The visual novel genre has undergone a bit of a renaissance recently, especially with the unprecedented success they’ve found on Steam. One of my favourite visual novels, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, was just released on Steam to rave reviews, so there’s no better time than the present to take a look back at the first game in the beloved cult series.
You play as Makoto Naegi, beaming ear to ear as he takes his first steps towards the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a school that admits only the most talented “Ultimate” students within their ranks. As far as ordinary high school students go, Makoto is a particularly ordinary one; he got his chance to enrol when he is christened the “Ultimate Lucky Student” when he wins a raffle.
However, when he steps through the school gate, he quickly finds that his luck has run out. He blacks out on the school steps, only to come to in the school’s gymnasium surrounded by the fourteen “Ultimate” students who make up his new classmates. No one has any idea what’s going on apart from one thing, they’re trapped.
Here’s when things get really weird. The remote-controlled Monokuma, a literal two-faced monstrous teddy bear with a twisted love for rules, drops one hell a bombshell. All of the students are now imprisoned with Hope’s Peak’s walls for the rest of their lives. And the only way out? To murder a fellow student without being caught.
Of course, there wouldn’t be much of a story if some of the students didn’t eventually succumb to Monokuma’s despair-inducing words. Before then, you can explore the school from a first-person perspective, similar to the investigation segments from Capcom’s Ace Attorney series. The goal is to explore the school: gathering information; talking to students or even just to hang out.
Speaking of hanging out, another major part of Danganronpa are the ‘free-time’ segments, which allow Makoto to talk to fellow students, learning of their life stories and building stronger relationships. These play out very similarly to Persona’s Social Links, in that you can choose to spend your time with however you want. To speed to whole making friends thing up, you can buy gifts from the vending machine for your fellow students. This cool little feature also brings gameplay benefits, as they unlock skills that Makoto can use in the game’s centrepiece; the Class Trials.
The trials start off with an investigation segment in which you gather clues and evidence to use as ‘Truth Bullets’, used to literally shoot down arguments. The trials work very similarly to those in Ace Attorney, albeit with some major differences. The first is that the trials are timed, and the second being a variety of mini-games to keep things varied; ranging from rhythm-based arguments to 3D platforming sections. The trials are also very fast-paced, keeping things very interesting.
Danganronpa is definitely one of the more interesting games I’ve played. A hyper-stylised muder-mystery story with an especially interesting and humourous cast, contrasted with an incredibly dark and mature story which occasionally takes a turn for the disturbing. It’s a weird little combination of Persona and Ace Attorney that fans of adventure and visual novel fans should definitely check out to see ‘whodunnit’.