Danganronpa 1-2 Reload Review: Once more unto despair
Two Vita gems, now available on PS4.
Danganronpa 1-2 Reload is a bundle of PS Vita titles Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, now available on PS4.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
If I had to describe Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (THH) in one word, it would have to be bizarre. That wouldn’t be doing game justice, though, as it’s much more than that. A point and click murder mystery is not the kind of game that would usually interest me, but after a few hours I couldn’t put it down.
The game begins with the main character, Makoto Naegi, explaining how he has been accepted to Hope’s Peak, the most prestigious school in the country. Shortly after arriving things take a turn for the worst and Makoto and 14 other students find themselves prisoners in the school. The culprit is the evil robot teddy bear (yes that’s right) Monokuma. He informs the student that they will be forced to live out the rest of their days in the school. The only chance to graduate is to kill another student without being caught. If a student complies with Monokumas request and gets away with murder all the characters but the murderer will be killed. If the correct student is found guilty they will be executed and the remaining characters get to live. Until someone else jumps on the murder bandwagon that is.
The characters themselves are by far the best part of THH. Each character is well known as the best at what they do. The ultimate gang leader, the ultimate pop star, the ultimate baseball star and so on. From the outset you are given files on each characters background to help get to know them. Character development is very important and as the game goes on students true identities and agendas are revealed. The ridiculous amount of twists would make a young M. Night Shyamalan smile. Although the game is filled with obvious stereotypes it manages to stay fun and surprising. At times it manages to break the heavy subject matter and overall tone of the game and just be silly. It’s a well-balanced mix of murder, insanity and humor. Oh and a little fan service here and there to keep things on track.
THH can be divided into 3 main sections or phases in each chapter. First up is “daily life”, where you are able to explore the schoolgrounds and interact with other characters. At some point a shocking discovery will be made and the game will transition into its second “deadly life” phase. During this section you are tasked with accumulating evidence to prove both a characters guilt and your innocence. The third and final stage of each chapter is the “class trial”. This is were you get to put all your damming evidence together in a series of mini games to for sweet justice.
There was a point in the first class trial where I had a moment of clarity. The evidence made sense all of the sudden and in the manliest way possible I squealed with excitement. I had cracked the case and it was an amazing feeling. Ok, so its not like Batman should be worried that I’m gunning for his job, but it was a reaction I wasn’t expecting from myself. This was the point of no return for me. I was totally hooked. Being horizontal is basically my super power and it’s rare for me choose a game over sleep but I found myself playing until obscene hours in the morning.
Along with the overall adult premise of the game, THH is full of sexual innuendo and some of it is a bit full-on. I assumed the game would be targeted to more mature gamers with all the graphic murders but early in the game I was blown away by some of the conversations. It’s a little strange that I was focusing on some dirty exchanges with characters when people were being horrifically murdered. It’s either because I have become a little desensitized to violence or because I just wasn’t expecting it. Either way at first it just seemed out of place and only there for shock value. After a few more instances however the tone of the game was set, my brow was lowered and I was happily chuckling away. Continuing the adult theme is the surprising amount of cursing in THH. Again it fits with the overall feel the game works hard to create and now I cant imagine the game without it.
The music changes depending on the circumstances but always has a fast pace drum and bass feel. It does an excellent job of setting the mood and somehow keeps the music catchy. I found myself whistling a few of the different tunes long after putting it down. Especially Monokuma’s theme which manages to be upbeat and creepy at the same time. While the whole game isn’t completely voice acted there are little phrases almost every time there is text on the scene to keep things interesting. It helps to make the fully voice acted sections like in parts of the class trials blend in with the rest of the game.
Class trials can be really fun. Bouncing from rhythm games to shooting down contradicting statements with “truth bullets” is surprisingly engaging. There are too many variations of mini games in the class trial to talk about them all but my favorite is the closing argument. Once everything is out in the open you will have to summarize the entire case using a comic strip. Certain panels are missing and you have to fill them with the right information to close the case. The comic is manga style so everything goes right to left. Just one of the many things in this game that highlights just how Japanese it is.
As exciting and engaging as THH can be you are never very far away from the truly strange elements of the game. Each night you will be treated to some weird poetry in the form of the Monakuma Theater. He will say some odd things that he clearly thinks are very profound and then you wake up and its back to business as usual. The most unsettling thing is waiting eagerly for one of your friends to die. You spend all this time with these people getting to know them only to have the thrill of solving the case outweigh any thoughts for their safety. Its cruel to have such outstanding character development paired with such blood lust.
After having the premise of the game explained to me I didn’t think it was going to interest me at all. Thankfully I was very wrong. On paper it sounds like a game that wouldn’t really work in a western market. I’m surprised it ever made its way out of Japan but I’m glad it did. If you own a Vita I can definitely recommend Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc even if it doesn’t sound like a game for you.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
Let’s get this out of the way: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is a great game that you need to play. Before you do, you owe it to yourself to play the original, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, first (which is quite easy with this new package).
Still with me? Good. The Danganronpa franchise, newly available to us English-speaking folks, is one that is beyond quirky. The premise of the sequel is fairly close to the original game in that a group of high school students are gathered together in an inescapable location, wiped of most of their lifelong memories. Aware of their name and, in most cases, the unique talent they possess that earned them a spot at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, the students face a very, very strange situation.
A mechanical bear named Monokuma reveals he’s the one behind the students’ kidnapping (well, kind of). Worse yet, Monomuma presents the students with only one means of escape: kill a peer and don’t get caught. Upon a murder, the students are collectively given time to investigate the incident. A class trial follows, with the group tasked to find the guilty party. If the killer is successfully caught, he or she is put to death and life continues. If the killer is successful in hiding their actions, and an innocent party is convicted, the rest of the students are put to death. The successful killer not only gets to escape the situation but gets his or her memories back.
The game is part CSI and part Choose Your Own Adventure, except there’s only one plot to follow. You spend your days going through – admittedly well-developed and intriguing — walls of text, also interacting with other students and your environment at large. The murders are generally carried out during the night, so your days then become ones of investigation. While investigating, you’ll check out crime scenes in order to gather evidence. That evidence is then turned into Truth Bullets to use during class trials. From conversations to investigations to firing said Truth Bullets, the game has an interface that was meant for the touchscreen of the PS Vita.
Of the ‘Ultimate’ students – that’s how Danganronpa designates the supreme talent that each possesses – there are some friendly, weird, annoying and very stereotypical types. Ultimately – and pardon the pun – each of the characters is well-rounded; it’s great fun getting to know each and every one of them. Be warned though: the Ultimate Nurse is certainly a case unto herself, constantly finding herself in overly ridiculous sexual situations. The game is mostly adorable and quirky, but the Ultimate Nurse really shows how different the cultures of Japan and the rest of the west truly are. Prepare yourself.
See? I wasn’t kidding. Do I need to tag this review as NSFW now?
One of the best parts about Danganronpa 2 is that it full-on acknowledges that it’s a video game. This self-awareness provides for a lot of comedy, but also means the game can directly assert it knows it’s a sequel and has to up the ante. If you’ve played through the original’s bonus game, you’ll already be aware of the mechanical rabbit named Usami. She plays a very large role in the sequel, although seemingly quite underpowered compared to her first appearance. While this changes dramatically in this game’s after-campaign mode, we won’t spoil it for you.
Danganronpa 2 improves on a number of pieces of functionality compared to its predecessor. Rather than walking around during the day in first-person mode exclusively, that view is reserved for a couple of areas on the island you’re trapped upon. To get from location to location, you’re presented with a side-scrolling mode, where you can run from place to place. Sure, you can fast travel, but walking is crucial to evolve your Tomogachi-like electronic pet. Hate the idea of an electronic pet? Well, you can pretty much ignore it if you want.
All up, walking, proper investigations and pet care provide your character with XP. Levelling up helps you with your investigations, as does befriending your other students. Thankfully, this sequel does a much better job of showing you how upskilling will actually help you out.
The worst part about Danganronpa was its class trials, and sadly that remains consistent with the sequel. The class trials are full of mini-games that can be tedious to play; as with the last game, you can change settings on these sequences to at least make them as painless as possible. “Logic Dive”, a new min-game, is really the only fun one. As for the trials themselves, they’re quite like the Phoenix Wright series of games. You’ll most likely have a good idea of who a murderer is, but will be left scratching your head to figure out how you have to get to that conclusion via in-game logic.
Danganronpa 2 is hard to explain – and to pronounce, for that matter – but a delight to play. It’s one of those games that’s better left a mystery, ripe for you to delve into and discover on your own. So, go get discovering.
Reload on PS4
Essentially, Reloaded is the pair of games, bundled on PS4. The port’s pretty solid — when you’re playing, things are crisp, clear and look great in 1080p. Cutscenes don’t fare as well, sometimes looking stretched and blurry. Still, those instances are hardly noticeable, as you’re engrossed in Danganronpa‘s story by then.
Controls move from the Vita to the PS4 easily, though gameplay itself seems better suited for a portable console. Gameplay is incredibly taxing at times — especially courtroom scenes — so it’s one you’ll likely play for short bursts rather than a marathon. Still, this is a great package for those without a PS Vita — Danganronpa is a must-play.
Danganronpa 1-2 Reload was reviewed using a promotional copy on PS4, as provided by its Australian distributor. It was crafted using original reviews of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair on PS Vita. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.