About the Game:
I’d never really played a VN game before Danganronpa, and I really only bought it on a whim when Amazon dropped the price down to $29. I mean I’d heard great things about it, and I enjoyed the brief time I’d spent with Persona 4 and Catherine, but really I kind of just wanted it to have it.
In fact it was my wife I actually bought it for. She was going through a bit of a gaming rut (since cured with Star Ocean Second Story) and I thought a change of pace might be good for her. Instead, I found myself in need of a handheld game while she
hogged used the TV, so I figured what the hell…
Danganronpa is a kind of murder mystery game… Phoenix Wright meets Battle Royal (Or Hunger Games if you prefer, you freakin’ weirdo)… where a group of elite students find themselves trapped in a school under the watch of an insane headmaster/bear where the only way to escape is to murder a fellow student, and get away with it!
Disclaimer: Spoilers will be kept to an absolute minimum! Promise!
The game is split into three distinct phases: Free Time, Investigation and Class Trial. After you’ve met your fellow classmates and come to understand the situation you’re in, you’re set free to socialize and get to know the people you’ll be spending the next several hours of gameplay with.
The students, of which there are 15 counting yourself, are all considered the best in their respective talents. You have Aoi the Ultimate Swimmer, Toko the Ultimate Novelist, Mondo the Ultimate… Biker Gang Leader… It’s an eccentric and compelling cast, and it would take long for you to grow familiar with and attached to all of them, or at least most of them. The aforementioned free time allows you to wander the school, find and purchase gifts, and form friendly relationships. The more time you spend with any one student, the more you’ll come to learn about them, and you’ll also receive special abilities that you can use later on in the game.
Eventually, someone will end up dead. When a body is discovered, the Investigation portion of the game begins, and it’s up to you gather your classmate’s accounts of the events leading up the event, search for evidence and basically have a case prepared for when the Class Trial begins. There’s really no way to mess up the investigation, as the game will not allow you to progress until you’ve found all the evidence available for the case, but it’s still on you to figure out how everything fits into the case.
The trial itself has you going over the murder in a round table format, with everyone sharing their findings and opinions. Scattered throughout are a variety of minigames based on the progress of the trial. These range from simple tasks like choosing the right piece of evidence from a list to backup a statement, or answering a multiple choice question, to playing a hangman style letter game to come up with an answer. Most commonly, you’ll be involved in a rapid fire debate where you’ll look for contradictions in an argument and literally shoot them down with a “Truth Bullet”. All of this culminates in a rhythm game style showdown with the accused When all is said and done, a vote will be passed and judgement will be carried out on the guilty party.
As far as gameplay is concerned, all of you interactions are really just a vehicle to drive the story forward. When you play Danganronpa with the same mindset that you’d have reading a book, there’s really no complaints about any of the game mechanics, for the most part. The only two things that come to mind are the ability to “interrupt” a conversation to touch on a key point from that conversation, and the ability in class trials to contradict an argument with a keyword from the same argument. With the first one, it adds this awkward illusion of choice where there isn’t any. The game will simply not progress until you’ve touched on every point in the conversation. For the latter, it just seems superfluous and adds some needless complication and frustration to an otherwise streamlined portion of the game.
The story itself is, for lack of a better term, batshit insane. It’s also wonderful. There characters are all interesting and unique and people you thought you’d hate, or forget entirely, from the beginning can end up being your favorites by the end. Add to that the psychotically marvelous headmaster, Monokuma, and there’s really never a dull moment. What I loved most about the story was that in the beginning of every chapter I felt extremely confident I knew how things were going to go forward. I knew who was going to kill who and why they’d do it. I was right two out of six times…
Presentation, Music and Sound:
The anime style of Danganronpa is somewhat unique. Characters appear as cardboard cutouts, blood is a bright, neon pink color, and even proper cutscenes have an interesting appearance to them. Environments are detailed and atmospheric, and everything has a sense of dark whimsy to it. You’ll constantly want to explore the school, wondering what lies beyond the next stairway, though you’ll never shake the feeling that you’re truly a prisoner at Hope’s Peak Academy.
Music is fantastic and weird, but good weird, and it always manages to work itself into my head at the most appropriate situations. Actually, we have a building that I have to travel to for work on occasion which has a similar layout to the first floor of Hope’s Peak, and I can’t walk around there without hearing the Free Time music…
Sounds are a bit of a mixed bag. Normal sound effects are fine, but the odd voiceovers during conversations can be very distracting. First, let me go on record and say that I’m a huge dub fan of anything. Being blind, I’ll even take bad dub’s over subtitles if I can. None of that was to say Danganronpa’s dubbing is bad, it’s not, it’s great, I’m just saying that my complaint isn’t with the dub itself. Only class trials as very brief events in game are fully dubbed, otherwise you just get random quips every time you talk to someone. The problem is that these don’t always line up with what the person is actually saying, and it can be a bit off-putting.
As far as the trials themselves are concerned, the voice acting is great, in my opinion. All the characters’ English voices sound appropriate, and even some of the initially sub-par ones grew on me by the end.
I’ve always had an interest in the genre, but Danganronpa has officially made me a fan. It’s been nearly a week since I beat this game and the twists and turns and the ending still have me trying to figure out how I feel about everything. Of course the fact that I am this affected by the game should speak to its quality. When my wife asked me what I thought of it after the credits rolled I honestly couldn’t give a solid answer, “It was good… I think?”
I can say I was definitely spent after it was over, but also desperate for answers. With that I decided I’d just fire up Danganronpa 2 real quick, just 10 minutes, see if it clears anything up on the first game… It has not, and I’m now three hours in with more questions than answers…
What I can say for certain is that Danganronpa is probably my favorite game that I’ve play this year (having not actually beaten anything released this year) and one I’ll be trying to convince anyone I can to play. Also looking forward to the anime next month!
…Chihiro is my waifu DON’T JUDGE ME!