Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review for PS Vita

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review for PS Vita

The Hunger Games Meets Carnival Games

When Makoto Naegi, a thoroughly average high school student, is invited to the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, he thinks he’s quite lucky. When he passes out and wakes up to find he’s imprisoned in the school and forced to take part in a game of death, he’s forced to reconsider that luck. Thus begins Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc , the latest visual novel to come from Japan and terrorize the English-speaking world.

At first glance, Danganronpa looks like it could be a black comedy. It sports a unique pop art graphical style and a creepy-cute teddy bear mascot named Monokuma, who serves as the story’s main antagonist. However, Makoto is far too earnest a narrator and the inevitable deaths of many cast members are treated with too much gravitas for even the darkest of comedies. The game is straight-up horror, and the candy coating on the graphics (even the blood is neon pink instead of red) has been carefully manufactured to make the atmosphere even more disturbing.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Screenshot

In a Hunger Games (or more properly for Japan, Battle Royale ) type of situation, fifteen students with so-called Ultimate talents are trapped in Hope’s Peak, with no way to see or access the outside world. Security cameras and television monitors are everywhere, and the mechanical bear Monokuma tells the students that there’s only one way out. If a student manages to kill another student without being found out by his or her peers, that student becomes “Blackened” and can “graduate,” or return to the outside world. If somebody graduates successfully, the rest of the students will be executed, but if a Blackened student is discovered, only that person will face a deadly, grisly punishment.

Monokuma gives the students various motives for killing each other along the way, and it’s not long before people start dropping dead. Makoto finds himself taking the point in investigating each murder and uncovering the correct murderer in high-stakes class trials. As the game goes along, Makoto and his ever-shrinking number of friends begin to uncover the dark secrets behind the world in which they’ve found themselves trapped.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Screenshot

An interesting cast of characters livens up the game. They appear to be simple over-the-top anime stereotypes, but most of them have deeper elements that can be uncovered as the game progresses and Makoto gets to know his peers. The characters are intermittently voiced in either English or Japanese (your choice), and most of the performances (particularly Monokuma’s) support their personalities well.

There are minor social simulation elements that allow Makoto to unlock special abilities and have in-depth conversations with the other students, but otherwise there are few choices to be made in the main game. It’s quite linear, and there’s no hope of saving anybody who has been scripted for death. In fact, the question of whether hope can be found amidst such overwhelming despair is the game’s central theme.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Screenshot

Danganronpa excels beautifully as a horror-themed visual novel, but falls short when it comes to other game elements. The most important task that falls on our everyman hero, Makoto, is solving the mysteries of the various murders that occur at Hope’s Peak. These mysteries are set up quite well, starting with one that is painfully easy to solve and continuing into elaborate setups that require careful examination of evidence.

It’s a real shame that the game undermines these murder mystery setups by treating the player like a total idiot. Perhaps it’s because Makoto isn’t supposed to be particularly bright, but the way the narrative treats these mysteries causes that lack of intelligence to be projected onto the player. The satisfying feeling of solving the crimes is lost when the game’s text acts like a huge red arrow, pointing at the important pieces of evidence while basically yelling, “Hey! Look at this! It’s important! Get it? Get it? If you don’t get it, don’t worry. I’ll point it out in painful detail until it gets through your thick skull!”

This trend continues during the class trials, in which Makoto gives the player such obvious hints to a puzzle’s answer that it serves to deflate any sense of victory a clever player might feel for figuring things out ahead of time. Why bother chewing on a good mystery when it’s basically going to be solved by rote during the class trials anyhow?

The main challenge to the class trials isn’t solving the mystery, but overcoming the reflex-based mini-games that are meant to make this visual novel into more of a game-y experience. This is where the Carnival Games part of Danganronpa comes in, and I wasn’t terribly impressed with it. They’re fairly simple games made cumbersome by questionable control setups. For example, in the most commonly used mini-game that involves shooting “truth bullets” at other students’ inaccurate or false statements, the triangle button must be tapped to shoot a truth bullet or held down to memorize a statement for later use. As the player is also tapping and holding down other buttons at the same time, it’s very easy to accidentally hold down the triangle button for a millisecond too long, forcing the player to scroll through the entire argument section again because they memorized a statement instead of shooting it.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Screenshot

Most of the mini-games allow the player to either use buttons or the touch screen for controls, though button presses are preferable since putting one’s hands over the touch screen tends to obscure important information. The game allows players who aren’t into this kind of reflex gaming to set the difficulty to “gentle” or “kind,” but those difficulty levels also cause the logical parts of the trial (choosing correct truth bullets and presenting the proper evidence) to be far too easy. It would have been preferable to separate the mental and action difficulty levels from each other, giving players the choice of a mental challenge, reflex challenge, or both.

In the end, everything is set up so that there’s no final “game over” scenario. The player can fail a Class Trial challenge as many times as necessary, simply receiving a lower grade at the end if there were too many failures. This has no real influence on how the game plays out either way, causing me to wonder if I was supposed to be feeling some kind of existential despair over the futility of striving to overcome the mini-game controls and receive the grade I felt I deserved for being a smarty-pants.

Danganronpa has the look, sound, characters and story for a very interesting mystery-horror game. If you enjoy horror, particularly the off-kilter brand of horror at which Japanese creators tend to excel, you should definitely give the game a spin. Just be prepared to be disappointed that it’s more interested in challenging your reflexes than your brain, particularly since having a proper opportunity to solve its mysteries would have been a far more interesting challenge than mastering the simple arcade games that stand in their place.

The game’s colorful pop art style manages to enhance its horror in surprising ways. 2.5 Control
Class Trial mini-game controls are somewhat cumbersome. 3.5 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Like the graphics, the music and sound effectively boost the game’s atmosphere. 3.0 Play Value
You’ll want to finish the story and solve the mysteries on your own, but the game itself can get in the way of these goals. 3.4 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend below for a final score breakdown.

Review Rating Legend
0.1 – 1.9 = Avoid 2.5 – 2.9 = Average 3.5 – 3.9 = Good 4.5 – 4.9 = Must Buy
2.0 – 2.4 = Poor 3.0 – 3.4 = Fair 4.0 – 4.4 = Great 5.0 = The Best

Game Features:

  • Daily Life, Deadly Life: Trapped in a school-turned-prison, students are murdering each other one by one. You’ll have to investigate each incident, search for clues, and talk to your classmates to try and get to the bottom of each brutal case!
  • Mock Trial: The nefarious Monokuma serves as judge, jury, and executioner as you engage in deadly wordplay, going back and forth with suspects, dissecting their statements and firing their words back at them to expose their lies!
  • Popularity Contest: Sway classmates to your side in each investigation, squeezing information from them to figure out who did it. And when you do, turn up the heat in a variety of timing and reflexbased game systems to uncover the truth and save your skin!
  • Bilingual In-Game Voices: Experience authentic gameplay with original Japanese language/voices or new English language/voices.

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