Having heard the basic premise of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary Edition, I always knew it was going to be an eccentric game. But it was when a robotic teddy bear started taking the mickey out of me for getting an erection after hugging a pop star that I went to school with that I discovered just how eccentric it was going to be.
That wasn’t a sentence I thought I would be writing when I woke up this morning.
Having been originally released on the gone-but-never-forgotten PSP back in 2010 in Japan, this release on Xbox and into Xbox Game Pass marks the first release on the hardware for the cult series.
First and foremost, Danganronpa is a visual novel. And unlike the spate of visual novels released by the likes of Ratalaika Games, it is a much longer tale, taking upwards of twenty hours. In the same vein as Battle Royale and The Hunger Games, a group of school children have to kill each other, with only one claiming victory.
This deathmatch doesn’t take place on a battlefield in some remote location, but rather the school itself. As Makoto Naegi, you and fourteen other students have been invited to the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. Each student possesses the highest aptitude possible in their specific field, thus granting them the title of ‘Ultimate’. This could be the Ultimate Baseball Star, Ultimate Biker Gang Leader, Ultimate Fanfic Creator or, as Makoto is, Ultimate Lucky Student. Each of the fifteen students has a particular talent, and it is these that have brought them to the new school. It is an elite school for elite students who are invited to attend, rather than applying.
Things quickly take a turn for the surreal when a robotic teddy bear greets the students and informs them that Hope’s Peak will be where they spend the rest of their lives. That is, unless they can kill another of their students and not get caught doing so. Naturally, the students laugh off this bizarre proposal. But the sealed off windows and gun-mounted security cameras may lead them to believe something weird is occurring.
Danganronpa features various distinct phases of gameplay. School Life is where players walk round the school in first-person talking to the other students and investigating their surroundings. Chatting with the other students feels much like a dating sim; you can choose who to talk to and even give them gifts you have on you. Your reward is unlocking new information on that character’s report card and skills for use in the Class Trials. When a murder has occurred, you will need to search the school for clues to help you piece together who the murderer is and how they did it.
The downtime sections where you get to know your students better increase in frequency as you progress. In the first few hours though there aren’t many of them before which a murder occurs.
Class Trials occur when you have gathered all the evidence and will be familiar to anyone who has played Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. The remaining students gather together to discuss what they have found and who they suspect committed the murder. Even in the Class Trials there are several smaller gameplay elements based on everything from shooting lies told by other students using “Truth Bullets”, to rhythm action sections when you have your suspect on the ropes and rebuff their lies. As varied as the gameplay is in the sections, they are a bit too lengthy in reaching a conclusion. You cannot fault the writing and how it is all pieced together but if you’re one step ahead and have already figured out the killer, these Class Trials can drag. The first killer is blatantly obvious but the others are not immediately apparent.
That’s the other major issue with Danganronpa. You know you yourself as Makoto are safe from being killed, and as a result you feel very passive in the story. At times it feels like Danganronpa is begging for a branching narrative. The killers and the victim doesn’t change between playthroughs and it is a very linear path. Sometimes it feels like time has not been kind to Danganronpa.
Most of the voice acting is saved for the Class Trials. School Life sections feature a similar amount of text but with very little in the way of voice acting. Instead, every time you talk to a character, they will reply with a stock response. And it isn’t long before you have heard all these.
Even with a cast of fifteen main characters, you will quickly have your favourites and least favourites. To the credit of Danganronpa, many of the characters are diverse enough that you can really get a grip of who’s who without having to learn extensive backstories.
Then the game starts killing them off pretty quickly.
If the story isn’t surreal enough, then the art style definitely is. At first, it feels really cheap. 2D characters alongside basic 3D environments doesn’t sound like a great combination. With time though it grew on me. It is strangely effective in this topsy turvy world, and I particularly enjoyed the animations when first entering a room of the 3D objects sprouting up into place.
And the ending is suitably trippy as well. Without giving too much away, expect apocalypses, AI’s and a resolution a million miles away from where the story started. It remains, however, a darkly comic tale. Sure, there are kids murdering each other left, right and centre but when the main antagonist is a talking teddy bear, how seriously can you take a game that doesn’t take itself too seriously?
At times, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary Edition shows its age. Initially it may be in the choice of art style but then also in the voicework and gameplay itself later on. But it’s not all bad; being the first in the series to arrive on Xbox I am intrigued by the concept of what comes next. It is certainly different and this darkly comical tale will keep you persevering through the more laborious sections as you solve the mystery of Hope’s Peak Academy.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary Edition is on the Xbox Store