The world of Danganronpa is a very strange one indeed. World ending events, high school relationships and homicidal bears all combine to make an experience which is equal parts unique and endearing. Danganronpa 1.2 Reload brings two games, which were easy to overlook when they were originally released, into the spotlight, allowing more players to fall in love with a franchise which has already taken the world by storm.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a collection of two games, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Originally released on the PSP systems, the games are interactive visual novels with elements of both detective mystery games and dating simulations.
The first game follows a group of students as they are set to enrol at Hope’s Peak Academy, a school for the privileged elite. Each Student is referred to as an “ultimate” meaning that they are the best at their respective talents. There’s the Ultimate Pop Idol, The Ultimate Affluent Prodigy, even the Ultimate Fan-fic creator. You play as Makoto Naegi, who has won a lottery to gain entry to the school and is therefore the Ultimate Lucky Student.
Things quickly take a turn for the worse however as the group of 16 students find themselves embroiled in a deadly game of murder and conspiracy. The students are held hostage within the school, with the only way to escape being to murder another classmate and get away with it. If a student is found guilty however, they are executed. If the students wrongfully accuse someone of murder, everyone but the murderer is executed. The introduction of this out-clause is what makes the game so interesting. Paranoia quickly eats away at the community, leading to acts of violence and passion among the students.
Danganronpa’s main strength is in its story, which is rock solid throughout. The game follows a simple formula, free time until someone is murdered, investigation of the crime scenes and finally a class trial to determine the killer. Each murder case is its own expertly crafted mystery with a dizzying number of twists and turns to keep the player guessing. The main thrill of the game is piecing together the evidence presented, and deciding who the killer is. Danganronpa does a great job in keeping you guessing, right up to the eleventh hour, making you feel both challenged right up until the end and then like a genius for figuring the mystery out.
Between these horrific acts of murder, there are free time segments where you are free to spend your time with any of the ecclectic range of characters sharing the school. Each character is lovingly fleshed out, each feeling distinct and intriguing. Spending time with certain characters will earn the player skills which can be used in the class trial segments, so strengthening the bonds with fellow classmates is key. It doesn’t take much time at all for you to really start caring about your fellow classmates, which compels you to learn as much about them as possible.
Most of the time is spent exploring the many floors and rooms of Hope’s Peak. This is one area I would have liked to have seen more thought put into. Exploration consists of highlighting items in each room and pressing the x button. Other than earning currency which can be used to purchase items, there’s little reason to explore. Often times there are rooms containing the same items to examine, making these exploration sections repetitive.
The rest of Danganronpa plays out as a visual novel. It’s a text heavy affair, but is presented so stylishly that reading through it never grows tiring. The characters are expertly voice acted throughout and the plot is so enticing that you’ll always want to know what comes next.
The absolute highlight of both games is the class trial segments. Here, a collection of mini games culminate in the murderer being outed, using all of the evidence discovered in the exploration sections. The class trials are incredibly dynamic and are tactile enough to present a challenge. One mini game involves using “Truth Bullets”, which are essentially pieces of evidence, to shoot through shaky statements. These segments are an absolute joy to play through and feel like the culmination of all of the detective work put in prior.
Danganronpa 2 takes the formula of its predecessor and improves upon it. It’s less of a sequel, in that it feels just like more of the first game. The setting is different, sure, but the same dark humour and tight storytelling are still there. The characters are different, except for a few familiar faces, and never quite measure up to the original cast. That’s not to say they’re bad though, it’s just that the characters in the first game resonated more with me. There are extra mini-games and gameplay is tighter as a whole. Ultimately though, Danganronpa 2 is just more of the same, which is in no way a bad thing. It’s remarkable that it measures up to the original and even manages to do a few things better.
The main theme of both games is the constant struggle between hope and despair. Danganronpa never shies away from its heavy subject matter, and manages to tell a tale that is both depressingly bleak and hilariously funny. Throughout both games, Danganronpa never feels like anything other than Danganronpa.
While both games have aged well enough, this port does highlight some of their imperfections. The audio for instance, is at a noticeably lower quality than what we’ve come to expect on PlayStation 4. One area where the visual fidelity drops to a noticeable level is in the cut scenes. Everywhere else the game is sharp and crisp but in these segments the resolution takes a real hit and the game suffers as a result. Other than that though, this is a solid port, one which I experienced no technical problems with.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload isn’t the most imaginative of ports but is a great place for those unfamiliar with the franchise to jump in. What awaits them is a stylish and compelling game with a wonderful cast of characters to fall in love with. It’s a world well worth diving into, one which will make you feel equal parts hope and despair. And one which will keep you guessing right up to the very end.