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Karifean's Blog of Visual Novels

Thoughts on Danganronpa

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So, having completed my readthrough of Danganronpa recently, I felt like making a post like this. This doesn't mean I'm not gonna review it as well, but more than just reviewing it I also want to bring up and talk about some specific parts of the game that stood out to me, be it positively or negatively.

The rest of this post contains spoilers for the entirety of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, the first game in the Danganronpa series.


So let's start on a positive note: Danganronpa has probably the best variant of the survival game concept I've seen yet. Unlike games of a similar nature where there's one mastermind vs everyone but you know or at least strongly suspect from the very beginning that the mastermind is one of the participants (like Zero Escape), or actual everyone for themselves games but with complete strangers (like Fate/Stay Night), Danganronpa mixes the two in a beautiful combination: everyone knows each other personally and they all interact with each other every day, but at any time any one of the participants could turn into their enemy. It serves to create a magnificent kind of tension that never fades no matter how close you get to the other participants.

This especially holds true due to two extra factors: loners and motives. People inherently uninterested in creating a benevolent atmosphere where everyone can believe that no single participant will betray them, like Byakuya, remind everyone of the fragility of their everyday life constantly and ensure that the group will never ever feel truly at ease. And then there are the motives Monokuma introduces to shake things up which, no matter how much or little they may affect yourself, you can never know if there maybe is a participant who is legitimately shaken up over it and will do something drastic as a result.

And this works out beautifully. It keeps the story moving and from the inside perspective it conveys that sense of never being able to catch a break in this death game pretty dang well.

In a nutshell, the setup, atmosphere and pacing of the game are superb. Unfortunately that alone does not a good game make. So what are some of Danganronpa's weaker aspects?

Well let's start with the mysteries. Excluding the mystery of the mastermind's identity, none of the mysteries in this game are particularly tough or mindblowing. And unfortunately they are one of the causes for probably my biggest problem with Danganronpa as a whole: the disconnect I sometimes feel as the player of this game.

I don't mean to brag, but while I never quite managed to get all the details of a case beforehand (honestly that's basically impossible most of the time) I did manage to unravel significant parts of them. That by itself would be a good thing, except the game doesn't let you make use of your deductive skills... like, at all. The story is relentlessly linear when it comes to solving the cases and you are forced into its pace. Not that the pacing itself is bad, but when you're four steps ahead of the game it just kinda blows. Probably the worst offender among the gameplay elements of this is Hangman's Gambit, which has never, ever, ever felt like a decent use of time since it was ALWAYS obvious beforehand what realization you come to with it.

This is not the only time I felt an issue with my position as the player either. There's a part in Chapter 4 where Makoto knows that Sakura is in cahoots with Monokuma, and Kyoko calls him out on hiding something. You're given a choice to "Tell her" or "Don't tell her", but as it turns out it's a fake choice. Picking Tell her will only loop Makoto's thoughts and bring you to this choice again, until you eventually pick Don't tell her to advance the plot. Now the actual problem is how the game handles this, because for better or worse the main character is your avatar in this game, so when Kyoko is disappointed in Makoto for not confiding in her it very much feels like she is scolding him as much as the player, which is total bulltrout because I very much wanted to pick Tell her. It's like the game is telling me off for not doing something it didn't let me do. And it's not as if this sort of scenario inherently leads to this disconnect either, it's just that in this case it definitely did.

There are also minor instances where this became annoying, especially when you teleport all over the facilities and can't enter particular areas even if you actually want to explore. Oh and who could forget the hatchet in the Monokuma room in Chapter 6, where you almost uncover Junko's identity right there. JUST SAY IT'S LOCKED INSTEAD OF SCOLDING ME FOR NOT CHECKING WHICH I WOULD'VE DONE IF I COULD HAVE. It's the little things, man.

Enough of that subject. Let's move on to another tough spot: the gameplay.

First off, the free time concept was actually handled pretty well. The sense of finality and lost opportunity when you can't spend any more time with someone because they died during the plot works nicely, and having those breathers inbetween the heavier trials is very much appreciated. What I didn't like so much about it was the imbalance in Skill Points and Skills (I always had more Skill Points in total than I could spend on skills) and the Monokuma Machine. The idea of having particular presents for specific people was more intimidating than anything especially with a catalogue of more than 100 presents total thrust in your face.

And the trials? Well...............

I've already talked about how you're not really capable of making much use of your own deductive skills. Naturally, that's because progress in Danganronpa's trial is mostly done by minigames. These minigames, in theory, combine the need of thinking for yourself and doing a simple action sequence to put your theory into words. There are two problems with this. First off, there's not much need for thinking since your options in the minigames are very limited and the right answer is obvious 90% of the times simply because of the possibilities you're given. And secondly, the minigames... aren't really fun, per se. So the minigames end up feeling more like obstacles to clear to progress, and they since they don't really challenge you mentally either, their only real good point is in their presentation. Honestly, the debating looks damn cool, especially with the sweeping camera angles and statements and shooting the argument at the weak point and having it shatter into pieces before yelling out a loud Sore wa chigau yo. It's all pretty neat, especially since it's backed up by a good soundtrack. The only question is whether this is enough to salvage their bad points, and that's purely subjective. For me, I just kinda put up with them and enjoyed them when they weren't particularly intrusive.

Hangman's Gambit I never enjoyed, that weird Rhythm Game I didn't really like either and the Climax Reasoning had a bit of a failed execution in my opinion, since several times I ended up putting the wrong panel because I'd misinterpreted its meaning rather than because I actually made a mistake in reasoning.

So in the end, the only thing I was actually looking forward to with the trials was seeing the plot unfold. Not to doing any of the minigames, not to putting my own deductions to the test, just... seeing the plot unfold. Although honestly, that's alright. Especially since the pacing of the trials was actually pretty okay I enjoyed them just fine once I'd come to terms with their nature not really being what I'd hoped it to be.

Speaking of the plot, let's talk about the individual cases. Starting with the first case. I was actually rather surprised to see Sayaka killed off right at the start, especially with how the game builds her up to be Makoto's assistant. In the end it was probably better this way though, because the fewer characters you can intuitively trust to be innocent, the better. Kyoko ended up fulfilling the role I had presumed Sayaka would get anyways.

The mystery would've been pretty decent except the dying message precluded the case before it even had a chance to begin. This was the most frustrating case of OH MY GOD HOW DENSE ARE YOU in the entire game. At first I thought the dying message may be a ruse as it ends up being in just about every Ace Attorney case it ever appears in, but no, circumstancial evidence makes it pretty clear it's genuine. And at that point it got annoying because not only does it take the characters two more hours before they figure out its meaning, it's not even Makoto himself who makes the connection, Kyoko has to spell it out for him. Not the biggest fan of that little detail. The rest of the mystery was pretty solid though, there were just enough hints to lead you through the whole thing, though it took me until the trial to figure out Sayaka was the instigator of the event.

Now the second trial wasn't quite as good. Again, the hints at Chihiro being a guy were rather obvious, as well as the fact that the crime scene was switched, although Byakuya smurfing with the evidence got a good laugh out of me. In hindsight it's a plot hole how he was even able to enter the girls' changing room at all seeing as how no two people can enter at the same time (read: with the same ID) lest they get shot by the giant machine gun. What, did Mondo just leave one of the IDs on the ground for no reason?

Oh speaking of Mondo, never would've guessed it was him. Just, never. Up until his slip-up, I don't think there *was* a legitimate reason to suspect him, either, which is saddening in and of itself. I mean sure they point out that he switched to calling Chihiro a dude, but come on. Even if you picked up on that that's far from an indicator that he's the perpetrator.

The third trial was pretty neatly constructed and is the kind of mystery I'd have liked to see more often, but it has the weak point of the whodunnit being too obvious. Celeste is so hilariously suspicious during the crime itself what with the coooonstant "oh he was just here" and stuff that it was completely obvious she was involved *somehow*. The actual howdunnit gets rather clear early in the trial and it got a little tiring convincing everyone of obvious facts and bringing up the restrictions of the robo costume several times in succession. But overall it was okay.

The fourth trial was humorous. I liked how the suspects 'confessed' one after the other. IMO it was easily inferred that Sakura must have constructed the locked room herself from the inside which naturally leads to suicide being an easy theory; although it wasn't obvious either. My initial theory was that Byakuya finally committed a crime and made it look like suicide, taking advantage of the confusion caused by the others. And later on I feared Asahina may have poisoned Sakura accidently which would've been depressing. Thankfully it was just suicide. The trial progression was kinda weird because it seemed like Makoto quickly and easily forgot parts of the case. He doesn't even bring up the poison until Byakuya points it out. I'm a bit surprised Byakuya didn't figure out the contradiction in his own theory, but well it's not a big deal.

Also my god Monokuma replacing the suicide note... what a troll. Right here it was made absolutely clear that he has no intention of being a neutral game master.

And this leads to the fifth trial, where things get a little crazy. I still don't quite get the motivation behind having this murder take place in the first place, but I guess Junko just really wanted to get rid of Kyoko and couldn't, like, execute her for violating the no sleeping outside the dorms rule or something. And before you go telling me she technically did sleep in the dorms, she didn't kill Mukuro either and Monokuma was perfectly willing to just make it "seem" like his game was following the rules there.

I do like how the game starts subtly pushing towards and building up its big twist at this point. Even knowing about it beforehand I didn't piece it together until later on. I kinda wish they'd have gone a bit further and just outright stated that Mukuro's other wounds were approximately two weeks old or so. I think it would've only helped the story.

No idea why Kyoko confided in Makoto regarding the master key when simply not doing so wouldn't have hurt in any way and in fact would've assured the trial go the way she wanted it to. Similarly, it's implied Junko expected Kyoko's lie to be exposed by Makoto, but that in itself relies on the assumption that Kyoko would confide in Makoto in this matter which is quite the gamble. Obviously the whole trial is utterly rigged and there was no way it'd have ended well. I like the fact that there is a bad ending, though the whole thing is so screwed up you couldn't have reasonably seen it coming either way. At least the way I see it you have no way of making sense of Monokuma's behaviour in this trial. Well, having blind faith in your friends is always the winning move anyways.

Then we get to the hypest part, being able to investigate the whole school and finding the last pieces of the puzzle. The conclusion that they all did go to school here and had their memories taken is screamingly obvious, but I've ragged on about obvious conclusions for long enough already. Oh wait no I haven't, because while I may not be in a position to judge this, I still couldn't help but feel immensely frustrated when Makoto notes the most glaringly important and decisive inconsistency and DOESN'T FOLLOW UP ON IT. That of course being the amount of lights in the bio lab. Yes there are only nine lights, seven are unlit. Do you get what this implies...? Not to mention I'd have gladly just inspected the rest of the corpses which would've made the inconsistency even more obvious and, in fact, would've revealed everything right there. But neither Makoto nor Kyoko inspect them because plot convenience. Meh.

Then we get to the finale which is pretty a'ight. No major surprises for me but because I got spoiled on the Junko twist I can hardly fault the game for that now can I? Thankfully the trial itself was glorious and a ton of fun to go through. Because Junko was smurfing amazing for the short time she was there.

Speaking of which, the characters are definitely one of Danganronpa's stronger suits. The only character that ended up overstaying their welcome was Genocide Jack, who is SO over the top I would've needed a 10 minute break inbetween every 5 seconds of screentime they got. Kyoko was great even if her backstory and resolution was a bit underwhelming (I was hoping for something more than Ultimate Detective, ngl), Byakuya was pretty fun, Junko I've already said was amazing but I'll say it again, she was amazing, and everyone else was pretty alright at least.

In the end I'm pretty sure Junko *wasn't* lying about the state of the outside world, primarily due to various circumstancial evidence.

So... after all this time spent complaining, what's my verdict? It was pretty damn fun. No matter how much I complain that doesn't change the fact that Danganronpa was simply *fun* to go through. It doesn't have many standout positives, but it has even fewer standout negatives.

I'll cut it here for now. If I remember more stuff I want to talk about I'll just edit it in later.

Updated 03-03-2016 at 12:20 AM by Karifean

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  1. Fynn's Avatar
    Like I told you before, I really wonder what you'll think about the sequel. Goodbye Despair has a plot that can be pretty polarizing, but I'm mostly curious about what you'll think of the trial gameplay, as that has received certain changes. The disputes themselves are harder and you start the first trial with like five truth bullets already, and the other mini games are completely changed- for better or worse. They're all more complex, but I also really hates how they changed the rhythm minigame segment, as I could barely hit a single note, even though In a rhythm game champion, so I kind of feel something may be off about the button responsiveness there.