You are trapped with a group of strangers in a school run by a psychopathic stuffed bear. That same Teddy Ruxpin mixed with Ted Bundy will only let you out of the school If you kill a classmate and manage to convince them you are innocent. If not, you are trapped for the rest of your life or until someone else can get away with murder, resulting in your death. Welcome to Hope’s Peak Academy.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a combo pack containing the first game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc with its sequel, Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair. They originally debuted on the PS Vita, and that may be why some of you have never heard of them.
The Danganronpa games are visual novels. Some voiceover is included for critical parts of the game, but it is mostly reading what the characters have to say in little speech bubbles at the bottom of the screen. What makes the Danganronpa games different is that the story is deadly and funny at the same time.
Danganronpa’s story is a combination of the Battle Royale, Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, and a pinch of the movie Heathers. After believing you are going to high school at the extremely prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, you wake up with a class of strangers. Each one of them is the best at something, which is the perquisite for being able to attend. There is a famous writer, pop idol, and wealthy elite, among others.
Your jailor is an insane bear named Monokuma. He pops up to let you know that you will be confined to this camera filled school forever. If you want to leave, you have to murder someone and not be caught. After someone dies, there will be a trial to determine the guilty party. If they class picks correctly, the murderer dies. If not, the murderer leaves the school, and everyone else dies.
It feels like there are really two different games. The first is where you can explore the world and talk to your fellow students in a Persona-lite form of social links. By spending time with them, you will learn more about their lives and earn useful skills for the trials. During the murder investigation, you will need to investigate locations and interview your classmates for clues, called “Truth Bullets”, in order to determine the real killer’s identity in the trial.
After the investigation is completed, the trial starts, and here is where the gameplay changes substantially. The trial is a series of mini games. In the most common game, you will use “Truth Bullets” to blast incorrect statements when another character is talking. The statements move across the screen, and you have to aim and fire at the right time to be successful. Often, there are multiple statements that could be slightly wrong, but there is a best answer approach for your specific bullet. Your time is limited, and every wrong answer moves you closer to losing credibility with your fellow students and on your way to death.
The other games are vary between picking letters to spell a word in a hangman style game, a rhythm game in which you have to hit the right button to a higher or lower beat in order to destroy an argument, or picking the right answer from several options.
In both titles, you play an everyman character who does not know what makes him an ultimate at something. The other characters in the game are really two-dimensional at first. The ultimate elite is a rich kid who thinks he is better than everyone else. The ultimate programmer is shy and awkward around people. As you get to know them, they develop some depth. You can even understand why some of them decide to kill another person.
I am trying hard to avoid any spoilers, because the writing in both games is fantastic. The first game has a little bit of gallows and potty humor with Monokuma, but it plays it mostly straight. The second game ventures much further into funny, and it works really well. I was smiling and chuckling a little in Goodbye Despair. Despite being sometimes emotionally heavy, the narrative is always moving the story forward, and it never gets bogged down in the uninteresting parts of the game.
The writing is clever, and it even makes fun of itself sometimes. This was most obvious in the second game as the overarching themes of hope and despair from the first game were flipped by one of the major characters. I found myself clicking to move to the next question, insult, threat, or joke as quickly as I could to see what would happen next.
Every trial was a surprise too. I would have my suspicions, but I was often shocked to find the murderer was someone else. This made every trial suspenseful, because I was always trying to guess who the real killer was until the end.
The real star of the trial is the execution for the murderer. It was always based on ultimate skill, and it was one of the few places you had a cinematic in the game. Whether I felt good about the verdict or bad for the person, I wanted to see the inventive way they would be killed.
The villains are more fun than the heroes, and this series is no exception. Monokuma can be just as funny as he is menacing when he delivers his one-liners, and he is the perfect nasty. He makes jokes about what is happening, but he can jump from goofy to malevolent tyrant in an instant, especially if he is attacked or rules are broken. He is perpetually scheming new ways to make you kill other students, and he has a sadistic charisma throughout both games.
Danganronpa: Goodbye Despair picks up sometime after the events in Trigger Happy Havoc. This time a new class of ultimate students is kidnapped and held captive on an island where the death game starts again.
Although the locations are entirely new, outside a few changes to the games in the trial, the structure of the sequel is the same. You will need to talk to your classmates, investigate after a murder, and determine the guilty party in a trial. I like both games very much, and I am still not sure which one is the better game.
You can tell the graphics were originally made for the PS Vita. They have been improved for the PS4, but they still show characters as cardboard cutouts against static backgrounds. The sequel improves on them in every way, but the general art style is the same. That is not to say they were bad. The stylized visuals in both games are still great, and they nailed the view of the world.
The music is carries over from the Vita, and I found it to be fantastic. The themes and effects are so well-matched to the tone and visuals. The sound in both games can change quickly depending on the actions on-screen, but the queues and motifs never became boring. That is great, because some of the same sounds were reused for the second game. Although I had just spent hours listening to them, I was glad for another chance to hear them. With the many hours of content in the two games, that was impressive.
Even with all that deserved praise, nothing is perfect. Danganronpa 1.2 Reload can sometimes be frustrating in the trial games. I will admit to not always being the brightest bulb, but I was sent to be executed multiple times by picking the wrong answer or just the not right enough answer. This trial and error can start to drag the trial sequences.
The other minor gripe is in movement. When you are schlepping around school or the island, you are in first person. There are a few confined areas where turning was so slow, it felt like I was driving an eighteen wheeler, not a person. It is not frequent, but it was annoying when it happened.
If you love a great story, I cannot recommend Danganronpa 1.2 Reload enough. It is a great mix of funny and serious that delivers on its mysterious premise. If you hate visual novels or you hate to read too much in your games, this will not change your opinion. There is also not enough to recommend you repurchase it if you already own it, but, if you are looking for an approachable visual novel with a unique twist that will keep you guessing and maybe even smiling until the end, look no further.
Review Disclaimer: This review was carried out using a digital code provided by the publisher. This does not affect the content of the review or the final score awarded. For more information, please read our Review Policy.
*Reviewed on a standard PS4
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload PS4 Review
If you have ever wanted to jump into a visual novel, Danganronpa 1.2 Reload contains two of the best I have ever experienced. The idea and execution are brilliant with great music. The graphics from the PS Vita are a little dated, but the visual style and fun make it worth your while to experience these games on a bigger screen. It delivers plenty of content, and it is constantly does something to shock or surprise you. If you hate reading in your games, this will not change your mind, but this was a unique experience that anyone looking for something different should try.