Theres an increasingly noisey debate about what makes a game a game, with the likes of Proteus offering very little in regards to interactive elements and titles like Phoenix Wright focusing on character interaction, the past 10 years in videogames have really branched out and genuinely challenged what it is that makes us put something into that media bracket of “game”, and wat is it that differentiates a “game” from any other piece of software? Visual Novels are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to challenging this idea, the accusation being that you spend alot of time just pressing a button to continue with the dialogue, but in the case of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and I’m sure many other similar games that are finding poularity with those of us interested in Japans software output, thats not really being fair.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc uses that aforementioned “Press X to read dialogue” element, and theres no two ways about it, it is very dialogue heavy. However, thats only half of the meal on offer here, as the plot plays out via discussions between the characters, you are also called upon to investigate various area’s of the games setting, which we’ll come to later, and then, later on, are thrust into a rather high tempoed too-ing and fro-ing of debate, discussion, and accusation with just a touch of Rhythm Action as the icing on the cake.
The game places you in the role of a rather “average” high-school student, who has found himself being invited to attend the rather prestigious “Hopes Peak Academy”, a school that only educates the best of the best and is purely invite only. Upon arriving you are rendered unconcious and then wake up in a classroom. Eventually you find yourself with the other students all of whom are the “Ultimate” in something. These pretty much fit in with standard tropes of anything that is set in a Japanese High School, so “Ultimate Baseball Star”, “Ultimate Pop Sensation” “Ultimate Athelete” you get the picture, the lead chaacter, Makoto Naegi, it turns out, was picked from a lottery system and is therein deemed to have the “Ultimate Luck”. It all feels a little stereotypical, tired and cliche ridden up to this point.
The curve ball is that you’re all being held captive in the school and the only way to escape is in a game of Battle Royale style murder. The twist? Each time a murder takes place and the body is discovered by three people or more an announcement is made and everybody has to discover who the culprit is. Once evidence has been collected the game places you in a trial situation, where you use the evidence at your disposal to ferret out the guilty party and ultimately convict them to being executed by the psychotic teddy-bear that rules over the school.
Crazy enough for you? Good, because it is rather out there, and its from these foundations that the game tries to play with every pre-conception that you’d have of the characters that you are imprisoned with. Each character initially feels as one dimensioned and stereotypical as you’d expect, but as you begun to converse with them, either through the games story or by taking the opportunity between investigations and trials to single out specific characters in the games fairly basic social interactivity elements, you begin to see that each one is far more detailed than you could ever imagine, and as the plot plays out there’s a few rather brave and genuine surprises thrown in there for good measure.
But thats all the veg and gravy of this meal addressed, the meat is the trials themselves. These are usually broken down into a number of parts. Firstly a round table debate where the party discuss parts of the evidence at hand and you’re left with needing to find the contradiction in the discussion to wittle everything down. Occassionally you’re called upon to enter into a game of “Hangman Noose” where you shoot letters in the correct order to make up a word, its usually related to a key piece of evidence that you’ve discovered that the others may not know about, one element doesn’t always appear. If the guilty party, or somebody associated with them, tries to deny the accusation, you enter into a simple but challenging rhythm aciton game. The character in question throws argumentative lines at you and by pressing X followed by Triangle in time with a spinner of dots at the bottom of the screen, you deflect them and ultimately break down their health bar. Lastly you have to piece together the summary of events by placing icons in the correct panels of a comic book style presentation in order for the culprit to be convicted, and as previously mentioned executed.
The basic device is that you have to find the correct culprit otherwise its game over, the plot sets it out that whomever murders another classmate has to get away with it, if they are succesful they go free from the school and everybody else is executed for falsely accusing another person. Get ir right, the culprit is executed and the game continues into the next chapter starting the whole process again. Each case throws up interesting curve balls and on occassion you may not know who is guilty until very late on in the trial, unfortunately this is sometimes because the game can hold a key piece of evidence from you via one of the other innocent parties being rather secretive until the last moment, but it all adds a bit of tension and surprise to proceedings.
Danganronpa’s chapter based gameplay, a common thing in this media, really lends itself well to the PlayStation Vita and the style of game that is captured here. Its not much to look at, mostly as its static Manga-style images and text, but if you can get past the lack of movement theres a hell of an entertaining game here that I’ll admit isn’t for everyone, but those who do give it a chance will genuinely be surprised by quite a lot of what Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has to offer.