Being stuck in school, until the end of time, is not something I would enjoy. Thinking back to my comprehensive days I recall spending more time studying my wristwatch, counting the hours in anticipation of the final bell, than listening to what was being taught. Hmmm perhaps that is why I flunked all my exams. Anyways, in the PS Vita title Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, an eternity in high school is the nightmarish prospect awaiting the freshmen of Hope’s Peak Academy. I guess they should have read the fine print before signing up. It’s now too late to enrol at Cambridge instead.
Despite my bashing in the paragraph above, Hope’s Peak is considered to be a prestigious school that accepts only the most talented of students. This semester’s class includes an established novelist, a world-class baseball player and an exceptional gambler who has amassed a small fortune via games of chance. The player controlled character Makoto Naegi is however nothing special. Despite being an average teenager he has managed to enlist into Hope’s Peak after winning a raffle (thereby earning him the title of Ultimate Lucky Student.) As it transpires “Unlucky Student” would be a more apt nickname.
On his first day at school Makoto faints, much like a teen girl subjected to ear-splitting Justin Bieber “music.” After regaining consciousness Makoto finds himself inside an empty classroom, where all the windows have been boarded up with thick metal plates. Upon exploring the rest of the school it soon becomes apparent that he is trapped inside the building. All the exits are blocked and worryingly surveillance cameras appear to be tracking his every move. After arriving at the school gym he meets fourteen other students who are equally puzzled as to what is going on.
It’s at this point that headmaster Monokuma shows up to reveal what is happening. Apparently the fifteen students are forbidden from ever leaving the premises, unless they are able to graduate. On the plus side the school will provide them with food and lodgings for the length of their stay. That’s pretty bizarre, but things only get weirder from that point on. In order to graduate a student must kill a fellow classmate and not get identified as the guilty party in the ensuing class trial. Not strange enough for you? Okay, how about this. Monokuma is a sadistic teddy bear… pretty much what you would get if Rupert and Jigsaw, from the Saw movies, ever decided to have a kid.
To escape this nightmare Makoto needs to search for a way out and ultimately determine the identity of the mastermind pulling Monokuma’s remote controlled strings. Unfortunately his classmates are not united in this goal. As the days tick by things start to get more desperate. Squabbles begin to erupt between the group and it is only a matter of time before someone gets murdered. It’s then up to Makoto to investigate the crime scene to determine whodunit. Guess wrong and the bloodthirsty fiend graduates, dooming the remaining students to a gory execution.
Danganronpa’s cases are divided into two stages. When a body is discovered the player needs to collect evidence by using a cursor to question characters and examine a particular room’s highlighted areas. Once this is accomplished the trial proper begins. The evidence you have amassed is turned into “truth bullets” that are used to shoot down lies/contradictory statements made by Makoto’s classmates. Occasionally your evidence is called into question, which triggers a rhythm mini-game that needs to be won in order to refute the arguments being made against you. Once a case has been solved all that remains is to sum up what happened by using a series of pictures to complete an unfinished comic, which highlights the key events of the solved homicide. It’s a little hard to explain, but overall the trial system does a good job of injecting some action into what is a text heavy game.
My verdict in the Danganronpa trial is five stars. If you have a Vita I would say that it is a must own title. The well-plotted storyline should hook in players via its clever mysteries and surprising twists. The likable cast of characters all boast distinct personalities, although I would warn against getting too attached to any of them as most of the students won’t survive long enough to see the game’s six trials. Visually the game doesn’t push the Vita to its limits, given that it was originally a Japanese PSP release, but it does have a stylish look to it. The environments you explore are presented in a 3D first person view whilst the characters you encounter pop up on screen as two dimensional anime cut outs.
The main story lasts for around twenty hours, which is good value for money. Although there isn’t much point in replaying the game, once it is done, anyone doing so will be rewarded with coins that can be used to purchase images for the various artwork galleries. Completing the main campaign also unlocks a neat “school mode” resource game were you can build up relationships with Makoto’s classmates. Completing this mode, after maxing out a friendship, gives you a unique character ending, which is pretty cool. Overall I loved Danganronpa and I am looking forward to seeing its sequel get localised. If you are a fan of the Phoenix Wright series this game should be right up your alley.