The deepest of despair will fashion the strongest of believers, for when there is no other way out but to seek for hope within one’s self and others, a ray of hope shines upon a way to the unknown future. You reach out towards it and there comes an answer. Let’s see if that holds true in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is visual novel developed by Spike Chunsoft that combines shooting, murder mystery, and adventure all in one. The game casts you the role of high school student Makoto Naegi, where you will attend Hope’s Peak Academy, a government-funded private high school where its reputation precedes itself. Recognized as the cradle of hope and prosperity, providing a comprehensive education for “ultimate” students of all sorts, it makes perfect sense of what appears as a once-in-a-lifetime lottery to Hope’s Peak Academy seems unreal for a plain student like you. To top it off, having the “Ultimate Lucky Student” title becomes ironic soon enough.
Your life is turned upside down when you fall unconscious on your first day of class and then wake up to a shocking revelation later, that you and fifteen other high school students are trapped in a game of mutual killing among each other. This is made known when a sinister anthropomorphic bear calling itself Monokuma introduces itself as the school’s headmaster. Monokuma makes a deal with the students: If one can murder another without being identified as the “Blackened” (culprit), they get to “graduate” (leave the school). If they are found out, the murderer will be violently executed; if the class identifies the wrong student as the murderer, they will all be killed. Their only choice of freedom comes with a dire consequence. Suddenly, everyone is faced with an impossible decision – can everyone actually live together without the possible thought of attempting murder? And so the battle against the looming, invisible enemy known only as despair… begins.
“That was how it all began and how life as I knew it came to an end. At that point, I should have realized… The reason I was brought to Hope’s Peak Academy wasn’t because I had ultimate good luck. It was so I could experience ultimate despair.” —Makoto Naegi.
Gameplay and Mechanics
With that premise established, I’ll dive into a compendium of its gameplay and mechanics. Before you begin, you get to select your Logic difficulty; which affects the no. of potential solutions to logic puzzles given, and Action difficulty; which affects the difficulty of the non-logic portions that tests your reflexes. The lower Logic difficulties are better suited for players who do not want to think about the answer too much and get on with the story while lower Action difficulties means things are less hectic, and the player has fewer mechanics or in-game obstructions to worry about. It’s subjective, but I personally recommend opting for the highest difficulty in both aspects for a more fulfilled playthrough. There are statements where you can infer with more probing so upping the difficulty isn’t as insane as it might sound.
Each chapter of game presents two variations of gameplay; School Life, where you survey the academy and progress through the story, and the Class Trials, where you must deduce the murder culprit.
Danganronpa consists of three primary phases: Daily Life, Deadly Life, and Class Trial. During Daily Life, I explored the school grounds in a first-person perspective whilst in some other rooms, I got to converse with other characters or examine parts of the environment. This became more fun with more areas becoming available as the game progressed. The game also gave designated ‘Free Time’ segments where I could skip entirely or choose to hang out with specific characters and give them presents, which in turn reveals more information about them and unlocks various Skills that can be used during Class Trials.
Naturally, everything is all relaxing when you hang out with someone until reality sinks in – when a crime scene is discovered, the game shifts to the Deadly Life section. Upon discovering a dead body and having a Monokuma file handed over to me, I have to search for clues throughout the premises. Every evidence and testimony gathered are then stored in a personal e-Handbook. When all possible evidence is identified, the game moves on to the awaited Class Trial.
Unsurprisingly, the Class Trials are where the real gameplay turns on. The tone shifts away from a mysterious one to an intense one with the nonstop debate concept. I want to state beforehand that I played the Mean difficulty mode for both Logic and Action aspect on my first run so the nonstop debate provided a worthy challenge to have me constantly thinking on my feet. With that evidence loaded as Truth Bullets, I had to pull the trigger at contradicting statements and convince everyone around me about who the killer really is. If I can’t convince everyone, the killer may find himself scot-free leaving me to be “blackened” and everyone else to face the horrible fate of being executed.
The higher difficulty modes do bring a nice element of distraction known as White Noise. It appears in a form of purple chatter where I could silence it to earn extra time but more often than not, they usually serve it a way that obstructs a player to shoot a statement. These Class Trial sections became increasingly tough as the game progressed and more possible weak points were added, with later trials occasionally requiring me to use one remark as ammunition against another.
Aside from the main nonstop debate, there were other mini-games to keep the trial from going one-note. Along the way, the game features Hangman’s Gambit; a shooting puzzle section in which specific alphabets must be shot down to spell out a clue, Bullet Time Battle; where a one-on-one debate against another student is conducted in rhythm style gameplay – as the opponent makes remarks, you must press buttons in time to the beat to lock onto the remarks and shoot them down. Finally, the Closing Argument which you piece together a comic strip depicting the events before, during, and after the crime. Instead of having health points, Danganronpa utilizes Influence points instead. Your Influence amongst the other students is represented by hearts, which is reduced whenever errors in shooting contradictions or presenting evidence is made. The game ends when you lose all your Influence or you run out of time during a segment. At the end of a trial, players are ranked on their performance, with additional Monokuma Medals awarded for high ranks.
I haven’t found much fault in the gameplay except I found the explanation for Bullet Time Battle was executed rather poorly (Cuphead was better). I could not figure out how to get past the first five minutes from its instructions and realized others from specific community boards had issues with that too. Since I am playing on PC, I am unsure if PS players faced this awkward situation. However, I got a hang of it and aced it real quick, but it still doesn’t change the fact it was vague. It wasn’t a mechanics issue, it was just an explanation that lacked clarity. Almost regretting my decision to play in Mean mode, imagine the sigh of relief I let out after I got past the first Bullet Time Battle.
Design and Visual
Visually, the game shines bright with its memorable pop art style. With 2.5D Motion Graphics, I got to interact with 2D characters within a 3D explorable setting. I enjoyed each character’s quirks and distinctive looks which matched their eccentricities (though in some cases, in true archetype fashion). My particular favorites were Celeste, Junko, and Kiyotaka (and a special shoutout to Byakuya because I am simply a simp for him). To add on, I found the cutscenes rather dynamic and it is not limited to that; the Climax Reasoning visuals along with the Execution scenes were depicted in a funky and dark manner. Disturbing, but I wouldn’t go as far to call it gory – like using bright pink-colored blood suggesting contrast against the dark subject matter of murder. The aesthetics were oddly pleasing to me.
A surge of energy ran through me. It was time to end the trial, it was my chance to strike the opponent down and I knew that regardless of whether the culprit denied, I would end it with a closing argument. “You,” I said, “you are the murderer.” – that’s what an immersive soundtrack does. Each piece was produced in a manner that fitted in each scene. There’s not much else to say beyond that, and “New World Order” is arguably one of the best soundtrack in the game. Masafumi Takada knocked himself out on this one. Listening and repeating it has been a bit of a guilty pleasure for me as I imagine reaching epiphany. No objection.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is certainly one of the better detective-style games with fleshed out characters and its sadistic nature of plot twists. The story and motives get so extensive, even in the prologue and first chapter alone, I questioned what was going on in the developers’ brain. It’s tough enough to bond with another individual, and it’s even tougher when it turns out that they are the murderer or the victim. It is a mental torture in that respect. When I think about it more, the idea of high schoolers out for blood in a demented fashion truly puts you in the seat of despair. It is due to such displayed strength in the writing – one that balances drama, horror, and humour which makes Danganronpa irresistible. The question is, will you be able to keep moving forward, with hope in your heart?