Game Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

Is the game still worth playing ten years later?

Released: November 25, 2010

Rating: M (Blood, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes)

Originally released on the PSP in Japan 2010, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a visual novel unlike any other. With this year marking the ten year anniversary, what’s better than a review of the game that started the franchise?

What’s It All About?

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc follows a group of students at a prestigious school called Hope’s Peak Academy where students have ‘ultimate’ talents, such as Ultimate Swimmer. You play as Makoto Naegi, the Ultimate Lucky Student who is starting his first day at school. Things do not go as planned; he wakes up after losing consciousness upon arrival and finds that he is trapped in the school and caught up in a mutual killing game with his classmates. 

©Spike Chunsoft: Protagonist Makoto with the notorious heroes’ hair spike

Makoto and the other students find that they have been imprisoned at the school by Monokuma, a stuffed robot bear that proclaims himself as the Headmaster. Monokuma informs the students that if they break any school rules, they’ll be put to death – unless they start killing each other for a chance to escape. A series of class trials are conducted and a voting system is devised to deduce a victim’s murderer. Students that fail to guess the correct culprit are killed themselves. If the killer is correctly identified then they are gruesomely murdered by Monokuma. If a student can successfully kill someone and not get caught, then they ‘graduate’ and escape. The killing game ends when there are two students left and they both are allowed to graduate.

Gameplay:

Each chapter of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc features two different aspects of gameplay: School Life and Class Trials. School Life is the typical visual novel style in which the player explores the academy, progresses the story, and socialises with classmates. The Class Trials style includes an investigation and the trials themselves, where the player must determine the culprit of the crime.

The Class Trials gameplay is similar to Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, as players will investigate the case to find the truth. Students must discuss amongst themselves who they believe the killer to be via four main styles of gameplay: Nonstop Debate, Hangman’s Gambit, Bullet Time Battle, and Closing Argument. Starting with the Nonstop Debate, the player will have “Truth Bullets” (relevant evidence, essentially) and must determine the correct weak points to find lies in an opposing argument/statement.

Hangman’s Gambit is an extreme version of Hangman where players pick letters to guess words and solve part of the case. Bullet Time Battle is basically a rhythm game mixed with a bit of Nonstop Debate – the player engages in a battle of wits against another student to negate their arguments, but to the rhythm of a song. It all ends with The Closing Argument, in which the players must piece together the entire crime scene in a comic book style. Each of the mini-games are essential in progressing the trial and players cannot progress the story without finishing them.

©Spike Chunsoft: The surviving students at Hope’s Peak Academy figuring out who the killer is.

In Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, players will have a life meter and a focus meter; the game ends if all lives are used or if the clock runs out. At the end of each trial, the players are ranked based on performance and high ranking students are given Monokuma medals to buy gifts and collectible items.

What I Loved About The Game:

I enjoyed the plot and grew attached to all of the characters. They are all cliche tropes from anime high school dramas and it’s amusing to see how they react in this environment, my favourite being Byakuya Togami. He’s the typical jerk that you love to hate but surprises you with his humanity at times – plus the way he deals with Toko Fukawa is hilarious. 

Monokuma is the best antagonist and the ideal villain for this story. He’s adorable on one side like a cute teddy bear, but then he’s dark and twisted on the other. His dialogue is comical and fits perfectly into his character. Additionally the voice acting for Monokuma, in both Japanese and English, is an example of excellent casting.  

©Spike Chunsoft: Monokuma goofing around per usual

Let’s talk about the protagonist Makoto: He is given a personality and character traits, but these are limited so that the player can feel like they’re in control of him and can make active decisions. I am a sucker for developing relationships in games, and Danganronpa does it perfectly. We are given the option to choose who we want to socialise with, with options of dialogue and gifts that make it feel more personal rather than scripted. 

Like in many Japanese games, the music is always awesome. The composer, Masafumi Takada, does an incredible job with the score from the catchiest song ‘Dangan Ronpa’ to the dreamy ‘Beautiful Days’. He manages to highlight the mood of the game and allegedly did so without playing through the game, as he didn’t want to spoil it for himself.

Weak Points In The Game?

It’s a pretty solid game, apart from a few little things. Hangman’s Gambit and Bullet Time Battle are mini-games in the Class Trials that are frustrating. Bullet Time Battle is entertaining at first but becomes tedious after the first trial, as the rhythm is awkward. The worst mini-game is Hangman’s Gambit, as it’s a simple premise but it can be impossible to pin down the exact phrase that they want. It is the only part that always gives me a ‘game over’ screen.

©Spike Chunsoft: Frustratingly hard, Hangman’s Gambit is a core part of the trials

I played the game with no previous knowledge, but it quickly became one of my favourites. Almost all of the characters are entertaining and feel like a great fit in the story. The twists in the game and the fear of your favourite character getting killed builds up tension and keeps you invested. Additionally, the pop art style with 2D and 3D textures mixed together is an unusual and funky style that I enjoy. 

It may seem like a short game but I think the length is just right to keep up suspense, any longer would just feel like padding. Whilst it may not be a visual marvel, it’s an entertaining game that holds up ten years later after its original release. If you love crimes and gruesome murders mixed with high school life and drama, then Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the game for you.

Final verdict: 9/10

Words by Charlie Vogelsang

Related articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *