Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc – Review

As an avid fan of Spike Chunsoft’s hit series, Danganronpa, I was pleasantly surprised when I was informed of its recent PC release. On Thursday, February 18th, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was ported to Steam. This visual novel is considered a definite must-have for any JRPG fan, or, rather, anyone who’s in the mood for an intricate, captivating mystery.

I first played Trigger Happy Havoc about a year ago, shortly after clearing my first route on Persona 4 Golden. My first thoughts? I thought the game was rather gaudy. I felt like it was trying too hard to stick out and be “unique”; when most developers take this approach, the finished product usually end up as a failure. Some of the characters had designs so off-putting (at least by my own standards, anyway) that it pained me to even look at them, similarly to the setting of the game. And holy hell, the voice acting. Some of it was pretty decent, but it seemed that the majority either felt lifeless, didn’t match its respective character, or, as I stated earlier, tried too hard. Keep in mind, though, that there may be a reason for some of it. Luckily, though, you’re given the choice to use Japanese audio instead of the English dub. Looking back, it seems like it’s my only opinion that didn’t change.

In Trigger Happy Havoc, you assume the role of Makoto Naegi, an average high school freshman. After being randomly chosen from a country-wide raffle, he’s requested to enroll at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, a private school notorious for its unique selection of students. These individuals are hand-picked and scouted out by the school itself for their talents. Some of these said talents are rather realistic, like, say, being a hall monitor or a baseball player, while not so much for a certain few (doujin/fanfic author, biker gang leader, etc.). However, upon arriving at the school’s gates, the new class is locked up within the academy’s walls and given only one opportunity to escape: by killing another student. Just doing the deed isn’t enough: after a murder occurs, a trial is held to determine the killer. If they’re able to get away with their crime, the perpetrator is free to escape, while their classmates are executed. However, if they lose, they get killed instead.

The story started off slow at first, but presented a problem to hook and intrigue players with. Within an hour or so into the story, though, I was instantly hooked. I couldn’t put the game down. When the first murder occurred, I was tasked with gathering evidence for about an hour or so. This meant observing the crime scene (and other suspicious areas), interviewing the cast, and noting down connections and incongruities. These are recorded in your “student handbook” as “Truth Bullets”- literally. Once the player detects everything they can find (don’t worry, there’s no time limit), it’s time for the trial.

The Class Trial is the most notable and fun feature of the game. The cast is led to a courtroom of sorts, consisting of an arrangement of 16 seats set in a circle, and a throne for the game’s antagonist, Monokuma, a two-toned, robotic bear whose puppeteer conducts the Killing Game from behind the scenes. The Trial usually lasts around 2 and a half, full-voiced hours. During this timeframe, three minigames occur.

The first of which is the “Nonstop Debate.” The dialog switches back and forth from character to character, in which they discuss the details of the case. Depending on your difficulty, a certain amount of Truth Bullets are loaded in your barrel – in a metaphorical sense, of course – which are used to quite literally shoot down lies, incongruities, and arguments, which are highlighted in gold. In later chapters, if the evidence that you’re provided with isn’t enough, absorbing statements will often become necessary. “White noise” – ironically colored a vivid, hot pink hue, similar to the blood (yes, seriously) – comes in the form of short statements which drift across the screen, often getting in the way of your aim. However, shooting them down (often necessary) with your “silencer” earns you a bonus second. The Nonstop Debate, true to its name, repeats over and over, until either the time limit runs out or you attack someone’s argument. Unlike the other two minigames, the Nonstop Debate occurs more than once in the trial throughout the entire game, making up most of the trial.

Next is the “Hangman’s Gambit.”  Here, you’re presented with a series of blanks representing a word or short phrase. Depending on your difficulty, a certain amount of these blanks will have already been filled in. It’s up to the player to solve the rest of the phrase, filling in the blanks by shooting down drifting letters in a certain order. I’ve noticed that lengthier words, such as “schizophrenia”, have been shortened down to words like “schizo”. This instance in particular struck a nerve with fans part of a certain blog-based cesspool. I gotta admit, some of the reactions that that coaxed out of SJWs were absolutely PRICELESS.

Finally, the last feature on this list is the “Bullet Time Battle”. This one usually comes at the end of the trials, but not in all cases. The Bullet Time Battle throws you into a rhythm game-like setting, sort of like a one-on-one showdown. You focus in on one character in particular, who then “argues” against you. Statements appear on screen, which, if left undisturbed for long enough, will deal damage to yourself. This is averted by simply clicking along to the beat, locking onto your opponent’s lines of speech in the process. Once you’ve locked on to their arguments, you can destroy them with a simple click, which, in turn, does your adversary damage. When their HP is low enough, they’ll make their last argument, highlighted in a familiar shade of golden yellow. You then shoot through the phrase, clearly referencing the Nonstop Debate.

What happens at the end of the Trial? First, you have to go through the Climactic Reenactment, which, staying true to the name, involves you going over the details of the case once more. Except the case here is presented in a manga-like format. There are missing panels to the pages of the comic, accompanied by the said panels at the bottom of the screen, which you must assign to their original locations. It’s actually kind of trickier than it sounds, because, save for the manga-esque impact text, there’s no text to go off of whatsoever.

But what about after that? Once the killer, or “blackened”,”is decided, Monokuma makes some nasty remarks, then it’s off to the Game Over screen. The perpetrator eventually gets their payback, that is, coming in the form of a personalized execution. Yes, you read that right. A short but nonetheless detailed animated cutscene accompanied by Danganronpa’s otherworldly soundtrack plays, in which the murderer is led off to their demise. Of course, their “punishment” is tailored to match their talent. For example (NO SPOILERS AHEAD), if the perpetrator was, say, gifted with vocal and/or performing abilities, they’d probably be forced to sing or something along those lines, then getting brutally crushed.

Aside from the whole killing game arc, there’s one more mode left once you clear the main storyline: School Mode. In it, you’re given time to spend with the other characters (think Social Linking, like in Persona), or perhaps treat them to something else. If you successfully spend time with a character enough, then at the end of the story’s route you’re awarded with a heartfelt cutscene and a “trophy” of sorts. I’ll let you find out what it is for yourself.

Speaking of the cast and all, I simply admire just how much thought was put into each and every one of these characters. In my eyes, most of them are all very relatable, especially in the sequel, which will hopefully be ported to Steam as well. Each of the characters has their own storyline that you can follow, and these routes all elaborate on their personal, real life problems. These flaws are not limited to peer pressure, loss, heavy expectations, guilt, and more. However, some character routes steer a bit more towards comic relief, which, in a game like this, is absolutely necessary.

So far, the Danganronpa series already has several books, manga, two stage plays, an anime, and almost four games in its series. With hope and luck, its sequel Super Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair and shooter-based game Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls will get ported to PC in the near future, including the upcoming New Danganronpa v3: Everyone’s New Semester of Killing. I would certainly and without a doubt recommend this game to anyone who loves JRPGs, mystery games, visual novels, or anything that gets you thinking.

Score

Score - 9

9

Murderous

Impressive character development, and unique, refreshing gameplay. However, the graphics and voice acting could use a bit of fixing.