Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PS Vita) Review
- Intriguing murder mystery with distinctive characters and attractive graphics
Not so much?
- Various aspects of gameplay already done better in other titles.
If you’re willing to spend a little time getting to grips with the gameplay and scrolling through extensive lines of dialogue, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc proves to be a solid entry in the murder mystery genre.
Average high school student Makoto Naegi is delighted to get an invitation to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, but unfortunately, when he arrives, his brand new school life is far from what he envisioned. Locked in the school by a teddy bear ‘headmaster’, Makoto and his fellow students are told that there is only one way they can ever leave – if they kill another student and get away with it. And as the days pass and the tension rises, it seems inevitable that at least one person will get desperate enough to commit murder…
Originally released on PSP in Japan way back in 2010, Danganropa: Trigger Happy Havoc has finally made it over to the English-speaking world. It’s a game that mixes daily life and getting to know your classmates with murder investigations and Phoenix Wright-esuqe trials, so there’s certainly plenty to get your teeth into – but has it since been eclipsed by other, better titles?
Taking place entirely within the confines of Hope’s Peak Academy, Danganronpa puts you in the shoes of Makoto Naegi, a fairly average and unremarkable teen trapped in the school with an eclectic mix of quirky students who are each geniuses at one particular discipline – everything from writing fanfiction to sports and athletics. Gameplay is divided into two halves; during ‘Daily Life’, you can wander round the school as you like and spend time with your classmates, befriending them and perhaps learning their innermost secrets.
Inevitably, however, a murder is committed, and at that point, the game switches to ‘Deadly Life’, in which you must use all your logic and deductive skills to figure out whodunnit. First up, you get a chance to investigate the crime scene and gather evidence, before you and your classmates are thrust into a Class Trial. This is where the Phoenix Wright elements come in, as you use the evidence you’ve gathered to refute the flawed logic of the other characters and build up a case against the real murderer. Your actions are timed in this section, and certainly first time around it can be a bit frustrating, as the tutorials aren’t always entirely clearly as to which buttons to press and when. Once you get the hang of it, however, it’s a fun combination of deductive reasoning and rhythm game style timing.
In between the times when you get to take control, however, there is a lot of story to get through. We can only discuss the first chapter in this review, but while the story has certainly made a solid start overall, even those used to text-heavy Japanese games will feel like they’re scrolling through a lot of dialogue. With fifteen characters introduced from the outset, there are many scenes where you have to listen to a whole bunch of them weigh in on events before the plot can proceed. In addition, many of these scenes aren’t properly voiced, so every time a given character has something to say, it’s usually accompanied by the same noise or short catchphrase – a recipe for irritation if ever there was one.
And, whilst this review itself won’t mar your enjoyment by giving away any spoilers, there is a warning to be made. Last year, an animated adaptation of Danganronpa was aired in Japan, and its story stuck to the game pretty closely, so if you happen to have seen it, then you already pretty much know what’s going to happen already.
Visually, Danganronpa opts for a so-called 2.5D approach with its graphics – the confines of the school are 3D, but character sprites, room furnishings and such are all 2D. Even by Japanese standards, the character designs are a bit on the outlandish side (imagine, for example, a massively overweight comic geek or an excessively muscled female martial artist), whilst the environments are detailed and full of clues to investigate. The background music is atmospheric and does the job of setting the right tone for the various sections of the game – slow and unobtrusive for the calmer segments, but getting faster and more frenzied during the Class Trials.
Enjoyable as the game generally is, however, there’s the feeling that, in recent years, we’ve seen it before. The logic games of the Class Trial sections are of course highly reminiscent of the aforementioned Phoenix Wright, but even the other aspects of Danganronpa have been done better elsewhere. The ‘befriend classmates by day, solve murder mysteries by night’ style of gaming has already been epitomised by the excellent Persona 4 Golden, a game which feels stylistically similar to Danganronpa (down to the talking teddy bear), but which blows it out of the water when it comes to both gameplay and chracterisation. Even developers Chunsoft have outdone their work on Danganronpa with their more recent title Virtue’s Last Reward, a game packed with puzzles, betrayals and its own fluffy mascot character in charge of the murderous proceedings.
If you’re willing to spend a little time getting to grips with the gameplay and scrolling through extensive lines of dialogue, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc proves to be a solid entry in the murder mystery genre. Unfortunately, in the years between its original release in Japan and this English language remake, it has been surpassed by similar yet superior titles, but nonetheless, fans of logic games and whodunnits will find much to like.