April 10, 2017
Spike Chunsoft, Nippon Ichi Software
Have you ever been trapped with a bunch of extraordinary high school students, tortured emotionally by a psychotic teddy bear and forced to kill each other off as the only way to escape? I know guys. We’ve all been there. That’s the premise for the Danganronpa franchise, the murder-mystery visual novel investigation games that have previously only been available in Australia on the almost extinct Vita handheld, but now available on PS4 in the form of Danganronpa 1•2 Reload.
The package includes the original, Trigger Happy Havoc, as well as the sequel, Goodbye Despair. You’re placed in a trapped situation with a bunch of students with very special skills and huge personalities and are informed by insane bear Monokuma that the only way to escape the situation is to kill another student. The catch is, you have to get away with it. This creates instant trust issues and uncertainty in the group and before too long, somebody is murdered and it’s up to you to figure out who did it, or doom the whole group to death if you get it wrong.
It’s a dark and foreboding narrative, heightened by a bunch of characters that all have different motivations and complicated emotions to sift through, along with crime scenes to investigate. After you have all the facts you need, a trial occurs, and much like Phoenix Wright before it, you have to find inconsistencies in stories and reel off evidence to find out who the killer is, until the number of students slowly dwindles down to just a few.
What makes Danganronpa so interesting is that it gives you plenty of time to wander around, forming relationships with other students and trying to piece together as much backstory as possible. Each character is incredibly well written and instantly memorable, and Monokuma is cemented as one of the most evil yet hilarious villains in video game history. He’s constantly popping up with witty remarks and meta comments, the best of which has him forcing you to play a sadistic video game within the already sadistic video game to give you clues to help solve a murder. It’s really brilliant and the nods to gaming conventions, paired with the creepy cooky music that plays whenever he appears, makes him iconic.
“…Monokuma is cemented as one of the most evil yet hilarious villains in video game history.”
In terms of the package itself, Reload doesn’t do much with the source material to upgrade it for the larger screen. It’s clear that this is a port of a portable release, and Trigger Happy Havoc was originally released for the PSP in Japan, so it’s starting to show its age. Some of the audio doesn’t sound high quality and there is some pixilation in some of the backgrounds; Goodbye Despair does fare better as it’s a more recent release. Regardless, the tunes are catchy and the sound effects are very well done, given so much of the game is text.
If you’ve played these before, there’s not necessarily much bringing you back. Sure, there are different relationships you can form and decisions to make, but the outcome of each murder is going to be the same, which takes some of the magic out of it. It’s super engaging waiting to see who is going to die next and how, along with solving the mystery directly afterward. Like a movie or TV show with a massive plot twist, the effect is lost the second time around.
- Fantastic writing
- Great mysteries
- Nothing new for previous players
- Style won't be for everyone
Danganronpa 1•2 Reload is a great opportunity to play two of the most intriguing murder mysteries available, and a perfect introduction into the visual novel genre for the unfamiliar. While the pacing and dialogue heavy gameplay might be a bit strange at first, it quickly sucks you in and has you hanging on every word, anticipating twisted murders and finding out the harrowing lengths a person can go to purely for survival. With Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony launching on PS4 later this year, there is no better time to dive in and get acquainted with Monokuma and his wicked ways.