Dangan Ronpa, the soon-to-be PS Vita released in February, was originally released in Japan on the PSP nearly four years ago. The series has gained much popularity as of late, spawning many sequels and even an anime as of late! With its growing popularity, NIS has decided to localize it and share it with the rest of the world. Dangan Ronpa is a murder mystery visual novel (similar to that of 999: Nine Hours Nine People Nine Doors) [side note if anyone wants to see one of my mega old crappy reviews here ]but also draws unreasonable comparisons to the Ace Attorney series. Though what makes this game unique is its free and vast variety of play-styles.
Dangan Ronpa takes place in the elite high school located in Japan known as Hope’s Academy. Hope’s Academy is filled with the best of the best; as their students are known as Super High School Level/Ultimate in a variety of fields ranging from Idol to even Otaku. The game has you take control over the character Makoto Naegi, who was recently accepted into the elite high school by raffle, being known as the “Super High School Luckster”. Upon arriving at the high school, Naegi loses consciousness and reawakens inside to meet fourteen other Super High School Level students who had a similar experience. It is then a despair-loving, remote-controlled bear named Monokuma appears before them, telling them they are all imprisoned in the academy for the rest of their lives. Monokuma though offers a single way for students to leave or “graduate” the academy and to do that is for the student to murder another student and not be identified as the culprit.
What makes Dangan Ronpa special is the vast styles of gameplay it has to offer. Dangan Ronpa is split up from its time as a visual novel with tidbits of a dating simulator, where you can increase characters like/love level towards Makoto Naegi giving him bonuses, followed by a type of Ace Attorney/999-type investigation of areas. Of course the biggest of them all is the Class Trial at the end of each episode/chapter. Most of the game will require you to read and interact with the entire school cast; each person will provide you either hints towards solving the murder-mystery or just say something usually funny or off-base. Important discussions are further advanced the Re:ACT system, which is triggered by pressing triangle on the respective keyword. The best and most memorable moments of the game usually happen when Monokuma (the main villain) is talking to the students. One of my personal favorite lines were "It doesn't matter how negative something is just add an 'lol' and it becomes positive!"
If you aren't talking to the characters when trying to solve a mystery you are either exploring Hope's Academy or "hanging out" with a character of your choice. "Hanging out" is basically the interaction portion of the game, where you decide to accompany a character who will tell you more about themselves. Sometimes the characters will ask you questions regarding facts, so answering correctly will affect that person's view of you. After hanging out with a character, you have the option to present a gift to them, which can be obtained by finding Monokuma Coins (scattered everywhere in the game). The coins are used in a Super Smash Bros Melee type vending machine. The gift you give should depend on the character's personality, the better suited it is towards that character, the more they will like you. For example Aoi Asahina is a Super High School Level Swimmer, so bathing suits, goggles, are some of the many things she likes.
The previously mentioned exploration aspect is key and similar to the 999 and Gyakuten Saiban games. As you play as Makoto, you can walk into any room in the school and observe almost anything using your cursor. You will either find things you find important to the case, which then become recorded as "Ammunition" or you find Monokuma coins in useless, random things. The best part of exploration is the total freedom you have in the game. You can explore nearly anything as long as the area is open in addition the game allows you to everything! If you wanted to analyze a chair or every TV in the room because you want to, then go on ahead!
To explain what was meant by Ammunition we need to explain the most integral part of the gameplay, The Class Trial. Class Trials occur at the end of every chapter and only when you have received all the Ammunition for the case. Once, you get all the facts, the class bell will ring and bring you to the Class Trial. Class Trials ARE NOTHING LIKE Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney cases. The cases are broken down into many types of games and you can set it to any difficulty you want to before the trial. The first style of gameplay is the Nonstop Debate. The Nonstop Debate consists of you listening to characters talk about the incident and you as the player try to find a contradiction to the facts. To contradict a someone, you must aim your cursor to a highlighted text and select the right ammunition (if playing at a higher difficulty). Listening to the debate can be done for up to fifteen minutes, though it will take you a much shorter time to figure it out. During the trial you will then run into another type of gameplay called the Epiphany Anagram. The Epiphany Anagram is simple, it has Makoto thinking of the answer with random words floating around and an empty chart displayed, asking the player to figure out what the word is and an answer to a case mystery.
Not enough was the inspiration of the games listed above, but Dangan Ronpa likes to take a little something from beat rhythm games in this next segment of the Class Trial: The Machine Gun Talk Battle or MTB. The MTB has you pitted against a student who argues your logic, though you don't need contradictions to defeat him, you just need good button pressing skills. As words come up, you press X to lock onto his statements, Triangle to destroy them, and Square to reload, although this must be done in sequence/with the beat. Lastly, the way to end a Class Trial is with Climax Logic. Climax Logic requires you to use all that you've figured out during the case and assimilate a comic, depicting the murder and the culprit all in one go. The gameplay for the Class Trial is very fun and keeps you on your feet; in fact as you get further in each chapter the gameplay expands more and more bringing a thrilling experience to the Class Trial.
Dangan Ronpa has graphics that aren't the best but were touched up for the Vita version. The areas will remind you of PS2 type graphics, though the character art and design are very good. The music is fitting for a horror visual novel, but it really is at it's best during the class trials. The intense sounds go well with trying to solve a mystery with your life on the line. The replay-value for Dangan Ronpa originally is not the high, though the PS Vita adds a new version to the game called School Life, where you can experience the game without the murders; in other words a whole new type of game. I would say it has moderate replay-value only because the main allure factor of the game is its story, but if you want to explore the new mode, find some hidden endings, or see other relationships go on ahead.
I only gave Dangan Ronpa a chance because of how much the internet overrated the series. Honestly, everyone was talking about how great reading a playthrough was without even playing it and then an anime came out for it so, I decided to give it a shot. The beginning of the game I was hooked, always wanting to know what happens next, though personally I found the mysteries pretty easy to solve. The characters are well developed but I don't see why this game is compared to Ace Attorney, 999 is the closest example but Dangan Ronpa is its own game. As the game went on, my interest died down and I don't see this being as good as people said, even if they didn't even play the game. The ending left me wondering even if I wanted to play the sequel Super Dangan Ronpa, only time will tell!
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