn’t seem to affect your abilities during trials that much.
One thing we haven’t touched on is the excellent soundtrack. I am still humming tracks a week after the credits rolled. What was your opinion on the musical accompaniment?
Jaime Sifontes My sentiments exactly. It not that I wanted these characters to love me, but I did have something of a bond with certain ones. That never seemed to play out during my time with the game.
To be fair though, the game does plant the idea that we cannot trust anyone. The same can be said about other characters. In the face of murder, who knows what we would think. So if presented with the little evidence other players have gathered, I cannot say I blame them entirely for questioning you during the trial.
I will be honest with you, I felt neither here nor there with soundtrack. I think the only one that stuck with me was the ‘Investigation’ tune. And even then, after 30+ hours of playing, I cannot remember it for the life of me. I am not saying the music is bad, it just was not memorable. Then again, music is usually the most subjective of all mediums, and I have heard many people finish playing Danganronpa saying the same as you.
It did strike me odd that the music did nothing for me. Usually, one of aspects I consider when I write a review is the music and its application. However, when I was writing up this review, nothing really stuck out to me as good or bad.
Jamie Briggs I found the most haunting track in Danganronpa was Monokuma’s theme song, which has stuck with me ever since. It provided a playful tone whenever Monokuma showed his face, which gave his presence a greater sense of uneasiness. I also found many of the minor uses of sound memorable in their own way, such as when you discovered a body or when something of important value is occurring.
As stated earlier this was my first playthrough of the visual novel genre, and I must say I was greatly impressed. Being a fan of Telltale games the adventure aspects of discovering new pieces of interest in each room were not foreign for me, while the investigation aspects certainly reminded me of L.A. Noire in many ways. I think the visual novel genre is one that anyone can jump into and understand right away, though it is certainly not for everyone. I looked at Danganronpa as a high quality book, one I very much intend to experience again down the line.
Jaime Sifontes It is hard to put a good mystery down, and Danganronpa is one such example of such a case. I cannot say it was perfect, and you will stop hearing me harass you to play Virtue’s Last Reward, but I am glad Spike Chunsoft’s thriller made it to the West for all to enjoy. With the abundance of adventure enthusiasts rising out of the woodwork, I also believe this is not the last we will see of visual novels like Danganronpa coming over. In fact, its sequel is already confirmed for release this year!
There was so much positive going into this that I hope the sequel can address the minor complaints we had and turn them against us. That way, we can come back 6 months from now and have a discussion about how great it feels when a great game gets an even better sequel. Unfortunately it is too soon to tell, but when we can, we’ll talk about here on Analog Addiction.