Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is visual novel adventure devoloped by Spike Chunsoft and published by NIS America. Originally, the game was released in the year 2010 on PlayStation Portable in Japan, later on mobile devices for Android and iOS. Last year, the game finally came to the West and was ported to the PlayStation Vita.
This game is just something. Why do I say that? The game tells you a story that I certainly haven't ever heard before. It puts 15 teenage students together to go out and straight murder themselves. What you have to do in the game is to get to know your fellow students, and try to survive as you play the protagonist Makoto Naegi.
That sounds so weird and it really is. Now let's have a quick look at the story. As I mentioned, you play as Makoto Naegi, an average dude who just lives a normal life probably the most of us are familiar with. He surfs the internet, plays games, and hangs out at home. Out of nowhere, he gets an invitation to join the elite school of Hope's Peak Academy, where only the best students may enter, the so called "Ultimates". As their name suggest, they are ultimates in their fields, for example Toko Fukawa, voiced by Amanda Celine Miller and Erin Fitzgerald (who both are just amazing), the Ultimate Writing Prodigy, or Mondo Owada, the Ultimate Biker Gang Leader. How much that is supposed to help in an educational way is another question this game doesn't care about. But you know, we're right in Japan, where a bunch of stange things happen as we know. Now these Ultimates plus Makoto, who is the Ultimate Lucky Student, are now in the academy. They all were greeted by a small teddy bear, called Monokuma, who turns out to be a murderous bloodlusted creature who loves to punish people and let them fall into despair. That is his main goal, desperation between the students who are shocked of the whole situation and trapped in the school. To get out of there, Monokuma tells, only one will survive, which means the others have to die, or the group of students live happily together and just give in the situation. Monokuma would appear occasionally to set new rules and motivate the students to kill each other. Basic rules are, you can kill two students at a time, an investigation period will commence, after all the evidence was found you go into a class trial, where all the students come together and vote the suspected culprit. If the "blackened", the one the trial chose as the one "whodunnit" as Monokuma likes to say, is the right culprit, the trial is over and the chosen one has to die in a really violent way. If the class trial chooses the wrong one, every student will be punished with death and the real culprit lives and is free to leave the academy.
Now to the gameplay. You go around talk to the students and find out about their lives and characters, in the "Daily Life" phase. You can give them presents to improve your relationship to them and that is how you get skills to beat the class trials. Now if a murder occurs, the "Deadly Life" phase, you need to make sure to find all of the evidence at the crime scene and talk to the people to find out about the case. After you gathered all the information, you go into the "Class Trial". In there, you have different mini games that keep you occupied. Most times you get into the "Nonstop Debate", when you listen to the students as they tell their stories and you have to object these with your "Truth Bullets". Then you have the "Bullet Time Battle", where you literally shoot the wrong accusations by the students in a rhythmic way. Then there is the "Hangman's Gambit", which is just as it says a game of hangman. The last one is the "Closing Argument", which to me is the most intriguing and entertaining of these games. You have to put together a puzzle made of comic strips. The whole case will be narrated again by Makoto by looking at the comic and that is just looking great.
It is a visual novel, so there is not much gameplay at all, which is fine because as the story progesses, you get more and more variations in the games in the trials. You will learn much about the different characters in the game and really feel a connection to everything. You easily get lost in the world of Hope's Peak Academy and spent hours and hours walking around the building as you look for Mono Coins which then can be spent for various things like gifts for the characters, art stlyes in the main menu, and so on.
What I like about the game:
First off, the voice acting... It's incredibly good. You get pieces of the same phrases when talking to them in the Daily Life portions of the game but in the cutscenes they have their prime times and will emerge to something Hollywood-like. I don't know too many voice actors as I am new to visual novels and these hardcore Japanese games, but they did a great job and deserve the credit.
Another sound related thing is making the game something special, and that is the music. You have different kinds of tracks depending on the mood that a certain situation is creating. There is always something eerie to it but also a bit of the typical Japanese pop-style, which makes very interesting to listen to. Now, the music is very repetitive but I have to say that it didn't really bother me at all. Probably because it is so well-produced.
The graphical presentation of the game is quite good. You have the typical manga art styles in things like the characters and the mentioned comic strips. The cutscenes are wonderfully drawn with a mixture of 3D arts and lots of shadows and lighting effects. The visuals when in "Daily Life" mode are very interesting. You see the world in 3D, though all objects around the school like chairs, windows, cameras, and monitors, they all are in a 2D art, which fluently turns to you as you pass these objects.
Then you have these really awkward murder cases. The students scheme the weirdest scenes and interact with each other in a so odd way that you fall in love with those murder scenes immediately. You think you know who commited the crime, you think you know who was responsible for certain actions, you think all these things and in the class trial you get surprised each and every time. This has something to do with the weird characters we have in the game.
What I am not neutral about:
Which brings me right to the point. It is like not one of the characters have something in common. Every one of them is unique. This is probably tied to the fact that they are "Ultimates". The game strongly plays with stereotypes and cliches to such a point that you feel so much out of the place playing as Makoto the average one. But at the same time you try to connect to them and want to know why they are what they are, or how they become what they are now. Sometimes some of these cliches are a bit too much and didn't really have a good impression on me. I don't want to name any examples because I feel like this would spoil the fun of the game as you have to find out for yourselve.
Now I already said, that the gameplay is restricted to walking around the school, and the trials. For a visual novel that is probably the usual. For me though, who loves JRPGs, action adventure games, and other more action-packed gameplays, it's something I had to get used to. It's nothing that made me say, I don't want to play this game anymore because I already played the game for more than 20 hours (I think the save data is telling something wrong because I feel like the timer went on when I didn't close the game but put the Vita in stand by... not sure though.)
What I don't like about the game:
There is only two things that I kind of dislike in the game. The first one is the fact that you have to walk around the school so so much that it is getting ridiculously long. I mean I have no problems with walking around a open world but here we have a school. Imagine that you 24/7 trapped in a school building and you see the same rooms and walls and staris and all that again and again and again. The repition of the walking gets me sometimes so bored that either I turn the game off and think, next time is a better time to do all this, or I don't even turn the game on because I know what is to come... And I'm talking about long long paths you can never skip... yikes.
The second bad thing in the game is the dialogues. They sometimes can get really cheesy in a way that you can't take it seriously. I mean, the story is well-written but there instances when one of the character say something so corny. Also sometimes they tend to repeat the obvious more than enough so you might think that the game was made for children but then again you have blood (purple blood) everywhere, and brutal punishments, and all that jazz. So, not a game for kids at all. But this point is not as annoying as wandering around the school so much but still a bad thing for me.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is indeed something. Something you can spend days and nights with. Something so intriguing. Something that you want to hear the story from beginning to end. It is a great game. I can only recommend it to all the Vita owners and even to people that don't own a Vita. This is definitely a game to heavily think about picking up this great console and play the hell out of it.
Some additional info:
It's currently in the PS Store for $39.99 / €39.99 / £34.99. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair just sold 200,000 copies combined. A great success for Vita games.