Game Review: Danganronpa 1-2 Reload

Alan Stock Alan Stock
Expert Contributor
June 17th, 2017

I'm a lover of travel, photography and video games, from the UK. I have worked in the games industry and very passionate about games and their design. Never get bored of them!

Price:
Good

Reviewed by:
Rating:
4
On June 17, 2017
Last modified:June 17, 2017

Summary:

A double-whammy of madcap murder mysteries with compelling twisting stories and complex whodunnits with an over-the-top presentation. Danganronpa 1-2 Reload’s memorable cast and great writing bring genuine laughs in a thoroughly entertaining game.

Price:
Good

Reviewed by:
Rating:

4
On June 17, 2017
Last modified:June 17, 2017

Summary:

A double-whammy of madcap murder mysteries with compelling twisting stories and complex whodunnits with an over-the-top presentation. Danganronpa 1-2 Reload’s memorable cast and great writing bring genuine laughs in a thoroughly entertaining game.

MORE NEWS FROM THE WEB

Danganronpa 1-2 Reload is a collection of two murder-mystery interactive novel games, out now on PlayStation 4. An older version of the collection is available on PlayStation Vita. The original games appeared on the Sony PSP, IoS and Android systems. Alan Stock dusts off his detective skills for this ComiConverse review.

Game Review: Danganronpa 1-2 Reload

Danganronpa 1-2 Reload. Not the most catchy name, is it? I’d never even heard of the Danganronpa games, but when I investigated the series after seeing the colorful box art, I discovered I might like them. 1-2 Reload is a remastered PlayStation 4 collection containing the first two games in the series: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havok, and its sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair.  Danganronpa's popularity in Japan has spawned a host of manga, novel and spin-off games. Continuing the main story - Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School is already out in Japan and coming out in the West later this year. In this review, we'll be looking at 1-2 Reload - i.e. the first two games in the series. This remaster includes improved graphics, full Western localisation and some extra game modes.

Danganronpa trial argument

What’s Danganronpa then? It’s a classic Japanese horror setup, best described as a crazy mix between Battle Royale, dating sims and the Phoenix Wright murder mystery games. These are heavily stylised “interactive novels”, similar to the Zero Escape games I’ve reviewed on this site - where you follow the main story trying to uncover the truth. Meanwhile, you interact with other characters and solve convoluted murder plots.

The premise is inspired by movies like Battle Royale and Saw. The first game sees a group of 15 high school students all start their first year at Hope's Peak Academy for children with incredible talent. On entering it for the first time, they fall unconscious and awake to find they are all trapped in the academy by a malevolent stuffed robotic bear called Monokuma (yes, really). No rescue is apparently coming. The crazy toy, who seems indestructible and has deadly powers, is in control of their fate.

Danganronpa Monokuma chat

Story continues below

No one can leave the school until one condition is met - to escape you must kill another student, and get away with it. If a murder occurs, a class trial is held, when the students get a chance to identify the culprit. If they guess right, Monokuma kills the murderer and life continues on for the survivors. Fail to find the correct murderer and everyone except the murderer is killed and then the murderer is free to leave. Although life in the school is safe and they are provided for, Monokuma provides plenty of “incentives” to encourage the students to kill each other off. Meanwhile, the students try to escape, unravel the mysteries of Hope's Peak and discover Monokumas identity.

Danganronpa students in dining hall

 

You play as one of the male students, Makoto. In between narrative segments you have free time in which you can explore the halls of Hope's Peak and chat to the other students. During this time you can hang out with them or give them gifts to learn more of their back stories similar to a Japanese dating sim. When a murder occurs, you investigate the crime scenes and interview witnesses. The class trial is similar to the Phoenix Wright games - using what you learned to point out contradictions in people's testimonies and using logic to determine what really happened.

Danganronpa truth bullets

Danganronpa has a vibrant and distinctive style, with colourful anime characters appearing as 2D cutouts against 3D backgrounds and high octane, visually arresting trial sequences. The music is off the chart (literally) - ranging from the whacky to the dramatic. Whilst the game’s premise is pretty grim, the whole experienced is laced with humour and a crazy, eccentric tongue-in-cheek vibe.  There are jokes a-plenty here, the sharp writing and translation job bring a surprising amount of wit and chuckles to the drama as characters interrupt proceedings with silly asides and exchanges, but Monokuma is the star of the show.

Danganronpa Monokuma joke RPG

The robotic bear, although initially a bit grating, quickly grows on you. He is constantly entertaining and unpredictable - tormenting the students with glee and is always coming out with great lines. He happily breaks the 4th wall and makes self-referential nods as well as appearing in bizarre monologue interludes during breaks in the story. His executions for murderers are as harsh as they are ridiculous and over the top - the game’s intro sets the tone with a man fired into space in a rocket before crash landing, reducing him to a skeleton whilst Monokuma splits his sides with laughter.

Credit: Spike Chunsoft

Despite the game’s wacky tone, the characters are still surprisingly likeable and entertaining. Yes, they are mostly cliches - each member of Hope's Peak is an “Ultimate” - the best in their field, whatever this may be. There’s the Ultimate Pop Star, the Ultimate Writer, the Ultimate Moral Compass, to name a few. But they are well written despite their overwhelming personas and as you learn more about them you begin to feel attached - which makes it all the more distressing when you know they could well be next on the kill-list (or the next potential murderer).

Story continues below

Danganronpa Ultimate bike gang leader

The game follows a cycle of imprisoned school life, murder and school trial, whittling down the student's numbers whilst they try to uncover the secrets behind their situation. The pace of the school life sections are slow and allow some breathing time for the plot to develop and character relationships to deepen between murders. You can wander the school in 3D during this time, examining objects and chatting to the others. The dating sim elements, however, are unwelcome - to unlock backstory you need to present your chosen student with an appropriate gift. These can only be won from a random toy capsule machine which you pump coins into (found around the environment as trial rewards). The more coins you put in, the greater your chances of getting something new. This gets tedious really quickly, not helped by the unskippable animations of opening capsules and with over 100 gifts to find, lots of them being duplicates.

Danganronpa School Life

Murders ramp up the drama, and the crime scene investigations are fun, although it’s impossible to fail at finding everything - the game won’t let you progress until you uncover all the clues. The class trials though completely change the game’s dynamic, the action played out through fast-paced mini-games of all varieties. The main part of the action is in dialogue, where characters shout out statements in real-time - and you must “shoot” your objections with "truth bullets" using an aiming reticule at highlighted words which contradict the facts you've learned. Hence the game’s name, translated from Japanese: “Dangan” meaning “bullet” and “Ronpa” meaning “refute”.

Danganronpa testimony truth bullets argument

There’s some decent logic involved here if you whack the difficulty up to Hard - where you have more evidence options to choose between to refute your opponent's arguments. Other mini games include a hangman clone, a musical rhythm action button basher and a comic book sequence where you place panels to show the true sequence of the murder events. The quality varies, some get pretty frustrating but at least there’s plenty of variety on show. It’s definitely true that Danganronpa trials feel unlike any murder mystery you’ve ever seen.

Danganronpa trial comic book mini game

Tight timers and health bars in trials can cause Game Over quickly, but you can simply restart the current segment of the trial with no penalty - so there’s no real sense of urgency. This inability to fail also applies to other key choices like presenting evidence, or pointing out the real killer, but to be fair most murder mystery games (including Phoenix Wright which it feels most like) suffer from similar issues. Like other games in this genre there’s also times where you essentially know what happened - but can’t find the right thing to say (or do) to progress, which can be annoying.

Danganronpa trial mini game

The mysteries themselves are pretty great though. Each one is significantly different and suspicion bounces between different characters throughout the trials as new facts come to light. There’s twists and turns you won’t see coming and unravelling these complex murders is a whole load of fun. Even though trials last for a long time, the constant back and forth between differents arguments, Monokumas rantings and new plot developments keeps them really engaging.

Danganronpa trial evidence

The overall story is also pretty intriguing, after each trial you get access to more of the school, uncovering yet more mysteries. You always want to keep on playing to find out what it all means, what Monokuma and the deadly game’s purpose is, learning more about your fellow students, as well of course wondering who’s next to get murdered! It’s compelling stuff. The plot does get even more outrageously mad towards the end, but by this point you’re so used to the general craziness of Danganronpa you won’t really bat an eyelid.

Danganronpa chat student why Kyoko

 

Danganronpa 2 follows much the same formula as the first game with a new set of students. The big difference is that they’re trapped on a set of islands instead of a school. The murder mysteries are arguably better in this one and there’s some good plot twists along the way. The dating sim elements are tightened up with faster toy acquisition. In the trials, some mini-games have been tightened up and others added. Unfortunately, the new entries aren’t all very successful but do keep things fresh. Danganonpa 2’s plot eventually goes off the rails even further than the first game, perhaps a little too much, but overall it still matches the quality of the first game - and arguably even funnier.

Danganronpa nurse chat

Although these are thoroughly entertaining games with great mysteries full of colourful characters and witty dialogue, Danganronpa does have flaws. Aside from the trial minigames which can annoy as much as entertain, the slow pace of some of the school setting and exploration of the school can drag. Gender stereotypes are unfortunate, particularly the insensitive way a transgender character is treated. Sexual innuendo and jokes throughout the game are usually pretty amusing, but are overused and although may be intended as a poke at sexualised Japanese games, at others times are obviously fan service or just plain creepy. Sleazy characters and dodgy dialogue can mar the atmosphere and examples such as the girl who continually falls over in a spreadeagled position, and receiving panties as rewards for unlocking all background stories are not uncommon - occasionally giving Danganronpa a bit of an unsavoury taste.

There’s not much extra content in this 1-2 Reload edition - a few mini-games without much depth. The School Mode with a non-canon narrative allows you to befriend students and learn their backstories without worrying about them being murdered. Obviously on PS4 graphics have been spruced up with the main attention paid to the character art, but it’s hardly a great looking game overall - it’s handheld origins are pretty clear. Not that it really matters, you’ll be playing for the story and the mysteries rather than its looks,  and the vibrant art style is eye-catching enough.

Danganronpa Monokuma gun

Aside from some failings, overall Danganronpa 1 and 2 are engrossing and entertaining, crazy and unpredictable. There’s nothing quite like them, the style is fresh and the writing quality. Monokuma is accompanied by a host of great characters - some of whom you want to see survive… even if it’s just to see how they’ll eventually meet their fate. If murder mysteries are your thing, or you just like entertaining stories with funny dialogue, then I urge you to give this series a go.

 

Danganronpa 1-2 Reload

  • 4

Good

A double-whammy of madcap murder mysteries with compelling twisting stories and complex whodunnits with an over-the-top presentation. Danganronpa 1-2 Reload’s memorable cast and great writing bring genuine laughs in a thoroughly entertaining game.

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