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DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review – Enroll in Hope’s Peak Academy Today!

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DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a title done by Spike Chunsoft, published and localized by the awesome folks at NIS America. This title started off as a Playstation Portable title in Japan and has received great appeal, even going so far as to have an animation based off the game’s events, two sequels, the latest being currently worked on as more of an action based title called “Another Story”. Trigger Happy Havoc is a rehash of the first title in the series, with a little extra game mode at the end of the game to add a bit more to the game.

*Due to the game being heavily story-based I will only go through a bit of the prologue to get you guys started.*

To give an introduction to the story, you assume control of Makoto Naegi, a young teenager who was given an invitation to be enrolled at Hope’s Peak. This school is every student’s dream to enter as any student who graduates the college will be successful in anything they pursue. The qualifications, however, require you to excel extremely at a certain field which can be anything from Ultimate Cook, Comedian, Baseball Player, and so on.

Makoto however, is not really exceptional with anything. If anything, he’s just a normal, average kid who earns average grades. Things get very interesting as it turns out he got invited purely out of chance – so he wins the title of being the Ultimate Luckiest Student. As he stands firm at the gates of Hope’s Peak he is determined to adapt and become successful. This dream is shortly changed for the worse as he enters the building.

As soon as he enters he passes out, only to wake up later in a boarded up classroom with surveillance cameras everywhere. After he meets with the other students enrolled, they get introduced to the headmaster of the school, Monokuma. This lovely psychopathic bear tells the students that this school’s philosophy is a communal life, meaning that anyone who enters this school remains there until death, and that they are not allowed to leave.

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This leads to the Killing Game, where Monokuma proposes that to get out of this lifestyle one must graduate. In order to graduate, one must commit murder and get away with it. If the murderer gets away with it, he will exit the school while everyone else gets punished, and vice versa – like the very possible circumstance where the murderer is caught, then the murderer will be punished.

This game shares strong similarities with Spike Chunsoft’s other visual novel hybrid series, 999 and its sequel, Virtue’s Last Reward, while gripping on the cool aesthetic pop stylization of the Persona series, which is developed by Atlus. Other titles that follow similarly in gameplay would be the Pheonix Wright titles, although that series still adds a bit more action into the trial gameplay that creates and diversifies that title enough to make it stand on its own.

The art as said before is fantastic, the drawings are really clean and clear cut anime styling but added even more color, shading and tonality then the standard flat anime coloring. This creates a more natural and realistic anime form similar to the utilization of oil colors on paintings. This style makes it stand out more when it comes to the cutscenes of in the game. The animations are also pretty exhilarating and embody the dark despair-ridden nature of the title.

When it comes to in-game art they still use more tones than the standard anime we’d normally see but add in that stylized pop in color akin to the Persona titles. This helps the game break free from being absorbed by the darker colors which harmonizes extremely well. When travelling around the building, in-game models are presented in both 2D and 3D. 3D assets only make up the hallways and means of exploration in the first-person view but the assets are flat 2D planes which become as light as day when viewing rooms in different angles.

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Unlike most titles which have a pretty hard balance to make 2D and 3D work side by side, DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc does it pretty well. There are minor issues with the 2D planes really pertaining to how the shadows of the characters are presented. Other then that, the strength of lighting in the 3D hallways creates a little disparage in the harmony as it doesn’t blend quite right, but it still comes close.

Gameplay is interesting as it breaks down to a few components, since it is a linear story-driven title. First, Makoto can explore the school in the first person view while stopping to talk to other classmates and relax. This is mainly done on his free-time before a big event happens in the story. This helps break the mold from the fully linear drive and gives you freedom as to who you can spend time with and learn their stories.

As you gain more trust in a person you get more tidbits of their life story and gain access to some perks/powers when the time comes for the class trials. You will not be able to max out all the student’s relationships between to time limits and huge events that happen within the game that makes time with most of your classmates short. This is both good and bad as it really gives you barely any time to get an even stronger connection with your classmates emotionally but due to timing, it does really make you choose wisely on who to spend time with, and eventually feel defeated when one of them goes.

Another thing that becomes straining in this title is that while exploring the school is extremely cool and I personally liked walking around the entire school – they didn’t have a conventional way of locating other students during your break easily without going into your map and teleporting there. This loses part of the immersion of the title when one of the functions of the game is completely tossed aside and one just teleports quickly to get there. They do have a quick map function in the first-person view and honestly I would have easily preferred to have each student color-coded on the the quick map to still keep that immersion, while still being able to quickly find them and reach there without running around crazily.

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The biggest chunk of gameplay however, comes from when a murder is committed. In this psuedo-Battle Royale situation, when a murder is performed the students must take in evidence of the crime scene and anything else that can be scrounged up before the trial begins to determine the murderer.  This is extremely in the vein of Phoenix Wright where you would talk to each student to get their testimonies, while surveying the area for some clues which form into Truth Bullets for the trial. After that is the big part, the classroom trials.

This is what makes the game different then other titles it is inspired from. The trial is presented in a cylindrical matter as it revolves during the hearing, allowing you to listen to characters speak about certain topics about the murder. It is within this haphazard set-up you must find inconsistencies with what someone would say and prove them wrong. This however is far from flat cut, the text that pops up goes away and moves around while the player has to find these inconsistencies and aim with the reticle to fire a Truth Bullet.

This method of attack isn’t as consistent enough to push the trial forward, this type of gameplay evolves as the story goes to give the character more bullets, which may not have anything to due with the discussion. You’ll also see text blocking your shot, alongside finding certain phrases used in the conversation being fired back. All of these elements add a lot more challenge to the gameplay with the difficulty setting, equating to more variables in the conversations. Naturally, this can mess the player up and lose his influence on this case, thus leading to a game over.

The Trials do not end there however, as these trials are filled with mini-game like segments to diversify the cases. Another style is the Hangman’s game, where Makoto has a thought in his head and reveals a few letter in the word that he wants to say, but you must figure it out by shooting the flying letters in the right order to get the answer. Another mini game is the Rythmn Battle, where you must keep a rythmic beat to get through an onslaught of distractions from more the potential suspect to condemn him even more.

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The coup de grace of the whole trial is the ending statement, which sadly ends up being the biggest problem of this whole gameplay segment. The Closing statement is presented in a comic book style where the player has to pick out certain pieces of the story and assemble them in the proper way for the conviction to fully go through. The art on the comics looks really cool and harsh, but the issues lie in the little comic snippets you need to assemble, as these pieces are pretty small and can be extremely hard to determine what is going on to put them in the right places.

Failing to miss one snippet loses 1 influence point so it becomes extremely easy to mess this section up, although the answer is extremely clear. The reward does provide an excellent animated comic of the events of the murder, which are generally pretty fanatical and splendid. Reaching that point in this hectic style is difficult not in gameplay but in clarity of all the situations as things become muddled sometimes. The excess of mini-games does add a more active gameplay experience but with how crazy the text can move on some of the scenarios, the player can lose a bit of whats happening in the segment since some of the motions can make the text illegible to read.

Despite these issues, the story is fantastic, as the characters involved are all very interesting and the time spent with them is cherished. Still, you lose a good amount of people pretty quickly – which is saddening as you could have easily wanted to the know them better before they parted. There are a good amount of twists and turns in this title to keep you on the edge of your seat, wondering whats going to happen next.

Some of the murder scenarios do become predictable, determining what’s going on halfway to 3/4’s of the way through an investigation but the game does spice things up with some unknown twists during trials. The end does become a bit convoluted, which can dull the experience for some but the journey there was nothing short of fun and exciting. The biggest critique the original game had was in the story having a saddening amount of interaction with the students.

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Thankfully, that issue was remedied in the Trigger Happy Version of the title, with the post-game mode where you can take the time to read other characters stories. I still found that there wasn’t a lot of choices to make in-game that would make the experience even more enthralling, unlike Virtue’s Last Reward, which diversified endings based on the choices you made throughout the story. Coming from this, DanganRonpa does make for a pure linear experience, but it was very good nonetheless.

This title is a must have to any fans of Virtue’s Last Reward and Phoenix Wright as it is extremely story-driven. Another thing to consider is if you are extremely action oriented, this may not be the title for you but if any of you have a slight interest in the title, I will tell you hand’s down that it is worth a shot and the time. The second game in the series, DanganRonpa 2: Goodbye Despair, has recently been confirmed for a Western release, so you’ll have something to look forward to should you acquire and finish the original.

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Chris Gollmer

About

I have been an avid gamer since I was a child, playing Legend of Zelda on the NES and began true niche gaming during the SNES/Genesis battles.