Posted by AidanAK47 on 27 April 2016 with categories: Anime Reviews, Game Reviews, Reviews by AidanAK47

There may be those of you who know this series more by its anime adaption instead of it’s video games and if you haven’t watched the anime of this I highly recommend that you don’t watch it. Instead play the games which have been recently ported to Steam. The reason I say this is that due to the decision to make the anime a one cour length it essentially cut down the story into its bare necessities. The anime of Danganronpa is essentially the barest cliff notes of the game and most importantly removes its greatest aspect. For you see when this anime was announced people compared it to the likes of battle royale. Speaking purely mechanically it’s gameplay is actually very similar to Phoenix Wright. But at it’s core is a murder mystery. Hence why watching the anime first is a bad idea as it spoils the answers to the mystery before giving you any chance to speculate. Lucky for myself I played the first DanganRonpa before the anime aired and found it to be an excellent game. It’s sequel to me however is a much better title.

The story begins with our protagonist about to attend Hope academy which is a school dedicated to the best of the best. However upon entering the academy he falls unconscious and finds himself and fifteen other students stuck on an Island with some strange stuffed bunny telling them that to get off the island they all need to get along. Despite how odd it is everyone decides that they might as well enjoy their time on the island. Naturally this peace doesn’t last long as Monokuma appears and once again forces the class to play in a killing game where the person who manages to kill someone and get away with it in a class trial can then leave the Island. The plot is quite similar to it’s predecessor but has a more interesting set of eccentric characters and a deeper mystery regarding the island. With Monomi, Monokuma now has the yang to oppose his Yin as Monomi encourages the group to work together while Monokuma tries to turn them against one another. Though both mascots annoy the hell out the characters. Monokuma is the same as he was before, balancing his silly humor with a level of undertoned malice. I originally wasn’t too fond of his english voice but as I played the game I found it fit quite well. Monomi has an attitude if trying to be cute that gets on the characters nerves and often she’s being put down or reduced to tears despite her optimistic efforts to get people to not fall for Monokuma’s provoking. However both of them are clearly hiding the truth from the students for different reasons. As for the students themselves, at first they seem like one dimensional characters defined by their “Ultimate” talent but the game does allow them to develop though it’s mechanics and how the story turns out.

This game is truly a game to be played by those who have experienced the first though it can be played with no knowledge of the first game. But this is meant to be played after playing the first game as their are plenty of things here which reference the first game. But what I love about this is how this game makes use of your assumptions gained from the first game and uses them to trick you into a certain line of thought. Basically there are point in this story which makes you think it’s rethreading on the story of the first game only to laugh in your face and toss it aside. This is pretty clever writing that knows how to get you thinking in a certain way but I have some pride in that I managed to figure out a good deal of the mysteries it presents. But I never managed to nail everything down. Something usually escaped my notice. The characters this time around I would argue are stronger than the first in that there isn’t someone here I could consider background decoration. The first game had a couple of characters who just were rather bland or had nothing really to contribute to the game. Out of a cast of sixteen characters, everyone here has their interesting points and are a worthy addition to the story. I would say the weakest would be the Ultimate team manager and the mechanic but even they have a part to play. What I think is a true mark of genius though is in how one of these characters is used as a kind of secondary antagonist. I originally didn’t think much of them at first but once they showed their worth they proved to be one of the best characters in the game. I especially love the comparison between them and a character from the first game. You have the choice between Japanese and english voices but l say you can’t lose out either way. I played the english dub and frankly it’s perfect. Some truly outstanding performances, especially when a character goes completely insane.(They are rather insane from the start due to their own eccentricities but when they go insane, they really go full throttle insane.) The soundtrack is very good though tracks are reused from the first game and new versions would have been appreciated. The graphics are strange in that I don’t think DanganRonpa is trying to be visually impressive but rather just trying to have style. For most of the game the world looks like a diorama with cardboard figurines. It’s strange but it doesn’t work well. Either way you aren’t here to see pretty graphics and there are some rather clever effects applied sometimes. Their is a keyboard and mouse support but it is awkward for the menus with still require you to use keys instead of a mouse to navigate it. It works decently and the mouse gives some nice precision but recommend using a controller over it for an optimal experience.

The mechanics of the game truly are very similar to Phoenix Wright. there are six chapters and each chapter takes place in three stages; a free time stage, an investigation stage and a trial stage. The free time stage is a period before the murder which is mainly setting up the murder and seeing how everyone is handling the situation. You can walk around the Island and talk to certain characters to get to know them better. Though time passes as you talk to a character and as you grow closer you get things called “Hope Fragments”. Getting all the hope fragments in your first playthrough is impossible as it requires you to know who is going to get murdered so you can get all their hope fragments before they are taken out of the game. But you do unlock a Island mode that allows you to collect them at your leisure upon completing the game. You also unlock a DanganRonpa IF novel written by Ryohgo Narita. This system is similar to Persona’s social links system but it doesn’t really grant any benefits besides some extra character development and the ability to purchase skills to use in the trials. The skills are rather superficial though and you can get through the trials without them easily. The investigation stage is just that, a murder happens and you must look around for clues. This mainly involves clicking on areas to find evidence and asking characters about the murder. The game pretty much makes it impossible to miss evidence as it suggests you look around again if you happen to have not clicked on something. You cannot proceed to the trial stage until you have gathered all the evidence. The trial stage is where things get really heated up as it acts as a series of mini-games which make use of the evidence you have gathered. The key to it is to find contradictions in what people are saying by using the right evidence that disproves their statement. For example, if the autopsy report states the victim was stabbed and then during the court trial a person claims the victim was shot, you can use the autopsy report to disprove their claim. This is exactly as Phoenix wright worked but their is some differences. In Phoenix wright you could go through a person’s statement at your leisure but in DanganRonpa you are placed in a rail shooter styled game where characters words appear on screen as they say them and you must load your chosen evidence into a gun and fire the words at a highlighted statement to contradict it. This is odd but a satisfying way of landing a hit as you manage to push the trial forward. However sometimes it can be difficult to distern just what piece of evidence the game wants you to put forward even if you have figured out how the murder happened. At times knowing what statements to counter and what evidence to use can be a matter of trial and error.This isn’t the only mini-game in the trial however and this is where I find DanganRonpa falls short. The main mini-game remains the same as the original but the others have been changed for what seems to me just for the sake of differentiation. Most of the games are a nice change of pace but one of them is an absolute chore to get through. That is Hangmans Gambit. This is a minigame that requires you to put together a word like hangman but the process of doing so is slow, needlessly complicated and just a drag to play. I failed the game on my first attempt simply because I didn’t understand how it worked despite it being explained to me. I figured it out on my second try but it didn’t make the game any less tedious as it basically involved you waiting for the game to put the letter you need on screen. You can speed it up by pressing the skip button but the fact is that this is not fun. It’s far more flustrating when you know what word you have to spell out but must wait ever so slowly as you put down the word letter by letter. This minigame outstays it’s welcome and i was tired of it by the end of the first trial.

There is no real way to die as when all your health depletes you get a game over screen before being allowed to retry from the point you died. The only penalty is to a score that only grants you a grade and monocoins. Monocoins can be used to purchase presents which help in the free time period of the game. There are two ways to get presents, one is to buy them from the supermarket and the other is to use a kind of random draw machine at the beach. The beach machine is the much better option as you can continue to put in one coin at a time and get the majority of the presents through random chance. So monocoins quickly become useless but despite their being no penalty for death I am glad it is this way. For the class trails are long affairs that can take up to an hour and a half. If you were sent back to the beginning after every game over it would get very old fast. Besides, I see DanganRonpa more as a visual novel than a genuine game.(You can argue that visual novels are indeed also genuine games but I find the level of interaction to be far too insubstantial to justify the game title. Much in the same way I don’t consider walking simulators games. I likely annoyed some people with that statement but frankly in my book if the gameplay itself is merely a secondary optional priority to the game developer then you aren’t trying to make a game.) The aspect I really love about this game is that you can piece together who committed the murder and how they did it just by looking at the evidence gathered from the investigation stage. I made it a point before each trial to have a long think over who I thought was the murderer and the method they committed it so that I would have a better idea how to use it to break contradictions as well as see just how right my speculation was. The first trial was a real stand out moment as I walked into that thinking I had figured out everything. I breezed through the first rounds and it all looked to be point towards the conclusion I saw coming. And just when I reveled in my own brilliance the game took my deduction and turned it right on it’s head. Almost as if the game knew exactly what I was thinking and threw me off with a red herring. Ultimately while I managed to figure out a number of the details of the murder, I got the murderer completely wrong. I wasn’t even mad, I was impressed and knew this game would really test my deductive capability. It’s rare for me to experience a story such as this as it truly is a story that can only be experienced twice. Once blind and a second time breaking it down. Such is the sad fate of the murder mystery as a large amount of it’s appeal is lost upon revealing the machinations behind the tale. The wacky characters and style are great side dishes of this tale but if you play DanganRonpa then you have got to play it like a detective.

DanganRonpa is a tale featuring the utterly ridiculous with the macabre, all the while telling a series of murder mysteries. It always manages to keep the more fantasy elements of the setting and characters from interfering in the logic of the murders. It’s tongue in cheek approach and self aware nature allow the reader to accept the more silly aspects while still managing to hit hard when time comes to toss aside humor and make things serious. It’s a tale that can only be experienced once but that one time is going to be a memorable one. There is a new anime for DanganRonpa coming soon which is labeled “DanganRonpa 3: The end of Hopes Peak Acadamy”. This is not to be confused with “New DanganRonpa V3: Everyone’s New Semester of Killing” which is the third title in the series and will feature a brand new story with new characters. The anime DanganRonpa 3 will feature a original story which is not an adaption of any work and happens to be under the supervision of the writer of the game series. My hope is that this time as the story can be made for the timeframe that it will not end up a misfire like the previous animated series and showcase this series true strengths. Though with Seiji Kishi in the director’s seat once again that might be an impossibility. Still this anime is planned to cap off any loose threads from the previous two games to allow the new game to start off with a new slate and I am curious to see the world outside of the death games. It also has a bizarre airing plan where it plans to air two episodes at once every week with the two being about separate stories. One a prequel to DanganRonpa 2 and the other a sequel. Truthfully this anime adaptation will likely leave me in despair but if it’s one thing this franchise has taught me, it’s that there’s always hope.

~AidanAK47~

2 Responses

  1. Avatar Nic says:

    I concur, really fun game. I don’t have a Vita so I never had the pleasure of playing it before it got ported to PC and I jumped on the chance to play it. I’m a bit obsessive with games like that though, I played non-stop until I got all achievements!

    I gotta agree with you on the Hangman game, I played on Hard and that game is ridiculously harder than the rest. I kept losing half my Influence there. Personally, the part I loved the most about Danganronpa 2 is how tongue-in-cheek they are with Monomi and the magical girl trope. Also, the 5th case was especially twisted. I loved it.

    • AidanAK47 AidanAK47 says:

      Likewise, I also didn’t have a Vita so this port was a godsend. I really hope Spike Chunsoft brings the third game to Steam as well. I didn’t go Acchievment hunting but I did play it nonstop till I reached the end.

      Hangmans Gambit was downright unfair at times. Sometimes it would throw in too many letters that can’t possibly all be intercepted. Case five was a standout but my favorite was case 3 with case 2 not far behind. Wasn’t too fond of case 4 though.

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