Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Review – Review
It certainly made me feel the ultimate in despair.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a cult classic game that gained notoriety in the West thanks, among other things, to an online game that served as the first entry point for the English-speaking series. It was officially released in English on PlayStation Vita three years later, and is finally making its way to Nintendo systems for the first time on Switch. It’s a game that I have a lot of complex feelings about first playing in 2021, and unfortunately that’s only made worse by the fact that the Switch version has some pretty clear issues that betray one the cheapest, laziest port jobs I’ve ever seen.
For those unfamiliar with Danganronpa is a visual murder mystery novel with a limited cast of recurring characters. It opens on the first day of school with freshman Makoto Naegi preparing for his first day at Hope’s Peak Academy, an elite high school where every student is an “ultimate” – someone who is the best in a particular talent. Upon arriving, Makoto discovers that the school is not what it appears to be, and he and fourteen other Ultimate students have been trapped in a sadistic game led by a mechanical teddy bear named Monokuma.
Monokuma explains that they will be forced to spend the rest of their lives at Hope’s Peak and that he will only allow someone to escape if they kill another student and get away with it. Of course, once the murder has occurred, the surviving students must retaliate in a class-action lawsuit where they try to determine the identity of the murderer, known as “the blackened”. If they succeed in uncovering the blackened, the criminal will be executed. If they fail then black escapes and everyone other is executed instead.
The gameplay is divided into three phases: school life, investigation and class tests. During school life, you’ll spend a lot of time watching the main story cutscenes and spending time with your favorite characters to get to know them better. Once a body has been discovered, the investigation phase begins as you examine the crime scene for evidence and roam the rest of the school for leads.
Class Trials are Danganronpa’s bread and butter, and this is where the gameplay really shines and sets it apart from other murder mystery games. Rather than a simple testimony where you can carefully cross-examine one character at a time, class trials are defined by non-stop debate where everyone tries to say their peace about events at the same time. The nonstop debate takes place in real time and is actually a kind of first person shooter as well; the evidence you have gathered is described as “truth bullets” and you must shoot the correct truth bullet at a conflicting statement.
Careful aim and timing are important, as irrelevant chatter from characters around the room (called “white noise”) will physically appear on screen and interfere with your balls. Since all of this happens in real time with an actual timer, the emphasis is on being able to quickly uncover the mystery on your own under pressure. This encourages the player to really pay attention to the details of a case instead of wasting time flipping through each piece of evidence only to suddenly spot a contradiction.
There are also two mini-games that appear in Class Trials: Hangman’s Gambit where you answer a question by quickly knocking down the right letters, and Bullet Time Battle which is a bad paced game. None of these mini-games are very good, Hangman’s Gambit tends to be hilarious, and Bullet Time Battle is incredibly frustrating to the point that I’m pretty sure the beat timing isn’t programmed properly. Fortunately, these mini-games are rare, with each appearing only once per try on average. I think it’s telling that the sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, drastically changed how these two minigames work to the point that it literally calls a whole new minigame “(Improved) Hangman’s Gambit” .
But in a visual novel, nothing is more important than the story, so let me dig a little deeper into Danganronpa’s tale than usual. The greatest strength of the story is that the whole game takes place with the same core of characters. Unlike most mystery murders where new characters are introduced to fill the necessary roles with each successive case, Danganronpa’s recurring plot offers unique opportunities to make each case important to those who pursue it. Each character is blessed with being more developed than what you’re used to seeing in this genre of a game, and the fact that the murderer is still someone you’ve spent time with and learned to knowing increases the stakes of each mystery. . The victims are not anonymous people, and the killers are people you have learned to trust.
In addition, the circumstances of each murder were never really straightforward. It’s hard to go into detail without spoiling the story, but there was always a certain plot twist that made each case go beyond a simple question of “this person killed this other person.” “. The compelling plot threads and character motivations that slowly unfolded over the course of the game gave me a sense of urgency to see more, and once the game really kicked off I had hard to let go despite the problems he may have had.
And boy, did he have any problems.
Danganronpa’s writing seems to have a hard time managing the flow of information to the player, and I was often frustrated with what the narrative decided was worth focusing on. A major reveal towards the end of the game is heavily foreshadowed to the point that I’d be really shocked if someone came to the end without predicting it. You will be predict this revelation before it happens.
But when the reveal moment finally arrives, the focus is on the shock of the reveal itself, and a true half hour of dialogue is spent solely on getting the in-game characters to take the reveal at face value. So much time and energy is wasted in getting the characters to draw conclusions that you, the player, have made hours There is, then when someone finally asks what it all means – a question you’ve undoubtedly been asking yourself for a long time – they’re just told it doesn’t matter and the game doesn’t bring it up anymore. never.
Danganronpa’s characters have a terrible habit of not asking questions that any sane person would ask, inadvertently making moments that could have been clever as mistakes. A particular part of the story is about learning new information from the victim’s dying message, but this twist comes with the problem that there is no explanation for how the victim knows this information. The message itself doesn’t make sense, and there’s no reason the victim said it, and none of the surviving characters fix this, making it seem like a hole. in the plot although a big reveal much later in the game provides a reason the character knew this. This is an intentional foreshadowing, but because no one seems to be asking the questions a sane person would ask, it sounds like a mistake.
No character suffers from this problem more than Makoto himself. Since he’s the character from the point of view, everything that happens in the story is filtered through his thoughts and actions, and he’s pretty slow to take in. He never perceives any of the omens the game spoon feeds you, and sometimes he will actually resist looking at certain things during an investigation in order to prevent the player from discovering something the writers aren’t ready to. whatever you know.
I vividly remember a time when the characters were all looking for a missing person, and I was sure they were in a nearby storage room. Upon arriving in the storage room, Makoto found that the door was locked and he just noticed that it was “strange” and that he would not question her further. When I gave up and left the room, I ran into another character in the hallway who told me the missing person had been found in the storage room. A good point of view of the character should help the player to notice the details of the story, but the main character of Danganronpa spends more time actively holding the player.
So what’s up with the Switch port? Well, somehow there are some pretty significant framerate issues both when walking around school and during classroom practice. The framerate in practice gets especially bad towards the end of the game, as white noise begins to fill the screen more aggressively, making it difficult to properly aim your truth bullets. I know technically that’s the whole point of white noise, but I felt that hurting game performance wasn’t how the developers wanted to increase the difficulty.
It’s pretty weird that a port of a PSP game is struggling on Switch, but this version also happens to be based on the Anniversary Edition released to mobile devices in 2020, and some pretty big issues are being inherited from it. A strange lack of care has been taken to the new section of the character gallery, and the vocal lines are tagged with captions that appear to be generated from speech recognition software. “Lies will get you nowhere” is labeled “the lie will make you known” and “I refuse to vote” becomes “I protect the vote.” ”
Things get worse in the actual game script where there is a bug that simply causes any dialogue line with a percent symbol to fail to load. The dialogue stops where the symbol would be and skips the rest of the text box altogether until you move to the next line, making some conversations completely unintelligible. This bug also exists in the mobile version of the game, and based on current YouTube playback of the iOS version, it still has not been fixed. The only conclusion I can come to is that either this version wasn’t tested from start to finish or they just didn’t care to fix such an obvious and critical bug in two different versions of the game. .
I find it hard to sum up Danganronpa in terms of whether I like him or not. Its overall structure, both narrative and gameplay, is inventive and unique to the point that it feels fresh even a decade after its original release, but I’ve spent a lot of time with the game feeling frustrated and disappointed. Despite this, I was constantly obliged to return to it over and over again; I didn’t want to let go, and as of writing this review I’m already two chapters away from its sequel. It’s a game that, in my opinion, fails to reach its potential in any important way, but it also manages to overcome its own failures thanks to its strong sense of style and ingenuity.
Unfortunately, I have much less conflict over the quality of the Switch port in particular. While none of the issues are significant enough to really prevent someone from enjoying this game, the fact that such fundamental issues from a previous release have not been addressed makes it difficult to justify this release against the others. I think it’s worth looking and trying Danganronpa for yourself, but I can’t recommend doing it while playing a port of the poorly performing mobile version on Switch.