Interactive digital novels on consoles are quite a rare breed, with big name titles occasionally busting through like Zero Escape: Virtues Last Reward and the Ace Attorney titles offering deep storylines and their own little twists to keep the player interested; the latter especially, with both Phoenix Wright and Apollo Justice having a very successful series with many reissues filling the release dates whilst patiently waiting for this year’s long awaited release of Professor Layton vs. Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney. If the wait is too much there is also another series to try out, Danganronpa has had a couple of titles, with PSP and mobile versions appearing over the past couple of years and now an updated Vita version of Trigger Happy Havoc is about the hit the shelves.
I specifically used the Phoenix and Zero Escape titles in my examples as Trigger Happy Havoc feels like the perfect blend of both titles, with a violent, gruesome and often funny locked room scenario mixed with courtroom style antics. You play as Makoto, who describes himself as the most average person on earth, so average that even average people perceive him as very average; even so, he has been invited to join the ranks of a very illustrious school, Hope’s Peak Academy, whose students are the best of the best, termed "Ultimate’s", you have the Ultimate Martial Artist, the Ultimate Gambler, the Ultimate Fanfic Creator and also rather strangely, the Ultimate Biker Gang Leader.
With Makoto now being labelled the Ultimate Lucky Student he attends his first day, the irony of his new moniker being that very quickly everything goes south from the moment he sets foot into the Academy with him being knocked out and later revived in a strange boarded up classroom. In a confused haze Makoto slowly pieces together that he and the other Ultimate’s appear to be trapped and with that your captor appears, a menacing gemini coloured teddy bear, half white and fluffy, the other black with razor teeth and a blood red eye. After his brief introduction the headmaster Monokuma unveils the schools rules; that the group of 15 teenagers can live happily together for the rest of their lives in relative luxury, albeit locked away or, they can graduate. However graduation is equally as twisted as the new confines, with freedom offered to whoever can not only kill someone but also avoid suspicion of the other students.
All goes well at first, the group trying to live harmoniously with each other whilst working together to find a way out, hoping the police will notice them missing but then it finally happens, a murder occurs and after that it free-falls into madness from thereon in with Monokuma pulling all sorts of tricks to get the blood flowing.
Set up in chapters, each murder is split into sub chapters that slowly build to a horrific climax. Starting with plenty of basic button tapping text to scroll through, you are then given "free days" where you can wander around the campus in a third person view, hanging out with the other students and trying to gain their friendship that boosts experience and also special powers that come into play later. As I mentioned earlier, peaceful life does not last long and before you know it Monokuma soon announces that a murder has occurred, with the survivors then required to gather evidence, searching and investigating all known areas and trying to get enough for a successful conviction as even though there is a chance of correctly finding the murderer guilty, get it wrong and they will graduate, taking their freedom whilst at the same time having the remaining classmates executed.
Once the game has determined you have gathered enough evidence you make your way to court room. Here you listen to the remaining students testimonies and what else they have gathere, using your bullet of truth to pick apart inconsistencies, which is literally as it sounds, as you shoot a bullet with evidence found into the text of other statements, slowly building a case of what has occurred, which then culminates in a strange and seemingly pointless rhythm based section and a comic book recreation, hopefully convincing the students to vote for the correct guilty party and witness the final moments of the murderer, who Monokuma executes in very violent but quite comical ways.
Though heavily text based the story and characters will keep you tapping through with plenty of new and grisly deaths just a few taps away. Due to the strongly scripted nature it is very hard to go off track, with events being triggered when you do the right action, which at times can be a little confusing, even with a large amount of difficulty settings and help options available. With death an ever present threat if you make the wrong choices and accusations, even when you do die or make a wrong choice during the class court sessions the game does not penalise too harshly and will only send you back to the previous story junction which in reality is never far away.
Considering this was originally a PSP game, the visuals have had a decent upgrade, looking nice and crisp on the Vita’s screen using a clever blend of 3D environments and 2D characters; from the anime visuals through to Monokuma’s twisted nightmare theatre and the bright pink blood dripping from the many victims. The presentation also holds up the vocal front, with plenty of catchy (if a little rude) catchphrases and the occasional cut scenes.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the perfect marriage of the Ace Attorney and Zero Escape titles and is certain to entertain those that want something of a slower pace but a gripping story that will keep you hooked until the very end.
Words by Ash Buchanan.
(Version Tested: PS Vita)
+ Long and satisfying story
+ Crisp anime visuals
+ Long and satisfying story
+ Crisp anime visuals
+ Can be hard to tell what the next step is at times.