Over the years Nippon Ichi has brought us some truly weird and wonderful games. They normally come packed with a twisted sense of humour and enough anarchic chaos to send the average gamer mad. Danganronpa takes this weirdness to a whole new level and the end result is a game as insane as anything we’ve seen before.
This is a heavily story based game and much of the fun comes from unravelling the twisted tale so we won’t be going into a massive explanation of it. You’ll learn early on that you’re a student trapped in a school with a host of other students. Each of the characters has been picked because they are the ‘Ultimate’ something. For instance one is labelled the Ultimate Baseball star while another is the Ultimate pop sensation.
Once you meet everyone and find you are indeed trapped inside the school a strange bear-like creature appears to tell you that you are trapped forever. That is of course unless you can kill one of the others and get away with it. This results in much horror and shock and the obvious eventual first murder. It’s here where the game really gets going as you are tasked with uncovering clues to who committed the crime and then taking them down in a class room trial at the end of the chapter.
Each chapter splits itself into a number of different sections. First of all you will have a section where you are pretty much guided around the school to various relevant story progressing points. At each of these locations pre-planned events will happen and you’ll get the setup of the chapter. On occasions you will also get free time to explore the school and talk to the other students. Doing this time you can build social links which give you special skills and stat boosts, as well as allowing you to learn more about the other characters and fill out your personal files on them. Characters can also be given gifts to further develop your relationship with them and the odd special scene will also play out if you are in the right place at the right time.
After doing this a murder or other event will normally take place and you’ll be put into the investigative part of the game. Here you explore the school looking for clues as to who the murderer is or what is going on. This then leads into the bizarre classroom trial. The trial is effectively a set of mini games that must be completed to win the day. It starts with a class debate where everyone says what they think happened, if you spot something a miss you need to shoot the words with a ‘truth bullet’. At that point you will then correct the argument and it will start again. Here you have a few skills you can use such as ‘concentration’ which slows things down. Others can be gathered from social links as you progress as well.
If you challenge the wrong point you will lose energy and sometimes you’ll have to use the combination of the right bullet and right words to succeed as well. There’s a definite hint of Phoenix Wright in there but it certainly carves its own path as well. Once the debate is over you will need to piece together the crime. This is done by adding in pictures to a partially completed comic strip. Get one wrong and your energy will take another hit. Get that complete and you are onto the final part of the trial which is the face off with the accused murderer.
The face-off takes the form of a bizarre rhythm action game where you alternate pressing X and triangle in time to the accused shouting objections at you. Hold out for long enough and they will eventually crack under the pressure and give in. they are then dragged off for a brutal and twisted death based around their ‘Ultimate’ persona. Of course if you fail to identify the murderer then everybody else dies and it’s game over. The games only real issue lies here as well, in that you can’t save during the class trial and they do go on for absolutely ages.
In a way it’s kind of a weird cross between the social links aspect of the Persona series and Saw and is presented in much the same way as other Nippon Ichi titles. It’s also quite a slow and thoughtful game with much of the time spent exploring and evaluating what is going on and in that respect it shares a fair bit with a classic point and click adventure. In truth we can compare it to all sorts of things but the only way to really understand it is to play it as it’s quite unique in many ways.
Overall, it’s refreshing to see something as absolutely crazy as this come out. It’s certainly something different and a break from all the other tried and tested formulas out there. It can be slow at times and there is an issue with the length between saves once a trial has started. That said these are the only real down points in a game which is fun, interesting and a downright joy to experience. The mystery is good, the dialogue is well written and the characters interesting. All the elements work together well and for those looking for something different they really shouldn’t look further than this.