I love good stories, but for a story to have any meaningful appeal, there has to be good characters. That doesn’t mean that I have to like every character, but I have to feel something about the characters in a story, otherwise why should I care what happens to them?
Although Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has an anime series, it began in 2010 as a game for the PSP. My girlfriend, Patti, and I decided to play the game on her PS4 rather than watch the anime (when I say that we decided to play the game, I mean that Patti controlled everything that happened and I helped). Danganronpa’s plot initially didn’t seem very original, but the twists and revelations made the game a constant surprise. However, it was the unique characters and their development that really made the game enjoyable. Whether endearing or horrible, everyone in the game made me feel something, and Danganronpa was ultimately an emotional roller coaster because of it. I’ll try not to be too “trigger happy” with them, but still beware of spoilers, anime-niacs.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc begins with the protagonist, Makoto Naegi, as he prepares to attend Hope’s Peak Academy, a prestigious high school where a student’s attendance guarantees them a successful future. Each of the 16 students on the new class’s roster is famous for being the “ultimate” something: ultimate pop sensation, ultimate writing prodigy, ultimate programmer, and ultimate swimmer are just a few examples (back in my day, we just had ultimate emo kid and ultimate JNCO jeans). The game takes a dark turn when, upon entering the academy, Makoto passes out and awakens in a classroom with no memory of what just happened. Once he exits the classroom, Makoto discovers the rest of the students are trapped in a room with enormous metal doors and surveillance cameras. This is where an anthropomorphic bear named Monokuma explains the situation to everyone.
The students are all trapped inside of the school, and the only way to achieve freedom is to murder another classmate. However, one student cannot simply murder another and be granted freedom. The killer must not be caught by his or her classmates, and further complicating the situation, after a murder occurs, Monokuma allows the students to investigate before a trial takes place (well, it is the bear minimum he could do for the kids). After discussing the evidence, if the students choose the correct culprit, the murderer is executed. But if they vote incorrectly, everyone dies except for the murderer, and that one student may leave the school. Of course students are killed in the game, but not everyone wants to immediately start murdering others, and that’s what helps make Danganronpa so interesting.
The students try to make sense of the situation, look for ways to escape, and get to know each other in the process. It is Makoto’s reactions not only to the environment, but to the other characters, that make this game so captivating. Every student has a very distinct personality, and the more Makoto interacts with them, the more endearing or unlikable they become.
However, every character has some redeeming qualities that aren’t initially revealed. Chihiro and Toko have two of the most surprising revelations in the game, and I only felt that way because of the time and care that Trigger Happy Havoc invested into these characters. Sure, most of what occurs in the game is predetermined, but as a player, to have the ability to get to know a character and create a strong connection to them is an enormous part of this game’s charm (because let’s be real – the dead bodies aren’t very charming). Furthermore, the terrifying situations that occur in Hope’s Peak Academy cause Makoto and the others to bond through their shared trauma, and these kids even find ways to laugh and have a good time while trapped in a terrifying situation. But the trials in Danganronpa are where the real action occurs.
Danganronpa’s gameplay is relatively simple. Players control where Makoto walks as he navigates the school and its different floors, and point-and-click at items and characters to interact with (I did this when I was in high school and everyone hated me—I don’t get it). However, the trials are when the player must choose certain actions at the correct times in order to progress, such as shooting “truth bullets” at contradictions and flaws in other characters’ descriptions of events as they float across the screen. Patti controlled all of the action and commented that every section of the trial was straightforward despite some of the convoluted in-game explanations of the controls. Still, the trials are the tensest portions of the game, as many characters die during Danganronpa. No trial is completely predictable no matter how much you think you know. Of course, as the game progresses the trials become increasingly difficult and twisted.
The murders, trials, and characters are all full of surprises that keep Makoto (and the gamer) guessing right until the end. I had theories regarding Hope’s Peak Academy and the mastermind responsible for the students’ plight, but I was quite wrong. Initially, the final twist in the game seemed anticlimactic, but there were more twists revealed as the characters spoke. What happened in the world of Danganronpa does not end with the final scene in Trigger Happy Havoc—the game ends on a cliffhanger and there are more games that continue a larger story (see? Spoilers). Patti and I are currently making our way through the sequel, which has raised more questions than it has answered. Thus far, these games have been incredible.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is incredibly suspenseful and terrifying, but ultimately is an enjoyable experience. I didn’t calculate how much time we spent playing, but the Internet claims that the main story takes roughly 24 hours over the course of six chapters, although I can tell you that it felt shorter because I was enjoying every moment. I would recommend Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc to fans of mysteries and suspense.