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Critical Hit, or Miss? – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Introduction

Welcome readers, I have made a return after a disappointing absence on the site. I won’t make sit here and make multiple excuses, but lately life has been busy and I’ve slipped in my focus with writing more recently, letting it take a backseat to other projects. I am back for now though as I kick off Dangancember and try to get back into gear with a month full of Danganronpa reviews and opinions to finish off the year and bring a close to a long involvement of mine with the series over 2016. So without to much further ado let’s start my first site event off with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, a game I was nervous to stream and unsure to play. Was it worth it, or more accurately, was it a Critical Hit, or Miss?

The Story

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Reviewed on PC

Developed by Spike Chunsoft

Spoiler Warning: This is a murder mystery game, with a pretty heavy emphasis on both terms. I won’t reveal who dies or anything major like that, but I will go over some of the more basic elements of the story and gameplay. I don’t think this will take anything from the experience regardless, but I did warn you anyway.

schoolIt’s somehow fitting that the first visual novel I play is set in a high school, because I swear the majority of them seem to be. Cliché aside, Danganronpa puts you into the shoes of the self-insert protagonist Makoto Naegi, who was recently accepted into the school of ultimate talents, Hopes Peak Academy. Hopes Peak accepts only the best students at the very top of their respective fields, which like most character driven anime, means each character has a defining talent or skill that encompasses their ability and personality. Amongst these ultimate students, Makoto finds himself the stand out as an average ordinary guy, no different from an everyday high school, the only reason he got into the school was by winning a lottery submitted by Hopes Peak, making him officially the Ultimate Lucky Student. Makoto has long admired the school, with all graduates rumored to be destined for success in life, becoming one of the ultimate’s is the dream of many. However, Makoto barely manages to enter the building before losing consciousness and waking up into one of the school’s classrooms, and that is when every starts to go wrong.

the-castWhat follows is a character heavy murder mystery game, with a large roster of colourful characters and personalities that you can interact with, befriend, and probably mourn their brutal death later on. The story itself is largely around finding out just why fifteen students have found themselves trapped in a sealed up high school and forced to murder each other for survival. It doesn’t take long for Makoto and the others to realize there is no way to escape Hopes Peak. Which brings us to the stalemate of the gameplay and story coming together, the murders. The catch of the killing game lies within the name, the killing. Characters are enticed with the offer of freedom from the school and this game if they can commit murder, and get away with it. On top of this, the game, that’s the killing game not the actual one, continues to throw curveballs to move the story along. Threats of exposing secrets, losing loved ones, temptation, all these motivates and more pop up to tempt or force a reaction from the cast, providing reasons to escape beyond simply their desires. This makes the story work, because Danganronpa may have a simple and less than unique premise, but the writing and characters truly make the story live.

As the story progress however, it becomes clear that there is a lot going on behind the scenes in the Danganronpa world, and with such a narrow view into the world itself, you and the cast have no earthly idea what’s happening outside the school walls. I won’t go into more detail than that, but there is a story beyond simply the reasons behind the killing game, beyond the story inside Hopes Peak, and the plot does indeed thicken as Makoto and the others reach for the truth about all the mysteries surrounding the story of Danganronpa.

A Cast of Characters

byakuyaAs Makoto the game gives you an in as the every man, the average person who was “lucky” enough to become an ultimate, without any actual talent. Cliché protagonist trope or not, it does work well for the story and setting. The others however, are all ultimate’s, and bring their own charms, or lack thereof, to the mix. I won’t go into detail on all fifteen of the cast as getting to know them yourself is a large part of the fun, but there is a wide range of people to interact with both during some of Makoto’s down time, and during the murder trials. Between cases you also get given free time, sessions to explore the school and choose to spend time with the cast. Doing so unlocks perks for Makoto, as well as learning more about the cast and getting closer to the character you like, unless they cark it of course. When you do get into the swing of the game though, you almost get this hunger to see who dies and lives, you will find yourself betting on who does and doesn’t make it, or guessing who death visits next out of the cast. The guessing game you play is another aspect entirely of its own, and it almost feels more important to satisfy that curiosity of who will make it to the end, than the story itself at times.

liftSo with such a large list of characters, do they work together in the story, or do they just trip over each other fighting for lines? Well, some of both. The sad reality is that when a character starts getting more focus, it often makes you worried for their life expectancy. With so many characters to cater for, early on it can be hard to give them all the same development, causing them to often get more attention before getting bumped off. This isn’t always true, but the characters do develop over the course of the story as they reveal themselves over the course of the mysteries, sometimes before never getting that chance again. This aside, the cast itself is like a living entity itself, changing over time as you learn more about each of the team, while the student count shrinks to allow for more room for each to grow.

survivingPlaying this with an audience over Twitch especially makes you begin picking your favourite characters almost immediately, from who you like and hate, which one is your chosen Danganronpa waifu, and who you think will kill or be killed. The set up inherently draws you into picking and guessing, making you crave the satisfaction of knowledge, and it hooks you in early with its many characters and insidious nature. From the arrogant Byakuya, mysterious Kyoko, shy Chihiro and dumb Yashiro, there are many character tropes and types that you’d expect to find, but they are written well enough with some twists and turns to keep the story fresh both in the school and the courtroom.

Murder and Investigation

courtSpeaking of the courtroom, it’s time to talk about the second half of the game, the murder investigations and class trials. When someone does turn up dead, Makoto and the other are given an unspecified amount of time to investigate the scene of the crime and any other areas of the school to figure out the killer. After finding all the clues and talking to the cast, everyone is sent to the class trial room in order to debate all the evidence of the case until everyone votes on who committed the crime, knowing that choosing wrong means death. What follows is a largely voice acted discussion of the case as you have to counter arguments with facts, play mini games, correctly choose relevant evidence and fight to maintain Makoto’s credibility. Do too badly and Makoto begins to lose face and the others with suspect you during the trial, or more simply, you fail the case.

hangmanAll together the investigation and trial combined make for a good combination of gameplay, as the investigation invests you into the murder itself as you uncover fragments of the story, before putting it together with the cast as everyone tries to figure out who dunnit. There were times when I felt some of the elements didn’t fit as smoothly as they could have though, in one specific instance for example, due to the jump from Japanese to English one of the mini-game puzzles suffered from the translation. How far this goes is hard to say, but certain bits and pieces felt more about interpretation then logical facts, although these were few in number for the most part. Hangman’s gambit aside, which is simply hangman and annoying, the mini-games themselves are pretty decent and give the case some needed variation between countering arguments and matching evidence. Excusing some minor bumps, the cases are great fun to solve, and often bring a whole series of mixed feelings as any satisfaction is shot down with understanding and another loss.

counterGenerally speaking all the cases are quite well written and interesting mysteries in their own right, some harder and better than others, but all the same they each bring several new elements to the story. You begin to almost dread them as much as you anticipate them, because a new case means a chance that one of your favourites will die, and another chance again to lose them if they turn out to be a killer.

Music, Voice and the rest

byakuya-2Voice and music in the game is pretty on point, especially the music. The soundtracks in Danganronpa can be pretty odd, music you might not necessary think of working as well as it does in some cases, as it ranges from serious and thoughtful, mysterious, intense and dangerous, wacky and fun and not to mention a really great main theme. The music really brings the mood together the game tries to get across to the player for whatever the situation, and does a great job enhancing the atmosphere it’s going for. The voice acting too is pretty on point for each character, with some pretty standout moments I can’t reveal. The only real voice I never fully felt fit was that of Byakuya, who was perfectly fine don’t get me wrong, but personally it felt like the voice didn’t quite match the character. It’s a small gripe, and more of a nitpick than it needs to be, but Byakuya included all the characters are brought to life with some great talent. As a visual novel, Spike Chunsoft clearly knew where to focus on for elements that the genre slightly lacks, and audio was defiantly given the proper treatment it needed.

(For the record this image was taken from the original demo, the case was rewritten for the full game and this is not a spoiler)

dead-hiroVisually the game is an odd one for sure, as you might expect it largely becomes a slideshow of character sprites against a background as they go through a list of different art and poses. Now there’s nothing wrong with that, the art itself is decent enough I might add, but what’s weird is some of the unique charm Danganronpa brings. Not only does it acknowledge the 2D nature of its characters and environments, but draws deliberate attention to it as entire environments spring to life like cardboard cutouts popping from the ground as the set constructs itself. Characters and fixed locations mix with 3D locations and 1st person movement across the school, blood becomes a signature pink as if the deceased were recently murdered nightclubs in human form. Class trials become a spinning mix of juxtaposing conversations and dizzying camera control. In short the game is pretty damn weird, but all in good ways. Danganronpa truly carries its own charm into the mix despite what may seem like stock standard game conventions, and it’s a bizarre amalgamation that certainly gives it some deserved identity. Plus, there some rather special cutscenes that deserve at least a subtle mention, and they definitely take center stage when their time comes.

friendsLastly, as a personal side note, Danganronpa was an interesting experience for me personally, and while this isn’t truly part of the game itself in terms of review, I feel I need to mention I streamed this on Twitch. This was different for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it really impacted some aspects of the experience in what I felt were positive ways. The characters are all fully voiced during the class trials, but outside of them and not counting their voice cues, I did all the voicing myself. This was a very different experience for me because I was pushed to try new things in terms of characterization and some actually vocal effort to a stream. This also meant I could really have a back and forth about cases, murders, clues, and how I thought the story was going in its direction. Playing this over Twitch worried me greatly given the opportunity for spoilers, but it turned into a great social experience for the channel and let me try new things. Moral of the story is, find people to share this with, there is a big fan base out there. Danganronpa is well loved series in the right circles and it’s surprisingly rewarding to invest in the experience with friends.

Is it Good?

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was a game I had put off for longer than I should have, but I’m very happy I got around to it. On many levels I greatly enjoyed the game not only in the game but outside it. Whether it was getting to know the cast, solving the murders and mysterious, talking about guesses and theories off stream, or simply talking about everyone’s chosen waifu from the cast, Danganronpa had me hooked into its world, and I strongly recommend it.

Conclusion

Thanks for the support over 2016 everyone, it’s been a full year since I start working with the Badly.Network now that I think about it…so in a way this is also my one year anniversary with the site. The year has had a lot of ups and downs for me, as the year comes to a close with a feeling of a lack of progress in many regards more than anything. I intend to power on and strive for more next year, but before I get ahead of myself let’s finish Dangancember together before a real 2016 wrap up. Have you played the series, and if so, what are your thoughts, who are your favourites? Discuss below, just no spoilers. Until next time!