When I was first introduced to Danganronpa, I'm not going to lie, I was a little off-put by its visual style.
Of course, I said the same thing about Persona before the series became one of my all-time favorites. Having seen more than enough Danganronpa cosplays at anime conventions to stoke my curiosity, I finally decided to give Danganronpa Decadence on my Nintendo Switch a try.
Turns out, I made the right call. As a long-time fan of Capcom's Ace Attorney and Spike Chunsoft's Zero Escape series, I've become something of a visual novel fan. I enjoy the dialogue, character development, mystery element, and music of these games. In Danganronpa, you get that in spades. It has a way of drawing you into its world and dangling the truth in front of you. Before you know it, you'll get hooked on solving mysteries, clearing class trials, and bonding with your classmates.
Danganronpa is simultaneously perfect for late-night mystery solving and the worst choice to play before getting to bed. Before you know it, it's 5 AM and you're ready to find out who died next and who's guilty of killing them.
Keep in mind that Danganronpa blends the elements of an escape room-type scenario with a killing game element. If you've played Zero Escape or even watched Netflix's Squid Game, chances are you're familiar with the concept. Now dial the absurdity up by 100%. The overexaggerated expressions and stand-out character animations, the executions, and the description of everyone's "Ultimate" talent teeter on disbelief, yet it's charming all the same and opens up a massive world of story and lore in front of you.
Welcome to Hope's Peak Academy. If you enjoy mystery and visual novels, you will surely enjoy this title.
Danganronpa deceptively starts with the main character - Makoto Naegi - entering the prestigious Hope's Peak Academy. Suddenly, he loses consciousness and awakens among his fellow students in an enclosed room. After everyone introduces themselves, you'll meet the headmaster: a diabolical teddy bear named Monokuma who will order you and your students to kill one another as you attempt to graduate.
Danganronpa features elements of an escape game; you will explore Hope's Peak searching for clues to escape. It also incorporates the dating sim elements of bonding with characters and Ace Attorney-style class trials. That means presenting evidence during trial arguments to find out who killed who and playing various mini-games.
The standout part of Danganronpa is how it allows you to get attached to characters before killing them brutally in front of you. This happened to me in Chapter 2. Luckily, I bonded with the character I loved and got their special skill for class trials, but it didn't take away the hurt and shock I had to prepare myself for.
Danganronpa pulls a Zero Escape and changes up your entire perspective of the world near the end of the game. There are lots of weird plot twists you'll get during the trial or by bonding with standout characters, such as Kyoko and Byakuya. It does a fantastic job of reeling you in with "what happens next" and blowing your mind with the plot twists, especially in the last trial.
This title looks as simple as it gets. Originally released for the PSP in 2010, the title was later remastered on the Unity engine some years later for PS Vita and subsequent consoles. However, it still keeps its charming, flat 2D sprites which never move and are completely flat even in a 3D space when you're walking right past them. It's a little off-putting at first but you'll likely get used to it after the first chapter or so. On the flip side, the exaggerated character artwork wonderfully captures their expressions.
You'll hear voice cries from characters as you speak with them. Unfortunately, they seem to always play so it gets a little much at times. During trials, characters receive full voice acting throughout all of their dialogue but in both scenarios, you'll receive much of the same interaction.
I'm also quite fond of the music, especially the New World Order theme and the remix used for the end of each trial, Climax Reasoning. Composer Masafumi Takada's works grew on me throughout the course of the game. Notably, he's also worked on music in the Smash Bros. series. The overall music is sometimes fast-paced, sometimes atmospheric, and always suits the mood well!
Danganronpa's gameplay features three main facets. The first is first-person exploring; you'll walk around Hope's Peak while searching for clues. In rooms you can't move in, you can investigate by moving the cursor and selecting an item. The second part is the dating sim; in your Free Time, you can win items from the MonoMono Machine and use them to build bonds with a character you like. Finally, the class trial involves countering arguments with evidence; during class trials, you can use special skills from Free Time events to aid you.
The class trials involve more than just the Ace Attorney-styled gameplay of countering arguments. You'll also shoot down arguments in a shooter-style mini-game, play Hangman's Gambit to find the correct word, and even play Panic Time Action which involves a rhythm game. My favorite part comes from Climax Reasoning, where you'll build together a manga strip to describe the crime from beginning to end.
In addition to the main mode, you can also unlock a School Mode which features almost purely the dating sim aspect of the game, including interacting with characters who perished in the original story. There's also a sort of simulation aspect to the title where you allocate chores to characters in order to craft the desired product.
I highly recommend not even doing so much as searching for a character on Google until you beat the game. Spoilers are easy to come by and even something as innocuous as character art could give away the plot.
If you grab Danganronpa Decadence for Nintendo Switch, you can also play Danganronpa 2 and Danganronpa V3 afterward. However, the title is available on multiple platforms, so go ahead and choose which one suits you the most!
This thrilling visual novel reeled me in more than I ever expected it to. It's quirky, hilarious, vulgar, bloody, and suspenseful. The engaging gameplay also keeps the game enjoyable even if, at times, it is a bit simple and relatively repetitive.
Despite that, Danganronpa is a must-play for fans of Ace Attorney. Even if this is your first visual novel, you'll quickly come to appreciate the mystery narrative and the stories of each character.
The title may be niche but it's relatively easy to get into. I hope if you decide to try the series, you'll enjoy it as much as I did!
Danganronpa Decadence is available on Nintendo Switch.
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