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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc review

AT A GLANCE
  • A dark blend of macabre and comedic dialogue
  • Likeable, interesting characters
  • An addictive mixture of mystery and suspense
  • Some wordier segments slow down gameplay
  • Character cut-outs are strange and unattractive

High school’s confusing enough as it is. Between avoiding the “wrong crowd,” trying to find yourself, and scrounging together a decent education with massive classes, belligerent classmates, and the woes of being halfway between adolescence and adulthood, it’s pretty hectic. Imagine throwing some murder mystery into the mix: “Sorry, Mrs. Smith, I couldn’t finish my math homework because I narrowly escaped impalement via sharp objects during dinner.” This is the exact sort of scenario presented in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, a visual novel that tells the sometimes-gruesome tale of high school life gone wrong. Harrowing? For sure. Entertaining? Definitely.

The plot follows the créme de la créme of high school students (“Super High School Level,” as they’re called) imprisoned in Hope's Peak Academy, the nation's most elite high school. Here, they're under the maniacal rule of the malevolent half-evil, half-angelic Monobear. The only way to escape? Graduation--which, in the eyes of Monobear, means murdering another student without getting caught. You fill the shoes of Makoto Naegi, a student who’s just been chosen to attend Hope’s Peak. The tale unfolds from his perspective as you attempt to find your way out of the academy with your sanity (and life) intact. Cue a mixture of fear, trepidation, and mistrust that grows between the captive students as they scramble to prevent killings. The endlessly entertaining plot blossoms into a gleefully sadistic journey, pushing you to power through chapter after chapter to see what happens next.

Much of Danganronpa unfolds via interaction with other characters; back-and-forth dialogue exchanges compose the glut of gameplay as you uncover the mysteries from within Hope's Peak Academy. Character interactions are often spirited and hilarious, with cheeky one-liners and plenty of bear-related puns that give a lighthearted vibe to what could've otherwise been far too disturbing speech. With key players being killed off left and right, it needs that kind of balance, and the English script does a great job of providing it. Best of all, where most visual novels are content to throw wall after wall of text at players, giving little incentive to continue beyond the branching dialogue choices, Danganronpa makes excellent use of a variety of different play styles to keep up the momentum.

The first of these you encounter are Phoenix Wright-esque segments where you explore crime scenes in a first-person point of view. This perspective gives the game a bit of a claustrophobic feel, emphasizing the hopeless mood that permeates the academy walls as you gather important evidence and testimonies against a possible culprit in a murder case. Finding enough clues eventually leads to a Class Trial, a set of fast-paced mini-games that put your skills to the test.

Each mode of play in a Class Trial is a rapid-fire battle of wits as you point out relevant evidence to each character's testimony, "shoot down" letters to reveal clues, debate against other students in a rhythm game of sorts, and build comic strips depicting what you believe to have gone down in each case. Where the visual novel segments are at times too passive and overly wordy, Class Trials are an impeccable exercise in getting the blood flowing. They're as punchy as Danganronpa's neon-hued pop art, which is devilishly good at complementing the grisly deaths the students eventually succumb to.

Unfortunately, the anime-styled artwork doesn't look as attractive in-game as it does in cutscenes. The character models are 2D paper cut-outs akin to Parappa the Rapper, and this presentation removes a bit of the tension when you take a step back and see how ridiculous the models actually look. Luckily, the English voice acting is competent and matches beloved characters like Junko perfectly, slightly offsetting the bizarre artwork. If you prefer the original Japanese voice acting, though, you can select it as the default language, a welcome feature Otakus will be pleased to see.

Danganronpa is an accomplished amalgam of storytelling, character interaction, and deduction. It’s got an involving (if silly at times) plot to ensure you’re ensnared from the very beginning, several mini-games that make trials and evidence-gathering events worthwhile, and a macabre attitude that isn’t afraid to show its true colors. There’s a reason this niche Japanese favorite has had its praises sung several times over on forums like SomethingAwful and Let’s Play circles: it’s brilliant, and a franchise that we'd like to see more of. It is, what you might call, Super High School Level Fun--let’s just hope the same audiences who supported the Japanese release get behind this one too.

More Info

Release date: Feb 11 2014 - PS Vita (US)
Feb 11 2014 - PS Vita (UK)
Available Platforms: PS Vita
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes

With its twisted tale of murder and high school gone wrong, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc weaves a devilishly addictive tale you'll want to see through to the end.

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17 comments

  • winner2 - February 12, 2014 4 p.m.

    Cool, I'm glad to hear this. Might pick it up soon.
  • bobob101 - February 11, 2014 1:11 p.m.

    It's these weird Japanese games like Persona 4 and Danganronpa that makes me wish I had a Vita. I watched the anime and I liked it, though I wish I was able to play it too.
  • shawksta - February 11, 2014 12:10 p.m.

    Awesome.
  • shawksta - January 5, 2014 5:20 p.m.

    Iv'e been meaning to try the series sometime, this is gonna push me harder
  • CaptainPancakes - January 4, 2014 8:15 p.m.

    Please respond! You say that they are called "Super Highschool Level." As a huge fan of the game, I was distraught, because it seemed like they changed the titles as being "Ultimate," instead of "Super Higschool Level." I am being petty but from your review, it sounds like they didn't change the titles. As petty as this is, did they? Or is it still Super Highschool Level?
  • artcellrox - January 3, 2014 7:49 p.m.

    So... anyone here have any idea of how the script is compared to the translation patch?
  • profile0000 - January 3, 2014 1:39 p.m.

    How does this compare to Virtue's Last Reward? It sounded similar, and if it is, then consider me sold.
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - January 3, 2014 2:48 p.m.

    My understanding is that it's quite similar. A cross between that and Phoenix Wright.
  • profile0000 - January 3, 2014 4:02 p.m.

    Well, damn. I'm sold for sure now. Thanks Ryan!
  • winner2 - January 2, 2014 7:18 p.m.

    I got p4g in the mail today, so if i like that, will i like this?
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - January 2, 2014 9:18 p.m.

    Hmmm. Well, think of this SORT of like a game all about the social stuff P4 has, but without the battles. And there are mini-games to add some variety to the pacing.
  • taokaka - January 2, 2014 5:37 p.m.

    Splendid, I'll definitely be picking this up for my vita.
  • BladedFalcon - January 2, 2014 5:12 p.m.

    "An addictive mixture of mystery and suspense" ...Uh, aren't those two elements extremely similar and necesary to each other to begin with?
  • GamesRadarCollanderCooper - January 2, 2014 4:11 p.m.

    Wow, I had no idea this game even existed. Thanks for giving me a reason to dust off my Vita
  • GR_RyanTaljonick - January 2, 2014 5:09 p.m.

    It's a ways out yet, doesn't release until February 11 (unless you pick it up on PSP). Still, sounds pretty cool!
  • Cyberninja - January 3, 2014 8:47 a.m.

    I though the psp version never was released in English?
  • donslipo - January 4, 2014 9:46 a.m.

    Project Zetsubou did English patch for it (was released this summer, little before the anime started)

Showing 1-17 of 17 comments

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