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Imagine this scenario: you find yourself inexplicably locked inside an empty school building, along with fourteen strangers. There’s no way to escape, and all of the windows are boarded up. Your captor then announces that you must now live here for the rest of your life… the only way you can be granted permission to leave is if you meet one special condition: Murder one of your fellow prisoners, and don’t get caught doing it. What would you do, if not just collapse into despair?


This is the basic premise of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for PS Vita, and it’s a bleak one. You assume the role of Makoto Naegi, one of fifteen students tricked into entering Hope’s Peak Academy, a legendary academy revered as a place for the elite. With Makoto apparently invited by a random lottery (dubbed “The Ultimate Lucky Student”), the rest of the cast are all the “ultimates” within their (sometimes obscure) fields – the “Ultimate Baseball Star”, the “Ultimate Swimming Pro”, and even “The Ultimate Bike Gang Leader”. The characters are all very individual and memorable, which is pretty good considering that they’re all thrown at you at once.


Of course, as soon as the situation is explained to them, suspicion and fear spread throughout the group as they each try to get their heads around their hopeless options, their only contact with their captor through the scarily cheerful voice of the mysterious, sometimes mocking, Monokuma – a creepy asymmetrical bear.

Gameplay wise, Danganronpa has two distinct modes. The majority of the game takes place in first person, using point & click mechanics to examine areas and talk to the other captives. Often, you’ll just have to talk to everyone as the story unfolds in a way that feels somewhat like a visual novel.


The main changes happen when a murder takes place. Of course, it doesn’t take too long until someone winds up dead – and Monokuma explains the next rule. When someone commits a murder, they become “Blackened”. Then all of the students are taken to trial – once they have examined the murder scene.

Trials are the second mode, and act as a finale to a chapterThe students gather in a circle, and debate as to who they suspect committed the act. If the majority end up voting for the right person, that person is executed. Then everyone is returned to the building to continue their hopeless existence. If they vote incorrectly, however, the killer walks free, and everyone else is executed.


The trial itself may feel somewhat familiar to fans of the Phoenix Wright series. While the mechanics differ, the basic idea is to respond to other students’ accusations and theories by pointing out flaws in their statements and supplying evidence that proves otherwise. The trials are fast paced affairs – unlike Phoenix Wright - and feel a little more like mini-games. You are given a selection of “truth bullets” which each represent a different statement, and while the characters speak, their words appear on-screen. The basic idea is to choose the correct truth bullet that contradicts with the conflicting statement within the discussion. There are a few more elements to the trials, but they follow a similar idea.

It’s a rather strange title, reminding me of Persona‘s artistic style mixed with the despair-ridden craziness of Battle Royale or Saw. The game exudes dark atmosphere and feelings of tension, highly contrasted by the cartoonish Monokuma who seems to revel in childish glee at their struggles.


I’m in two minds about my opinion of the game – the story is compelling and always made me want to push forward to see what would happen next, and ultimately where it would lead. Most of the first-person gameplay felt quite linear, though, requiring you to basically search every room until the game progresses – something that probably could have worked just as well in the form of a visual novel. For the most part it worked well enough, though it could be frustrating if I wasn’t sure where I needed to go to move on.

The courtroom battles are a definite highlight, though not as complex as those of Ace Attorney. This helps the flow, though, as you are able to interject in a more “real-time” way without over-thinking, and it adds a feeling of pressure to the event. The game does have difficulty settings, so I might suggest going straight for the game’s hardest difficulty (“Mean”) if you like to really feel the pressure.

While the gameplay isn’t perfect by any means, the game’s visual style and compelling plot really do make up for that. I do love a bit of mystery, and the feeling of dread really comes through well. I did find the beginning a little slow, though that was probably to ease the player into learning about all of the game’s characters and set the scene before it really got stuck into things by the end of the first chapter.

+ Intriguing story that keeps you wondering what’s to come
+ Tense, creepy atmosphere that relays the characters’ emotions well
+ Exciting trials with extreme conclusion


- Gameplay can be a little bit linear and simplistic outside of court
- Story takes a little while to get going

78 / 100

It’s hard to know in which genre I would class Danganronpa, so it’s hard to know what sort of gamers would enjoy it. If you enjoy the style and characters of Persona, and gameplay like Phoenix Wright, this could definitely be one for you. Or, if you’re just looking for a rather macabre mystery story, give it a try. If anything, this game is definitely unique and the handheld format is perfect for it. I really enjoyed it, and it’s been one of the few Vita games to keep me hooked so far.


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Leon On February - 13 - 2014

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