Danganronpa - Trigger Happy Havoc - HighrezGaming

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Danganronpa - Trigger Happy Havoc / 7th of April 2016

Spike Chunsoft has been on a roll with its plans for Steam. Releasing the rather beloved subject of this piece late this February and setting its sequel up for release come April, along with their next big sequel getting a cross release onto the PS4, it frankly is a touching sight to see a visual novel series receive such acclaim outside the Land of the Rising Sun not seen since Phoenix Wright slammed on podiums and bellowed “Objection!”. The fact the series managed to pull the developers out of the sinking ship that is PS Vita exclusivity is also a sign of good news for them, but what about the product?

While Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc will inevitably continue to be revered as a cult hit game with a highly marketable franchise (we’re still awaiting the announcement of a Danganronpa branded Iron Maidens hitting my local import websites), there is an understandable hesitance in most gamers to buy a visual novel on Steam. Titles typically come off as vehicles for illustrated soft-core porn that scares off the uninitiated, with the genre being prone to excessive censorship that I swear births twenty “censorship” curators for every instance, isolating visual novel connoisseurs from the platform. To those worried about excess cheesecake or beefcake, I can assure you that as far as visual novels go, Danganronpa is very thin on it...which is fine, since that is not the strength of this game and to the concerned parties enquiring about censorship, well none of the aforementioned curators have flagged it so I suppose the game is all clear (though the pink blood present even in the original versions may suggest otherwise).

The premise for this game feels like that party game where everyone tells a separate part of a story. One of the players wants a slice-of-life high school story where a lucky but otherwise painfully ordinary student named Makoto Naegi is enrolled into the most prestigious academy in the country, where the next player then says it’s populated by “Ultimates”, high schoolers who are the very best at what they do, such as the Ultimate Programmer, the Ultimate Martial Artist, the Ultimate Affluent Progeny, the Ultimate Fanfic Creator and more. And then there's that guy (you know the guy) who has everyone trapped inside the school building with a diabolic sadist under a monochrome teddy bear guise turning the entire story into a thinking man's Battle Royale. The story then continues with “slice-of-life” player trying to develop some humanity, “ultimate” player trying to give the characters some distinction and that guy trying to make for some interesting murder mysteries, with twists so grand, you would have thought the game would have broken the fourth wall by now. This does help make for more engagement in the story, with developments that help rack up the game's lust for “despair”, a word so prominent in the series, Kingdom Hearts told them to turn down the repetition, then Danganronpa said something about pots, kettles and the colour black.

The gameplay is where I start to get the impression Japan has a weird impression of the Western audience. Stop me if you heard this one, in this visual novel, you investigate murders by collecting up crime scene evidence and then square off in cross-examinations with testifying parties until you actually find the real killer. Granted, that is only one half of Danganronpa's gameplay, but the fact that there are two visual novel franchises that have found success in the West, both focusing on solving murders, leaves me worried that the Japanese think we have some kind of fetish for violence and justice.

I mean, they would probably be right, but I don't want them to know that! Admittedly, it would perhaps be better to consider the “murder mystery” segment to be more like two game modes rolled into one as Naegi's gun symbolism soaked debates and refutes are far more interactive than his older more professionally trained counter part of Phoenix Wright. If the trails are not having you “load” your “bullet” into your “chamber” to shoot down a “weak point” in one of your classmates' testimony (is that gun symbolism showing through yet?), you are using the “silencer” function to “snipe” off reactionary commentary from your peers, recreating the crime and the criminals steps through manga, shooting down letters to spell a clue or playing a competitive rhythm game against a student deep in denial, all this while preserving your reputation (a health bar for the events of the trial, albeit with a very inconsequential punishment should it drop to nothing) and being careful to not expire the time limit (which never really happened for me but I would imagine would also be of little consequence).

The other segment of the game involves you chatting up with your classmates and gifting them purchase gifts from a Monokuma branded capsule machine that can provide comical gifts with its dash of lewdness (a bra styled after a pair of hands clasping over the more sensitive region of the wearer's mammaries) or referential humour should the more hardcore otaku see themselves buying this game (voice changing bow-tie for instance). This “student interactions” gameplay is basically where most 'romance visual novel' players will feel right at home minus the fact you are less courting and more just being a good friend, learning more about each character while never really straying into '...you are totally going to kill someone...” territory and sullying the gameplay, you even gain skills to aid your time in court or skill points to equip more earned skills. Though the gameplay is not the most interesting element of Danganronpa, it is admittedly nice that Spike Chunsoft took the risks to truly distinguish themselves from its more mainstream Ace Attorney series, even if I end up feeling like they took notes from Persona 3 and 4 to do it.

The game is dual audio (Japanese and English) and runs with a launcher sporting a control scheme of “keyboard and mouse or game-pad, PICK ONE” and I suppose enough graphical options that can be expected of a visual novel ported from the PS Vita...which was itself a port of the ORIGINAL PSP. In terms of changes from past versions I cannot say I noticed anything bar a rather miss-able cameo hinting to the spin-off title Dangan Ronpa: Ultra Despair Girls (that will not doubt be seeing a PC release given its third-person shooter gameplay). Voice acting, while I confess I would have no clue how to assess in the Japanese side, is pretty standard though for the English dub however unless you are in a trial (as all the game's trial sequences are fully voice-acted), I would not hold it against you to grow rather irritated with repeated voice clips that will likely become even more repetitious as the student populace dwindles to numbers your five-year-old could easily count beyond.

While part of me still aches at the basic gameplay that I must admit is accepted of the genre and its story's linearity makes me pine more and more for the potential of a “Battle Royale” meets “Until Dawn” (I'm not saying I want Naegi to play murderous mastermind and lead everyone to their demise buuuuuut…), Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is an enjoyable experience to behold that really started to grow on me more than I was expecting of it. With April effectively here by the time this article is published, I look forward to more of this series with its premise of murder and plot twists that is now in my mind a necessity for visual novels to be successful. Until Sakura Spirit or the likes trades their girls for the 6 Merry Murderess of the Crook County Jail, I will be sticking to Danganronpa to quell my visual novel itch.

Greg Baxter
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