Sunday, May 8, 2016

Review #324: Danganronpa - TriggerHappyHavoc

 Danganronpa is a visual novel-styled mystery game. Most of the gameplay involves reading, reading and more reading, although it also involves Phoenix Wright-inspired trials where you get to dispel erroneous statements or lies by figuring it which piece of evidence to use and when.

 The story pits you as Makoto Naegi, the Ultimate Lucky student, who won the right to attend the Dangan Academy through a lottery. This Highschool only collects the Ultimate students, the Ultimate Gambler, the Ultimate Baseball Star, etc. Regardless, Makoto passes out on his first day of school, waking up surrounded by 14 other students, and the doors and windows have been bolted shut. And then Monokuma, a Bear made up of a white side and a black side, pops up, claiming to be the headmaster and giving the students a choice: Either spend their entire life locked inside the building, or kill somebody and get away with it. After, and if, a murder is committed, the students will get the chance to point the killer in a trial, get it right and the killer is executed, get it wrong and everyone else gets executed while the murderer gets to escape the building. It's a very interesting premise, and it's executed fairly well. And while I grew fond of most of the cast, I always wanted the next murder to happen, to see how the story would develop, to find the next creative death scenario et all. Somehow, the game managed to mix over the top, violent executions and murders with entertaining, sometimes lighthearted dialogue and funny situations.
 One thing that immediately pops up is the very unique artstyle. It's a bit... rough, and a bit quirky, but after a while it grows on you, and its quirkiness adds up to the ambiance of the game. The different rooms of the school are designed in 3D, with 3D objects and flat, 2D characters on top. It's an interesting style, not the prettiest, but I think it fits the game perfectly. Interacting with objects sometimes nets you coins, which are also awarded after clearing a trial, and can be used to buy presents for the characters. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

 Most of the game, you'll be told of what to do and where to go. 'I should meet up with everybody at the Dining Hall', 'A new floor has opened up, we should explore it', which means that the story will only advance when you do whatever the game wants you to do. Although occasionally you'll be given 'free time' to spend with the rest of the cast, and you should. Interacting with characters during free time will slowly fill you in on the characters' individual motivations or backstory. Some characters are certainly deeper and more interesting than others, but it's a good way to enrich the cast, plus, getting 'close' to the characters will award you with Skills that can be equipped to make the trials easier.
 Inevitably, murder will happen, and then you'll have to investigate the crime scene in order to gather evidence. The Trial won't start until you've found all the required evidence, so it's impossible to get yourself screwed. And then come the Trials which... surprisingly, were my least liked part about the game. They work a bit like Phoenix Wright's, but are easier in some ways, yet more convoluted in others. There's a ton of... sub modes, so to speak, in a Trial, and you're always under a time limit. I never run out of time, but then again, I only played in Normal. Most of the time, you'll be pointing out lies or mistakes on the characters' accounts, and you are given a number different evidence pieces to use in that particular instance. As a matter of fact, the game will highlight the suspicious parts in orange, so it's just a matter of finding the right orange sentence and using the right evidence, which makes it easier than Phoenix Wright, where you are always carrying a larger amount of evidence and have to figure out the wrong statements by yourself.

 Buuuuuuuuut, you also have to time it. Evidence, in the game, is turned into 'bullets' which must be 'shot' at the statements. Shooting white text, or not hitting the orange text in time will make you miss, and you'll have to wait(You can fast forward it!) while the characters repeat themselves. And then the game adds 'noise', which is made by characters doubts or chatter during the testimony. Noise are purple lines that will block your evidence bullets, but you can shoot them down with the X button, or simply avoid them while shooting your evidence. And then the game introduces absorption, sometimes the evidence bullets you are given will not be enough, so you'll have to absorb an orange statement, and then shoot it against another orange statement.
 Then there's also the 'hangman gambit', where you have to shoot the correct letters to complete a word, because making a normal choice would be too passe. And then there's a rhythm mini game, which is engaged whenever a character refuses to listen to your reasons. And then, after finishing a trial, you have to reassemble the entire crime in a 'fill in the gaps' comic thingie, which I actually liked. I understand that they wanted to make something more interactive than Phoenix Wright, but I thought it was way to convoluted. Most of the time I just wanted to get through the trials in order to continue with the fantastic story.

 The game took me little over 14 hours, but it felt shorter than that... because of how good it was. I wanted more. More murders, more executions, more game! This also means that I'll be getting the sequel ASAP, but that's neither here nor there. Regardless, finishing the game unlocks 'Schoo Life', which is a small management game. It's made up of 50 days, and every week you are given the task of constructing a different Monokuma back up. So each day you get to order characters to collect materials in different places. It can be replayed indefinitely, and stats carry over from playthrough to playthrough. Probably, you won't be able to finish all the concepts the first time around, but it gets progressively easier as you learn what to do and your characters grow more effective at gathering. This mode also lets you complete the 'Free Time' conversations with the cast, as well as having a different, 'what if' ending.
 I loved Danganronpa. Sure, I wasn't too big on the Trials, but the payoff was worth it. It's not a game for everyone, the reading-to-playing ratio favors the former, and as great as I found the story to be, it's also very Japanese, with relatively over-the-top characters that certainly won't appeal to everyone.
 9.0 out of 10

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