I am really impressed with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
If you haven’t read my interview with the man responsible for it’s localization, or manged to escape the Twitter fervor, it’s a visual novel developed by Spike Chunsoft (known for the Zero Escape series, and The Starship Damrey) and brought to North America by Nippon Ichi Software America. It casts you as a young man selected by Hope’s Peak to earn an education within it’s prestigious halls. Of course, things go awry and the player is forced into a deadly game, one where murder is the only way to ‘graduate’ and leave the premises. That or deduce just who the killer was and earn the right to continue living. It’s very somber, but contrasts it with a colourful cast who manage to bring some hilarity to nearly every situation.
What surprised me was its restraint. While later chapters throw any sense of that out the window (or would if they weren’t covered in sheets of metal), early on the game’s narrative plays out like that of a masterful horror film. While players are sold on the premise of a cutthroat game of ‘whodunnit’, the first death is a nice ways into the proceedings. This is a very telling feature, it shows how important the story was to the developers (an obvious must considering the genre). Danganronpa’s opening allows the player to better understand the characters. I got a really great impression of who I’m surrounded by, and what I’m up against. Importantly, there was no one character I could pin as a potential murderer or victim. The game believably introduced a group of students who were intending to take part in their first day of class. There’s a lot of questioning as to why the school appeared as it did, but no one immediately began freaking out or feeling they were targeted. Some even thought this may have been a normal procedure.
Of course, when death hits, it hits hard. Despite the nature of the game, the brutality is very surprising (but also stylish, which I’ll touch on later), and so is the victims of these crimes.
As with the Ace Attorney series, the investigation and evidence gathering portion of the game is my least favourite. It’s not bad, but nothing tops the reveal or the trial itself. As the portion that lies between those two, it compares well to the second film of a trilogy; it introduces many questions, but it’s the next portion that reveals the truths. Despite this, Danganronpa provides a clearer path as to where to go and who to talk to during this period, an area that I always find lacking in the Ace Attorney games.
From the jump, the trials are complete chaos. They’re very interactive, requiring players to move a reticule across the screen and “shoot” truth bullets at conflicting portions of a character’s dialogue. Timing is equally important, as the conversations move at a natural pace (you’re not prompted to move them forward during this section of the game). This procedure evolves throughout the course of the game, adding new layers with each case. For as fresh as the game is, it’s a wonder how attempts are made to make it even “fresher”. After several of these shoot outs, Danganronpa even tries its hand at the music rhythm genre. It’s very goofy, and adds some levity to the murders you’re discussing.
The game’s presentation also brings some light to the situation, with a quality and creativity that brings Persona 4 Golden to mind. Blood is bold shade of pink, and in doing so, Spike Chunsoft makes its appearance all the more horrific. Seeing this neon pink mess splashed across the screen plays with your expectations, similar to seeing blood in a black and white film.
This year looks to continue this growing trend of visual novels making their way overseas, with Danganronpa leading the charge. The timing makes sense too, as the genre comes at a time where variety in the marketplace is lacking. Danganronpa‘s success is apparent, as NISA announced its plans to bring its sequel over later this year. Hopefully other VNs like the upcoming Xblaze succeed as well, opening the doors for other games and genres thought as not appropriate for Western markets.