Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Did you enjoy the tension of games like Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and Zero Escape: Virtue's Last Reward? What about the quirky cast and courtroom trials of the Ace Attorney series? DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a cross between the two, keeping things tense with its kill-or-be-killed premise, alongside humorous personalities that make the mission to catch murderers less grim.
The game first my caught my eye at last year's Tokyo Game Show for its premise that was reminiscent of Battle Royale and Hunger Games, but with a twist. You are trapped in a school by a sadistic "headmaster" bear that won't let you out unless you kill one of your peers. Once a murder takes place, an investigation occurs followed by a courtroom trial to catch the murder. I've finally had extended hands-on time, experiencing the harrowing dilemma for myself. Here's what's most striking about it.
The Psychological Tension
DanganRonpa messes with your head. How much is freedom worth? Could you justify killing to prevent your darkest secrets from being revealed? As the game goes on, the sadistic headmaster introduces new motivations to get the students to kill one another. Hearing his new, bigger incentive instantly makes you wonder who will break next and kill. You're also watching students' reactions to his news. Seeing the slightest change in their demeanor is unnerving. Trials keep this momentum up as the class stands in a circle interrogating one another, throwing accusations around. You never know who has a hidden motive and is purposely trying to lure you to the wrong conclusion. Let's just say, circumstances are always tense.
The Unusual Cast
You're trapped in a school with exceptional students who are the best at their craft. Some are the standard fare like the best baseball player and programmer. Others are anything but ordinary. The best fan fiction writer jokes that he only likes 2D women. The writing prodigy has serious self-esteem issues, and she'll turn any compliment into an attack on her character. The lead of the biker gang has a short temper, just waiting for a moment to throw a punch to solve an argument. Then you have a hippie character who says he can see the future, but really he's not the sharpest tool in the shed. There's even a character called "The Ultimate Moral Compass;" he's neurotic and nitpicky about all the wrong things. These characters are intriguing on their own, but watching them interact with one another, especially under such dire circumstances, is thrilling.
Putting The Pieces Together
Expect the unexpected. DaganRonpa has some exceptional plot twists, and often you'll go into trials not entirely sure who committed the crime. But as the interrogation process begins and you spot the contradictions, you start to make connections to whose story isn't matching up. Sometimes, characters have selfish reasons for keeping information mum, especially if it's embarrassing or damaging, but that doesn't necessarily make them the killer. In fact, the trials are the biggest shockers, because you usually don't discover the killer yourself until the very last moment. Part of the fun is that moment when it all comes together - the contradictions, the evidence, and the psychological breakdowns - that bring out the shocking confessions. You're the one who uncovers it. The last part of the trial has you putting the scene of the events together chronologically in a comic book that reenacts the entire murder scene.
Learning More About The School And Students
After each trial a new part of the school opens, and it has more than just basic classrooms. Going up the steps to a new level is exciting as you never know exactly what awaits you. Maybe you spot a hidden room, or perhaps a rec center or swimming pool is now accessible. These rooms also unlock more options for murder and can reveal more clues. For instance, an expansive library holds some history to the school, but also has plenty of books to lend ideas for a murder. Every new place offers a new opportunity and lesson to learn.
The students can also be chatted up during free time to provide some insight into their lives. Remember your peers had a life before they entered this chaos; some are surprisingly normal, some will surprise you, and others won't discuss much until you gain their trust. You can make them reveal more by giving gifts from the school store. Part of the fun is showing you know them by giving the right gifts that match their personalities and interests. They want to make sure you're paying attention and actually getting to know them.
That Crazy Bear
You won't find an antagonist better than Monokuma. He gets under your skin because he's always popping in at the right moment to take away any shred of hope you may have gained. His enjoyment comes from your misery; he has that sinister, happy laugh every time he's ruining your day. While you're sitting on edge about murders, he's drinking a nice glass of wine, sitting calmly without experiencing any emotional turmoil. Monokuma has no remorse and will kill at the drop of a hat, meaning it's near impossible to break or reason with him. Don't expect to appeal to his emotions - they're nonexistent. That's what makes you strive to best him. There has to be a way to finally beat him at his own game, right?
DanganRonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc releases February 11 for the Vita. Look for our review in the coming weeks.