I don't know how many will remember it, but in writing my review on Aokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue, I explained in very few words my prejudice towards the Visual novel:
"I'll be honest, I feel a lot of skepticism and prejudice towards the Visual Novel genre. I obviously don't hate them on the contrary, going back in memory I could list titles like Professor Layton and The World Ends with You which - while not part of the genre - manage to incorporate this particular narrative style into their gameplay. "
At the time, either for lack of familiarity with the genre or to avoid going too far from the canons of a classic review, he never deepened my repulsion towards this genre. Growing up in childhood on Bread, Tekken, Fifa and Budokai Tenkaichi, I was brought up to watch the video game as a means that focuses on the actions performed by the player, without if and without but. Whether it's a string of combos to be made or a goal scored, in the games I have listed any feedback was managed through an intervention active of the player.
With the Visual Novel genre, I've always seen this element overshadowed if not canceled out, which I also saw during my Aokana game:
"While I appreciate Sprite's commitment to writing this script, Aokana: Four Rhythms Across the Blue it suffers in the area where no visual novel should suffer: interactivity. During the 8 chapters that make up a complete run of the game, the choices available that change the course of history you can count on two hands. "
And of course this feeling was also reflected in works like Steins; Gate, Fate / Stay Night and many other games with their own niche of fans but who for me did not offer the same gameplay / storytelling balance that I would find elsewhere, for example in a game in the series of final Fantasy. To all this, I would also add a bit of inconsistency, given my pleasant experience with titles like Life is Strange, Person and the aforementioned The World Ends with You which, like the Visual Novels, highlight the plot and the eccentric character design of the characters. In my defense, I could also consult the graphic sector of most VNs, limited to simple text boxes and a few two-dimensional sprites.
So Game Over? Did my ignorance and unwillingness to read hundreds of lines of dialogue in front of immobile sprites condemn me to a premature bad ending? Mistaken! Shortly after the publication of my review of Aokana, I told my experience with the title to a friend of mine who, in response, told me this: "Why don't you play Danganronpa?"
Now, more than 12 months have passed since that time and in conjunction not so much with the release of Danganronpa: Decadence how much for its release on Xbox Game Pass, I decided to take a breath, glue my nice ass to the chair and write down a personal analysis on most of the work conceived by Kazutaka Kodaka and Spike Chunsoft.
Small separate note: this "review" will focus on most of the chapters present within the aforementioned collection, but going on to speak in a shorter formula (in those that we can consider extra chapters) of the anime Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy and the spin-off game Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. The Trigger Happy Havoc anime and the light novels Ultra Despair Hagakure and Danganronpa IF and Danganronpa Zero will not be considered, as I have not yet been able to recover them.
Chapter 1: First Contact
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, initially released on PlayStation Portableand in 2010 it is the starting point of the entire series that from its first minutes he managed to confuse me and at the same time intrigue me.
The story begins with the protagonist, such Makoto Naegi, intent on starting his first day at Hope's Peak Academy, a school open exclusively to children who prove they have a unique talent (also called Ultimate or Super High School Level) and located within an unclear country. So we have the Ultimate Idol, the Ultimate Baseball Star, the Ultimate Biker Gang Leader and so on and so forth. In short, any person capable of excelling in a particular discipline is welcome (and trust me, the list of talents present within the series is not lacking in imagination).
It so happens that Naegi, a character who perfectly embodies the stereotype of One-dimensional Visual Novel Protagonist, introverted and without any specific talent, is admitted to the academy through a draw, thus becoming theUltimate Lucky Student, the fortunello in short. And while an unsuspecting player who has never seen any promotional material or game images might begin to think it is yet another Visual Novel based on the construction of a harem, it is precisely at the moment when Naegi sets foot inside the school, that things change. The view is distorted, as if we were entering another world. Black screen.
Once awakened, Makoto finds himself in a disturbing context: an empty classroom with windows locked with iron plates and giant nails. Wandering around the academy, the boy comes into contact with 14 other students in front of the school's front door. A door guarded by security cameras and turrets, as if someone were preventing them from escaping. Specifically, we are talking about a talking black and white bear, called monocuma. The bizarre animal introduces the group to one of his own trademarks, the Killing Game Semester, a deadly game where students have only two options: kill a peer or collaborate with others and discover the identity of the killer and survive. Here begins the player's adventure, here the suffering begins, here begins Danganronpa!
Once the prologue is finished, each chapter will be divided into 4 phases: the normal progression of the main storyline, interspersed with short sections of Free Time in which to explore the academy, obtain Monocoins to buy new items at the school shop and interact with your own partners in crime in short sections of Dating Sim. These first two stages are part of the School Life, the more lighthearted mood (but not too much as the narrative goes on) of the game and to which the deadly life, which will upset the cards on the table immediately after the sighting of a corpse. From here, the game takes on more and more the traits and dynamics of titles like the Phoenix Right: Ace Attorney by Capcom. Here too, mortal life within Hope's Peak Academy is divided into two phases: the investigation of the crime scene, looking for Truth Bullets to be used in the second phase of the game, i Class Trial, the beating heart of the whole experience.
One moment. Bullets? Well yes, the name Danganronpa or Bullet Refuting (refusal bullet) finds its maximum meaning within the Class Trials, the processes in which the player collects all the evidence (the Truth Bullets) acquired during the investigation, whether they are objects, details or even the testimonies of the other characters to catch the culprit. This is done via the overcoming of different phases, which from time to time transform the dynamics and mechanics of the game, embedding it within different genres. If in the Non-Stop Debate you listen to the discussions between the various characters, in search of contradictions to counter, using the evidence available as real bullets for aim and shoot on the incorrect sentence, and lead the narrative of the crime on the right path; in the'Hangman's Gambit you interact with a mediocre crossword puzzle in search of the right letters able to complete the pattern.
Once you get to the final act of the process, the Closing Argument, the player will be asked to complete a comic puzzle well thought out to reconstruct the dynamics of the murder in detail and determine whodunnit. Obviously, the culprit will not sit idle and if in the early stages he will try to mislead the group with fake arguments to contradict, but once his identity is defined he will begin to to deny the evidence and to react rather aggressively. And it is precisely at that moment that the Bullet Time Battle, a 1v1 confrontation with rhythm game shots. At the end of the trial, the player will be evaluated with a final score, to which an adequate reward in in-game currency will correspond.
All this is contained in a satisfying gameplay loop, even if not really inclined to replayability. The latter is contained in the options offered to the player after the end of the credits, with a post-game that sends that country the blood, death and all the horrors of the Killing Game to allow the player to eexplore the background of all the characters, as well as introducing a management minigame at times boring, but essential for completists.
All in all, Trigger Happy Havoc delivers what it calls itself the bread and butter of the whole experience, and briefly summarizes the concept of interactive I was looking for in the Visual Novels. Reading the dialogues or knowing the background of Byakuya Togami's legs by heart will not lead you to the truth, without a minimum of commitment and logical reasoning.. And I can safely say, at the end of the credits I remained fully satisfied, net of some choices in the script and in the gameplay not really developed in an intelligent way. But obviously, we are talking about an experiment for the time it was developed and released and certainly a neophyte will think "the sequel will improve everything right?" And how it does.
Chapter 2: Despair Boogaloo
As said before, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc offers a skeleton, a base from which to start. An imperfect base, at times fallacious and in other aspects brilliant, especially as regards its genesis. Why let's be clear, the Battle Royale between students conceived by Koushun Takami and subsequently transposed into manga and films during the early 2000s is certainly not a neglected narrative genre, rather. But the value (in my opinion) of Kazutaka Kodaka's early work is his style. From the character designs, to the music, up to the plot and the crazy documented killing methods, the first chapter of Danganronpa could only get better, perhaps by going beyond the limits of School Life. Which Goodbye Despair does.
In this second chapter, the Killing Game leaves the walls of Hope's Peak Academy and moves into Jabberwock Islands, an archipelago lost in the waters of the Pacific Ocean and that the good Monokuma has made his playground of the massacre. Massacre that hajime hinata and his class, also full of Ultimate, they will try to prevent. Of course, trying to keep spoilers to a minimum, the narrative that offers DR2: Goodbye Despair from this point on follows a plot similar to its predecessor, and if on the one hand it even reaches the bottom and pouring out one of the worst cases and processes of the series (who wants to understand, understand), on the other hand it offers interesting ideas, as well as a depth that can be found on several fronts, a screenplay that in its entirety managed to convince me. What the player notices early on is the work Spike has been doing for exalt most of the secondary characters through extra events that can be unlocked by obtaining special objects or even better what they do on the screen, to the point of becoming even more interesting than the protagonist.
To first-person exploration in Shin Megami Tensei sauce a short and visually ugly 2D section dedicated to the selection of the various areas that make up the archipelago and a JRPG-style tiered system, dedicated to the management and learning of the various skills that can be used during the various trials, which in DR2 see the introduction of two new game phases: the Rebuttal Showdown, where the player is put face to face with another member of the class who is still not entirely convinced about a particular detail of the case; and the Logic Dive, an obstacle course where you are called to deepen a test by solving some logical questions. Added to these are the main game phases introduced in the first chapter, such as the hateful Hangman's Gambit, which in this improved version is even more frustrating and poorly thought out. Thank goodness, this and many other recurring hitches do not significantly worsen the gaming experience in its entirety, which is enjoyable and damn compelling, especially in the final stages, where DR2: Goodbye Despair invites the player to fasten their seat belts for the game. land of madness, something difficult to put into words.
To the narrative, extra modes such as Magical Miracle Girl Use me, a mini-action rpg that fills some narrative holes left between the end of one chapter and the beginning of another and where the player takes control of monomi, a bunny able to eliminate robotic monsters by locking them in a magic circle. In addition to this, the unlockable peaceful mode returns once the first playthrough of the game is finished and which once again takes a management drift, proposing the same game loop seen in the previous chapter.
The presentation also underwent a well-rounded power-up, with a soundtrack that is enriched by hard rock tones, a decidedly more varied character design, and a direction that (through the use of a 3D stage during the various trials) try to experiment with the camera and get out of the static limits of the visual novel. The result is a sequel that far exceeds the legacy of the first chapter, but still shows the side of some flaws that haunt the series.
Extra Chapter-1: Someone Think of the Children!
I personally would not consider Danganronpa Another episode: Ultra Despair Girls as a spin-off chapter, but as a deepening of the narrative universe. The title, released on PS Vita, PS4 and PC, tells the story of Komaru Naegi, sister of the protagonist of the first chapter trapped inside Towa City, a cutting-edge megalopolis and full of bloodthirsty Monokuma.
Talking about UDG it is always a thorny issue, as it is a game that deviates from the canons of the series. Starting with its genre, which moves away from the visual novel to embrace the mechanics of third-person shooters with small puzzle sections (not exactly well thought out in my opinion) here and there, incorporating the classic VN squares in the various scenes that make up the storytelling.
Unfortunately, in addition to the aforementioned woody puzzle sections, gameplay is added that is not pressed to the bone, resulting in cloying, with boss fights that at their maximum potential can be broken by a sufficiently powerful character, through skills for a particular character. support (which I will not reveal) and stickers to add to the Megaphone Hacking Gun.
It is a real shame that these flaws discourage users from trying Ultra Despair Girls, because whatever they say this extra chapter contains some of the most disturbing characters and narrative twists of the entire series, and which in turn have (probably) blocked the arrival of this chapter on the Nintendo Switch. Moreover, but this is simply a personal note, UDG embodies the fanboist soul of Kodaka, always ready to mention his favorite multimedia products. I leave you a small example below.
Chapter Extra-2: An (almost) perfect climax.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy is certainly an ambitious project. Initially conceived as an animated transposition of the second chapter, this anime series has been reworked in a third chapter that takes up the narrative and divides it into two narrative arcs: Future Arc and Despair Arc. Future Arc is a direct sequel to Danganronpa 2 and (again without particular spoilers) stages a new killing game with different dynamics but with mysteries and reversals at every corner; Despair Arc instead, serves as a prequel to the entire series, and tells the deeds, characters and events that led to the origins of the work.
Both narrative arcs are (on a superficial level) two very distinct souls, with two completely different stories. At the same time, however, what goes on in their backstories is fished out over and over in all 24 episodes that make up this animated series, and which culminate in a final OVA that unties most of the knots on the comb and which, apart from a few slips perpetrated in the name of the most shameless fanservice, worthily concludes the Hope's Peak Academy saga.
“Yeah I don't get this either. Pretty sure I died. "
Chapter 3: A New Game
Writing about Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony it is not an easy task, for several reasons. On the one hand we have my impossibility (due to spoilers) in rattling off in the smallest details a narrative that will keep you glued to your seat for all the 60+ hours that make up this last chapter of the series; on the other we find instead a community split in half, between those who consider this game a masterpiece and those who think it has ruined the brand forever. For my part, I can only say that Danganronpa V3 is the ultimate experience of Kodaka and Spike Chunsoft's Killing Game.
Starting from the plot, the latter proposes a setting much more in line with the first chapter: a group of Japanese students is locked up inside the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles, a huge multi-zone facility set up for this new game of Among Us Anime offered by the ever-green Monokuma, flanked this time by 4 “helpers”: the Monokubs, real stars of the comic relief of this game (protecc Monodam). At the level of the writing of the characters, we are facing a real miracle, and where the deconstruction of the protagonist Kaede Akamatsu is the master during each chapter. The whole is a seasoned by a real roster stray mines disguised as secondary characters, even more so than the previous chapters where perhaps between a Nagito Komaeda and a Byakuya Togami it was possible to identify a sane person. Here, however, all devalued and Ma'at in the ass, and in one way or another this is precisely what sets V3 apart, a game that stuns in its premises but at the same time is the quintessence of the franchise, first sensations already experienced in the past, once Trigger Happy Havoc is started.
Of course, needless to say, the start of a new Killing Game involves the return of the Class Trials, who at this "turning point" for the series adopts choices capable of alleviate the various critical issues mentioned in its predecessors. During these clashes between truth and lies, the player will finally have a chance to go to the dark side effecting a false testimony, using the evidence at his disposal to lie and at the same time shuffle the cards on the table, unlocking new dialogues which would normally not be available. Obviously we are not talking about a process of a random and procedural nature, each chapter will have a handful of these alternative scenarios, however, it is already a huge step forward and a small invitation to replay value.
Speaking instead of the various phases of the Class Trials, Goodbye Despair's Logic Dive has been replaced by the Psyche Taxi, a linear and unhindered but aesthetically appealing minigame and incredibly Hangman's Gambit V3 isn't as shit as its predecessors, despite still being slow as molasses; in the case of the more classic game phases, the Debate Scrum presents a quick question-and-answer between two disagreeing factions about a particular piece of evidence presented during the trial. The final stage, called Argument Armament, finally takes up the rhythm game dynamics similar to those of games like Hatsune Miku Project Diva, and in which the player confronts the culprit in one fight at the last note ... and at the last panty shot.
This and much more has made Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony my absolute favorite chapter, between catchy music and that draw their groove from a variety of genres, a script and a design of the mysteries that FINALLY do not suffer from drops in quality or creative problems and an ending that… AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA! I have to shut up!
But at the same time, I'll briefly break the spoiler silence to admit my crime: I lied. I will not tell you where, nor why. But within this chapter I have deliberately said about the amazing hats. Ironic, however, as in these chapels lies the true meaning and beating heart of the entire experience of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and in some ways also its theme.
How do you say? Further replayability? Post-game options? In fact they exist and most of them are contained within the Casino. Nothing scandalously curated, we are talking about re-skins of most of the minigames present in the Class Trials, with the possibility of earn tokens required to redeem new items and rewards. But beyond that and the usual peaceful mode dedicated to the Free Time Events of the various characters, I don't remember absolutely any other additional content… Oh. Oh no! True, there is also ... That.
Extra Chapter-3: A Far Too Expensive Vacation
I won't talk much about Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp before coming to conclusions. Also because to be honest there would not be much to say, we are talking about a banal gatcha that takes the structure of a minigame that already exists in the extra contents of Danganronpa V3, or theUltimate Talent Development Plan, a board game, in which the various characters (unlockable by spending different types of in-game credits) will have to be upgraded one at a time before they can face the horde of monsters through a simple turn-based combat system.
It goes without saying, however, that applying this gameplay loop to each version of each character, divided into the classic rarities (Common, Rare, Super Rare and Ultra Rare) starting from a roster of 60 characters from the 4 games developed by Spike Chunsoft, the the magic of "cheers, a new game after 5 years" immediately vanishes. To this, we add an overly aggressive monetization model that in my opinion should not exist in a game that yes, for the buyers of the physical version of Danganronpa Decadence is a free bonus of a crazy collection sold for 60 euros, but that for anyone else it requires an entrance ticket of 20 euros inside the Nintendo eShop. A real wasted opportunity.
Final Chapter: Farewell, all of Danganronpa
At this point of the "mega review" I think you understand my appreciation for this series, its characters, music, atmospheres and various processes, one crazier than the other (for better or for worse), to the point from having me use a couple of hyperboles in writing this much text. To be honest, several months have passed since the writing of the first introductory chapter and to date (we are in January) I have sensationally missed the launch window of Danganronpa Decadence on Switch. Initially, this article should have been a very, all too personal editorial.
Anyone who knows me knows that in the last year (between pandemics and personal problems) I have been hit by a strong case of social anxiety and depression. The more the days passed, the more my stimuli gradually waned, not to mention my personal relationships with friends and relatives. And in all of this, what does Danganronpa do?
In the simplest of developments, the proposal mentioned in the introductory chapter to play this series allowed me to take a couple of hours off every night, connected on the discord of the brothers, and distract me. Nothing more and nothing less. A few laughs, a few tears and a few dirty jokes to comment the excessive sexualization of some characters of the cast (did anyone say Mikan?). And if on the one hand I regret not being able to deepen the topic of video games and escapism, perhaps with an analysis on the benefits and disadvantages of a hypothetical therapeutic gaming, I preferred to leave the task to much more competent people and contribute to the growth of the community. of Danganronpa in my own way, speaking to you with an open heart about what made me fall in love with this series. In a way, it's like you've just finished my graduation ceremony, thanking the rector multiple murderous in a bear costume and all the companions met along the way.
It certainly won't be there definitive review, but I hope at least that this is a good starting point for those who maybe in the future want to approach the crazy and sick world Kazutaka Kodaka, an eccentric author and who was able to lead the concept of the visual novel beyond the visual novel itself. Maybe this last part will be a classic videogame journalist supercazzola, but of course you should first of all play this series, before you can object. No?