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Danganronpa. That’s a weird word right? Well it isn’t an English word; that much is probably pretty apparent just by looking at it. However, if we were to directly translate the title into English it would be called Bullet Rebuttal. Neither really rolls of the tongue, huh? Not to mention both titles do poor jobs of describing what the game is about, but it stayed Danganronpa when localized.

Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a rerelease of the first two games: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2 Goodbye Despair. I’ve always been interested in these games just from hearing about them. However I was actually waiting for this kind of two in one package as a way to save money and have immediate access to both. I played this on the PS4 but it is also available on PS Vita and Steam.

In short the Danganronpa titles are about Japanese high schoolers who are the best of the best. No matter what their talent is, so long as they are the best at it, they will likely be scouted for a prestigious high school aptly named: Hope’s Peak Academy. Anyone who manages to graduate from this high school is basically set for life. Considering the school’s very selective process and rigor, companies and society highly value the graduates. You play as a student  accepted into Hope’s Peak Academy. However when you arrive at the school, things are not quite what you would’ve (or could’ve) imagined.

Aside from the other 14 students chosen, Hope Peak’s Academy is completely empty and desolate, until a black and white teddy bear named Monokuma appears. Monokuma introduces himself as the headmaster of Hope’s Peak Academy and tells the students they must live the rest of their lives locked in this school. However they can escape or graduate on one condition. They must murder one of their fellow classmates and get away with it. If they manage to do that, they may leave while Monokuma executes their remaining classmates. If the killer is found out however, then they alone will be executed while the other students still remain trapped inside the school. Monokuma and the mastermind behind him created this environment for one reason only: To fill the students with despair.

This game has lots of plot points that are considered spoilers, so I’ll keep this review spoiler-free. But we have two games to get through in one review so let’s get to it!

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

In Danganronpa, you play as Makoto Naegi and he is a rather unremarkable person. He gets into Hope’s Peak Academy because he is the Ultimate Lucky Student. The school chose him randomly from a pool of regular students across the nation, so he feels rather out of place around all the characters that have true ultimate talents. Therefore he is a very easy character to identify with. Upon learning he and the rest of the students are trapped in the school, they are reluctant to accept Monokuma’s rules. So Makoto and the rest of the students try to find a way to escape or turn the tables on the mastermind without killing anyone.

Unfortunately Monokuma has plenty of tricks up his sleeves and despite the students’ intentions to escape the school without murder, killings start occurring. And as Makoto your job is to expose the blackened killer or it is game over.

Gameplay:

Some people might not know how this game works, I’ll explain. Your goal is never to kill anyone. In fact, Makoto finds the idea of murdering for your own benefit awful and unforgivable. Since you play as Makoto, the game is treated as part murder mystery and part life sim. When nobody has recently died, you explore the school and experience the phase known as free time. During that time you may hang out with any of the students who are still alive. Doing so will grant you access to skills that will be helpful during the trials. It’s also fun to get to know a little more about the characters. It is similar to spending time with characters in games like Persona. This makes the story even more tragic as someone you spent a lot of time with could be the next victim, or worse, the next killer.

The second segment in the game is the investigation phase. This occurs when three or more students discover a body. When that happens, you investigate the crime scene and other locations that might relate to the crime. After all, everyone’s life is on the line, so the only option is to gain enough information to expose the killer. It plays sort of like a point and click adventure where you need to collect evidence and gather testimony to use in the upcoming trial. Similar to another game: Phoenix Wright. Often times another character will join your investigation and you can learn more about them during your search together.

Finally the third segment is the trial, which plays unlike anything I’ve ever seen. All the remaining students gather together and discuss among themselves who is most likely to be the killer. Their statements fly across the screen and the game suddenly becomes a first person shooter of sorts. Your evidence become “truth bullets” and you must shoot the correct bullet at a certain statement to refute the claim. This is why the name of the game is Bullet Rebuttal. There are other parts of the trial which include choosing a multiple choice answer, playing a variation of hangman game, or arguing against another student in the style of a rhythm game.

Here are my issues with the gameplay. Hanging out with students will give you skills or increase your SP which dictates how many skills you can equip during trials. You have no idea whether the student will give you an SP boost or a skill when you hang out with them. During my playthrough I had collected an absurd amount of SP and almost no skills to spend it on. That can be aggravating as you don’t know who would be best to spend time with and might forsake hanging out with someone you really like for some random person if they might have a better skill.

As for the trials they are very fun and fast-paced, but often times too easy. Even on the highest difficulty. Furthermore your job is almost always to shoot down what another student is claiming rather than say… support their claim. This makes a lot of the students seem like actual idiots who contribute nothing to the trial. Finally if you fail a trial, the game doesn’t really punish you for it. You can retry and regain all your credibility, starting from the moment you lost and you lose nothing. But those are my only real complaints about the gameplay. Otherwise it’s all pretty enjoyable.

Characters:

This is where Danganronpa shines its absolute brightest. All the characters are very colorful and unique in different ways. While they all have their own ultimate talent, this talent doesn’t always identify them. For example, Leon Kuwata is known as the Ultimate Baseball Star, but if you spend time with him you learn he actually hates baseball and would prefer to be a musician. I found all the characters interesting in some way. Even unlikable characters like the snooty, arrogant, elitist Byakuya Togami showed some redeeming quality. Despite his awful attitude, I had to admire his genius. Not only was he one of the few insightful characters in the class trials, but one of his plans for participating in the killing game was something I never would’ve considered if I was in the same position.

Despite many students committing murder, they are all generally good people. However Monokuma designs motives to trap or trick students into killing one another. When the motive strikes the right nerve, the students often feel like they have no choice but to attempt murder. While there was always a twinge of pain when another student wound up dead, I often found myself pitying the murderer even more than the victim. Their explanations for why they felt the need to commit the act are often heartbreaking. This goes to show how well fleshed out the characters are. Then you have to watch Monokuma execute them in horrific ways. Despite initial appearances no one falls into tropes when their time comes.

As for the characters that survive long enough, they go through good character development directly based on the events that occur in the story. Out of the 15 students I only disliked one and loved all the other students. For such a large main cast it has some of the best characters I’ve ever seen in a video game, period.

Music:

It is just okay. I’m listening to an OST as I write this. A lot of the music is forgettable, and maybe underwhelming but not necessarily bad. If nothing else the music fits depending on the situation. There are some really good tracks that put shame to all the other music tracks. The song that plays during the title screen and trial summaries is great. So is the remixed version of the investigation music for the final trial. And there are a couple other good ones here and there, but mostly it’s just background stuff that you’ll forget about.

Verdict:

Hope’s Peak Academy is shrouded in mystery and the story has lots of twists and turns as you learn more about the killing game and struggle to escape. It’s a long visual novel and you’ll be doing lots of reading. So much so that you might get a little bogged down… and this is coming from someone that enjoys visual novels. But overall the game was fun, engaging, exciting and a little creepy. I had a lot of fun with it and would absolutely recommend it to those who haven’t tried it.

Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair

In Danganronpa 2 you play as a completely new character named Hajime Hinata. Hajime arrives at Hope’s Peak Academy and meets all his fellow classmates, until a pink rabbit named Usami appears and claims she is their new teacher. She then announces it is time for the school trip and transports everyone to an island known as Jabberwock Island. Everyone is clearly confused and already knows that something weird is going on. In that time, Hajime unfortunately forgets his ultimate ability before the game reveals it to the player. Usami claims that the reason everyone is here is to get along and collect hope fragments and be happy.

Just when everyone starts accepting that’s all there is to it, the sky grows dark and Monokuma returns. He overpowers Usami and hijacks the school trip. He reinstates a new killing game with the same rules as before. Kill without getting caught and escape the island, but getting found out results in execution. Otherwise the students will remain trapped on the island forever.

Gameplay:

The gameplay is pretty much the same as the first title, so my descriptions will be a lot shorter. I’ll go over the main changes. Hanging out with people has a much better system to it. Instead of gaining SP boosts or random skills, you gain a hope fragment every time you hang out with someone. You use these hope fragments to purchase skills from a store. You can gain a total of 6 hope fragments for each character. If you manage to collect all you’ll gain an additional skill. I prefer this method to the style of the first game. This way you can hang out with people you like more often than the ones you don’t like and there’s no punishment for it. You can also get skills you think will be most helpful to you, rather than ones you don’t care for.

The trial gameplay also got a bit of an overhaul. The main part is still shooting down statements with truth bullets, but you can now use the truth bullets to agree with someone’s statement rather than argue against it. Many more mini-games have been added too. Sometimes when you make a claim, another character will challenge the validity of that statement and you must enter a Rebuttal Showdown before you can progress. These things make the trials much more difficult, make the characters more competent, and add a lot of layers to spice up the trials into something a little more intense.

HOWEVER I think the overhaul was a little misguided at stages and made some minigames way too difficult. Namely the “Improved” Hangman’s Gambit and the newly added Logic Dive. The “Improved” Hangman’s Gambit made things so difficult that it doesn’t matter if you know the answer. You’re still going to take damage several times during that segment, because the mini-game they created is too unpredictable. Logic Dive is a snowboarding minigame that requires you to pick the correct path by answering questions about the case, but you have a time limit to reach the end. Sometimes you must make crazy jumps to stay on the path, even when you’re not posed a question. How does it relate to the trial? Uh… it doesn’t really.

Things like this unfortunately added some fake difficulty, but the overhaul managed to address and fix all my complaints about trials and gameplay in the first game. But the gameplay is better overall, so I’ll take it!

If any letters that don’t match collide, you take damage.

Characters:

This is a tough one to judge in comparison to the first game. The game introduces a brand new cast of characters for you to interact with. They feel a little like characters from the first game at first… but they quickly come into their own personalities. Overall the cast is not as good in my opinion. Several of the characters I avoided because they were a little too weird for me to handle. I think if I got stuck in a conversation with some of those people in real life, it would be my worst nightmare. I would have no idea what to do and would likely respond with awkward “oh” and “ah.”

But the game does introduce some amazing characters in this game. Chiaki Nanami the Ulimate Game is my favorite female character in the Danganronpa series so far. And characters like Nagito Komaeda, the (new) Ultimate Lucky Student, challenge themes of the first game with his extremely twisted thoughts about the meaning of hope and despair. These two are great. But there are plenty of characters who aren’t great or a little bland. Overall the cast is not as likable as the cast from the first game. But Goodbye Despair introduces some of the best characters in the series.

You get me, girl.

Music:

This game loses points in the music category especially because they recycled the same music! There are some new tracks for certain moments, but they mostly reuse tracks from the first game. Considering I didn’t have a ton of praise for the music in the first game, this failed to improve that. And since I only played this game shortly after the first, hearing old tracks did not make me happy or nostalgic or anything like that. I still appreciated the good ones, but just kind of ignored the mediocre ones.

Verdict:

Once again there are many twists and turns in the story and many mysteries to uncover. A tropical island isn’t as creepy or ominous as an abandoned boarded up school, but still an interesting setting. The changes also brought good and bad things with it. Can you play Goodbye Despair without playing Trigger Happy Havoc? Uh… technically yes, but I would strongly advise against it. It is a direct sequel and it ultimately spoils everything about the first game. The game even makes fun of its own plot twists from the first game. I can appreciate the humor in it though. What was I talking about again?

Oh right. If I had to compare the two I’d say I like Trigger Happy Havoc a little more than Goodbye Despair. Just a little. But that’s  a matter of preference.

Final Thoughts:

I actually enjoyed both of these games a lot. Whether or not you think one game is better than the other, the two make a great pair and tell very engaging stories where I was always dying to learn more. No pun intended. Don’t make fun of my dead anime friends. Though I’m a little behind the curve, I’m very excited to play Danganronpa V3 and see what new characters, cases, and stories it brings to the table.

The games are not perfect, nor was the port transition from Vita to PS4, but I fully enjoyed my time with both games and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good murder mystery kind of game with great characters. Also as diabolical and sadistic as Monokuma is, he’s now one of my favorite mascot characters of all time. So check out the game and immerse yourself. Danganronpa doesn’t disappoint.

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