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REVIEW | Dangan Ronpa is a Winning Combination

By
Posted on May 3, 2014 AT 10:53am

When first pitched to me, Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc was described as a very odd mixture of several other games I had enjoyed. Truly, it was difficult to imagine a game where Persona 4, Ace Attorney and Virtue’s Last Reward could even be combined in any sort of meaningful way. When finally getting my hands on the game, I found that the assertions were true and that not only was it a combination of the aforementioned games, but a brilliant one at that.

Let me explain quickly how it’s related to each of the titles to which it has been compared. The game drops you into a school with other students you can create bonds with, a la Persona, but it has been taken over by a cutesy animal robot that is insisting everyone kill each other, much like Virtue’s Last Reward. As students off each other, you are tasked with examining the crime scenes and presenting evidence during a trial to unmask the killer, which then explains the Ace Attorney link in the chain. It might sound a bit ludicrous, mainly because it is, but this combination really works.

At it’s core, Dangan Ronpa is really a visual novel. As you progress through the game, most of what you’re accomplishing is simply moving the story forward. Even during the investigations, I always felt as though I could potentially miss something that could effect my outcome, but I quickly learned that isn’t possible. True enough, if you neglect building a relationship with a character and they’re killed as part of the story, you’ve missed out, but they even offer ways around this that I’ll get to later. I found myself wishing a bit that my decisions had more impact on the outcome of the story, but it did little to deter my enjoyment.

The overall story feels very much like Virtue’s Last Reward, but the stellar character development feels a bit more like Persona or Ace Attorney. As you progress through the story, you’ll get more chances to interact with the other inhabitants of the school and grow to love, hate, pity and respect them. Each person you interact with feels unique and handles situations differently from one another. I found myself growing really attached to a few of them, which is a dangerous prospect in a game where the characters are killing each other off.

What you might call the “meat” of the gameplay can be found in the investigation and trial sections of the game. The investigations are more like the hidden-object-like portions of the Ace Attorney games, but the trials are a little bit different. These task you with completing various mini-games, for instance one has you choosing the correct letters for the proper clue, sort of like hangman. There are portions where you’re listening to what people are saying and objecting based on the evidence you’ve collected, but in order to do this, you have to aim and fire the evidence at the statement without hitting an incorrect one. I suppose this is where the Trigger Happy Havoc portion of the title comes in and while it doesn’t necessarily add anything substantial to the experience, it doesn’t get in the way too much either.

As you wrap up each case, it also has you put together a comic detailing the entirety of the events of the crime. Occasionally, it felt like multiple panels could apply and made it difficult to figure out, but this never led me to fail the trial either. The difficulty in the game was quite forgiving in fact, if you run out of health, by presenting false evidence or failing in some other way during a mini-game, it simply refilled your health and restarted you at the beginning of the last section with no other consequences. This was a welcomed feature, especially for a visual novel where trudging through the same text over and over again can be tedious.

There’s something to be said for the unique style this game has as well. All of the characters are represented by cutout-looking flat sprites in the 3D world of the school. Whenever blood is present in the game, it’s colored pink instead of red, which was a bit confusing at first, but also felt like it fit well with the tone of the story overall. The music is strange, but there are some catchy tunes in there that you’ll find yourself humming to yourself later on and wondering why.

The end-game gives you a very tongue-in-cheek way of offering you another chance to build relationships with characters you may have neglected before they were killed in the story. It is a separate mode that unlocks after your first completion of the game and alters the story a bit giving you a massive amount of extra time before the killing game begins. There is also a robot-building mini-game associated with this mode, but frankly I was much more interested with getting to know each interesting character much more.

Pros:

  • Unique visual and musical style
  • Amazing characters and story
  • Combines the best of Ace Attorney, Virtue’s Last Reward and Persona

Cons:

  • Mini-games sometimes feel frustrating
  • Would have liked choices to impact story more

Final Thoughts:

Visual novels are quickly becoming one of my favorite video game genre. This game, while not quite up to the level of Virtue’s Last Reward, takes that concept and evolves it with it’s own sense of style and unique gameplay. If nothing else, come to Dangan Ronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the incredibly well-done characters and harrowing tale they’ve been thrust into. Once it hooks you in, you’ll not be let go until the conclusion and be wishing for more. Thankfully, you won’t have to wait long, because the sequel is due out for the Vita later this year in the US.

Score: 8.5 (out of ten)





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