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Patrick Hope: A killer game with an evil, talking teddy bear

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We have a bit of an interesting situation this week. I was hoping to hold off on the game I’m going to be discussing today for a month otherwise designated for games that are a bit off-kilter.

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But then this game got way more popular than I thought it would be, even breaking into the top 100 for game sales on Amazon, so here we are.

Now being one of the 100 most popular games at any given time wouldn’t be a great accomplishment if not for a few things:

-- This game is on the PlayStation Vita.

-- It’s a visual novel (which brings my review count on this possibly most obscure genre out there to four now).

-- And it’s about high school students being forced to kill each other as part of a death game. It’s time for some “Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc”!

So, let’s get the basics out of the way. “Danganronpa” came out on the Vita on Feb. 11 and was developed by Spike Chunsoft, a company probably best known — at least in terms of visual novels — for creating 999 for the Nintendo DS and Virtue’s Last Reward for the 3DS/Vita.

“Danganronpa” has been called a combination of 999, Phoenix Wright and Persona, though I would argue that does a disservice to it as the game is awesome on its own merits without being compared to anything else. But these comparisons are useful for discussion of some of the game’s major points.

The 999 comparison is pretty easy to make, considering both games are from the same developer. The story of “Danganronpa” is that you are Makoto, as average a high school student as you can get. You were chosen by nationwide lottery to get into the mega-prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy, where only the best students in Japan are admitted. So you’re surrounded by superstar students ranging from what you’d expect, like the Ultimate Baseball Star and the Ultimate Writing Prodigy to some that are kind of out there, like the Ultimate Fanfiction Writer and the Ultimate Clairvoyant. There are 15 students in all. But this is not your typical high school game. That’s probably because of that whole death game thing I mentioned earlier.

See, Hope’s Peak has a headmaster named Monokuma. He’s a talking teddy bear. An evil talking teddy bear. And if you touch him, or break any number of an arbitrary set of rules he’s put in place, he will kill you. He has also trapped the students in the school, placed cameras everywhere to monitor them, and given them one rather grisly way to get out: to “graduate,” one must kill another student and get away with it.

Now let’s completely ignore the fact that an evil teddy bear that sometimes yells “EXTREME!” is something I never realized that every game in existence needed until now and focus on what this means for the narrative. There aren’t that many characters and you’re going to find yourself attached to at least a couple of them.

This is a bit of a problem when one of those characters is either a victim or a killer. If you kill someone and get caught, you get executed. If you get away with it, everyone else dies. I was legitimately upset when one character that I really liked ended up being a killer. You will always be on edge — not just from the really good story that I can barely touch on for fear of spoilers, but because anyone can be next to get the ax.

But how do you go about solving these murders? That’s where the Phoenix Wright part comes in. Whenever there’s a death, you have to investigate the scene and other parts of the school until Monokuma decides it’s time for a trial to figure out the culprit. The trials are the highlight of the game.

Like Phoenix Wright, you have to point out contradictions in your classmates’ statements as they piece things together, but instead of presenting evidence, you have “truth bullets” that serve the same purpose but are soooo much cooler, hence the “Trigger Happy Havoc” subtitle.

In addition to dropping knowledge on your classmates in trial, there is also a hangman mini-game where you have to shoot letters to form a word pertinent to solving the case and a rhythm game to break down particularly unreceptive opponents. I’m not a huge fan of the latter two mini-games as they can break the flow of an intense trial, but they are what they are.

Now you may ask “what about getting to know these characters?”

Hey, that’s where the Persona part comes in! Like Personas 3 and 4, there are social links of sorts here that you can build up that give you skills for use in the trial and provide depth to the characters.

These interactions are only available during “free time” segments that occur naturally throughout the story, so you’d better make use of them to fully experience the game.

It’s worth noting “Danganronpa” even has a New Game Plus mode where no one is trying to kill each other and you can learn about the characters, especially the ones who die early on, which is great.

Throw in an awesome soundtrack and some solid English voice acting and you’ve got yourself a good time. So if you have any level of interest in visual novels or good mystery stories and don’t mind a lot of reading in your games, get “Danganronpa” now. It’s apparently popular enough that the sequel has already been announced for localization this fall, so what are you waiting for? It’s definitely a game that will keep you engrossed for all of its 20 or so hours.

EXTREME!

Hope is Dickinson attorney and a video game columnist for The Dickinson Press. He takes a humorous approach while writing about video games of all genres, from the first systems to the latest in technology. Email him at patrick.d.hope@gmail.com.

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