Hope’s Peak Academy is the school for the best of the best, not just in grades but in all manner of specialties.

If you make it there, rumor has it, you are set for life. The hitch? Once you make it the school is transformed, you are confined within it, you become the plaything of a demented bear named Monokuma, and you don’t get to graduate unless you get away with murdering a classmate.

Welcome to Danganropa: Trigger Happy Havoc. I had considered checking this one out of my own volition when I read about it since I’m a fan of bizarre Japanese stuff, but luckily I got a shot at the review and I can tell you the game delivers all over the place.

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The graphics are a pretty cool presentation that mixes up various styles. Obviously you’ve got the anime style, but every main character represents a different art style from within the medium. The style used for each suits their personality as well. There’s a manga coating over everything, that’s comic book to the uninformed The characters are presented in 2D in all cases, even in the rooms where you can look around they are standing shaded cut-outs. It makes for an interesting feeling that you are never outside of the basic visual novel feel. The 3D environments done in first person are very basic, which I think could have been spruced up. They aren’t of much importance though, the rooms in the school are where you’ll be focusing your attention and they are usually well made. Some rooms haven’t transitioned all that well from the PSP version but those instances are rare. Things are mostly crisp and aside from obvious jaggies most Vita gamers should be quite pleased with the fast frame rate and overall liveliness of the visuals.

The game relies heavily on voice acting, which is almost always great. Fans who prefer Japanese will be pleased by the casting choices. The English cast is quite good too, better than you’ll find in the average dubbed anime. In both cases the voices fit the characters, but as usual the English ones contain the possibility of annoying the player. That, however, is very subjective and doesn’t concern me.

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Sounds effects are plentiful and spice up the slow points. I wasn’t a big fan of the music but I can’t say it doesn’t fit. The tracks are chaotic and jovial, as such they reflect the madness of the situation you happen to be in. For that I judge them worthy. The tense scenes are made moreso by their respective music sets. The dual speakers help to bring things to life.

Like the graphics presentation the gameplay is a mash up of different ideas. On their own they aren’t particularly impressive, but all together they add up to a great mix that keeps the basic visual novel thing fresh. The story unfolds as you talk to people and investigate your surroundings. Finding things earns you Monocoins which you can use to buy presents from the store. When you have free time you can give those presents to the other class mates.

As I said in the introduction folks have to die for others to get out so it’s not much of a spoiler for me to tell you that people will die. The characters are stock anime stereotypes, but that’s not a bad thing here at all. The games uses these types to mislead you and challenge your perceptions. Some things are just as they seem, others are far from it, and you’ll always wonder which is which. The blood is pink, which is lame, but whatever. After someone dies you’ll begin an investigation and collect evidence by inspecting your surroundings. Then Monokuma holds a trial and this is where the mini-game and puzzle aspects come into play.

You’ve got to use you evidence to detect the killer, if you pick the wrong person then the real killer lives to graduate and the rest of you die. Bummer huh? You’ll use truth bullets (various statements known to be true) to refute claims made by class mates by firing the statements at questionable text. While discussing things you’ll also sometimes have to point out proof from a list of evidence and there’s a little shooting gallery game where you spell out the answer to a question. Sometimes the main object of your heated accusations will become obstinate and you’ll engage in a debate. Here you get a rhythm game where you fire off refutations in time with a visual and auditory beat. Once you build up combos you can fire off more truth bullets to destroy your opponent. Finally you’ll piece together your plot points into a comic book that makes sense to recap everything. Messing up these aspects of the trial can result in loss of respect, power, and death. The trial is timed to make things all the more pressing.

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The narrative is quite good because it takes you down many paths and even a smart gamer won’t expect them all. Even though the mysteries aren’t exactly written for a genius level detective, there are still plenty of aspects to the murder investigations that you won’t see coming. Others can be a little blatantly obvious but it never ceases to be entertaining and visual novel fans will easily get engrossed in the characters as they evolve out of their stereotypes. My only complaint is that there are some slow points where things seem to drag and busy you with filler to extend the length of the game. For those who would rather just plow through the story there is an option for that too, but I advise against it and so does Monokuma. The overarching mystery of the school is well paced and creates plenty of tension as well as claustrophobia.

Replay value stands on two legs. The first is the grades/scores you get after each trial and the second is relationship affinity with the characters. If you want to unravel more about them you can simply choose to use your free time and money differently.

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Danganropa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a top-notch visual novel that is constantly disturbing, frenetic, chaotic, and intriguing. If you enjoy these kinds of games chances are you will love this. If you’ve never played a visual novel but maybe enjoy those parts of JRPGs like Persona then I think you’d still do well to add this to your Vita library. It’s insane and satisfying and it will keep you engrossed for a long time.

Platforms: PS Vita
Developer: Spike
Publisher: NIS America
Rating: M (ESRB), M (ACB), 18 (PEGI)
Two review codes were sent to OnlySP by NIS America
 

 

David D. Nelson
David D. Nelson is a polymath with a BA in English working as an independent writing and editing professional. He enjoys gaming, literature, and a good hat.

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