- Thomas Paine
Makoto Naegi is a boy who calls himself the most average guy that a guy can get, but yet, despite all this he has gotten an invitation letter to get into the greatest academy around the block that guarantees sure success in life after you graduate; The Hope's Peak Academy. The weird part of Makoto getting and invitation is that every other person in there is said to be "the absolute best/ultimate" at something (very similar to Kubikiri Cycle, probably some kind of popular japanese writing trope to garner interest by overblowing everything) - modelling, being a bike-gang leader, literature writing, you name it... As Makoto heads inside the academy to investigate as no one is around, he loses focus and everything goes black. As he wakes up in a class room with windows bolted tight with thick steel plates, he finds a paper saying that "from this point on, this academy will be your life."
For this review we'll be looking at Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the first installment in the Danganronpa investigation-mystery game series. It was created by Spike Co. Ltd in 2010 for the handheld PSP console. The genre cocktail of the game is very similar to the story Ripper (1994) by Michael Slade; it's a mix of the slasher sub-genre and the murder mystery genre, inspired by series such as Saw and a couple popular golden age detective fiction series. Half of the gameplay happens while moving in 3D, where the player is looking for clues, while the story plays and moves forward in the visual novel format. It's very similar to the Kyle Hyde game series in it's investigative format and the Ace Attorney game series in everything else.
Aside from Makoto, in the Hope's Peak Academy there are 14 others that appear at first and they all claim to have lost consciousness during entering the academy as well, and they had gotten their phones taken from them as well. Every one of the other students have overly quirky personalities, weird designs and an "ultimate" trait to them to make them stand out. Most of them are not that well realized as real characters though.
Kiyotaka Ishimaru a crazy "class rep"-type of guy who follows the rules absolutely.
Toko Fukawa, a girl who wrote a novel when she was 10 years old and got everyone to speak of her. she's said to have written masterpieces; literary works that reach top-seller lists. As a character she's quick to jump to conclusions and gets very angry about what she thinks people think of her.
Sayaka Maizono, the ultimate pop sensation and a lead singer of a band.
Leon Kuwata, the "ultimate baseball star" who has never gone to a single practise and hates baseball. He's the type that dyes his hair to show off and
Hifumi Yamada, the "ultimate fanfic creator" is a fat guy who believes that he's unappreciated in this time due to his hobby not being appreciated.
Aoi Asahina, "ultimate swimming pro" is a tanned easy-going girl.
Chihiro Fujisaki, the "ultimate programmer" is a girl who apologizes easily.
Kyoko Kirigiri, a girl who's not willing to talk about her specialities.
Junko Enoshima, "ultimate fashionista" a girl who's not a pretty as in her photoshopped cover pictures on magazines.
Mondo Owada, the "ultimate biker gang leader," a man with your usual biker gang member looks, the large-sized pompadour.
Sakura Ogami, "ultimate martial artist" is a person who looks like an ogre with scars on her - she IS female, yes, surprisingly.
Byakuya Togami, "ultimate affluent progeny," a boy that is the heir to his family's large conglomerate. He doesn't think of our main character to be on his level.
Yauhiro Hagakure, the "ultimate clairvoyant." A guy with a messy hair. He's 21.
Celestia Ludenberg, the "ultimate gambler." Also known as Celeste, a gothic lolita clothes-lover who has never lost a bet. She's known as the ultimate liar.
The entrance ceremony is to happen at the gymnasium. A teddy colored black and white with a large belly button named Monokuma calls himself the school's headmaster. The bear just happens to be the type of person who wants to see people despair. He pushes the students to try and commit violent acts on others, even as far as to try and give them motives. And here's the thing: there is no ending to this school-life. The students will have to live their communal lives until the day they die. However there is a "graduation clause" which allows a person to leave - "you must kill somebody if you want to leave." The hope's peak academy is about despair to Monokuma, but, is someone remote-controlling the bear?
School regulation list:
Regulation one: Students may reside only within the school. Leaving campus is an unacceptable use of time.
Regulation two: "Nighttime" is from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. Some areas are off-limits at night, so please exercise caution.
Regulation three: Sleeping anywhere other than the dormitory will be seen as sleeping in class and punished accordingly.
Regulation four: With minimal restrictions, you are free to explore Hope's Peak Academy at your discretion.
Regulation five: Violence against Headmaster Monokuma is strictly prohibited, as is destruction of surveillance cameras.
Regulation six: Anyone who kills a fellow student and becomes "blackened" will graduate, unless they are discovered.
Regulation seven: Additional school regulations may be added as necessary.
The school has rules, and if you try to break them, there will be dire consequences... For example as Mondo Owada tried to hurt Monokuma, the bear exploded.
In the dormitory part of the academy every one of the 15 students have a room assigned to themselves with their personal bathrooms. Each room has a lock and the girls' bathrooms have locks as well. Similar to dating simulator games or Persona (3 and up) games you can spend time with the other students to get closer to them, during the Free Time stages of the day. The "school life" is basically only dormitory life. The morning time begins with 7 a.m. and the nighttime with 10 p.m.
Rumours take place between the students about a serial killer named Genocide Jack who murders their victims in cold blood in bizarre ways and leave a message of "bloodlust" which is drawn at the crime scene with the blood of their victims. He disappears and appears without a trace. Could the person behind this be Genocide Jack?
The second halves of the "cases" in Danganronpa feature self made trials by Monokuma in the Hope's Peak Academy where you have to figure out the killer, who happens to be one of the 15 students, via a popular vote. The killer is what is called "blackened." You figure the killer out and they will die, you fail and point at an innocent and everyone else dies, alot of pink gets spilled and the culprit gets to "graduate," in other words they get allowed to leave the premises.
The trial room has 16 seats despite there being 15 students. The characters point out the potential holes and facts about the case in a nonstop debate and it's the player's job to expose the truth with "Truth Bullets" in other words overglorified evidence from investigations. The trials end with a part where you re-enact the crime by adding what happened in the correct order with comic-book panels.
The first trial is incredibly simple. A murder happened in one of the rooms; the room in which is happens should be obvious to the played due to a certain set up with a door, with a scooby doo-tier dying message being found on the wall of the bathroom. I figured out the culprit immediately during the investigation and had my suspicion confirmed by yet another clue in the trash can area of the school so it was definitely lackluster especially due the investigation+trial taking some hours to complete, and they tried to forcefully make it seem like there were numerous twists even though it was all rather obvious, basically more overglorified gameplay to try to make mediocre ideas stand out, but many first cases in games tend to be worse than the rest - the first three Ace Attorney games have those after all.
After the trial ends there will be punishment - as I said before, manage to find out the culprit and the culprit/"blackened" gets the punishment for being found out instead of getting to graduate with everyone else dying. The punishment happens in animated format where the blackened get killed in very overblown ways by Monokuma. And after the punishment, a new area will open in the school for the students to visit, containing even something like a swimming pool.
Makoto finds a letter in the second floor's library that is supposedly from Hope's Peak Academy officials who claim that certain "serious issues" were the reason why the Academy has actually been Closed. In other words the mastermind behind the killing games must know these reasons because they were capable of taking advantage of the situation and remodel the school to their likings.
- Monokuma seems to be better than NASA's machines.
- The Mastermind must be a powerful individual to be able to make the despair game a reality.
The second case and trial has to do with the body of one of the 15 students being found suspended in air inside the girls' locker room in the newly opened area. Could the killer be the infamous Genocide Jack? Byakuya surely believes that as he needs Makoto's help to solve the case.
The second case was definitely better than the first, although the set-up still had a certain part to it which just felt as if it had to be connected to the murder without any seeming reason and it was brought up only again at the final culprit reveal so I knew that either of the two had to be the culprit, because that part was not brought up again - until they spoke about trust and the victim, which made it pretty clear to me who had done it. However, the case has two misdirections to it, nothing that special but still enough to throw people off the loop and make it more interesting. The Genocide Jack part of the story was lackluster though in my opinion. The case definitely helps to make Byakuya a standout character from the rest though.
After the end of the second trial more of an overarching story begins to arise related to the true culprit behind Monokuma; a shadowy figure who might be one of the supposed-to-be-dead students appears to be talking to Monokuma and is said to be one of his old friends. Also they talk about the "sixteenth student" we have not seen.
Many areas open up after the 2nd trial as well - sculpture room, room with a billiard table, some kind of room with boxes and a room with an air purifier.
The build-up of the third case includes an artificial intelligence. Chihiro had fixed a broken laptop they'd found a while ago and inserted an Alter Ego into it to analyze the secret files that may give our heroes an upper hand against the mastermind, but the files are well protected and it takes a while to hack through them, but then it just so happens that the laptop goes missing with more than one suspect who could have done it.
Then Monokuma himself appears and tells the students that $10 000 000 will be the graduation reward.
The third case itself is about a person in a robot suit attacking people with numbered hammers. The first hammer is small and numbered "1" up to "3" and "4" when two victims are found dead. "3" hammer victim in the first floor, "4" hammer victim in the back of the third floor. Then the body of the victim of the "3" hammer disappeared and soon the victim of the "4" hammer on the 3rd floor disappeared after everyone went to the first floor.
By the books misdirection in this case. Incredibly easy to figure out how the case will fold while playing as it had barely any originality to it. It worked in novel format with works such as Death on the Nile by Christie and The Dutch Shoe Mystery by Queen but not here where everything is visual. You have to be able to take advantage of the medium when you think of the kinds of cases to create - here the idea was simply copied from a novel format into a game and the case had a pretty poor misdirection to it related to the assumed murder weapons. I let the first case go without much critisizing because it's a warm-up albeit a rather long one, but this third case... Unacceptably long and dragged out pacing for such an obvious turn of events. I literally knew everything they would do in this case, every trick and twist before they even happened, because it must be written while following some kind of "trope book" orders. Pathetic. Goddamn pathetic for its length.
The third case ends with the supposed reveal of Monokuma's Spy.
After the third trial, the fourth floor of Hope's Peak Academy opens up and the artificial intelligence Alter Ego has something to say about the school. A year ago "the most terrifying event to happen to humanity" went on in Hope's Peak Academy which made the school decide to make a project where the students live in there for the rest of their lives. Just like what Monokuma is trying to do for the rest of their lives. The headmaster, a man in his late 30's, was who approved of the program, and according to Alter Ego, he may still be in the school.
The fourth case of the series has to do with a locked room murder in the rec room, the place with a billiard table. The door was locked by moving a chair in front of it from the inside.
The fourth case is somewhat decent. Althought the culprit is pretty easy to guess due to yet again a mention of a certain thing taking place right before the crime and then the stretching of that vital clue up until the final moment - you can easily point the finger at the right person - but there were, not exactly misdirections, but series of coincidences which took place at the same time that lead up to the "moment of death." Those coincidences help to add some content to the case that make it more interesting, however, they are pretty much impossible to figure out until the people related to them explain what happened in the courtroom, so they were used to try to throw the player off the right track. However, the real murder method was obvious from the very very beginning and that part really annoyed me. The characters act as if these simplest things take alot of deducting to do for some reason and it takes hours of dragging out until they figure it out. The one who gets Punished at the end of the fourth trial is kind of a surprise I guess.
The beginning of the fifth case opens up a brand new floor, the fifth floor. With a locked bio-lab, a classroom with some kind of old murder scene filled with white chalc marks of human shapes as well as RED blood (wow!) all over the place, and a large garden room filled with plantations, even a massive human-eating plant. That room has five healthy chickens in it as well.
Toko found a knife and the remaining group of students gave it to Makoto who put it in one of the drawers of his room's desk. Makoto caught up with a fever and fell asleep. The first time he woke up was when a person with a mask was in his room with a knife, then everything goes black. Then he wakes up again to see Kyoko there but can't hear what she says, then again, everything goes black. When Makoto wakes up in the morning he notices that the knife that he'd taken for safekeeping has gone missing. Then, Makoto finds Monokuma who is being torn apart by the others. The robot bear has stopped working so the group comes into the conclusion that something unexpected must have happened to the mastermind. While going to the Garden to get a pickaxe to take down the headmaster's room door, the group finds a person with a mask murdered with knife in his stomach. When trying to take the mask off, the person's body exploded, making it so that it's impossible to tell who it was, but it's possible to tell that the corpse was a female.
So in this fifth case our MC, Makoto, is considered the prime suspect by the cast just in like the first case however this time it's better.
The trial ends unexpectedly, however, it's not a finished product. I'm not sure what to say about it. Had a decent build up but things were not really made to make sense for the player and the end kind of goes against the whole scheme of the trials. Feels kind of like a waste of such a unique setting, what was going on with that large flower...? Meh...
The fifth chapter has to do with two things: re-doing the trial of Mukuro, the hidden sixteenth student who was found dead in the garden on the fifth floor in order to expose the Mastermind, and in order to "win" the finale the remaining group of students also has to expose all of the mysteries surrounding the school as well, such as the "worst thing to happen to humanity" related to it.
For the fifth case, out of making it "fair" for the players, Monokuma opened every single locked door in the school for the characters to explore in order to find the truth behind the mysteries of Hope's Peak Academy and the identity of the true mastermind.
The sixth and final trial deals with the fifth trial which did not have a fair trial back then, which is heavily tied to uncovering the secret identity of the Mastermind and the person behind Monokuma, as well as the mysteries surrounding the school. The player at this point has the access to every place in the game and every information required to pinpoint the truth about these questions. The final case and trial as of themselves are... fine. As I mentioned the sixth chapter's "case" is basically just the trial as it's a repeat of the fifth case; figure out the death of the sixteenth student. And the answer to that case is mentioned to the player hours before the sixth trial; it's done at the end of the fifth trial, and the fifth trial did not do justice to the set-up of the case in the first place.
We learn major plot twists about the meaning of the Hope's Peak Academy, The Tragedy which happened a year ago etc. However the "truth" is just far too grand. It all mostly makes sense in the series's settings and it's all something that the player undoubtedly has to have as a thought at the back of their head throughout the game, sure, but it's also impossible and obvious; both effective ways to make the interest towards the story and game wane off pretty hard.
The planning of this game is mostly lackluster because of the pacing. Obvious things are made to seem like huge plot twists, obvious answers to questions drag on for hours. The main character is a generic lazy template and the motivations of the Mastermind are bad.
The story is also written in a far too mechanical way for a game. The ideas are taken from cases that fit shorter stories.
Now the gameplay itself looks very nice. Character models bounce on the screen and look different and the artwork is great. The school structure and the maps as well as the somewhat limited free time to spend with getting to know the other students is a decent add-on to the game, however, I said it looks cool, nothing more. It doesn't take any time loading the screens which makes it acceptable for a gameplay that doesn't drag (if only the story was like that), but there is nothing really to "do." Even though you move the character in 3D, akin the Kyle Hyde mystery games, every action you do in order to figure something out or hand something to others is "automated." It happens automatically, you don't have to think about what to do yourself so that you can move forward in the game - all you have to do is investigate every nook and cranny, read the dialogue, then get to the trial with really easy cases, as in everything is far too obvious aside from the second case which was decent enough despite being somewhat draggy. The trials themselves have multiple different modes to them in order to corner the culprit and make them more interesting, but they are ultimately simply wasted on a lackluster story.
Summary about my thoughts on the cases:
Chapter 1: Bad case and everything about it was like an open book, however because it's the first case&trial to kickstart the game, I avoid bashing it too much. The C&T format does not fit this case - and it does not work perfectly for any cases in the game either despite being the part the series is known for - at all due to how much it unnecessarily drags on until things are allowed to get revealed.
Chapter 2: Decent case, pacing problems. Best case in the game, does not mean much though.
Chapter 3: Bad case, worst offender of god-awfully obvious writing if you are familiar with the tropes of the genre (from many novels including Death on the Nile by Christie and the Dutch Shoe Mystery by Queen), the third case and trial have the worst pacing due to nothing unexpected happening in it.
Chapter 4: Okay case. Badly handled timings for the clues, the case utilizes coincidences to throw the player out of the loop - the truth of the killer itself is obvious however and nothing changes that fact despite the writer's attempts at misdirection.
Chapter 5: Bad case. The setting for this one was the best but it's wasted. The meaning of the Danganronpa game itself is just practically thrown out of the window after Chp 4. The fifth trial does not end the case either and it's done in a lackluster way.
Chapter 6: OK investigation and trial. The trial handles the truth behind the Hope's Peak Academy, the Trial of Chp. 5 is re-done and the identity of the Mastermind is revealed. The Mastermind is cool even though their motivations are frankly stupid. The major plot twists in this are just too much, not due to them being well written or anything but they are far too unrealistic. It's not like the twists are special either, they're just not build up to enough or even explained as much as they needed to be. Especially the part about the students, "how" these things were done or happened were never explained, which is not how this genre works, and ofcourse they're not explained because they're impossible to ever really happen in the real world. Supernatural cases in mystery genre are nothing special; the writers of Danganronpa seemed to have simply skipped over those numerous stories in their robotic ways of gathering information on how to create a "proper mystery" and nothing more. The game tries to be too grand with its ending without much substance backing it up. It's not shocking due to the both bad and lacking layout of information which foreshadows the ending.
Yeah, final thoughts would be that the game was pretty damn lame. Everything from the story to the character writing for a majority of the cast, aside from Byakuya, feel incredibly flat. They are geniuses with quirks and human emotions to them, sure, but it does not feel like there is much actual substance to them past that. The main character is terrible as far as characterization goes apparently it's supposed to be acceptable because he's justified to be a bland person in the beginning. He's the generic anime lead character with no personality. The atmosphere of the game is samey and repetitive each chapter without exception due to them being locked up in the school the entire game, should have been one chapter of gameplay in the outside world at first, atleast. Lack of proper build up due to the limited setting, and lack of fleshing out characters and events make the game feel just a killing game that tries to masquerade as some kind mediocre murder mystery series, which it sadly is. Bad pacing up the wazoo, soundtrack is mediocre at best, twists that are easy to guess if you just bother to think for a second, generic cases that are far too long for no reason; obvious things take hours to get mentioned again and when they do, they're "the proof we missed all along to corner the culprit!" and the whole thing practically feels like a waste of time for a game with such nice artwork. The ideas for some of these cases, especially the third case, were basically ripped off from the novel format, done by Queen and Christie multiple times, and put into this game. The problem with this is that it just does not work like that. It works in the medium it was created for the best. In this game it's just so goddamn obvious and unnatural that it made me cringe. I could see everything that would happen in the third chapter a mile away due to how badly it was structured.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is surely enough to entertain novice people who have no idea how the tropes of the genre work as they most likely won't notice the awful pacing problems. For the rest - You can skip it and save time, literally, the hours of time wasted on nothing in this game just kill it for me. The game does not know how to present information and clues for a challenging and worthwhile fair-play mystery.