DanganRonpa is an upgraded port of a PSP game, released in Japan four years ago. It didn't make it to the States at the time. Visual novels, and games similar to them don't really sell over here in the West. But the fine folks over at NIS thought it would be a good idea to give this visual novel, social sim, court room game a chance in America. So how did it turn out? Keep reading to find out.
The biggest draw of DanganRonpa is its story. The plot follows a group of students who are the Ultimate of their field. So there is The Ultimate Pop Sensation, The Ultimate Baseball Star, and The Ultimate Martial Artist, all being sent to Hope's Peak Academy a school for the best of the best; every single student an ultimate. You play as Makoto Naegi, The Ultimate Lucky Student, the one average student selected to go based on pure luck. It is your first day the Academy when you step inside, and suddenly pass out. You wake up in the school, all the windows are covered by metal plates, and the doors are locked. Then you go to the gym, once there you meet up with fourteen other students. Once everyone is gathered, a black and white bear named Monokuma comes out, and explains, that you are locked in the academy for life, and everything will be provided for you, but you will never see anyone besides each other ever again. The only way out is to murder someone, stand trial, and be found as one of the innocent. If the person who is the real murderer gets set free, then everyone else dies and vice versa. Because of the diverse cast of characters, each with their own personality and take on the situation, it makes this set up even more interesting. Every time a murder happens it really is hard to believe, because you get to know these characters and really enjoy there company, even when in this horrible situation. My primary issue with the story is that some characters come off as stereotypes, but they are incredibly well done so it didn't bother me that much, with a few exceptions. As a whole it is tense and keeps you on the edge of your seat the entire time.
On the presentation side of things, you can tell this is a prettier PSP port, but do to quality art, it doesn't feel that dated. The 2D characters actually look pretty good, especially in the scenes that have custom art. The backgrounds are where the game feels like a port. The backgrounds just seem incredibly sterile and lack personality, and, outside of how colorful things are, the 3D environments feel the same way. Voice acting is great. Every character’s voice seemed to fit just right. Music on the other hand is pretty underwhelming, it fits the tone of each scene, but outside of a few select tracks none of it stood out.
Gameplay in DanganRonpa is also a mixed bag. Most of it consists of chatting with people to build relationships, similar to Persona 3 and Persona 4. The other parts are murder scene investigation, where you find clues or “truth bullets” to use in the court trials. Then there are the court trials in which you use truth bullets on statements that contradict evidence, or when you think they are lying. If you are right you get some health back and the case goes forward, if you are wrong you lose some health, and have to try again. If you keep guessing wrong then you lose the trial, die, and have to start over. The final part of the court trial is a rhythm style game at the end where you out them as the culprit. If you get it right, you win and watch the murderer die in a horribly gruesome way. These court scenes are tense, and will have you thinking of every possible angle to find the culprit. My only problem with them is that at times I feel they lead you to the culprit instead of having you figure it out yourself. The gameplay as a whole is simple, and is really there just to serve the story. It is fun, but can feel a bit shallow. I will say it does play to its strength which is story.
The main factor in whether or not you will like DanganRonpa is how much you want a game based around serving a fantastic story. The game has a very strong visual novel vibe to it, with some additional gameplay bits, which means that if the story sucks you in, you will be enthralled and love the game. But if it doesn't, then all you will see if a somewhat shallow game, with an average presentation. As a whole I enjoyed DanganRonpa, and I think anyone who likes great stories will enjoy it as well.
Final Score: 8.5/10