Game review – Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

“My education was interrupted only by my schooling.” – Winston Churchill.

One of the big problems with anime in Britain is when a popular series is not streamed over here, but is in the USA. Perhaps the most frustrating recently was Danganronpa, a murder mystery/death game series streamed by Funimation which became a big hit with many people. None of the anime they stream is available to watch in UK. I tweeted them about this and their reply was “We do not have rights to stream outside our region of North America. You need to contact a distributor in your area.”

So, if you are annoyed that a series on Funimation is not available, it looks like the way forward is to contact websites like Wakanim and Animax and ask for them to stream these series, so that we can watch them without having to worry about any legal issues. But there is some good news at last for us Brits. The original visual novel video game has now come out on the PS Vita so now we can experience the series in some format.

For those unfamiliar with the series, it is set in an elite school called Hope’s Peak Academy, where every student is the ultimate in their field. You play Makoto Naegi, who, due to his entering the school by a random draw, is dubbed the ultimate lucky student. When Makoto enters however he finds himself losing consciousness. Upon waking up he finds that he, along with the other students are trapped in Hope’s Peak. All the windows are covered in thick metal shirts and the main door out is a huge vault.

Makoto then meets up with the other fourteen students and learns about them. These people are , in no particular order, Sayaka Maizono (ultimate pop sensation), Leon Kuwata (ultimate baseball star), Byakuya Togami (ultimate affluent progeny), Hifumi Yamada (ultimate fanfic creator), Mondo Owada (ultimate biker gang leader), Toko Fukawa (ultimate writing prodigy), Celestia Ludenberg (ultimate gambler), Aoi Asahina (ultimate swimming pro), Kiyotaka Ishimaru (ultimate moral compass), Sakura Ogami (ultimate martial artist), Yasuhiro Hagakure (ultimate clairvoyant), Junko Enoshima (ultimate fashionista), Chihiro Fujisako (ultimate programmer) and Kyoko Kirigiri (ultimate ???).

Then they are introduced to their headmaster, a small, black-and-white remote controlled bear (don’t call him a teddy bear, he goes mad) called Monokuma. He informs everyone that they are forced to stay at Hope’s Peak for the rest of their lives. Obviously they are all shocked, but even more so when they learn that there is a way to graduate: to murder another student and not get caught. If a murderer gets away with the crime, then the other students are punished for not solving the case. However, if the murderer is caught, only they get punished. The punishment is the same for everyone however: a grizzly execution.

The game play is split into several sections. Firstly there is “Daily Life”, in which you interact with the students to gain more skills and explore what you can of the school. The more you interact the more abilities you can gain, and the more cases you solve the more you can explore. When a murder takes play you enter “Deadly Life” mode, where you investigate the crime scene, looking for clues which take the form of “Truth Bullets”.

Lastly, the section where you spend the most time playing is the “Class Trial”. There are four different forms of gameplay here: the “Nonstop Debate”, in which you have to fire the right Truth Bullet into the correct weak argument made by the other students; the “Hangman’s Gambit”, in which you are given a short clue with some letters missing and you have to shoot at the missing letters in the correct order to spell out the whole clue; the “Bullet Time Battle”, a rhythm game in which you have to press the right buttons in the correct order at the appropriate time to bring down someone else’s argument; and the “Closing Argument”, in which the player must assemble a comic/manga style scenario of the whole crime, filling in the missing sections. The better you do in these sections, the more “Monokuma Medals” you win, which are used to win prizes that help you interact with the other characters.

When you start the game, it is rather slow. You do not really get into the swing of things until the first Class Trial begins. Therefore at first you are just trudging along, having to go through all the chat with the characters until finally one of the characters is killed; then the action starts. 

The graphics are rather unusual. It is mostly 3D, but the characters are 2D, so when you turn the camera angle around, the characters suddenly become flat. This is not a bad thing. It adds to the dark humour and animated elements that surround the whole of Danganronpa. The art is also bright and colourful. It is never too dark. Even the blood is painted pink rather than red.

But perhaps the best thing about the game is the characters and the plot. The story is fun and gripping, with plenty of twists to make the mystery all the more enticing. The way the characters develop (or to be more exact, how some of them develop, because it is hard to develop some of them because they die earlier than others) is great. There are plenty of shocking scenes involving them, which are best left unexplained to add to the thrill of it all.

Danganronpa is a very well designed, wonderfully written game, and the anime version of it does it justice. There is the possibility that the later games in the series could be made into anime series too. Hopefully by then we might be able to watch it properly when it airs. Luckily, as it is a Funimation series, Manga Entertainment will probably release it eventually.

Score: 9 / 10

Ian Wolf

Ian works as an anime and manga critic for Anime UK News, and was also the manga critic for MyM Magazine. His debut book, CLAMPdown, about the manga collective CLAMP, is available now. Outside of anime, he is data specialist for the British Comedy Guide, is QI's most pedantic viewer, has written questions for both The Wall and Richard Osman's House of Games, and has been a contestant on Mastermind.

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