Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
You never really know anyone completely. We hear that phrase all the time. Violent crimes occur, and people say the offenders never gave the slightest indication that they were capable of such brutality. You can't know what somebody else is thinking, and that fact is what makes Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc so engaging. You aren't certain what other characters are planning, making you powerless to prevent the next move and leaving you blindsided when it occurs.
Though lives are eventually at stake, Danganronpa begins upbeat by introducing an all-star roster of the best students in Japan. They're equipped with exceptional talents, including the top martial artist, programmer, and baseball player. Everything looks like a typical first day of school, until a sadistic bear takes over and announces he's locked everyone in the school and the only way out is murder. If you kill another student and can get away with your crime, you escape.
The premise is intriguing and harkens back to the concepts explored in Battle Royale and The Hunger Games. This dilemma combines with unpredictable plot twists to create great psychological tension. Essentially, you're waiting for death, passing time by forming connections with eccentric classmates that include a fan fiction writer, a goth lolita, and a manic depressive writing prodigy. Then you stumble on a dead body and wrestle with the fact that a character you know was willing to take a life and forsake friends in exchange for freedom. You're always wondering who's going to break next, knowing you can't prevent it - and the how, who, and why is always shocking.
Once a killer strikes, you have to face it immediately, investigating the murder scene and dead body using point-and-click controls. The betrayals start to get into your head as more friends meet their demise. Not only are you losing innocent people, but must accept that someone you've befriended is a cold-blood killer. That's hardly the worst part though; after all murder investigations, a trial begins to correctly select the culprit. The stakes are high, because everyone else dies if the killer gets away. If you identify the killer, you must watch the elaborate and harsh execution. Even when you win, it feels like a loss.
Although the trials create the tone the game is going for, they also hold some of the weakest parts. During these trials, minigames, like a rhythm game to break down someone's defenses and shooting letters out of the air to fill out a phrase, progress the trial. Providing evidence, Phoenix Wright-style, is also necessary for advancement and far superior to the minigames. The gameplay is at its best when when you're spotting a contradiction and presenting evidence that refutes it, rather than dealing with obstacles that only give you answers you already know.
While the gameplay sometimes falters, the pacing is top-notch. After trials, more portions of the school are unlocked, making your experience always fresh. Exploration isn't the only option; during free time, you interact with the other students to learn more about their intricacies. The majority of these characters are unlike any I've experienced before.
Danganronpa's murder mysteries are just that - mysterious. I found myself constantly second-guessing what the solution to each investigation was until the verdict was passed. Few games keep the wool over your eyes as effectively as this dark tale. Making a story so gripping is tough in a video game, but it's Danganronpa's best attribute. I was surprised, captivated, and challenged by the culprit in every case. Danganronpa proves why having an interactive experience can make stories more thrilling, even in the context of such a bleak scenario.
What happens when you make characters accept that they must kill or be killed? Danganronpa is a tense affair, and it's out now.