The success of the “Zero Escape” series has spawned a wide range visual novels to be translated and brought over to the west, with each one trying to stand out from the crowd with their unique features and whacky characters. Danganronpa is the latest of these puzzle visual novels, a game with a style unlike anything else.
Danganronpa uses the typical survival game story often found in visual novels. Characters find themselves trapped in a location and are “forced” to kill each other to escape. It’s a simple plot that has been seen across multiple forms of media, it never does anything horribly wrong but it never dares to do anything new. It looks like this is the story that Danganronpa has decided to tell. Well, at first. For you see, Danganronpa likes to play with your expectations, it leads you along with simple plot points and obvious twists, but then sweeps the rug from under your feet by introducing an element that completely changes the entire situation. It’s great to feel like you know exactly what’s going on, only to suddenly realize you’ve been played and the game’s tricked you.
Sadly the story only really picks up after chapter three, and until then the game does a horrible job and dragging you through tedious conversations that last way too long. A meaningless chat about doughnuts lasts longer than a massively important horrific death scene. While the translation is wonderful, having lots of jokes that would only make sense in the west, the amount of repetition and exposition makes a lot of the conversations a bore to sit through.
The game has two forms of gameplay, the first being free time at school and the second being the murder cases. School involves walking around the school looking for people to talk to and hang out with. Becoming friends with people unlocks more SP that can be used in the courtroom (I’ll get to that in a moment!) and learning about them can prove to be useful later on, due to them being nicer to you in court. Things change once someone is murdered. Once the body is found, you need to investigate around the school to find clues that could help find the killer. This involves going into every room and clicking everything that may seem useful, sometimes something may seem useful but the main character will say it’s not, but if you click on it again he will suddenly say it is. Clicking on everything multiple times and talking to everyone multiple times gets tedious far too quickly, it just involves spamming the X button in every room until the game decides it’s time to go to court.
Being in court is a mash up of the Phoenix Wright games, an on-rails shooter, Guess Who and Dance Dance Revolution. Sounds weird right? It’s actually a lot of fun. The case starts with people discussing the events of the case as words fly by, you look for the words in orange and decide if they are true or false. If someone lies then you shoot their words with a “Truth Bullet” and the case progresses. This happens the majority of the time, but sometimes you will be asked to pick out a piece of evidence to support a theory, or spell out a word that is key in the case. This makes the courtroom more of a mini game collection rather than an actual courtroom, but the games are a lot of fun. When the murderer is nearly found, you have to recreate the murder by filling out a manga comic of the event, once that’s done you enter a showdown with the killer in a sort of DDR experience where you have to press X or triangle at the right time to deny their statement and do damage. The whole thing is just bonkers and I loved every second I was there.
The real thing that stands out in Danganronpa is it’s art style. Everyone is made out of what looks to be cardboard cutouts and moving the camera around shows that they are all two dimensional (perhaps a joke about their poor character development). The world is colourful and incredibly “out there”, there are electricity poles in the school and an arts room with statues of the antagonist (?)Monobear in famous statues positions. Everything is slighting at an angle or misshapen the smallest bit to give everything a strange but still anime-esc feel. I loved the design of the characters and world they were in, everything carries a personality to it and I really liked that.
I really enjoy playing Danganronpa. It’s story takes far too long to really get going, and the characters are incredibly bland (apart from Monobear), but once you get into the flow of things it becomes a fun and twisted ride full of teenage deaths and stupid mini games that just add to the idea that this world is barking mad. This game won’t be for everyone, but anyone who loves anime and enjoys a good visual novel should see why Danganronpa is such a fun game.
Should you play Danganronpa 2?
Thanks to NIS for the review code