I wasn’t a big visual novel fan until I started writing for Popzara, but when the boss says to review something, it gets reviewed. One of the first games I played for the site, XBlaze: Code: Embryo was a visual novel that ended up holding my attention, and over time I’ve grown to love reading through these things. One of the best I’ve had a chance to play through is Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and if you’re one of the few fans of VNs who hasn’t had a chance to check this one (or its sequel) out yet, well…there’s no better time than the present.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload ports both the first and second games to the PlayStation 4. It doesn’t change much, offering only some silly extended modes, but does it really need to?
You’ve been accepted to Hope’s Peak Academy! It’s only the most prestigious school in all of Japan. Only the best of the best get to attend, and now you’re among that elite crew. You’ll be studying with the Ultimate Pop Star, the Ultimate Fashionista, the Ultimate Programmer and many others. What’s your unique skill that got you in? Well…you were selected at random from a drawing. That makes you, Makoto Naegi, an otherwise completely average individual, the Ultimate Lucky Student. I guess it’s better than nothing.
Of course, when the school turns out to be a deathtrap set by a villainous robotic bear, it’s understandable that you don’t feel all that lucky. Monokuma, the bear in question, has a proposition for you: you can continue attending Hope’s Peak Academy forever, spending the rest of your lives within the school’s walls. The alternative? You can leave…but anyone who wants to leave has to kill someone else. What’s more, they have to do it without being discovered as the killer. With every student having their own background and reasons to want to return to the real world, well, school life just got a lot more dangerous.
These games play out as something of a hybrid of the SAW film series and the popular series of Ace Attorney adventure games. With that in mind, you understand why I can’t really go on about the story any further; I’ll just say that these games go in some shocking directions and they are absolutely worth your time if the above premise interested you in the slightest. I’m the first to slam video game writing for being on par with your average Saturday morning cartoon, but Danganronpa becomes absolutely gripping relatively early on and kept my rapt attention from that point. The second game, for what it’s worth, is similar with some changes in setting and a new cast of characters.
We can talk about the gameplay instead. Again, the most obvious inspiration here is Ace Attorney; you’ll need to solve each murder as they occur, since if a murderer commits their crime and isn’t discovered, Monokuma’s deadly wrath will fall on the rest of the class. This means investigating crime scenes, searching for clues, talking to other students and, when the time comes, going to trial to name your suspect. Most of the game is fairly standard point-and-click adventure fare with a little exploration on top, but when it’s time for a trial, Danganronpa turns into a bizarre hybrid of Ace Attorney’s cross-examination, a shooter and a rhythm game. It’s a little hard to explain and more than a little goofy, but it works in maximizing the omnipresent tension that defines the game.
1.2 Reload is, of course, the PlayStation 4 release of both games in a single title. It’s…well, it’s not especially different from playing these games on any other platform, aside from the presence of School Mode and Island Mode that serve as bonus scenarios without any of that unpleasant “murder” business. They’re closer to dating sims instead, which is what you might have expected instead of SAW when starting this one. They’re cute for fans but serve as the only real draw for those who have played through the games already.
The presentation is largely unchanged, and the games themselves are entirely unchanged so far as I can tell. The PS4’s power isn’t really necessary at all, so it’s unused; players who have already been through both of these stories before shouldn’t feel the need to buy this collection. That’s not to say the games aren’t gorgeous and the character designs aren’t striking and interesting, but they’re nothing new for veterans.
Of course, new players who haven’t been to Hope’s Peak Academy are in for a treat with Danganronpa 1.2 Reload, while hardcore vets might be interested in the bonus scenarios. I know the anime presentation and oddball premise might turn off some prospective players, but skipping this one because you don’t care for the art style would be a mistake. The rock-solid characterization, crushingly tense moments and real sense of loss when a favorite bites the dust makes these some of the best visual novels in the genre; it’s a series that can stand up with the rest of gaming’s masterpieces.