You may have heard about Dangan Ronpa if you frequent social media sites such as Tumblr. You may have heard about it if you read the LP by orenronen. If you don’t know what in the world I’m talking about it, sit down and let me enlighten you about Dangan Ronpa, which will be sold in North America under the name ‘Trigger Happy Havoc’.
Dangan Ronpa is a mystery game similar to the ilk of Ace Attorney, with the same amount of crazy puzzles and crazy antics, but with just a touch more actual detective work. The game places you in control of Naegi, who is a new student in Kibougamine Academy (translated to Hope’s Peak in the LP) which is a school that gathers all the ‘Super High School Level’ students in their various fields. It’s an elite school for the elite, and Naegi bumbles in after he won a lottery draw. Things aren’t what they seem at Hope’s Peak, however, and instead of leading a happy high school life, Naegi and his classmates are sucked into a Battle Royale-meets-Saw life of mutual killing in order to escape from the locked school.
There are two main pulls to Dangan Ronpa and they are the reason why the game is so darn popular:
If you’re not paying attention, you can really get stumped while playing the game. The oddest clue or the tiniest piece of dialogue can be key to solving the murder! The game is similar to that of Ace Attorney in which Naegi listens to other characters discuss during the class trials, and then presents evidence in order to steer the conversation towards the right path.
Instead of simply presenting the evidence and yelling ‘Take this!’, however, Naegi uses word bullets where you shoot the evidence at certain parts of a character’s testimony. Each part is timed so it adds a bit of extra excitement to the overall experience. Not only does Naegi have to point out contradictions in the various testimonies of his classmates, but there are a bunch of mini-games that take place during the class trial as the discussion heats up. Naegi can forget what something is called, prompting the player to put the word together for him. Accused classmates or classmates defending another one can start talking nonstop, forcing Naegi to cut down their arguments in a rhythm game (weird, I know). The mystery may be intriguing, but it’s really how you’re expected to solve said mystery and bring the murderer to justice that makes each case so memorable.
The characters and their interactions with each other is a very popular aspect of Dangan Ronpa. The game features, including adorable Naegi himself, sixteen Super High School Level students, all with their own talent, dreams, and hopes. It’s fun not only to get to know them through various free-time events (where Naegi spends a portion of his free time in order to get to know a classmate better) but also to watch in various events as they talk to each other. From the socially awkward hall monitor Ishimaru to the more easygoing Kuwata, there’s definitely a character in the cast that’ll become your ‘baby’. Which certainly makes it hurt even more once you get into the murderous meat of the story.
In the sequel Super Dangan Ronpa 2, the player can unlock Dangan Island mode, where there is no murder, and the game becomes far more relaxed, allowing time for you to go around and gather any free time events with classmates you may have missed in the main story. The first Dangan Ronpa didn’t have this, but the North American version will apparently feature a sort of Island mode, allowing you to go and talk to any classmates you didn’t manage to befriend over the course of the main story.
The story starts out as an ordinary kill-or-be-killed-you’re-trapped-in-the-school deal but as you uncover mystery after mystery, conspiracy after conspiracy, it’s hard not to get sucked in. When I played the first game, I played nonstop for three whole days because I wanted desperately to know what would happen next. It goes far beyond the simple ‘oh no we’re trapped in the school’ and though the story is actually ten kinds of ridiculous if you think about it, Dangan Ronpa really manages to take the sheer implausibilities and make it work.
Trigger Happy Havoc will be released in North America in early 2014 on the PSP Vita. There is an English-translated version floating around on the Internet somewhere, and there is also an anime version currently airing. I do insist that if you plan on getting the game in English and have somehow managed to avoid any sort of spoilers so far, that you postpone watching the anime until you finish the game. The anime version of Dangan Ronpa is a fast and dirty version of events, meaning that there are spoilers everywhere!