Don't worry, he's not taking my place on Sundays, this is just temporary. We'll be figuring out when Nathan's articles get published in the future.
We westerners really do end up missing out on a lot of cool stuff when it comes to video games. Granted a handful of games can sometimes cross the regional gap and escape Japan, but with most games we can be left out in the dark. However, the specific game I'm going to be talking about today did make its way over to the west on the PS Vita. However since I don’t actually own a PS Vita I instead decided to play the PSP version, which has been fully translated by Project Zetsubou. Thank goodness for fan translations.
I stumbled across Danganronpa after finishing the exceptional RPG persona 3 portable. I had recently picked up a PSP and was looking for a new game to play to fill that void you get after finishing a game (you probably know what I’m talking about). Out of pure curiosity, I downloaded and applied the patch… and was pulled into a game that I couldn’t put down until the end.
Danganronpa was released originally in 2011 by Spike (now known as Spike Chunsoft) on the PSP. It was a Japanese exclusive game. but received high enough praise for a sequel to be made and for both the first and second games to receive official western releases on the PS Vita in updated form. For this review I will be looking at the original PSP version with the fan patch applied, as I don’t own a Vita at the time of writing (although I will revisit this game when I get my hands on a Vita, and can comment on the remake). Please bear in mind that there may be translation differences between the fan patched version and the official version. Just throwing that out there. Anyways, I’d say it is about time to take a trip to despair academy. Let’s begin
Now I will try to keep this section as spoiler free as possible, since Danganronpa is a heavily story driven game. So to avoid spoilers I’ll only talk about the starting plot and setup.
You play as Makoto Naegi, an ordinary student who has been selected out of a ballot to attend Hope High School, a school which takes on the extremely talented and hopeful and has been said to give students a hopeful future when they graduate.
However, upon taking your first step through the gate you fall unconscious, and find yourself trapped inside Hope High with fourteen other students and no way out. Well, ok there is a way out… Meet Monokuma, the big bad of the game. Monokuma says that the only way to get out of this school is to successfully murder someone and get away with the murder. If the rest of the students correctly identify the murderer then they get punished, otherwise the murderer will “graduate” and be allowed to leave the school and everyone else will be punished. And by punished I mean executed.
The story doesn’t screw around. It throws you right into the heat of it pretty quickly and is paced brilliantly. The writing for each of the characters is also excellent, and you get quite close to them, even the ones that get offed quite quickly.
The tail end of the game is where the story really starts spiraling and is by far the most entertaining part of the game storywise. Overall, it's a very nicely done plot that is both interesting and well-paced.
Now, the gameplay by far is the most interesting part of the game. Danganronpa is one of those games which seems to take bits and pieces from other games, and throws them into a blender to make one extremely fun game. You’ve got the evidence gathering and trials from Ace Attorney, a social link system similar to Persona 3 and 4, plus first person exploration and some mini games thrown in for good measure. Because of all of that stuff this section is going to be quite long, but I am going to split it up into 2 sections. Class Trial gameplay and Exploration/Clue Finding gameplay.
So, let’s start with the exploration gameplay.
You explore the academy from a first person perspective, moving and turning on the spot with the circle pad, running with the circle button, strafing with L and R, moving the camera with the D-pad and interacting with things with the Cross button (Editors note, that's the X button). Objects you can interact with (usually doors) will be highlighted when you move in front of them. It’s standard stuff. When you enter rooms, however things take a more Ace Attorney approach.
Inside rooms, you're fixed on the spot and can move your crosshair with the circle pad (Editors note, that's the joystick on the PSP). Again, objects you can interact with will be highlighted, and have a sound cue when you hover over them. The D-pad still moves the camera, except the camera can only pan to the left or right a specific amount due to the lack of free movement. Probably the most useful feature in this game that I wish was in Ace aAttorney is when you hit the Triangle button the game will highlight all the objects you can interact with in the room with a blue circle. This doesn’t give you any form of penalty, and is extremely useful when you are trying to find that last item to examine.
Now, before you actually go around looking for evidence, you're in a segment called Everyday Life. There is one of these sections each chapter, and you can use them to interact with your peers who have been locked up with you, and earn skill points and skills that can be used in the trials. (I’ll touch more on this later)
Everyday Life usually goes on for a few days. Once a murder happens and the body is discovered, then the game shifts into Neveryday life. This is the part of the game where you do the detective work. Every time you find a new piece of info you get “New Ammo”. Yes, evidence is called ammo in Danganronpa (you’ll see why later). You can check your ammo from the Ammunition Menu on your electroiD. “ElectroiD? What’s that?” I hear you ask. Well, basically it's a really fancy pantsy student ID, where you can view a map and teleport around the school floors at will, (useful for navigating around the rather large school) view your ammunition as mentioned before, view student profiles, view school rules, and save your game. You can open your electroiD almost everywhere by hitting the square button.
Anyways, your goal in Neveryday Life is to find all the evidence you need for the school trial. Once you have found everything, the game will automatically advance to the Class Trial, the other part of the game.
Bout time we cover the class trials then!
Class trials are the part of the game where you need to find out who is the murderer. This is done by playing a selection of minigames, yes minigames. Don’t flip out though, as these are pretty fun. I’ll cover these one by one in order of how often they appear.
This one pops up the most by far. You are thrown into a sort of testimony debate between the surviving members and you, quite literally have to shoot down weak points you see in their debate with your ammunition aka evidence (hence why it is called ammunition). You move your crosshair with the circle pad, fire with the triangle button, fast forward with the circle button and switch ammunition with the L button.
On higher difficulties, more ammunition is loaded into the chamber, meaning you have to figure out the correct piece of ammunition to fire at a weak point. Weak points are pieces of yellow text that you can see throughout statements. The higher you set the difficulty, the more weak points are present. But only one is the correct weak point. Once you find the correct ammo to fire at the correct weak point you just point and shoot. Easy right? WRONG. The game throws a bit of a monkey wrench in if you set the difficulty for the action sequences at normal or malicious. Firstly you have random chit chat that invades the debate. This is purple text that usually flies right in the bloody way of weak points. To clear this text you need to aim your crosshair at the purple text and hit the cross button. You receive a time bonus for each piece of chit chat you knock away, but if you hit a statement that is part of the debate you’ll receive a time penalty (usually around 20 odd seconds).
Secondly, sometimes the ammunition you have collected actually won't work against any of the present weak points. So what do you do there? Well if you hold down the triangle button while your crosshair is above a weak point you can actually load that weak point as AMMO and fire that at another weak point to break it. It’s a clever system and really increases the number of possible answers especially if you are playing on malicious. Only slight annoyance about this is that if you happen to miss the weak point you had to load, or you end up missing, then you have to fast forward through the rest of the debate, wasting time just to load the weak point in again. However, in my entire playthrough I never actually ran out of time.
To combat all of this crazy crap the game throws at you the game is kind enough to give you the ability to concentrate. Concentrating is done by holding the R button and it slows down the flow of time as well as stopping your crosshair from drifting around like it’s tripping on something. However, using concentration drains a gauge at the top right of the screen below your health (which I’ll get to later). If this gauge runs out then concentration stops, so you gotta be quick.
So that pretty much covers nonstop debate, so it's time to move on to…
This is probably the least interesting of the mini games, to be honest. It's basically hangman. Shoot the letters flying towards you by aiming and hitting triangle. Concentrate to slow down time with R, and that's about it. Moving on
Machine Gun Talk Battle
This one is quite interesting. Machine gun talk battles are basically a sort of rhythm game. Yes, a rhythm game. Hit the cross button in time with the beat markers scrolling along the bottom of the screen to lock onto verbal insults thrown at you by your opponent, before hitting the triangle button to fire and destroy them. Deplete their life gauge, and then fire the killshot at their statement to destroy it and prove them wrong. Easy right? WRONG AGAIN. If you're playing on normal or higher then at one point in the game you will be introduced to the fact that you have to reload. This is done by hitting the square button in time with the beat. If you run out of bullets, then you can’t lock onto anything. On top of that, you now have more than one killshot loaded into your barrel, meaning you have to cycle through to find the right one to shoot at your opponent’s statement. Finally, a new concentration power is introduced, but this time your opponent has one as well. Your opponent can, at any time hide the beat line that scrolls at the bottom of the screen meaning you have to go by ear. However, to even the playing field you can hit the R button to immediately bump up the tempo and give yourself unlimited ammo for a limited period. However, if you're like me then you will rarely have to use it, as I have a good ear for detecting beats in music. If you're able to detect timing in music ,then you will have no problems here.
Finally it is time to move onto the final mini game;
This one is the most interesting I think. You have to reconstruct the entire murder case from start to finish in manga format (Editors note; from right to left, like in Japanese comics). The bottom of the screen has a bunch of circles which correspond to panels. The Circle Pad moves your crosshair, and you hold Cross to pick up and drop panels. By hitting cross over a question mark you can get a hint about what panel goes there. Simple but fun.
Now, I think it's about time I cover the health bar. You start with a total of 7 hearts, which drain if you mess up somewhere. Such as firing the wrong ammo at a weak point/firing at the wrong weak point, picking the wrong letter to fill in the word in the hangman game, letting the verbal insults get too close so they explode in machine gun talk battle, or misplacing a panel in Climax logic. Health is also depleted if you end up presenting the wrong ammo or pick the wrong option when asked a question during the class trial. If the health bar drops fully you fail.
BUT. But but but but BUUUUUTTTT. You are allowed to try again from the exact mini game or question you failed at with a full life bar with NO penalty whatsoever except for a small point drop, no matter what the difficulty. The game is EXTREMELY forgiving with failure (which will happen a lot, trust me) and I honestly don’t mind. I was playing on malicious difficulty and failed many times, but being able to restart right off the bat with a full life bar was nice and kept the pace going. The game isn’t brutally hard and you won’t find yourself rage quitting unless you aren’t good at logic puzzles, and set the logic puzzle difficulty on malicious for some daft reason.
In summary, Danganronpas gameplay is quite varied and interesting. I like the exploration and clue finding, and the class trials are really fun and tense. However there is the odd dud mini game here and there, namely the hangman one.
Graphics and sound:
Bout time we moved on. Let’s start with the graphics
The graphics for Danganronpa, for a PSP game are really damn impressive. Textures look nice and detailed for the PSP, and nothing looks extremely jarring or out of place. Character portraits are nicely detailed and well designed, with some characters having designs that are out of this world (namely Genocider Syo). When you’re exploring the academy, characters will appear as paper cut-outs for lack of a better word and will pivot to face you head on, doom style. Sounds odd but it looks perfectly fine. To top it off the game runs silky smooth with no frame drops in sight. I’d say it pushes the PSP to its limits. The cherry on the cake are the execution cutscenes which are animated REALLY well and have an amazing art style to them.
Now the soundtrack. In a word. Awesome. The soundtrack was composed by Masafumi Takada and it fits the game really well. From the kick-ass jazzy opening theme, to the epic sounding theme that kicks in near the second half of the game, to the awesome and strange track played during nonstop debates with samples of gibberish for some reason. This whole soundtrack is just AWESOME and it fits the game really well.
Voice acting is spot on too. Quite a few characters have unique voices to them which really make their personalities all the more interesting. By far though the best performance again has to come from Genocider Syo. I would link a voice clip but that might throw in spoilers, so feel free to look it up if you want but be aware, possible spoilers.
Overall Danganronpa is a gorgeous looking game with a great soundtrack and awesome voice acting to boot. It’s hard to find a fault in this area apart from the fact that a few of the songs are a little meh. Then we have the elephant in the room… The colour of the blood. They coloured the blood… PINK. Yes you read that right, pink. Out of all of the things in Danganronpa the pink blood I think is the most interesting. However, I found I got over it pretty quickly. Just be aware that despite the pretty morbid murders the pink blood can kinda drop the shock value a little.
(EDITORS NOTE. Nathan originally had a passage in the previous section about the presentation, and he had his facts a little wrong. He thought the blood was pink because the developers wanted to bring down the rating of the game. But I looked into that, and I found out that the pink blood was actually a deliberate stylistic choice by the designer to contrast with the morbidity of the subject matter. I pointed this out to him, but he didn't have time to rewrite the passage, so I figured I'd mention that in a note -Alex Shannon)
Despite that minor issue with the presentation however the game does look great overall.
Time for the most important section. How much did I enjoy the game?
Well, I started playing Danganronpa last Sunday evening at 8 pm, and I finished it on Tuesday at 5pm. So I clocked it at about twenty hours in around 2 and a half days. That should give you an idea on how addicting it was for me.
I had a blast playing through it. When I started I took the plunge and jacked the difficulty of both the logic puzzles, and action sequences up to malicious, and really I highly recommend you do that as well. Danganronpa is sadly one of those games where the first experience is the best one, as the answers will always be the same each time you play. To get the most satisfying experience you really need to play on malicious, as the feeling you get when solving a puzzle or calling someone out is just amazing. Danganronpa gave me a feeling of satisfaction when I solved a murder, or successfully figured out a puzzle which is something that can only really be done with a game like this. The story is very well done, and keeps you on the hook. Couple that with the gameplay, and you’ve got a game that is basically the entertainment equivalent of superglue. You won’t wanna put it down until the very end. Incredibly addicting, extremely satisfying and most importantly, fun.
As you have probably guessed. I highly recommend this game. If you have a PSP then play the English patched version (Editors note: Be sure to import the game from Japan first!). If you have a PS Vita buy the official translation with extras, and then play the sequel straight after (which never got a PSP translation). Just play it. I don’t care what method you use, if you like games like Ace Attorney, and love logic puzzles then you will LOVE this game.
Danganronpa gets a Highly Recommended
Thank you very much for reading (this was a really long review I know), I hope you enjoyed it!
BDVR Guest author Nathan Green signing off.
OFLC: M (Unrestricted)
Cover image from http://www.hardcoregaming101.net/