Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Trials and Executions Amongst Friends

Quick Note: Though it suffers from a small identity crisis and some odd pacing, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is still a fun time with a great story and really interesting play style. For fans of the point and click Adventure games, like Walking Dead or Zero Escape series, this is one you should check out. 

My taste in gaming has changed quite drastically over the years. For a long time I refused to play anything that wasn't a JRPG. Then I slowly moved towards the story driven action games. These days I try to play every possible genre to keep my mind open to new things and to be able to part of the gaming conversation. Two years ago, I don't think I would have enjoyed Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc as much as I did today. That's not to say the game doesn't have any flaws, but there's a great story and solid gameplay that makes those flaws easier to over look.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc takes place in Hope's Peak Academy, a prestigious school that allows only the best students from around Japan to enroll. The school was created to be a shining beacon of hope for all of the nation to see, hence the name Hope's Peak. You play as Makoto, an average boy who is not very extraordinary at anything, but won the raffle to join the academy. Upon entering into school, Makoto passes out and awakens to find that he and 14 other students are now trapped within the school by a talking, half-white, half-black bear under the name Monokuma. He has enlisted the top 'Ultimate' students into his game of murder and trials. If a murderer can get away with the crime, he/she can leave the school and everyone else is killed. However, if he/she does NOT get away with the crime, then the murderer is punished.

This unique story is what drives most of the game forward. Similar in style to Zero Escape, the player takes on a 1st person view and explores the world that he/she is trapped within and solves puzzles to further unravel the mystery. However, rather than journeying from room to room and trying to escape, the player must find clues of each murder within the school to present at a class trial.

These class trials are where the real gameplay happens. Once a class trial starts, the students gather together to determine who the culprit is. With the evidence gathered before the trial, the player must help Makoto convince his classmates who the correct villain is so they can stay alive longer. This is where the game shifts closer to the Phoenix Wright games on Nintendo DS and 3DS. As the trial progresses, the player must determine when a character is lying, present key evidence and help discern new evidence from what the classmates are saying. These sections are a lot of fun, with new game mechanics layered onto it each trial. The murders themselves are rather interesting, though usually it's pretty easy to figure out who is the killer before the trial even starts, which can be kind of a let down. For a game that revolves around murder mysteries, the mysteries tend to be a little shallow. The story behind them is interesting all the same, but I couldn't help feeling a little disappointed from the lack of challenge.

In between looking for clues and the trials, Makoto will get free time. This can be used to spend time getting to know your class mates. By spending time with them, you learn new details about their past before the trials began as well as earn skills to use in trial. These skills range from slowing down time between phrases to make it easier to counter a classmate to doubling your 'health' , so you can take a few more hits before failing a trial. These abilities require Skill Points, which you also earn by spending time with friends. You can either spend time regularly, or give presents to classmates to make them happier and earn skills faster. This is such a great mechanic. Similar to the social links in Persona 4, you learn more about the characters and grow stronger at the same time. However, you typically only get two to four interactions in between murders, so you really have to pick and choose which person you spend time with. And without any discernible way to tell what skills you can earn, it's kind of luck of the draw.

However, this mechanic carries over to the School Mode, which is unlocked after the main story is completed. This is where Danganronpa falls into an identity crisis. Both of the main game and School mode are a lot of fun to play, and separately they work very well as independent games. But when you package them together under one game, the difference in style and gameplay is so drastic, it feels like you are playing two games that just kind of connect, not one game as a whole. This identity crisis is a giant Catch 22: if School Mode was scrapped and just placed into the main game, the time between murders would seem so much longer and then tension of who is dying next would be much smaller, but if kept as two separate modes, the game as a whole feels awkward, like the developers couldn't decide what to do. It's the one prevailing thought I had while working may way through School Mode over and over again to ensure I befriended every classmate, and one I can't shake even having beaten the game and put it down.

Despite this conundrum, the game is still fun to play through. All of the students are interesting, as they are not your typical ultimate student. Rather, they are all unique in both style and characteristics, such as the Ultimate Fan Fiction Writer and the Ultimate Fashionista.  I recommend this game to patient PS Vita owners who like games like the Walking Dead and especially Zero Escape, but don't expect the same dark stories of those games, but a more exaggerated, satirical and sometimes comical experience. Overall, I had fun with Danganronpa, and I hope the sequel (coming out this fall) solves the identity problem that the game has now.

7.5 out of 10

Here Are A Few Links:
Game Website
IGN Review 
Metacritic Page
Wikipedia Page 

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