Review

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

  • Game release: February 11, 2014
  • Reviewed:
  • VITA

Paint the school red.

by

I don't often think about killing my friends. Why would I? In everyday circumstances, such a violent act would be inconceivable. However, what if my situation were changed? Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc does away with the normal rules and routines that govern modern societies, and in doing so, is able to examine the desires that hide within everyone. What if the only way you could escape a prison is by killing a friend? Not a pleasant predicament, but one that works remarkably well in a fictional story. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc offers a fascinating look at the human condition, expertly delving into the machinations that would cause some to travel down an immoral path. Sure, killing my friends has never entered my mind, but everyone has a breaking point.

The setup pulled me in from the opening moments. On your first day at a prestigious high school, you're knocked unconscious, and wake up much later in a deserted classroom. Fifteen teenagers have suffered a similar fate and are now locked inside a heavily fortified building. There is just one way out: kill another student, and avoid having the crime pinned on you. Killing others within a makeshift prison is a concept that has been explored in other pieces of fiction, such as Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward and The Hunger Games, and works especially well here because Danganronpa does more than just explore the thoughts of people trapped in such a terrible place. After a murder is committed, you must judge your fellow students, and it's remarkable how quickly friends become enemies, and bitter truths are revealed.

Junko sure has you figured out.

You assume the role of Makoto, an ordinary teenager in a sea of overachievers. Everyone at the school is considered the ultimate in some aspect: Junko is the ultimate fashionista, Kiyotaka is the ultimate moral compass, and Celestia is the ultimate gambler. Your ultimate ability? Luck. Of course, winning the lottery only to be locked in a death cage hardly seems like good luck.

Danganronpa is focused on telling its story, so though you can move freely throughout the expansive school, your interactions are limited. Converse with a classmate to learn more about his or her backstory, or examine classroom objects to uncover information about the mysterious circumstances that initially brought you to this place. Most of the action entails walking around the school, learning more about the plot and characters. All of the amenities you could ever want are at the school, and make you forget at times that you're nothing more than a prisoner. Sure, you may never see sunlight again, but you can swim in an Olympic-size pool whenever you want and eat all of the donuts you can fit in your mouth. Life isn't so bad, is it?

Killing my friends has never entered my mind, but everyone has a breaking point.

Well, it actually is bad. At least for some people. Invariably, someone gets antsy and ends up killing one of his or her friends. And who could blame them? When Monokuma, a robotic bear who's also the mastermind behind your imprisonment, gives strong incentives to murder, someone is going to take the bait. And it's these moments that are so interesting. You spend time with these people. You learn who they are and what they want to become. So when a bloodied corpse is found, it's always unnerving. Someone you've grown fond of is no longer alive, and another friend is the perpetrator. How could someone do that? Yes, his or her family's life was threatened, or maybe a fortune could have been made, but is it really worth committing such a horrific deed to reap that reward?

Although you may never agree with the decisions behind each murder, you can understand them. Danganronpa treats the characters with respect. Rather than paint a suspect as a pure villain, or each person killed as a helpless victim, the game shows how much more complicated things are. The teenagers show a maturity well beyond what their young age would indicate. They're filled with emotional conflict, often showing a different outward face than who their inner self is, but it never feels contrived. We've all been in similar situations, when we put a good spin on a bad situation while desperately wishing to escape, or betraying the trust of someone dear to us for our own gain. So when characters act on their darker impulses, we see them with sympathy rather than disgust.

Thanks for rubbing it in.

Sorry for being vague, but the nature of Danganronpa is such that any concrete details could ruin the intricately constructed plot. The game does a great job of surprising you with new developments without ever relying on twists as a narrative crutch. It's the slow stream of juicy tidbits that keep you engaged, the small details of a character's life or the nuggets hinting at why you're imprisoned. The few twists are taken in stride rather than being colossal revelations that derail everything you knew. Still, some moments that were meant to be shocking left me disenchanted. Danganronpa is all too happy to reveal that a character is really a different gender than you expected, or throw in a tired split-personality quirk, and though none of those gotcha moments are sensationalized, they add little of interest to the well-composed story throughout the rest of the game.

Thankfully, the odd missteps are rare enough so as not to distract from the gripping storytelling. When one of your classmates is murdered, you're given time to gather evidence before you make your way to the basement where a trial is held. Not only are large chunks of plot details communicated here, but the bulk of the secret truths that all of your friends hide come to light. Actions speak louder than words, after all, so even though a character may have been your closest ally before, you realize in the dark depths of the school what his ore her real motivation was. And, honestly, when you find out someone you liked is really a murderer, it hurts, because you were fooled just as much as the character that you're controlling.

The trials themselves are fast-paced, electric affairs that demand fast reflexes and sharp decision making. Four different modes within the trials do a great job of keeping things fresh. You may have to shoot truth bullets in an Endless Debate at fraudulent statements, using evidence you learned while searching the crime scene to shed light on a misconstrued idea. There's no way the victim could have held the sword if you look at her palm, right? And this loose doorknob clearly shows my innocence. Firing your truth bullet at the correct statement has the same giddy appeal as shouting "Objection!" in Phoenix Wright. There's an excitement in proving that you're right that is so hard to resist, and it's only after you show that someone was lying that you start to feel bad. Did you really just turn the spotlight on your friend? And now he or she is facing an execution if convicted?

There are other ways of presenting your evidence as well. Hangman's Gambit has you spelling out a word by tapping on swirling letters. Granted, this isn't nearly as exciting as the aforementioned Endless Debate, but it does serve as a fun change of pace from firing truth bullets. There's also a rhythm game called Bullet Time Battle in which you must wear down one of your friends until they admit the truth they've been angrily protecting. Again, it's fun to present your argument to the beat of the music, but I always felt bad afterward. Going into every trial, I wanted there to be a mistake. Maybe the body wasn't actually dead? Or the mastermind was behind the death? So when I cornered classmates, forcing them to admit their guilt, it was a victory tinged with sadness.

When you find out someone you liked is really a murderer, it hurts, because you were fooled just as much as the character that you're controlling.

Trials conclude in a manga-style re-creation of the murderous events. You have to piece together what happened before, during, and after the crime. If you put the pieces in the correct order, Makoto details exactly what took place, and the comic book panels come to life with animations of each act. Seeing your hard work pay off with such a clever revelation is always fascinating. Unfortunately, because the pictures are small, it can be difficult to know what they're supposed to represent, so it took a bit of trial and error to complete the puzzle. Still, I loved seeing the intricate details spelled out, and making me an active participant helped hammer home what occurred and my importance in solving the case.

Sadly, most of those pictured end up dying.

After you see Danganronpa through to its enticing conclusion, you unlock a new mode called School Life that lets you explore your relationships with your classmates without any messy murder getting in the way. It's a welcome inclusion because there's so little time for extracurricular activities during the main story. There are small sections where you can talk to a classmate of your choice before the next killing happens, but students die or get convicted at such a high rate that they're likely gone before you have a chance to finish the storyline. School Life gives you unfettered access to everyone in the school, so I spent a few hours just filling in the missing pieces to their many backstories.

Still, School Life is lacking. There is a narrative hook in which you must build replacement Monokumas (the bear who's holding you captive is scared of being destroyed), and the process of doing so is tedious. Taking the form of a light strategy game, this process has you assign tasks to each classmate as you try to find parts for bear construction or clean the messy school. It's a harmless diversion, but without the dark cloud of the murder plots hanging overhead, it's hard to care about the by-rote activities.

Thankfully, the core story is so gripping that it doesn't matter that the ancillary features aren't up to snuff. Danganronpa excels in nearly every aspect, but two components left a lasting impression on me. First, the respect it shows toward every student, even those who commit the most heinous of crimes, makes you feel sympathy toward everyone, and yearn to understand what makes them tick. Second, the game doesn't revel in the violence of the deaths and the bleakness of the events. You're not a voyeur, after all, but one of them. Danganronpa is an excellent adventure with a story that celebrates the human spirit, even during the darkest times, and that optimistic viewpoint made me smile even when everything seemed to be going wrong.

The Good
Well-crafted and fascinating story
Diverse and relatable cast of characters
Fast-paced trials add excitement to the storytelling
Game presents an optimistic face even amid the dour events
School Life gives you a chance to learn about every character
The Bad
Some tired plot twists add little of interest
School Life's main hook doesn't grab your attention
8
Great
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

/ Staff

Tom has been fascinated by visual novels of late. Becoming a part of a clever story can be incredibly empowering. He spent a couple of dozen hours with Danganronpa and was sad to see the ending credits roll.

Discussion

57 comments
Coco_pierrot
Coco_pierrot

Some of the murders were very obvious if you remember what everyone likes and of course who his the ultimate what ( like someone is the ultimate computer programmer, the ultimate martial artist etc ). I was also very disapointed of some twist plot like whom control Monokuma and how long they have been in the school.

gabrielpatty
gabrielpatty

Gonna buy this in a month or 3. Having short on money but i would definitely buy this on PSN. ^_^

lostn
lostn

I think you just sold me on this game. Glad to own a Vita. I just don't want to pay $40 for a visual novel, so I'll have to wait for it to go on sale.


If your scores are to be believed, this game is better than The Last of Us.

trallisit
trallisit

This reminds me of "Lord of the Flies".

Leboyo56
Leboyo56

Man, I'm far behind even in the visual novel genre. I'm still playing 999!

DEATH775
DEATH775

If you love watching Detective Conan then you will 100% love this game. Solving murder, debating, looking for clues on what happen is my kind of game. Definitely getting the sequel for this game.

Thesuperstar2k
Thesuperstar2k

Watched the anime version, but I dropped it because it was stupid and I think it isn't like what I see people like when they played the Visual novel of this. But, this game is quite cool. Will try it out, but I don't have a PS Vita yet. ): But I may buy it from PSN first once I get a PS Vita one day.

sakaixx
sakaixx

played the original PSP patched and I gotta say this game is really twisted. A  bit sad about the first death in that game that character was my fav and should have been a pair !

Jasurim
Jasurim

Ohhh, I haven't heard of this one before.  Definitely will eventually pick this one up though, sounds like my kinda game.

lowerclassbrat7
lowerclassbrat7

I bought the game and am enjoying it. It's a nice change of pace to twitch based games.

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

I hope the characters are better than the ones in Virtue's Last Reward. It's hard to care when you hate almost everyone in the game.

Mraou
Mraou

Wow, I just watched the anime of this recently. I guess I know everything that's going to happen in it, then.

glennwinton
glennwinton

Persona and Phoenix Wright combined? Yes Please

Thyasianman
Thyasianman

Wait.. So there are some elements of Persona in this game?? Oh yes please, I need this game! 

Hellknite190
Hellknite190

I remember playing a fan translated version of this last year and really enjoying it.

I think I will probably pick it up again on the vita.


That said, I really wish they would translate the sequel.

Lhomity
Lhomity

Thanks for the review, Tom. This is my most anticipated game this month. I've got to wait another week for the Australian release, sadly. Can't wait to get into this.

canuckbiker
canuckbiker

Great review tom. This sounds really interesting, I'll have to pick it up.

Panzer_Zwei
Panzer_Zwei

I'm glad DANGAN-RONPA is getting an western release, even if it wasn't for the original platform. I've finished both games, and my only complaint is that the clues are so evident to the player yet not for the characters that it's just silly. It feels like they were put only as an excuse to extend the character dialogue and trial events.

benleslie5
benleslie5 moderator

About time the PS Vita got some good games like theses

RorshachLives
RorshachLives

I would like to buy this for Iphone since I don't own a PS Vita, but why isn't it on ITunes? I can't find it anywhere. Anyone know when it's coming out for that platform if it is at all?

adsparky
adsparky

I can't always agree with Tom McShea's reviews, but I can't deny that almost all the smaller games he reviews are awesome.

steve4123456789
steve4123456789

Nis America publishing a riskkayy game like this is good. I thought only aksys games publish this kind of stuff.

jonny_dutch
jonny_dutch

Looks stunning, sounds like a debating/wink murder crossover? Maybe I missed it when reading, but are the victim/murderers randomised, or is it the same in every playthrough?

PatrickLevy
PatrickLevy

I'm super hyped for the game!
Been waiting for it for quite a while... Hope this is a success in the US so they also translate the second game... :3

psuedospike
psuedospike

Meh, looks like Virtue's Last Reward mixed with Phoenix Wright and a dash of Persona's art style.

chibistevo32
chibistevo32

@Coco_pierrot I think that was kind of the point. They wanted to give the player the answers before any of the class trials began. 


The twists about the storyline were dissapointing, though. Got nothing on the Zero Escape series.

Coco_pierrot
Coco_pierrot

@sakaixx  it was a little cliché ... but at the same time I was dispointed she had to die first

chibistevo32
chibistevo32

@Thyasianman Kinda, but not really. 


The problem with it is that because the game outside the 'social link' mini game is heavily plot based, the things you learn in each of the social conversations are either minimal, or contradictory to plot reactions during the main narrative

FlareKnights
FlareKnights

@Hellknite190 Well guess we just have to hope this sells well then. Like with anything if people jump all over this game then that will send the message that it's worth spending the money to bring the sequel over too.

TomMcShea
TomMcShea moderator

@Lhomity February is a pretty amazing month for games, too. There's at least four must-play games. Not too shabby.

pcty
pcty

@darkljolly It is not a hard game, sometimes you will have to stop and think for 10 seconds to shoot down an argument but nothing too complicated.

PatrickLevy
PatrickLevy

@RorshachLives  Its originally for the PSP, but the officially translated version came out today for the PSVita...

TomMcShea
TomMcShea moderator

@adsparky I lucked out with this one. I had never heard of it before, and I ended up loving it.

PatrickLevy
PatrickLevy

@psuedospike  This came before Virtue's Last Reward... It came out in 2010.

This game is amazing, you wont regret it.. Im just waiting for PSN to update to buy it... :D

Lhomity
Lhomity

@TomMcShea Yep. I'm currently addicted to Surge Deluxe, on Vita. Also looking forward to Toukiden, among others.

glennwinton
glennwinton

@darkljolly @benleslie5  Killzone, Persona,Tearaway, Soul Sacrifice, Gravity Rush, Hotline Miami Danganronpa,Touch my Katamari, Toukiden. It's looking good for the vita

Megamandrew
Megamandrew

@TomMcShea @adsparkyYou should check out the anime as well.  It's a blast to hear the characters fully-voiced.  The voice cast is fantastic too.

psuedospike
psuedospike

@PatrickLevy @TomMcShea I said meh.  VLR got an 8.5 and I got sick of that game really quickly.  That and I don't trust Tom's definition of amazing...sorry.

PatrickLevy
PatrickLevy

@psuedospike @PatrickLevy @TomMcShea  Dont worry, none of those evil evil puzzles from Last Reward are in this, like you said before, it's like ace attorney in a way. About quick debate in the trials where everyones lives depend on the truth

Raxyman
Raxyman

@psuedospike I don't trust him wholly either, but for someone who's been quite some time around GS i can tell that if his review is good, something in the game is remarkable, most likely on the story. Seing as i like visual novels already, this is basically Battle Royale interactive.

Long story short, regardless of Tom's review, if you like Visual Novels, it should prove interesting, if not, don't waste your time.

DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc More Info

  • Released
    • Android
    • iPhone/iPod
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation Vita
    • PSP
    DanganRonpa puts you in the role of a character who does not murder, even though the only way to escape the school is through murdering people.
    9.1
    Average User RatingOut of 43 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
    Developed by:
    Spike Chunsoft, Spike
    Published by:
    Spike Chunsoft, NIS America, Spike
    Genres:
    Adventure, 3D, Open-World, Action
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    All Platforms