Review: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PSV/PSTV)

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Platforms:

  • PlayStation Vita

Extras:

  • PlayStation TV Compatible Yes
Title: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
Format: Game Card / PlayStation Network Download (1.3 GB)
Release Date: February 11, 2014 (US) / February 14, 2014 (EU)
Publisher: NIS America / Spike
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Original MSRP: $39.99
ESRB Rating: M
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is also available on PSP, iOS and Android.
The PlayStation Vita download version was used for this review.

Editor’s Note:
There are no story spoilers in this review and nothing is discussed past the first chapter.

Gameplay:
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc follows the story of Makoto Naegi, your everyday average teenager, as he begins his first day at the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. This academy is reserved for the “Ultimate” students like the Ultimate Pop Sensation, Writing Prodigy, Baseball Star, and other top-of-their-game students. Obviously Makoto does not quite appear to be on their level in terms of achievements, as he is just an average kid who happened to gain acceptance to Hope’s Peak Academy through a lottery.

The game kicks off when on orientation day where Makoto along with 14 “Ultimate” students find themselves trapped in the Academy by an evil mastermind teddy bear name Monokuma. He explains to the students that they are to live in this school for their entire lives with the only way out being to “graduate” which means one of them has to get away with murder. Soon enough a student finds their life ended and a class trial begins where the class needs to correctly find the killer among them or they all die and the killer goes free.

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For the most part, gameplay in Trigger Happy Havoc breaks down to a point-and-click adventure game as the game relies on clicking around the environment for information and talking with the other students in order to get to know them better, build relationships, and find information. The game allows for plenty of exploring of the school and character interactions with the other students. The student interactions follow the same routine of approaching a student and choosing to spend time with them and/or giving them a gift. When you do this, you learn a little more about their personalities and motives as well as build up their trust in you and earn skills that you can use later.

During conversations there are branching elements which lead to different subjects that can help build a relationship by learning more about the person. The conversations really help flesh out characters that, at first glance, appear to just be cookie cutter stereotypes of teenagers. While they are still stereotypes to a degree, a majority of the characters become likable as they expand to more complex characters and no longer feel one-dimensional the more their personality is able to develop.

Once a murder finally takes place, the game really takes off in terms of gameplay as it features multiple elements and components. The first part is the collection of evidence or “Truth Bullets” as they are referred to in the game. Truth Bullets can be found in objects lying around the environment either in the crime scene or hidden throughout the school or can be found when talking to other students as they can help back alibis or fumble with their words with contradictions and lies. Being a thorough detective is key to the game and the more evidence you find the easier the rest of the trial can be.

Once in a trial it gets a little weird with how you’ll use the evidence you collected. The trials consist of the students standing in a circle having what is called an “Endless Debate”. During this debate, the player will use the Truth Bullets to shoot down your fellow classmates’ theories or arguments that appear as floating text on the screen. While a student is talking, weak points in their arguments will be highlighted and with the correct Bullet their argument is discredited. To balance this out, the player has a meter which equates to the other students trust and patience in you as well as your credibility. Every time you use the wrong piece of evidence the bar drains and when it’s completely empty, the game is over. This element is quite fun and having to pay close attention to a character’s words or phrasing is an interesting mechanic since your evidence needs to be able hurt their argument.

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One aspect that was frustrating was having to hit the exact words using the touch screen or using a reticle controlled by the left stick and hitting the Cross button to fire. The words would either move to fast or the level of precision with which you’d need to hit the weak points was too high. Luckily the player is equipped with a slow down meter which comes in handy often, especially if your credibility meter is low. I did find it difficult to hit the words sometimes and had to replay the argument once or twice because words move fast on occasion, but arguments repeat until your meter is drained.

Once a suspect begins to look guilty you enter a “Bullet Time Battle” with them. This equates to a boss battle as you go face to face with the suspected killer. This section plays out in a rhythm game in which you tap along to a beat as the killer throws out objections. You just have to keep with the beat until they breakdown. This particular section of the game feels a little contrived as it comes across like it was put in the game just so there would be another “gamey” mechanic involved with the trial. While not a bad experience it did not add any depth or extra enjoyment to the trial other than switch things up a bit.

With the suspect near the breaking point, using the evidence presented the player will then recreate the crime in comic book form. This turns into dragging evidence icons into blank comic panels to help build a case and story of how a murder took place and the presentation is pretty neat. Dropping pieces of evidence into the squares lets you see how the crime unfolded in a nicely drawn comic. From time to time the pictures could be somewhat difficult to distinguish what is happening in them so there was some trial and error in this section, but this wasn’t a common occurrence. Once completed the killer is found and the trail ends with a horrifying execution. The first execution in particular left me stunned in its creativity and brutal nature and let me know what to expect as I continued the game.

The trials are great with interesting components that do an excellent job at pulling an emotional reaction from the player as you battle the idea of kids being put into a do or die situation. You want to find the killer, but at the same time you build relationships with these characters and it can be difficult to deal with their actions. These are all kids backed into a corner in a life and death situation and they know the only way out of this insane situation is to get away with murder.

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Visuals:
This is a gorgeous game for the PlayStation Vita with its blending of 2D characters and interactive 3D backgrounds. The halls you walk are a little bare with lighting differentiating them but the backgrounds for individual rooms and areas (i.e. the cafeteria, the library) are very nicely realized with a pop-up book style that is most noticeable when it’s being loaded.

The 2D character models have a distinct anime look with the usual crazy hairdos, big eyes, and overly animated emotional responses. Each character looks different and fits their personality with only a couple going to an extreme to match their persona. These various personas range from nerd, goth, jock, biker gang leader, martial artist expert and others and they all are nailed in terms of character model. All in all Trigger Happy Havoc is a wonderful game to look at.

Audio:
Voice acting is a point of strength in the audio design which is great with a game that is heavily story driven. The voice acting is superb as it avoids the use of annoying voices that can sometimes plague translated games. No character’s voice felt out of place or poorly executed. The dialogue is written well and performed with great enthusiasm and care. In addition to the English voice acting, the game does come with the option to use the Japanese voice acting instead.

It’s all accompanied by a decent soundtrack that while it’s not the largest collection of music, it has enough variety to help set and differentiate an atmosphere. Monokuma’s theme in particular has a very hypnotic and creepy sound to it that fits this evil Teddy Bear’s psychotic vibe. Mostly the music does what good background music does by staying in the background and never becoming too overbearing or bothersome.

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Online/Multiplayer:
This game is single player only.

Conclusion:
With the recent influx in pop culture of kids being put into “battle to the death” situations with properties like Battle Royale and The Hunger Games garnering much attention, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc puts its own spin on the concept that feels fresh in a market that may soon find itself run into the ground.

The story is well put together and often has very humorous moments with a dark sense of comedy, especially with Monokuma. It balances the humor and dark subject matter in a way that makes the game compelling enough that feeling empathy for the characters is very much possible even when there are killers among them. You may see their perspective and ask yourself, “what would I do in their situation?”

With beautifully designed, well written, acted characters it is easy to get caught up in the story. While the game mechanics might not be breaking any new ground they are, for the most part, entertaining ways to interact and play through an excellent story. So if you are in need of a unique game with a compelling story Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is worthy of a Vita owner’s attention.

Score: 
8.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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