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Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a bizarre take on human nature and condition, and how deplorable these aspects can get in moments of despair. A visual novel at heart, the game follows a criminal investigation surrounding fifteen teenagers trapped inside a high school that has been sealed shut. Escape is only possible when one student kills another and avoids getting caught during his or her trial or the investigation conducted by the remaining students, but if the students choose an innocent person as the murderer they all get punished while the murders walks out scot-free. In order to ensure that everyone plays by the book, the game’s antagonist – a rather creepy looking stuffed teddy bear named Monokuma – regularly announces new stipulations that ramp up the motivation to kill. You take the role of Makoto Naegi, an underachiever among a crowd of exceptional students, each possessing one admirable or “Ultimate” attribute, ranging from “ultimate fashionist” to “ultimate moral compass”. If an outlandish and convoluted plot is what you’ve been looking for, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc should be right up your alley.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the PS Vita is a remake of a PSP title by the same name released only in Japan back in 2010. Developed by the same people who made 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors and it’s sequel Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, developers Spike Chunsoft are slowly becoming the definitive developers of Visual Novel games. Danganronpa’s success has spawned Light Novels, Mangas, Anime’s and even a sequel set to release later this year.
Fans of the Phoenix Wright and Zero Escape should feel right at home with the game. In fact, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Danganonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is an amalgamation of the two. As with any other visual novel, a large portion of the game is spent in engaging dialogue with the other students. You’re free to move about the premises of Hope’s Peak Academy, although interactivity is dictated by the storyline at all times. Exploring accessible rooms can yield vital evidence for your investigation. The game is split up into a number of chapters, and each chapter is further segmented into two phases, “Daily Life” and “Deadly Life”. “Daily Life” refers to the time you spend conversing with other students, giving you the opportunity to learn more about their individual backgrounds. Doing so earns you skill points, and subsequently, skills. The latter come handy during the second phase, “Deadly Life”, which is triggered once one of the characters has been murdered. This brings you to investigate the crime scene and speak to witnesses. Once all the required evidence is gathered, the game moves into the Class Trial. In this stage, you need to determine the truth by eliminating false information and ultimately figure out the identity of the killer.
Exploration in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is similar to first person RPGs of old. Other students trapped in Hope’s Peak Academy have in game models like card board cutouts, and the backgrounds in the halls are plain and very boring which is just lazy on the developers part. As exploration plays a huge part in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, some more work improving the surroundings would’ve been much appreciated. Don’t get me wrong though, the 2D sections like when you’re in conversation between characters looks great, but the 3D sections are just disappointing.
Class Trials are where Danganonpa: Trigger Happy Havoc truly shines, heightening the tension, suspense, and excitement. It’s also where you realize what the term Trigger Happy in the title meant. The trials are also divided into two phases, namely “Endless Debate”, “Hangman’s Gambit”, and “Bullet Time Battle”. “Endless Debate” is where you try to guess weaknesses in the arguments of suspects by assigning “Weak Points” to their statements, these “Weak Points” are confirmed by “Truth Bullets” that you find during the investigative phase. True to its name, “Hangman’s Gambit” is where you try to complete a word or phrase by filling in missing alphabetical letters. Through this process, you allow Makoto to recall important evidence. “Bullet Time” can occur at various points during a trial, where one of the characters will use delaying tactics to try and hold-up the investigation. This is where you are required to press a rhythmical sequence of buttons in order to target and pierce through the opposition’s words of rebuttal. As investigations get more complex, so does the rhythm. Finally the investigation ends with the player creating a comic strip highlighting the sequence of events that happened during and after the murder, which is when Monokuma comes along and does his “thing”.
The soundtrack in Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is simply amazing, with most of the game’s themes perfectly suiting the scene. The game is pretty long, well over 25 hours for just the main story so you’ll ideally want a soundtrack that doesn’t get boring, trust me Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s soundtrack never gets boring.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc also focuses a bit on the school life in Hope’s Peak Academy, although there’s not a lot of studying going on. You can converse and talk to other students to find out more about them, but the system isn’t as deep as say – Persona 3 or Persona 4 which really excelled in this particular regard. The School Life section won’t hook you in instantly but it’s still entertaining.
Overall Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a fantastic game with a gripping story, great characters and remarkable gameplay. While the game has its ups and downs, its drive towards optimism in the face of desolate and violent conditions is what makes it an enthralling experience. Danganronpa is – dare I say it – my favorite Visual Novel on the PS Vita yet, and this is coming from a huge VLR fan. Also one more thing, Monokuma is a Grade-A douchebag, just wanted to get that out there.