Makoto cannot believe his luck. It’s beyond just good, it’s phenomenal, extraordinary, ultimate. Hopes Peak academy is a breeding ground for the very best society has to offer. Only those so unbelievable skilled as to be considered the one and only pinnacle of their respective fields can hope to enter those hallowed halls but now an ordinary student like Makoto gets to study alongside them, as e peer if never an equal. And all of this thanks to dumb random chance. Makoto just won a lottery. How lucky can one guy get?
This was quite the game – I can’t wait to see how they translated it to an animation.
You should probably know that I have been hearing about Danganronpa since shortly before my birth. Somehow this title just kept popping up all over my world and I resolved early on to play the game. There either wasn’t an anime yet or I didn’t know it existed. The point is, I have been wanting to play this for literally years and in preparation have avoided spoilers as if my life depended on it.
By the time I finally got my hands on the game a few months ago, all I knew was that there was a weird black and white teddy bear and because of 50% off (curse you 50% off – I still love you) a bit about the general nature of the story. That’s it. Honestly, if you read that summary up there you know more than I did when I started this game. I do think the surprise factor is very important so I’m going to try to keep the first half of my post as spoiler free as possible.
I still haven’t figured out how to review visual novels. I’ve now scrapped and restated this post 4 times. No kidding. And it’s still this bad. There’s no need to humour me, I can tell. I’m hoping I can use the experience and learn something to make my posts and the later games in the franchise, better! There’s something much more personal about the experience of a visual novel that’s difficult for me to put into words. I guess I could talk about the technical merits here…
It’s a visual novel. Good start Irina, you are wowing them with your unique and highly useful statements! We’re not talking breathtaking visuals with life-like physics engines that will push your graphics card to its very limit. It’s sprites over painted backgrounds with a text overlay and occasional CGs. I did something not that dissimilar as a high school computer class project and we didn’t even have Visual Novel maker then. Or electricity, it was an awkward class in many ways.
But for all it’s basic graphics, man is Danganronpa stylish. When I played Persona 5 earlier this year I couldn’t get over how dripping with style everything was. I had the best time just going through menus and staring at loading screens for the sheer zany elegance of them and Danganronpa delivers that same type of gaudy chic, in spades.
It just looks cool. The flat cardboard cutout characters that flip and deform when you select them, the exaggerated cartoonish designs, the intensely saturated color palette, everything here is just so…fashionable. If Danganronpa was a person, it would have been way too cool to hang out with me in high school. Maybe we could have a drink now but I would have to pay.
I originally set the game to “English”. It just said language setting and I wasn’t sure if this meant the voice setting or text. I do have super rudimentary Japanese reading skills but it’s still very painful for me to get through an entire game in Japanese so if I have the options, I’ll opt for English. Big mistake. The English dub of the game is… not great, the English voice actress for Sayaka Maizono was clearly cast as a personal attack on my very soul. I think this is what dog whistles do to puppies. If I was a spy, this voice acting would have gotten me to reveal EVERYTHING instantly. The cyanide capsule wouldn’t even had had time to take effect. I would have been more than happy to give her my social security number to get her to stop… I’m sorry Dorothy Elias-Fahn, I’m sure you’re very good in every other role. You seem to have quite an impressive body of work. But this…just no…
Pro Tip, you can only change the settings at the beginning of chapters, so you won’t need to redo the entire game but you may have to replay a chunk. My suggestion : Japanese language (this will just affect the voice acting only – text stays in English – at that point, I would have read the Japanese text though…) Logic setting: Mean and Action Setting: Normal.
As I said, I didn’t know anything at all about the game, including the mechanics. I was pretty surprised to find out this is much closer to Phoenix Wright than anything else I’ve played. You (as average good guy Makoto) get a chance to interact with the other students and explore your environment then use what you’ve learned to answer questions later on in a trial like setting. Although not a part of the game I still decided to yell objection at my screen in my most nasally voice. Buddy was simply delighted with this initiative.
Even at mean, the mysteries aren’t very hard to unravel. The game is too nice to allow you to miss an important clue or conversation, as Makoto won’t let you leave a room until you’ve gathered all the relevant information and once you have all the pieces, the puzzles are really easy. The few that still seem unclear get explained to you during the trial and Kyoko is there to hold your hand through it all. So much so in fact that I started wishing for her death just to get a chance to feel like I’m playing for myself for a change. It’s a minor caveats but when you’re a fan of solving puzzles it gets annoying to have someone constantly giving you unasked for leads until anything that could be considered a challenge is completely gone. Also, like all the games of this type, you occasionally run into the common pitfall that several “clues” lead to the same conclusion and choosing the right one is a little arbitrary. It doesn’t happen so often as to be annoying, though.
On the other hand, the action mechanics they’ve injected into the game are very hit or miss. They do work on a primal level to get you really focused on what you’re doing as you have to carefully aim or time interactions. It’s a level of excitement that you don’t usually get out of Visual Novels. Unfortunately, the controls on the PS4 version I played could have benefitted from some fine tuning and at the hardest level, everything quickly became a chore and I switched the difficulty first chance I got. Maybe this is better with a mouse and keyboard on the PC version.
Obviously, a visual novel is all about story and characters though. It’s odd. Everything in Danganronpa is gaudy and exaggerated. All the characters are clearly insane, the storyline jumps from one ridiculous overblown premise to another and you could spend an entire other game just exploring those plot holes. Thing is, because of the non-linear, piecemeal and personal way in which all of this is conveyed, it just works.
I’m not saying I can forgive all these faults because the game is fun. I’m saying these faults are part of what made the game fun. There’s no doubt in my mind that these characters are written to be absurd on purpose. Those plot holes have been consciously left in or perhaps even added. Some poor schmuck had to rewrite scene after scene as the editor returned bold all caps notes reading: MORE INTENSITY. This weird sense of abandon creates a universe that is so deeply unbelievable, so unrelatable on every level, that it doesn’t merely suspend your disbelief – it rips it to shreds. Nothing this ridiculous could possibly be false!
***MILD SPOILERS AHEAD***
I think I’ve reached the point where I really need to get into some specifics here, so if like me you want to go in completely blind, this is where I bid you adieu or rather, à bientôt. Go play the game and come back!
First let me give you a quick overview of the characters together with MY first impressions in itallics. Those of you who’ve played the game can now laugh at my obvious lack of judgement.
High strung guy. He’s all about following the rules and is very very enthusiastic about it. He’s the ultimate sticker or something. They’re all ultimates btw. Makoto thinks he’s annoying. I’m not sure yet but I tend to agree. As you’ll see below, Ishimaru turned out to be one of my favorite characters. His friendships with the other students as well as his personal backstory really grew on me and when he isn’t freaking out, he is possibly one of the most endearing guys here.
This cutie is the ultimate programmer. Super soft and shy. I’m getting major ruka vibes here, I’m calling otokonoko. Chihiro is there to inject some vulnerability in the cast. It’s clear that both Makoto and the player are being stirred to feel protective over this fragile looking student and this works well to stir you to care about what’s happening. I did enjoy Chihiro, as one of the most stable and down to earth personalities, Chihiro really helped to balance the cast out.
To continue the Stein’s gate theme, this is the ultimate fanboy (fanfic writer more precisely) he’s outta shape and sort of a proud perv. Daru nyone? Except not really… I’ll be honest, I just didn’t get to know Hifumi very well so I haven’t yet found out what his back story is. Within the context of the game proper, he just didn’t make that huge an impression on me.
I’ve seen this girl from time to time on the internets, she might be important. She’s the ultimate gambler apparently. Seems nice. Celestia was a great character. Engaging, fun to look at and just mysterious enough to keep you on your toes. I was constantly torn on whether to trust her or not and in this type of game that’s exactly the sort of character you want. I understand why she seems popular with fans, it’s well earned.
Awesome hair dude and I now realize Psychomouse’s avatar, is the ultimate clairvoyant. I like joyful weirdos so I think we’ll get along. Awww Hiro, what a tangled web we weave. Hiro is fantastic and so unexpectedly complex. His personal back story is one of the best I’ve seen and deserves a spinoff of its own. The one downside is, if you don’t go out of your way to get to know him, you’ll miss out on everything that makes the character interesting.
Stereotypical anime girl is the ultimate pop idol. Ok her English voice actress is just grating (sorry). Darn, can’t figure out how to switch to JP. Seems super boring but Makoto is all about her. I think I can hear him drooling. They’re really not subtly hinting that we’ve met before. Voice issues aside, Sayaka is so difficult for me to pin down. As a character I found her incredibly boring and got so annoyed at both the game and Makoto for pushing me to get to know her all the time but as a plot device she was fantastic.
The Jojo lookalike is the ultimate biker gang leader..,I still can’t with that title. I like the manscara. I hope we can have a sleepover so he can do a get ready with me in the morning. I still hope that! Mondo is another one that grew on me but not as much. He’s a bit more stereotypical than most of the others and I haven’t forgiven him for punching us (*for NO reason*) so hard that we were out for 2 days or something. I’m pretty convinced Makoto had serious brain damage for most of the game which explains a lot….
Baseball dude. Does not look like I thought he would. Sorta Broish but I don’t hate it. Love the design. I’m gonna be buds with this kid too. Reminds me a touch of my bestie Yosuke from P4. Actually, Leon is pretty straightforward too. He wants to be a rock star so I kept trying to match him up with Sayaka to get her off my back but there’s no real option for such things in the game. I mean he’s your happy go lucky bro type. Obsessed with getting laid and lookin cool. I liked him to tell the truth. I have a soft spot for simple boys.
Writer girl got some serious confidence issues. She freaks at us cause she decided we think she’s ugly. Dunno about Makoto but I had picked her as our waifu. Not so sure anymore. Still cute but the yandere thing is a huge turn off. Yeah – I didn’t know the half of it. I think the take it a touch too far with Toko but I liked her a lot. Her character drew some clear lines in the sand and made sure to do away with any remaining illusions you may have had about what type of people you’re surrounded by. I mean when Toko is one of the good guys…
My second waifu choice and the ultimate martial artist. Seems just as badass as she looks. I’m gonna stick to this lady. Apparently Makoto thought she was a dude but he might have brain damage so I won’t pay too much attention to that. That brain damage in question was from being punched… I actually wrote PAGES of let’s play notes about the game and these first impressions are a part of that. Anywho, Sakura rocks. I love her and everyone else does too. For excellent reason. She is now waifu no1 choice.
First – this image is ompletely non canon, we never see Byakuya as a maid but I ust realized it’s everything I wanted out of life!
Blonde glasses guy. Pure discrimination tells me he’s a sadistic freak. Seems he’s the ultimate rich bish or something and acts like it. We (Makoto and I) don’t care. Yeah… all of that is 100% exactly how he is and he never compromises, softens up or humanizes. If you scroll to the bottom of the post you will see Byakuya is my favourite…
Twin tail chick. I recognized her right off the bat from a billion fanart so I’m guessing she’s gonna be a big deal. She the ultimate ‘fashionista’ and acts like a valley girl. She’s fine. You can only truly appreciate Junko’s character once you’ve finished the entire game. Personally, I’m not as smitten with the girl as most people are. She’s not close to getting Sakura’s waifu spot at all!
Swim star ultimate. She’s the happy but dim jock. It’s a nice twist but I don’t get much impression from her..she lacks presence. Aoi is our most glaring case of fanservice so I was pretty confused as to why we don’t see her more in fan and promotional art. This is, she really isn’t so much a character as a foil for other characters. Her own personality seems to be – be positive and have large boobs. I take it back, best character ever! I did enjoy her relationship with Sakura a lot.
With Makoto there’s 15 so I know I’m forgetting someone but I really can’t figure it out. Fridge it, I’m looking it up. I suck, it was Kyoko. Kyoko is actually pretty cool. She doesn’t tell us anything and is all mysterious and stuff. I dunno about Makoto but I’m the ultimate door mat so that type of petty ish works on me everytime. I wanna know more. Sorry I forgot you Kyoko. She does work well to add some tension throughout the game but I got tired of her constantly dropping hints about the cases we were trying to solve. Like OK Kyoko, I got it – I’m not a moron. Then again she might have very reasonably assumed Makoto had brain damage so I’m not being entirely fair here.
First impressions, I like the martial arts girl, the writer, the baseball dude, crazy hair man and am curious about the mystery chick. I find the pop girl annoying. Still undecided about the rest. Makoto’ s clearly got a hard-on for the idol, le sigh, and rules guy gets in his nerves otherwise he’s chill.
Most of you probably already know that the basic idea is that Danganronpa is similar in concept to Battle Royal. Each chapter of the game consists of a brutal murder that you have to solve and some of these scenes can get pretty gruesome. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that blood is stylized as pepto bismol pink (as it is in all great horror stories) but if you have issues with hacked up student bodies, why are you playing Danganronpa? As a side note, one room being the site of an older killing, the blood there was dried up and had turned the colour of actual blood. You discover it towards the end of the game. It was really freaky to see and suddenly drove home the brutality of events.
Like everything else, the violence is exaggerated to the point of parody but again, this isn’t an anime. After spending so much time personally seeking out certain characters and putting in an active effort to get to know them, seeing them getting hurt or tortured was difficult even for me and I usually wandered away during execution scenes because I didn’t want to see them. I still enjoyed the game, in fact this spurred me on to avenge my favorites but I wish there had been a skip cut scene option.
Another element that fell slightly short for me was the gift giving dynamic. I like social aspects of games and considering what this story is about, having some type of mechanic to get to know the other characters better really adds tons to the experience but in order to unlock the much coveted dialogue you have to give them gifts and that whole aspect is a little ill-conceived. Exploring the school and completing objective will get you coins (I know – very Mario) and you can use those coins in a bobble prize machine to get random gifts. This is boring… There are over a hundred different gifts and since it is random you will probably need to feed that machine several hundred times in order to get them all. Good luck if you’re trying to get any particular item. In practice this means hitting the same two buttons and waiting for a loop animation which is uninteresting and the same every time for what adds up to probably a couple of hours. Obviously you don’t need to do it all in one setting. I would regularly watch an episode of some show on one screen as I played the gift machine without looking for half an hour or so.
The other hang up is that once you have all the gifts, you have to figure out which to give to whom. Some are pretty obvious, you can tell simply from the personalities and tastes of the characters but others seem completely out of the blue and if you don’t want to risk wasting that gist you just spent half an hour getting, you’ll probably want to look up a guide. There are tons of guides on the internet so it’s not an issue but it would have been so much more fun if the dialogue had given us actual clues. Think of how much more engaged we would have been with everyone if there were a clear in-game benefit to carefully weeding information out of them and remembering everything they tell us.
And let’s take a minute to talk about the setting. The school itself. Of course it’s weird and of course it’s stylish. The bolted widows and constant reminder that you are cut off from the outside world was a perfect way to ramp up a sense of claustrophobia in the players. Every time a chapter ended and a new floor of the school opened up for exploration, I felt honest elation and relief that I now had a bit more space to play in. This was helped by the fantastic designs that made each new room a pleasure to discover.
Gaaahhh – see!!! The post got super long and I don’t know how to bring it together. I just don’t. I’ve now rewritten the entire post about 5 times and this last part close to 10. OK 8. 8 is close to 10. I do like some parts of it but it just won’t work together. Let me see if I can salvage something:
TL;DR: Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc is awesome – go play it.
Ok – I think I did it!
Favorite character: Sakura, Byakuya and Ishimaru – I know…
What this visual novel taught me: keep your head down and don’t make waves
When ordinary life shackles me, I escape, one way or another
Suggested drink: Anarchy and Despair
- Every time Monokuma shows up out of nowhere – take a sip
- Every time Mondo gets mad – take a sip
- Every time Genocide Jill shows up – take a sip
- Every time Kyoko refuses to answer – roll your eyes
- Every time Makoto is a pushover – get some water
- Every time you predict the next victim – take a sip
- Every time Byakuya is being Tsun – take a sip
- Every time a new floor opens up – take a sip
- Every time you give someone a gif – toast them