It may have one of the strangest names of all time but Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is already on my shortlist for Game of the Year. Any Vita owners interested in a story based game that is completely different than 90% of everything else should pick it up straight away.
The game pits you as average student Makoto Naegi as he starts his first year at Hope’s Peak Academy, a rather elite high school. On the first day, and right after entering the school, he mysteriously passes out. The same happens to the other 14 new students. After brief introductions, the headmaster arrives… and he’s a black and white bear named Monokuma. He explains that everyone will be spending the rest of their lives trapped in the school. Everything will be taken care of and life will be more than comfortable.
There is a way out though: One must simply kill a fellow student and get away with it. Naturally everyone dismisses the idea even if they are confused and upset about being stuck in the school. Nonetheless, a few days later there is a murder. And it is the first of many.
So begins your life at Hope’s Peak. There are cameras everywhere and Monokuma will be watching to make sure the rules he made up are being followed. Breaking the rules comes with a harsh punishment: death. Very early on, a student is killed right before your eyes for breaking a rule. This bear means business.
Danganronpa can accurately be described as Ace Attorney meets Battle Royale. Each murder must be investigated and a group decision must be arrived at during a class trial. After all, if you don’t figure out who did the crime, you and everyone else will be killed and the murderer will be allowed to leave. Letting the murderer leave is an obvious motive but it is never quite that simple.
The story is very interesting and told in a fun way that never gets bogged down or too depressing with its subject. It is also expertly paced. For a game where half your time is spent reading/listening to dialogue, I was always intrigued. Part of this is because, newsflash, solving murder mysteries is fun. And the ones in Danganronpa quickly spiral into insanity. Each murder (after the first one) is filled with surprises, twists and turns. Even if you think you know who did it, new evidence could present itself that changes everything. The class trials aren’t about presenting evidence to convict someone; they are about talking out the crime and the motives with everyone who’s left standing, including the murderer who is trying to blend in.
To add a bit more into the mix, Hope’s Peak is a unique school because all of your classmates are considered the ‘ultimate’ in some field. There’s the ultimate baseball star, the ultimate programmer, the ultimate swimmer, etc. This automatically gives character to these strangers but by the end I had come to know them all on a more personal level. A large part of the gameplay involves spending your free time with the other students until the next murder takes place. This is where you can hang out individually with your classmates to earn skills (used in the trials) and learn more about them. It’s a mechanic we’ve seen many times before but now there is a twist: characters you start to get closer to will die. It’s an important and horrible difference.
Naturally, there isn’t a whole lot of traditional gameplay in Danganronpa. Besides choosing who to spend time with and exploring the school there isn’t a whole lot. And there doesn’t need to be. Once a murder occurs you’ll get to poke around all the evidence and find various clues, called ‘truth bullets.’ Nothing is explicitly spelt out but all of these clues will be needed to determine and expose the murderer. As the game progresses, you will start entering trials with no idea who the murderer is.
The trials are a big round table discussion where every little detail about the case is gone over. The main gameplay here involves shooting evidence at any contradictions a character says during certain sequences and answering multiple choice questions about the case. It sounds boring but it is far from it. Again, the storytelling and strong characters pull you though it all, completely captivated. Other trial gameplay sections include: a simple spelling/hangman thing and a strange but fun rhythm game portion. Did I mention this game is very Japanese?
Anyway, the controls/execution for these trial sections is a bit off but never in a way where I failed because of it.
The one gameplay part of the trials that is the most interesting is where you use evidence to recreate the murder in comic book style panels. It’s fun and leaves zero questions about how the murder happened.
Once the murderer is found out and decided upon as a group, Monokuma executes them in a bizarre fashion, and then it’s back to ‘normal’ school life.
That’s really all there is to Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc but it does what it does expertly. This is easily one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced in a game. There are more mysteries besides just the murders such as: Why is the school locked up? Who is behind Monokuma? And a few more that are spoilerific.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a ton of fun. Solving the murders, exploring the school, learning about your new friends, it’s all great. I won’t forget this game for a long time. Vita gamers should take note.