Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a strange release. Popularized by a Let’s Play on the SomethingAwful Games forums, the game already has a thriving and loving fanbase that seems to have spurred the release of this game in America, and boy am I glad that happened. I may have said that it was a bit odd that the game was released, but I would never say it is a bad thing. Danganronpa is a smart, funny, and engrossing visual novel that dares to be different by adding gameplay and skill to the genre. It may not totally stick the landing, but commendations for trying. Besides, the base plot and characters are so great that it is worth looking over these slight issues.
Danganronpa has an original and intriguing premise. A group of high schoolers who are the “Ultimate” at what they do are trapped in their school, and the only way they can be released is by getting away with the murder of one of their fellow classmates. You play as Makoto Naegi, a seemingly average guy in a sea of eccentric superhumans, such as an Ultimate Fortune Teller, Ultimate Karate Champ, and hell, even an Ultimate Fanfiction Author. Every character has their own unique and often hilarious charm, and I appreciate the fact that the silhouette rule is in effect for each character. You can tell a lot about each of them just by looking for a moment.
The art design is much better than I expected from the low resolution screenshots I had seen previously. The characters are excellently voiced, save for one or two missteps. I was able to look past some of the weaker bits of voice acting, but I was still disappointed that the entire cast wasn’t top notch. Turning off voiceover during the investigation segments is no big deal since the only VA in those segments are grunts and short phrases, but the trials are fully voiced. If you really cannot handle the English voice cast (you wuss), there is a Japanese voice option.
The music, composed by No More Heroes composer Masafumi Takada, is a real treat, with Monokuma’s theme a front runner for best earworm of the year already. Most of the music is accentuating tunes that highlight the mood of a scene well, and I can most certainly see myself playing the music lightly in the background during times where I need to chill out or buckle down on some writing. You can unlock music, as well as concept art and other little goodies, using Monokuma medals you pick up searching objects in the overworld, or by earning high points during trials.
Most visual novels are lean, gameplay-light experiences. Yes, you search areas to dig up clues in both this and some other games in the genre, and use said evidence against liars to shatter contradictions. However, there is a catch in Danganronpa that causes it live up to its “Trigger Happy Havoc” subtitle. You gather evidence by aiming a reticule around the area and firing question marks at places you want to investigate. Walking around the school is a bit of a hassle, as the game seems to want to use tank controls while also giving you free control over the camera with the right stick. This control scheme is a bit backwards and caused me to whip around too fast or too slow many times.
When interviewing characters, you may have to highlight a phrase with the “Re:Action” button and continue the conversation from the phrase you highlighted. You often have to restart conversations to go down multiple, mandatory paths in the same conversation, which would be more of a problem if the O button wasn’t a text-skip button. During trials, you have to shoot “Truth Bullets” at highlighted contradictions in your classmates’ logic. The bullets are made from your evidence or other pieces of logic you discover as you discuss the issues at hand. When you get a character in a “cornered” state, you activate a strange rhythm game to destroy their resolve. The game is a bit iffy at describing these mechanics to you but after one or two trials I was able to get in to the swing of things, and I’m a moron so you should be fine.
Before every murder or trial, the game gives you “free time” to take a look around the school and interact with other students. There’s a sort of social link aspect where getting close to a character (by giving them gifts, which you receive by feeding Monokuma Medals into a toy lottery that works exactly like the trophy lottery in Super Smash Bros Melee) which unlocks skill points which in turn awards you with new abilities you can implement during trials. Some skills let you reload your truth bullet faster after firing, some give you extra health (which doesn’t matter much as the game lets you restart exactly where you left off if you lose a trial), and a few even give you bonus Monokuma Medals around the school. The problem is that none of this is explicitly explained in-game. Sure, tutorials say you should befriend classmates to get upgrades, but there is no telling who gives you what and which presents to give. If you have trouble with an event in a trial, I would advise looking up a guide and figuring out which character to befriend. All of the characters have interesting backstories, so if you are not having trouble you can go with whomever you like.
If you miss interacting with a character, (or they die, c’mon, it’s a murder mystery!) when you beat the game you unlock a new mode that allows you to access all of the interactions you missed. This mode also gives you an odd time management minigame that involves giving your classmates jobs finding items to combine to create new Monokuma models or cleaning the building area so the original bear doesn’t get annoyed. The new mode is not a grand reward for completing the game, but the main game is so well constructed, the extra content is ignorable.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is not without lumps. There are little things here and there that I wish were a bit more polished, but the main plot and incredible characters are well worth the price of admission. I admittedly knew many of the victims and events in the game due to just being on Tumblr, but the overall experience was still enjoyable. If you are not prepared to actively participate in gameplay, you may have some trouble getting into the groove of the game, otherwise, anyone that enjoys a good mystery will adore Danganronpa.
Danganronpa is a new classic in the murder mystery genre. There might be a few hiccups, but it's still worth a look.