Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review

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After many requests from people who don’t own Playstation Vitas, and an announcement that there were no plans to port the Danganronpa series to a new platform, Spike Chunsoft decided to bring this beloved little visual novel franchise to the PC market.  I originally reviewed the Vita version in 2014, but I like to think that I’ve grown substantially as a writer since then, and I am always willing to support companies, especially Japanese companies, when they support the PC marketplace with niche titles.  So on with the review!

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review
Platform: PC(Reviewed), Mac OS X, Linux, Playstation Vita, PSP
Developers: Spike Chunsoft and Abstraction Games
Publisher: Spike Chunsoft

Danganronpa is about group of highly talented teenagers imprisoned in a high school by a sadistic little teddy bear by the name of Monokuma, who tasks the youngsters to accept life in this communal living environment.  Or alternatively, they could start killing each other to gain their freedom at the costs of their would be friends being reduced to breakfast fixings.  Thus creating a scenario of superstition, intrigue, and despair that is spiced up by the colorful cast of students, most of which are evocative of a number of tried and true tropes, but in a manner that easily manages to be both entertaining and endearing.  Which makes their unfortunate deaths all the more despairful, and creating a delectable flavor of drama that ties the whole story together.
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Along with the dark tragedy of the subject matter, Danganronpa is not afraid to be goofy, silly, or indulgent in a form of bizarre humor while also providing just enough downtime between each murder for its cast members to develop.  It juggles Persona-esque social links with examining dead bodies, and from the get-go establishes a greater purpose with its premise, one that is foreshadowed well throughout the story before amalgamating in a rather spectacular conclusion.  I naturally won’t spoil it, but it’s a conclusion that plays off the conventions established from the beginning of the game while delivering an onslaught of twists, and where the game shines the most.
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Leading up to that, the handful of murders that pop up throughout the title are all well devised in their intricacies, even if the question of ‘whodunit’ is a bit too obvious in some chapters, namely chapter 4.  However, the act of figuring out the logic and reasoning is at least half the fun of any mystery, and where the majority of the traditional gameplay comes from.  When not roaming around the halls of Hope’s Peak Academy, clicking your way on objects of interest, talking to various students and hunting for clues ala Ace Attorney, the game shifts over to a class trial.  A fully voiced examination of each murder where the mystery behind the killer is solved through a series of deductions, and a mix of what I would tentatively call minigames, all of which are based on bullets as Danganronpa literally means ‘Bullet Refuter’.
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Players must look for contradictions in people’s statements by shooting them with metaphorical bullets representing your accumulated evidence.  Play a version of hangman where you shoot your letter of choice.  Go through a bullet themed rhythmic game.  And finally assemble a wordless manga to recap the events of the murder.  All of these are more than enjoyable enough ways to progress the storyline, test the player’s understanding of each murder, and keep them on their toes with something more reflex oriented, but none of them are without a few annoyances.  The biggest one is simply making sure your sense of logic and the game’s are on the right level, as even if you could form a reasonable claim for why what you said makes sense, there is only one accepted answer.
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It is a problem that I found with the Ace Attorney series, but the right answers are reasonable in most instances.  Well, excluding instances where statements made by other people must be captured and then used to point out contradictions that they made earlier in the looping conversation.  I don’t have any idea how that’s supposed to make sense.  Plus, there really is zero challenge to the Hangman diversion, aside from one instance where you need to make the leap in logic from Dissociative Identity Disorder to “Shizo”.  This sort of thing thankfully only exists in isolated incidents, and the majority of each class trial goes smoothly.
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I mirror that sentiment in regards to the localization, as the game is largely free from errors or typos, even though I did see a few speakers mislabeled through my 25 to 30 hour playtime.  However, for a game that should be abrasive of how it is a niche Japanese title, to the point where I feel that honorifics would be appropriate, there are some odd decisions made to hide the fact.  I understand the thinking behind changing Super High School Level Lucky Student to Ultimate Lucky Student, but changing terms like “Idol” and “Doujin Artist” to “Pop Sensation” and “Fanfic Creator” are just unnecessary in my book.
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The worst instance of this is where the only character whose name the localization team changed, and they could not consistently decide what to call her, makes an offhanded reference to Ragu and Chef Boyardee, which I highly doubt was included in the Japanese release.  All done when there is absolutely no hiding the fact that this is a Japanese game set in Japan with an entirely Japanese cast, with a lot of Japanese pop culture tropes thrown into a story that can be dissected as a metaphor for modern Japanese society.
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On that note, the port was outsourced to Abstraction Games, who were either unable or simply tasked with creating a straight port of the Vita version of the game, as opposed to recreating it with higher quality assets than those designed around a 544p screen.  Meaning the game, with its mostly 2D assets, looks pixelated when displayed at 1080p, negatively affecting the character portraits, UI, HUD, and even the text.  While this is noticeable, Danganronpa is still fully playable in higher resolutions, but I do wish that Abstraction had the capabilities to add assets from a production archive into the game.
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Lack of visual fidelity aside, I love the art style and general aesthetic of the game, with how it manages to be distinct while retaining an anime-esque style.  There is some real distinction present with the stylized backgrounds, the more painterly CG artwork, and the almost unnerving papercraft-like cinematics.  I love everything about the visuals of this game, particularly its bizarrely semi-sadistic tone, so I would love to see it at a higher quality.  That said, for as much as the visuals are enticing, much of the HUD is unnecessary with this chapter markers, the double portraits in class trials, and that BGM icon in the corner of the screen.  I understand the series was lucky to get its composer, and a memorable and tonally refining soundtrack with it, but it’s more distracting than anything else.
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Continuing on, the User Interface of this game is very much designed around a controller in mind, as to be expected from a game made for portable systems.  This inadvertently makes the mouse and keyboard control option, which should be very appropriate for a visual novel and graphic adventure game such as this, not that viable.  You also cannot change the key bindings for either the keyboard or controller, which I find to be quite peculiar in this day and age.  In short, it is a straight Vita port, and perhaps some dedicated fans will find a way to upscale or the assets, but I doubt it.
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Taking a moment to think things through, Danganronpa was and still is among my favorite games played over the past few years.  It is a gripping, clever, and engaging story that is tonally diverse enough to remain interesting, complete with a cast of memorable and lovable characters.  While the PC version is nothing spectacular, it is a perfectly good way to go through this story, and based on its quality above all else, I would wholeheartedly recommend the game to just about anyone who would listen.

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