Thursday, 7 May 2015

Danganronpa - A Love Letter to an Under-rated Series

Danganronpa is a videogame series that you probably haven’t heard of. 

But why is that?....

Ah yes because it’s a Vita game series. The poor Vita. It’s a great console, built well, good features and some little gems on it. But I could never recommend it to anyone because Sony doesn’t really give a damn about the console. The game line up is pretty much Japanese imports, Indie titles you can play on the PS3 and/or 4, and a tiny amount of exclusive Indies. 

But it’s the first of those 3 options where the Vita manages to shine. I’d argue the Vita is the best console since the original PS1 for Japanese games, and the shining jewel is…oh…its Danganronpa!
I still love you Vita ;-;

So, what the bloody hell is Danganronpa I hear you cry. Well…I assume you cried…in the future….while reading this bit. Danganronpa: Trigger happy havoc was originally a PSP game made by Spike Chunsoft in 2010 and a sequel followed in 2012 also for the PSP. The games were both ported to the Vita in 2014 for which I am deeply thankful for. 

The game is classed as a visual novel, a genre we rarely see outside of Japan due to its focus on story. But you want to know what the game is about, and what you do right? Well before that, here’s the intro…which should give you a good idea of the overall flavour of the game.


So you play as Makoto Naegi a teenager heading to Hope’s Peak Academy the most prestigious school in all of Japan and possibly the world. Usually only the best of the best get into Hope Peak…literally…all of the students are the best in their area of expertise or as the game calls them, the ultimate’s. Makoto has only managed to get in due to a yearly lottery where one normal student is allow to become part of the school. His first day is going to be the happiest day of his life….isn’t it?....


See the second Makoto enters Hope’s Peak he passes out and when he wakes up he finds himself in the main entrance, with a huge iron vault door preventing exit and surrounded by 15 other students. Of course they are all confused, which only increases when they start to investigate the school and find metal plates over all the windows and the stairs to the second floor closed off. Then the school intercom system kicks in…a voice commands them to go to the gym, and there the meet the headmaster…

Monokuma, a half black half white, waist high psychopathic bear and headmaster of the school. He then explains the rules. There’s only one way to get out of Hope’s peak and that’s to graduate. 

So how do you graduate….murder! 

The students must murder another student and then get away with it in the following class trial. The catch? If you don’t get away with it, you get executed. If you do…everyone else gets executed. Suffice to say the students initially decide to ignore Monokuma…but that doesn’t last.

Gameplay is separated into 3 distinct sections. The first is daily life where you can explore the school, talk to the students and get to know them. The second is deadly life, which occurs after a murder and involves investigation and clue finding and finally the class trial which is the most gameplay heavy. Trials involve using evidence to counter false statements and various mini games.

So what makes Danganronpa so bloody lovely? Well for a start a great cast of characters ranging from the stereotypical Japanese gang member with a heart of gold, the adorable Japanese pop Idol and the mysterious girl who ultimate ability is unknown. However the game often messes with these stereotypes, taking the mickey out of them and killing off the people you’d least expect. The game also deals with some grown up issues, most notably the issue of crossdressing in a surprisingly measured way.
The fantastic cast of Danganronpa

But it’s the murders themselves that are the most fun. Danganronpa does a good job of giving it one its own flavour. These include a double murder, a lock roomed mystery and one in which you are the main suspect. All the while the brilliant and cruel Monokuma manipulates things as best he can…although always while keeping within the rules he makes. But the real triumph of the game is the plot. 

Why are you trapped in this school? 

Who is behind Monokuma? 

You’ll find out the answers in time, and they’re surprisingly satisfying. What’s more when you complete the game you’ll unlock one of the biggest bonus modes I’ve ever seen in a game, a mode that also allows you more time to get to know the high quality cast.

There are some flaws. Being a visual novel its gameplay light and this will likely bother a lot of people, you have to fall in love with the story and the world to get the most of the game. The other issue that people who have played the game seem to have is that the blood is pink rather than red in an effort to reduce the games age rating. This didn’t bother me much personally but it does seem strange to tone down the violence in a game about murder.
More murder goodness

Fortunately the game received a sequel at the tail end of 2014. The set-up is similar expect this time you play Hajime Hinita and there’s a new cast of ultimate’s (although one is going to catch your eye). What’s more rather than Monokuma as the headmaster we have Usami a pink rabbit who wants everyone to get along and collect ‘hope fragments’. Suffice to say that a certain black and white bear soon turns up and changes the game back to the murderrific fun of last time. Oh and the game is now set on a bunch of tropical islands.

There are both positive and negative changes to Danganronpa 2. On the downside is most of the gameplay changes. In the first game you moved around the corridors of the school in first person. In the sequel you move about in this dull side scrolling manner which is very monotonous. There’s also a lot of changes to the class trials with one mini game turned from a nice distraction to an irritating chore (seriously this change is especially horrific and annoying). Nearly all the class trials just make things more fiddly.

On the plus side the cast is still great…maybe even better, Danganronpa 1 had a few characters that were quite dull, and I’d argue none of the male characters were especially likeable. The sequel has no dull characters and manages to have a few very likeable male characters. But the biggest strength is the plot. There are several moments in the plot that feel too insane and over the top…but it all ties up in a fantastic finale with several twists…some you’ll work out…some you won’t.

The good news is that there is a third game in the series on its way to the shores of the UK…the bad news is that its now a third person shooter style game. Danganronpa: another episode is due at the end of 2015 and is set between the first and second game. Still it received good reviews in Japan so maybe this’ll keep Danganronpa’s status as one of the finest handheld games going.

If you don’t want to play the games there is an anime series which can be watched on the funimation website (although you’ll need to trick it into thinking you’re American…try the HOLA app for that sort of thing). But seriously…give the series a go. If you’re a lover of great storylines in videogames it’s one of the best.

1 comment:

  1. I know this isn't a post about the Vita (but rather one about a single game for it), but...

    PSP sells 70+ million. Is considered a failure, because the Nintendo DS sold around 140 million. Go figure. The problem with the Vita is that there's only been about 5-10 million sales in 3 years of the device, but it's also ridiculously easy to program for, just like the PS4. So things that are perfect for the Vita, like Retro City Rampage and Hotline Miami, are ported to the PS4, because of that reason. Meanwhile, people go to the biggest market, because that's where the money is. So then if you want to make money from your game (Assassin's Creed Liberation HD, Batman Arkham Origins Blackgate HD), you put it on the PS3 (also Xbox 360 and PC) where it will get the most sales, even though the definitive editions of the games are on the Vita. As a result nobody will buy a Vita, because you can get the best games on other consoles. I think the upcoming version of Tearaway for the PS4 has more or less killed off the Vita for that reason. Those that don't make the leap to HD, like Silent Hill: Book of Memories (which I liked, thank you very much gaming press), are pretty much reviled in gaming circles.

    That said, there are some gems to be had out there. I could mention a fair few, but this isn't that kind of post.

    I've never played Danganronpa, unfortunately. Going by the article and a look at a few videos, it sounds like a text-heavy game similar to Persona or Disgaea. My experience of JRPGs stretches about as far as the Yakuza games and Akiba's Trip, which are more action-JRPGs. I will make sure to check this one out though.


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