Friday, February 7, 2014

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (PS VITA)

Hope's Peak Academy, a school for the most ultimate of ultimate. No matter what you do in life if it's ultimate then you'll likely be invited to this most prestigious of places. Not only does it offer the best schooling possible, but as a student you are also guaranteed success in life after graduation. This of course is what the unfortunate 15 invited pupils thought as they approached the seemingly normal building. Upon arrival though their world was turned topsy turvy in a truly disturbing, and unexpected manner. Like a twisted horror story ripped from the script of some Twilight Zone episode their lives on the outside world came to an abrupt end as their days of freedom turned into a fight for survival. Motives, murder, and mayhem were only the start to the trials that these unlucky souls would endure.

Like an episodic manga novel this terrifying tale of the unkown begins with an avergae protagonist who finds himself as a part of an extraordinary circumstance. Makoto Naegi, an average guy living an average life is given what he believes to be a way out of his normal existence. Like everyone else in this make believe anime inspired world Makoto too has dreams, and ambitions. It isn't until he receives an invitation from the Hope's Peak representative that these dreams of grandeur seem like they might actually come true though. While the invitation itself is odd Makoto accepts his title as the "Ultimate Lucky Guy", and ventures out to join his other classmates for a first day of school. After pondering his future at the academy's gates for a moment he walks right on in only to lose consciousness shortly thereafter.

Upon awakening he finds himself alone in an abandoned classroom with a note covered pamphlet that only adds to his questions, and concerns. Getting up the nerve to venture out he walks the hallways of the bizarre building until he happens upon a room filled with equally baffled, and disoriented classmates. Each of them have had the same knock out experience, and also carry with them many similar yet curious questions. Slowly through conversation, and the appearance of an unusual animated teddy bear named Monokuma these future hopefuls find out the true meaning of terror. The plot which starts off with the students' outright, and indefinite imprisonment at the premises quickly turns into a "who done it?" sort of ordeal. After getting acquainted with each other earlier on, and being harassed by the maniacal Monokuma it is made know them that they will either abide by the school rules, or kill each other in order to get out/graduate.

The mysterious Monokuma sets the ground rules for the students stay, and drops in-your-face-hints repeatedly throughout the story reflecting his devious plans of despair. Murder is the number one order on the menu, and it doesn't take long for Makoto, and his newly met pals to realize this. Through masterful manipulation Monokuma sets into motion mutual distrust, and manipulation among the comrades in a courtroom style setting where the students are the judge, jury, and .... well, maybe not executioner.

After the introductory prologue of the game you step into place as the game's main protagonist, Makoto Naegi. Through point, and click type controls, and 3D navigation you become acquainted with everything, and everyone in the academy. The first portion of your playthrough will be spent getting familiar with your surroundings, and those who are sharing the same situation with you. You will also learn the controls as well as the various menu, and map functions along the way. From time to time Monokuma will make himself known through actual visitations, and monitor style greetings. His role in the game is one shrouded in mystery, and as homicidal as he may seem he does not interact directly with the students unless provoked. As a forced student attendee your time at Hope's Peak will be divided up into supervised day, and nighttime schedules. Each individual including Makoto is assigned a dorm room, and must keep to the curfew or suffer the consequences. As you play more, and continue to investigate your surroundings "Free Time" will be given to you with which you can continue to progress Makoto's story, or take the time to search every nook, and cranny for hidden Monocoins which can be spent on special vending machine items. These vending machine items can then be gifted to fellow students in exchange for special abilities that will be used later on the "Class Trial" portions of the game.

As the main protagonist you will be able to carry on many subtitled, and audio accented conversations with your fellow classmates as you try to get to know them better. Community understanding is a core focal point in the game, and as such you will spend a majority of your gameplay time on social interactions. Continual scouting, and navigation through the alternate Hope's Peak is also a must if you hope to survive the ordeal, and advance the game's plot to completion. You can travel through the hallways of the academy by simply using the Left Thumbstick on your PS Vita console, and enter rooms/areas by clicking on them with the appropriate face button, or touch of the screen. The same touch, and click mechanics also go along with conversation interactions as well. Students who often time stand out in the hallways, or other rooms can be talked to, and must me talked to in order to complete chapter ending requirements.

Like a visual novel you will find that Danganronpa is divided into chapters. The chapters begin with day, and night interactions, and end with a trial to decide the fate of the current perpetrator. While the navigation, exploration, and interrogations are the more simple aspects of the game the true challenge comes with the trial process. Like any proper trial setting you (Makoto Naegi) will spend your exploration, and interrogation time gathering clues to convict, or prove innocent the guilty/innocent parties. These clues, otherwise known as "Fact Bullets" will then be stored in your start menu folder for later use during the actual trial proceedings. As it stands all students must meet for a trial, and must contribute to the case with facts, or lies depending on their role in the current situation.

Once at the trial, after all possible clues (Fact Bullets) have been found you will stand in a circle amongst peers as you try to pick the true "blackened" criminal. The catch to this is that if you choose poorly all of you will die, and the evildoer will graduate making it free from Hope Peak's grasp. There's also the added fact that if the criminal is caught, and called out they will be executed by Monokuma himself. As dismal, and despairing as that is you'll find that death comes in an odd, and morbidly interesting variety of ways within the world of Danganronpa. Only those stupid enough to commit such acts will suffer ultimate wrath though.

Being the core focus of the game the trial is definitely what you are here for. You will spend on average about an hour going through the multiple phases that it takes to convict the bad guy, or girl. As with the rest of the game your sight will be set on the words spoken, and the special highlighted phrases that come from each accusation, and defense shared in the Hope Peak's courtroom. By literally firing the appropriate "Fact Bullets (gathered clues)" at the appropriate highlighted phrases with an onscreen bull's eye you will be able to get past the first few sections of deliberation. As you progress further though things get increasingly more difficult as multiple phrases (some false, some not), and multiple Fact Bullet choices come into play. If you land your Fact Bullets correctly you'll continue on to the next phase. If not though you will suffer the loss of influence with those you are seeking to convince/help.

Once you get past these word slinging shoot out sessions you will happen upon timed mini-games in which rhythm, touch screen applications, and appropriate button presses come into play. The previously mentioned "Special Abilities" acquired from befriended classmates also plays a role in the final parts of the hearing. If you succeed in making it past these crucial points you will reach a final judgement session in which you must piece together a comic book panel that reflects the events leading up to the trial. Using clues/Fact Bullets already presented you will need to solve this picture puzzle in a timely fashion, or fail your comrades, and die along with them. Should you, and the remaining students solve the mystery correctly you will be rewarded with cinematic anime death sequence of the guilty party that will be unnerving even to the most stone cold players.

That of course is life, and death in Danganronpa. Only you (Makoto Naegi) can decide your fate in the end, and only your combined efforts will free you from this hellish nightmare. What awaits you on the other side is anyone's guess, but if you are brave enough to sojourn on you might just find out for yourself ...

Now on to the verdict ...

Danganronpa is an interesting, and highly addictive experience. It focuses purely on interactions, exploration, and crime solving tactics in a visual novel sense. In doing so the game continuously draws you (the gamer) into the plot as you try to figure out your favorite character/characters' role within the whole twisted story. Being the twisted game that it is you will find many different unexpected turn of events, and will be left in a "WTF!?" state of confusion like the characters you observe, and guide. Like these unwilling students of Hope's Peak you will no doubt share in their feelings of fear, worry, and despair as you play. The developer does good in this respect, and at all times commands the audience's undivided attention as a result. Like the maniacal mastermind Monokuma, NIS also intrigues you with their in-game mysteries, and awaiting ending should you choose to brave the dire journey ahead. It isn't until you've sat in front of your PS VITA for hours at a time that you'll realize how hopelessly hooked you are on the game experience before you, and how really fun it is to be lost in despair.

If you are looking for an eerie out of this world experience with all the cliche anime personalities you could imagine then Danganronpa will deliver the goods to you, and then some. It is hands down one of the best PS VITA ports I've played so far this year. The characters in the game are all likeable, and well fleshed out. I found many favorites amongst the lot, and was surprised many times over with their actions, or lack thereof. The plot itself is intricate in design, and is layered so well that it will keep you guessing until the final verdict is read during a trial. The trials themselves are just as in-depth, if not more so than the pre-trial plot material. You will literally spend hours trying to make it to a save point as your progress deeper into the game, and as frustrating as that gets at times you'll still not want to put your PS VITA down. It is just that good. If you haven't reserved a pre-order copy yet I highly suggest you do so now. This game will be selling like hotcakes once the word gets around. Trust me.

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