Visual Novels have been around for a long time in Japan but its only since the DS and PSP era that western gamers have had publishers believe in the medium enough to have them translated and localised. In the past, Visual Novels have had the ugly duckling treatment with straight to PC bargain bin distribution and fan translations. The good news is that this genre is finally starting to gain some momentum on main stream consoles and PC steam distribution. On the Vita then, there’s been a few noteworthy titles such as Virtue’s Last Reward, Danganronpa 1 and 2, Steins Gate and Hatoful Boyfriend. Danganronpa was initially a PSP game in Japan but it wasn’t until the PS Vita that it got a english translation that made it over to the west. After having finally beaten the game, I do have mixed feelings about the game due to the number of flaws but it is a game that deserves support if you like visual novels.
In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, you play as Makoto Naegi who wakes up at Hope’s Peak, a school with 14 other students who also have no idea where they are or what they are doing there. Each student finds out that they are the best in their particular field. There’s the ultimate pop star Sayaka, the ultimate martial artist Sakura, the ultimate swimmer Hina and so on. You find out that Makoto as a result of not having any particular skills that he is the ultimate lucky person. They are then told by Monokuma, a mischievous bear, that they’re trapped in the school and that there’s no way out. However if he or she kills another student and gets away with it in a class trial by framing another student, then he is freed and the other students are punished (by death). If the other students find him guilty, then only the killer gets punished.
The game is broken down into three phases, school life, investigation and class trial. In School life, you wander around, chatting to other students and try to progress the story further. When a body is found, the game moves into the investigation phase where you can study the body, discuss with the others how and when and what happened. After obtaining all the possible clues, the game moves into the class trial where you listen to others and point out contradictions in their statements and piece together what actually happened. To progress in the game you need to solve the mystery and find out who committed the crime.
The best parts about the game are the story itself, the characters, the voice acting and the dialogue. Despite the dark tone of the setting (14 students trying to kill each other in crazy ways), the game is quite humorous and serves as a reminder to not take it too seriously. In particular Monokuma’s dialogue is deliciously mischievous and the voice acting is beautifully over the top. The characters are also really well done and the developers have done a great job in making each character stand on their own.
Its the little things however that break the game and make it at times frustrating to play. Things like moving around in first person view is cumbersome and unwieldy, especially when its so much easier to just use the map to fast track to where you want to go. But despite being able to select where you want to go, you can’t actually go straight into the room, you have to get teleported to the corridor and move yourself manually inside. A bizarre design choice. The game has a neat feature where it highlights objects of importance which is useful to investigate all aspects of the room. However it still insists on putting objects behind characters which make it difficult to select.
When its time for investigation, a good way to move around is to use the map available which highlights the rooms you need to go to investigate with an exclamation mark. I made the mistake of not knowing to use it for the first few chapters which made it difficult to know which room to investigate.
One of the things that annoyed me the most was the gameplay during the class trial, the player is required to point out the contradictions in the other student’s statements. You can use one segment from earlier on in their statement to contradict it with a later segement, but the game never tells you if you should use the earlier segment on the later and vice versa. Naturally it only works one way so it becomes pretty frustrating using trial and error to see what works and what doesn’t. To compound this issue, when you actually point out the contradiction, the pointer moves itself randomly to force you to miss meaning you have to sit through the entire statement from start to finish to get to that point again. Apparently this is ‘gameplay’.
Another ‘gameplay’ aspect that doesn’t work so well is the rhythm mini game which gets used as the ‘Final Strike’ in the class trial. Here you use the ‘x’ button to mark the words you need to shoot and use the ‘o’ button to shoot the words. You use the ‘square’ button to reload the bullets. All of which you need to do whilst keeping in time with the rhythm of the music. It took me more than a few goes to understand what was going on and while there is a tutorial and help page, it wasn’t very clear and as a result there were more than a few fails. Pretty annoying if you can’t work it out, but after a while it does make sense.
Finally there’s LOTS of text. LOTS. The game is 30 hours long over 6 chapters, so each chapter could be its own little game. The game is 90% reading text so if that’s not your thing, then its probably better to try something a bit shorter first. While the dialogue is generally very well written, it does repeat itself far too much and gets to be a problem especially later on in the game, when you’ve heard the same thing about 100 times. The game could easily be trimmed by a good 10 hours if not for the repeatitive nature, and unnecessary dialogue.
Still despite the number of flaws and number of frustrations I had with the game, it still served as an enjoyable experience and a unique diversion from other games. If you are after something different and ready to take on a meaty text adventure Danganronpa has a great story to tell.
Score: 7 naughty bears out of 10