The genre of the visual novel definitely isn’t one that I or many gamers see a whole lot of these days. The last visual novel that I played was Hotel Dusk: Room 215 for the DS, and that great game came out back in 2007. However, it was an incredibly engaging game due to its unique mechanics and ability to suck you in and really make it feel like you exist in the setting of a mystery.
If Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc reminds me of Hotel Dusk, it’s only in that they are both visual novels that control similarly and involve mystery. That’s really where the similarities end, because the ride that Danganronpa takes you on is far more strange, twisted and demented than just about any other game that I have played. As soon as you turn this game on, you know that you are in for an experience like no other.
The game begins with our main character Makoto Naegi arriving at an elite High School called Hope’s Peak Academy, which is a school that only accepts the best of the best students. Makoto is simply average in every way possible, but he got picked to join the school as a result of a raffle in which he was chosen to join the school as the ultimate lucky student. However, when he arrives outside of the gates of school everything turns south very quickly.
When he regains consciousness, he finds that he and 14 other students are trapped inside the school with no way out. A demonic teddy bear named Monokuma informs them that they will be spending the rest of their lives inside this school, and that if anyone resists they will be killed. However, the one way a student *can* leave the school is if they murder another student and get away with it. If they do get away with the murder, then they “graduate” and the rest of the students are punished.
Thus, throughout the course of the game you and the other students will be doing anything they can to find a way out of the school, while also trying to keep in high spirits and trust each other. As the game goes on the evil Monokuma will introduce incentives for killing someone, and that is when things truly hit the fan and several deaths follow.
It’s not a spoiler to say that many people will die in this game, and it is up to you to figure out who killed them in a trial that takes place at the end each chapter. This aspect of the game is similar to the Ace Attorney series, as you have evidence that you have discovered over time that you must use to prove or disprove the scenarios of the case. These trials are lengthy and intense, and every single one of them left me in awe at how intricate and devious they were.
Writing is extremely important in a genre such as the visual novel, and Danganronpa‘s writing is nothing short of phenomenal. Every character is so well-written and fleshed out just to the point that you can understand them without knowing too much about them. The characters have so many layers that will be revealed (or not) throughout the course of the game, ultimately leaving you with a much different opinion of them at the end of the game compared to the one you had at the beginning.
The visual style is that of an anime that you will find in many Japanese titles that gives everything a bright and deceptively friendly look, but that is exactly what makes the horror within so much more shocking. The visuals are only appealing on the surface, as when you get close enough you will see that just about everything in this game is twisted and horrifying. My only gripe with the visuals is that developer Spike Chunsoft decided to go with pink blood and this made many of the murder scenes less shocking, in my opinion. I often times wondered why the blood was pink rather than completely being mortified by the murder, and the color of the blood should have been just about the last thing on my mind in that situation.
Exploring Hope’s Peak Academy is also very engaging, because after each chapter a new floor of the school opens up that contains more secrets for you to unravel. Sometimes the things that you will find will be relative to the upcoming trial, but other times you will find things that will help uncover the secrets of the school, itself. There is so much detail in every room inside the school, making the search of every nook and cranny extremely exciting and imperative.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is easily one of the most jaw-dropping games I’ve ever experienced, and is a definite contender for game of the year. It doesn’t have the gameplay of a typical game you come across today, but the writing, visual style and immersion factors are so riveting that it more than makes up for it. This is a game that completely sucks you in, forcing you to question just as much as the other characters are about what the hell is going on. If you own a PlayStation Vita and are looking for an experience that will continually shock you, then look no further than Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.