[Video Game / Visual Novel Review]: Dangan Ronpa

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game title

A.K.A. – Trigger Happy Havoc

Developer – Spike & Spike Chunsoft

Translator – Project Zetsubou (Unofficial) NIS America (Official)

Length – 10 – 30 Hours

Platform – PSP, PSVita

Every now and then there’s a game that presents you with something completely new and sweeps you off your feet. Most recently for me that game was Dangan Ronpa. With a refreshingly unique story and exciting gameplay components that make you feel truly involved in the events that unfold, Dangan Ronpa is a shining example of excellence rarely seen on portable consoles. It isn’t without faults, but only the most picky of players will find them and even fewer would say they affect the experience in any meaningful way. If you haven’t already left to go and play it (which you should have), read on and see why it now sits at second place in my list of favorite Visual Novels.

Kibougamine Academy is Japan’s source of Hope; every year 15 of the best and brightest students around are chosen to have the privilege of attending and having their success in life all but guaranteed. From “Super Duper High School Programmer” to “Super Duper High School Outlaw Biker”, Kibougamine’s students excel in a plethora of areas. When Naegi Makoto is chosen as the 15th student by lottery, as the “Super Duper High School Luckster”, he can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the prestige of his future school. What awaits him there, however, could not have been predicted by anyone.

After falling unconscious before the opening ceremony, Naegi finds himself trapped within the academy along with his classmates. Together, informed by the mysteriously deranged robot bear calling itself Monokuma, the group discover that there is only one way to graduate from the Academy of Hope: murder a fellow student and get away with it. With danger potentially lurking within the eyes of everyone around him and a deadly puppet-master pulling strings from behind the scenes, can Naegi hold onto his Hope and escape from the School of Despair?

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game

Dangan Ronpa’s synopsis sounds a little over the top and in truth so is the game. However, through clever contrasting of what seems silly with events that are anything but, you are forced to take Dangan Ronpa seriously very early on. The juxtaposition of the students’ titles and teddy-bear-like Monokuma to the gravity of the situation just serves to emphasize how Hopeless things are. I mean, what are your chances when even the villain doesn’t seem to take things seriously? There’s some clever humour here and there to keep things from becoming too macabre though; Dangan Ronpa has some emotionally jarring content but it is by no means a horror game.

As the game progresses you will find yourself interacting with your classmates and getting to know them better, investigating crime scenes for even the smallest scrap of a clue and feverishly arguing your cases to pinpoint the murderers hidden in your midst. The story is gripping and leaves you craving more every time you put the game down to a degree that is rivalled by very few other titles. Your perception of the story is constantly changing as new details come to light so that every scene is interesting, with every single component being potentially important and contributing positively to your reading experience. The first negative thing I have to say about the story is that I would have liked to know a little more about what was going on behind the scenes, possibly in the form of an extended epilogue, though I suspect there’s going to be more explained in the second game.

The second negative thing isn’t so much about the story itself as it is about the way one particular part of the story is delivered. There’s a point in the game where you are given the decision to either tell one of your classmates about some information you dug up or not. I say decision, but if you select the choice that makes the most sense the game refuses to do so and forces you to choose the other option and then proceeds to constantly remind you how bad your choice was for the next two chapters or so. It was incredibly frustrating and I just can’t see what the point of it was, games really shouldn’t give me two options to pick from if only one of them can be picked, and the game definitely shouldn’t blame me for that choice afterwards.

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game

Including Monokuma there are 16 characters in Dangan Ronpa, with each possessing a strong personality. Apart from the more prominent characters though, there isn’t much room for character development. However, with characters that are already so well developed being locked in a closed space I think that things are more about the way their existing personalities play off of each other and clash, something that Dangan Ronpa does very well. With such a large cast you can generally expect a number of stereotypes to show up, but I was really surprised by how much that wasn’t the case. At first glance you may think that stereotypes abound but as the game progresses you will find that those characters don’t act quite the way you expect them to, and that their behaviour is well explained by their back-story. Given the size of the cast Spike has done an excellent job of tailoring each character to fit into the story in a unique way, with all of them feeling like they could be a real person to boot.

Of course people are going to die throughout the story, that’s not really a spoiler, but it is where the gameplay kicks in. As well as being able to wander the hallways in first-person view you can also examine rooms using a point-and-click system, which is your best friend when it comes to examining crime scenes. Once a body is discovered you are given the task of finding whatever clues you can as to whodunit. The searches are just complex enough to feel worthwhile and the game is nice enough to tell you when you’ve found everything in the form of a “Class Trial” announcement, so you don’t have to worry about whether you’ve missed something or not.

The concept of the Class Trial is simple: try to reason out who the killer is using the evidence you have and convince the others you are right before the verdict is determined by ballot. If you correctly identify the killer, they die in a way befitting their identity (and some of the executions are pretty brutal), if you’re wrong the killer goes free and everyone else is executed. There are 3 main challenges that may be repeated numerous times throughout a trial with various multi-choice questions scattered between them and a final “putting it all together” challenge at the end. You’re marked on your performance and given a number of Monokuma Medals based on how you did (more on them later).

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game naegi kirigiri

I’ll start with the easiest two challenges. An Epiphany Anagram is where you have to shoot down letters in the right order to fill in the blanks of a given word – they’re usually pretty easy. A Machine-Gun Talk Battle is where you have to get through to a person who’s spouting nonsense and won’t listen to reason and win by pressing various buttons in time to the beat; there isn’t much logic behind this challenge. The hardest (but perhaps most fun) components of the class trials are the Nonstop Debates. During these the characters will discuss the murder and it’s your job to weed out any inconsistencies in what people are saying, which you do by “firing” contradictory evidence at the offending statements as they come up (using either previously gathered evidence or what other people have said during that debate).

The Class Trials are fast paced and exciting in a way that I haven’t really experienced before. The game knows how to make you feel good with each correct action; the feeling of success behind Naegi’s exclamations is like a pat on the back which never gets old. The major issue with the challenges, though, is that the conclusions you are expected to come to are incredibly rigid at times – there were multiple occasions where more than one of the options available to me would have made sense. On those occasions my clever rebuttals devolved into a hurried game of trial and error, with the end result sometimes being one of my few failures at the class trials. It didn’t happen often relative to the number of challenges, but if you don’t share the writers’ line of thought you’re pretty much screwed and I can see that becoming frustrating. There are difficulty options for “Gameplay” and “Logic”, though I didn’t find much challenge despite playing on the hardest settings for each.

At the end of each trial you are given the task of working out the order in which everything happened in manga format. It feels a little redundant, as by that point you have worked everything out anyway, but the presentation prevents it from being too boring. My complaint here is that the icons used to represent each event are quite small and so it can be hard to work out what they are supposed to represent. Though it wasn’t too much of a problem in the long run it can be frustrating to try and work out why your chosen event doesn’t fit.

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game

 The cases themselves are wondrously complex without being too hard to believe. You go into the trials thinking you have a decent idea of what happened and are then forced to re-evaluate your thoughts multiple times without at any time feeling “wrong”, as such. Even in cases where I had correctly identified the perpetrator before the trial, the how and why of what had happened were so different from what I had in mind that I couldn’t help but enjoy ferreting out what had really occurred. The best part was that all of the cases were completely believable – there weren’t any Deus Ex Machina moments to ruin all of the logical thought you had put in. Beyond the cases you have the mystery of Kibougamine to work out, but I’ll let you explore that one for yourselves.

In the breaks between cases you can interact with the other students in order to learn more about them and strengthen your bonds. This is done by giving presents from the school store which are bought using Monokuma Medals (which you get from the Class Trials). There are particular presents that certain characters like and dislike but I found that the relationships advanced no matter which gift was given (though it’s always best to give them something they like to stay on the safe side and make sure you don’t miss out on their bonuses!). By hanging out with the others you unlock abilities for use in the class trial, so don’t think you’re not going to gain anything by being social. None of them are absolutely necessary but the help is always appreciated. The system is kind of like Persona 3’s social links without the hours and hours of down time between story segments.

If I haven’t already lost you behind that wall of text, it’s time to talk about Dangan Ronpa’s unique art style. There are really two different types of art: the anime-esque 2D sprites for each character that look a lot like cardboard cut-outs when you’re walking around and their 3D representations used during movie sequences. Though both styles take a bit of getting used to they suit Dangan Ronpa perfectly – extremely high quality with a quirkiness that you’ll quickly learn to love. The only reminder that you’re playing on a portable platform is the average quality of the 3D academy that you wander around in, but it’s certainly not bad and in fact manages to convey the feeling of Kibougamine admirably. Overall, for a PSP game, the visuals are stunning. The BGM manages to manipulate the player’s mood well, properly fitting the tone of each scene, but I don’t have any more to say about it. Only the movies, class trials and the beginnings of some sentences are voiced but that’s par for the course with portable titles and the voice acting that is done is of excellent quality; it’s especially important for making you feel involved when it comes to the class trials.

Dangan Ronpa Danganronpa PSP Visual Novel Video Game

Summary – Dangan Ronpa is a must-play. Its excellent writing (and translation), entertaining character design and gameplay that is truly immersive come together to form a wonderful experience that isn’t quite like any other. The art may take a little getting used to but you will quickly find that it fits the feel of the game perfectly, with the audial aspects completing the experience. There were a few faults, it’s true, but nothing that gets in the way of the amazing experience Dangan Ronpa provides. My only regret is that I played the game over a number of weeks – the experience could only have gotten better if I’d played as much of it as possible at once.

Plot/Characters – 10/10

Gameplay – 9.5/10

Audio/Visual – 9/10

 OVERALL SCORE: 10/10 – Excellent

Here’s the OP, even though you should all be watching it in-game:

P.S – It’s actually been a few months since I played Dangan Ronpa and hearing that OP music again brought back all the good feelings I had while playing it. That, my friends, is the hallmark of a good game.

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About Silvachief

I'm a Gamer that dabbles in a little bit of everything. I'm big on Video Games, Visual Novels, Anime, Books and TV Series, but there's more to me than just those!
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13 Responses to [Video Game / Visual Novel Review]: Dangan Ronpa

  1. Kai says:

    A good game and one of my favorite games in the PSP^^

    Nothing much to say, I think the review pretty much capture my thoughts of the game. The gameplay mechanics is pretty good but for the better or worst, it might work better in touch screen, something I dread since I don’t have a Vita (I don’t think the English localication works for the Ipad so that’s a no count, I don’t have any apple devices anyway >_>).

    “There are particular presents that certain characters like and dislike but I found that the relationships advanced no matter which gift was given.”
    From my experience, I would add that if you give a gift that the character doesn’t really like, it will take a longer time for him or her to level up the affection, so the skill you want might even took a longer time than anticipated. You’re screwed if that very same character is the one who die in the next round without giving you anything xD

    “Only the movies and the beginnings of some sentences are voiced”
    Aren’t the class trials voiced too? It’s one reason why I’m so engaged in the class trials myself xD And Yoko Hikasa is doing Kirigiri’s! ❤

    • Silvachief says:

      I’m personally a little touch-screen-ophobic but I can see the upsides to using them in Danga Ronpa’s case. While I never had trouble aiming with the thumbstick a touch screen would certainly be easier. I’m not sure how I feel about the Vita’s touch screen; I don’t currently own one though I would consider making a purchase if DR2 gets and official release.

      Thanks for the corrections, i’ve edited the review to include them =)

  2. Wow I really want to try this but I don’t have a PSP T___T

    • Silvachief says:

      If you’re really keen on playing it you can look up PSP emulators like PPSSPP. I haven’t used a PSP emulator myself but emulators in general are usually pretty straightforward. Once you have an emulator installed the game itself can be downloaded at Fuwanovel =)

  3. christopher says:

    -Spoiler Warning-
    Important question: “Did this amnesia, which took two years away from their memory at school, also reverse any and all changes done to their bodies during that time as well? How could they not have noticed?”

    I read this review as soon as it came out but I didn’t feel right about commenting until I played the game. The gameplay and visuals alone was enough to put it in my top ten (as I said about loving first person in mystery/horror/thriller in my last comments). But the plot INFURIATED me! I’m not talking about the unique characters living in an underground facility, locked in a deadly game and trying to get out, that’s fine. I’m talking about the method and motivations that lead the characters to suddenly becoming murderers.

    Seriously, how could they have lasted as friends beforehand if such tiny things set them off like that, even with those incentives? Psycho-killer split-personality was the only one that made sense and that character wasn’t even one of the killers. I’m mean your brother died and someone you’re keeping the secret of asks how they can be strong leads you to killing them? WTF? Despair fetish/memory loss leads you killing not only your sister but making an elaborate game to kill others? I assume Junko also has a thing about pre-electronic and pre-forensic investigations if even the camera footage is unusable for evidence, and I assume she has a Masters in robotic engineering if she made those Monokumas and can use lasers to make amnesia (in her own brain for that matter). I assume she must also be immortal considering the second game.

    Many of the plot tools are a bit farfetched and I found myself picking out plot holes without even meaning too (the amnesia question being one of many). I could have turned my brain off for this game and ignored them but when it comes to mysteries you can’t really do that if you’re trying to figure things out. If the foundation of it smells fishing it just nags at you for the rest of it. As soon as Leon got executed for self-defense they should have realized it was going to be an unfair game and yet they’re surprised when the rules are broken and Naeg gets executed even though he wasn’t the murderer.

    In the end it felt like the writers were just clutching at straws to try and justify their crazy, though very intriguing, mystery premise. All up it was pretty to look at and interact with, the story being a bit rinse and repeat, but that’s always the risk when you add restricting game mechanics to a story. It can restrict that story to those game mechanics; I mean you wouldn’t expect the story of an FPS to progress without shooting something, would you?

    • Silvachief says:

      I glad to hear you enjoyed the game overall, and you make some very fair points. However, I think you may have misunderstood some of the important plot points, so i’m going to do my best to explore each of your arguments and either explain why I don’t think they’re correct, or why they didn’t influence my enjoyment of the game.

      While I think i’ve been able to provide answers to most of what annoyed you, other answers may unfortunately boil down to the fact that the game doesn’t try very hard to take anything other than the murder cases themselves seriously. Any other plot holes may not have shown up on my radar because I was so intent on trying to pick holes in people’s alibis and figure out the mystery at hand.

      For not noticing the changes to their bodies: We’re talking about a person who is able to fully erase at least a year of memories from multiple people, as well as very specific memories from some of them. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to argue that they would also be able to smooth out the subjects’ reactions to the discrepancies between their bodies from one year ago and their current ones.

      As for how quickly they come to kill each other when they had been able to become friends previously, the answer lies in the differences in situations they find themselves in. In a normal school environment where they were studying, playing and living together becoming friends is relatively easy. As another point, we have absolutely no idea how they reacted to one another initially – the photographs we see come from a while after they first arrive (for all we know they could have been antagonistic to begin with and made amends). When placed in an unfamiliar situation with your life suddenly on the line and everyone dying around you, the story is completely different. I don’t think it’s at all unlikely for a seemingly well-adjusted person to break down in a situation where they could die; people can be incredibly unpredictable. Your example of the brother could have been anything – he was already on edge and any situation could have set him off.

      One point where I think you’re mistaken is with Junko’s. She had plotted to take over the school and enact her plan from the very moment she entered it. There was no random switch activated when the amnesic effect occurred (also, she never had amnesia, and neither did her sister – they plotted the whole thing together). It’s not that the footage was unusable; she didn’t want the participants to use the footage because that would make it far too easy to solve the cases – she actually had cameras everywhere and she was using them for her own benefit (please let me know if I have misunderstood your argument, as I recognize it’s a possibility). I don’t know anything about the second game, so I can’t comment on her immortality. As far as her robotics ability goes – she is the Super Duper High-School Despair, an incredibly talented young person, I don’t think we can put any particular skill beyond her.

      I don’t remember there being a large amount of plot holes, though it’s always possible that I missed them. I would be more than happy to discuss any others with you though as i’ve enjoyed replying to your comment. I felt that all of the information you needed to solve the mysteries was given to you, though in most cases there were one or two aspects I wasn’t able to guess.

      Leon wasn’t executed for self-defense. He didn’t have to retrieve his tools, undo the lock on the bathroom door and kill off a weaponless Maizono – he could have left after defending himself but went on to plan and commit murder – so there was no unfairness in his execution when considering the rules of the game. As far as Naegi’s execution, you have to remember that at that point they all fully believed he was the killer and so to them he was just getting what he deserved. For everyone other than Kirigiri there was no reason to believe that Monokuma would cheat because at all other times he had gone to painstaking lengths to ensure that everything went according to his rules. Rules were important to him because he could not accomplish his goal if the students were made to despair outside of the parameters he had set forth (I can go into this further, if you like).

      I hope that i’ve managed to plug in some of the holes you’ve mentioned. If you found game was a little repetitive then I think that was probably by design, though for me the variation on “1 culprit, 1 victim”, along with the mystery of what was going on behind the scenes did enough to spice things up. As far as restricting the story to the mechanics goes, I never felt that was the case – it may be one aspect we have to agree to disagree on.

      • christopher says:

        Points that I felt were far-fetched, contrived or potholed (I know I’m picky 😉

        Point 1 – “Not noticing the changes to their bodies”
        One thing that caught me was that they’re teenagers. Adults not changing over 2 years* would have made more sense. The fact that none of them thought ‘I’m a lot taller’ or ‘When did I start growing hair there?’ after a two year blank is a bit far-fetched for me. *(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Danganronpa:_Trigger_Happy_Havoc#Story)

        Point 2 – “People can be incredibly unpredictable”
        I’ll grudgingly give you this one (how little everyone but Kirigiri fought back frustrated me more). But despite the situation being ‘unique’ the contexts still weren’t enough of a justification for murder and felt contrived ‘to me’ – but as they say ‘Everyone’s a general after the battle.’
        +On the other side of things they were friends with Genocider for 2 years and somehow never noticed her killer split-personality (or did and were somehow fine with it?) and yet it takes them a week to find it out in the academy and she springs up so frequently.

        Point 3 – “You’re mistaken with Junko – she never had amnesia, and neither did her sister – they plotted the whole thing together.”
        I can’t remember if this was revealed in the first or second game but yes she did have amnesia (*1).
        +I also find it a little far-fetched that Junko planned all this with her sister and then just killed her when disguised as her in order to remain anonymous. I guess she could be just that much of a ‘psycho bitch’ and ‘despair lover’ to think her hidden identity was more important.
        -I also assume that Mukuro was the one that did all the robotics for Junko considering she was a part of the mercenary group ‘Fenrir’ beforehand, so that helps that point a bit. (*2)
        *1(http://danganronpa.wikia.com/wiki/Junko_Enoshima#Pre-Despair_Incident)
        *2 (http://danganronpa.wikia.com/wiki/Mukuro_Ikusaba#Pre-Despair_Incident)

        Point 4 – “Rules were important to him because he could not accomplish his goal if the students were made to despair outside of the parameters he had set forth”
        The rules were that if they were wrong about whom the culprit was (despite how much they truly believed it), that they would all be executed and the killer set free. Two things that Monokuma knew;
        1 – no one was killed and it was the already dead body of Mukuro that was found
        2 – the true culprit was Junko having been the one who killed her at the very beginning
        Therefore having chosen the wrong culprit, Naegi, they all should have been executed, but instead Naegi is sent to be executed and the game continued. This is in direct contradiction to the rules and showing its broken nature, but this any of this matter if he fooled them that they were right? Because of I believe they also should have been shown the camera footage after this ruling was made to prove it.
        -As for not using the footage for evidence, this was a game she created and that could have been just one of the rules (as you say to make it harder), still it would have been nice to see the footage proving Leon’s killing wasn’t in self-defense. (Weaponless, didn’t Maizono get the kitchen knife first?).
        Still I’m surprised if these people were all so elite but no one knew how to use the lab equipment to do DNA testing but I guess for someone else the luck of someone having that skill could also seem too contrived and far-fetched also.

        “Any other plot holes may not have shown up on my radar because I was so intent on trying to pick holes in people’s alibis and figure out the mystery at hand.”
        It’s called ‘not being able to see the forest through the trees.’ But you did say “I would have liked to know a little more about what was going on behind the scenes” and as would I, maybe the plot wouldn’t have frustrated me as much if it had. Some confirmation in both the individual murders rulings, outside apocalypse setting and back-story-twist potholes would’ve been nice.

        • Silvachief says:

          Point 1 – I would point you back to the answer in my first comment – I think any person with technology capable of wiping out 2 years of memories AND selectively wiping out specific information from Kirigiri’s mind would be more than capable of making their victims overlook bodily changes. I’m extrapolating a bit, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched.

          Point 2 – I’ll give you the point on Genocider. While I want to argue that she had never been caught previous to her entry to the school either and must therefore have a way to control the changes…the transformations are too erratic during the game for me to do so.

          Point 3 – She did have amnesia, but not in the Dangan Ronpa game I assumed we were talking about. I don’t know anything about the novels so I can’t argue using anything from them. From that same page:
          “She was able to befriend her classmates of Class 78, but was already masterminding Super High School Level Despair along with Ikusaba. The two of them began to scheme and plan the High School Life of Mutual Killing in order to find and inflict ‘true despair’ upon people.”
          As for killing her sister, I think it’s safe to assume Junko is 100% insane at this point (I mean, just look at her personality changes in the final trial). I believe she would have been willing to do anything at all to make her plan succeed.

          Point 4 – Yes, the only time Monokuma broke his rules was in Naegi’s case, though he was only able to do so because, to everyone else involved, it appeared as though he were the killer and there was no underhandedness involved. So to everyone except Naegi and Kirigiri it appeared as if the rules were being followed and there was no evidence to prove otherwise.
          The not using footage was something of an unwritten rule, I believe. Monokuma mentions early on that they will not be allowed to view camera footage, as that would defeat the purpose of having them attempt to figure out who the killer is.
          Maizono was indeed weaponless at that point. Leon used the katana model to disarm her (and damaged her wrist in the process, I believe), at which point she ran into the bathroom and locked the door. The self-defense portion of the scuffle ended as soon as that occurred and Leon got his tool kit so he could chase after her. That was all proven during the class discussion, so no camera footage was needed.
          As for the DNA testing…one argument is that everyone was specialized in their particular area and none of their specialties covered DNA testing (except perhaps Kirigiri’s), though I think another factor is that DNA testing would take too long – they just wouldn’t have had time to do it before the class trial.

          Setting aside the forest/trees idea, I feel that i’ve been able to adequately explain most of the plot holes you’ve mentioned – to my satisfaction at least. I don’t think confirmation was needed in the murder rulings as in each case the culprit admitted to what they had done in the end. The background information I was most interested in was, as you say, the state of the world outside the school.

    • Silvachief says:

      This is exactly the comment I like replying to, so thank you for taking the time to write it =)

      Also! Remembering your query about whether I plan on writing a “Top Ten Visual Novels” list…it’s almost done! I’ll have it up in the next week or so, so i’d be very interested in hearing your thoughts on it once it’s done!

  4. Pingback: [Video Game/Visual Novel Review]: Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair | The Geek Clinic

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