Question: What’s black and white and pink all over? Answer: A psychotic monochromatic bear who traps 15 kids in a school and forces them to kill each other. And the blood’s pink.
Danganronpa 1-2 Reload is an interesting take on point-and-click murder mysteries, and it’s not just because of its insane premise. Through cleverly implemented shooter-like segments and logic-based minigames, Danganronpa adds a layer of interactivity, setting it apart from other passive visual novels. Reload includes both the first and second installments of the series. Though it doesn’t add anything to either game, the bundled package is a great introduction to its fast-paced logic trials.
In the first game, you play as Makoto Naegi, a new student entering the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy. This unusual school only accept students who are at the top of their respective fields, otherwise known as “Ultimates.” For instance, one character is the “Ultimate Baseball Star” and another is the “Ultimate Writing Prodigy.” Humorously, Makoto is the “Ultimate Lucky Student,” having earned the honor to attend Hope’s Peak through a lottery system. But all that luck runs out when the 15 students of his class encounter the psychotic talking bear, Monokuma.
Monokuma traps the students in the school, instructing them that the only way to escape is to kill another student and get away with it. That last part drives the gameplay, introducing the characters to a tribunal system, in which they are all tasked with determining the true killer at the risk of forfeiting their lives. As the story progresses, deep truths and juicy secrets about their school and the mysterious survival game unfold, adding flavor to the already ingenious murder plots.
Every chapter features two segments: visual novel and trial. The visual novel portions feature a mostly linear series of events as you learn more about the characters and their plight. Occasionally, you are given some “free time,” in which you can hang out with the other students and give them presents, introducing a dating sim-like element. Though it sounds out of place, this freeform character development is welcome in a game otherwise riddled with despair, especially considering any character could die without a moment’s notice. In addition, befriending characters can earn you special skills that can assist you during murder trials. Eventually, a student breaks and kills another, leading the gang to an investigative phase. You’re free to walk around and search for crime evidence at your leisure, and the game won’t continue until you’ve found every relevant clue.
The meat of the game lies in the well-presented trials. All remaining characters participate in a “Non-Stop Debate” to expose the murderer. As Makoto, you are armed with “truth bullets,” representing the clues you uncovered during your investigation. Though a similar game series, Ace Attorney, has already introduced the world to courtroom gameplay, Danganronpa takes it a step further by offering an interactive presentation of evidence. When one of your classmates makes an incorrect statement, you refute it by literally aiming a reticle at their words and shooting a truth bullet through them. When you factor in a multitude of possible clues and statements to shoot, as well as the fact that your classmates’ words are physically moving on the screen, you must be quick both in mind and reflexes to solve each case.
As the logic gets more complex, so does the action. The game quickly introduces new elements—like white noise that must be “silenced,” phrases that can be memorized as new evidence, and a time limit—that bring excitement to the courtroom drama. Play well enough to unmask the killer and witness his or her execution. Answer incorrectly enough times, and you lose all of your health points, ending the trial prematurely. Though the aiming and shooting are fairly basic compared to any traditional shooter, you can activate “Concentration,” which temporarily brings the moving statements to a halt so you can easily shoot them. In addition, you can increase or decrease the difficulty for the logic elements, action sequences, or both.
This interactive take on the standard trial-based visual novel works well on its own, but the developers continue to shake court up with minigames. These minigames occur at various intervals during trials and are hit or miss. One of the more interesting minigames, “Hangman’s Gambit,” asks you to shoot down the correct letters to spell out a specific piece of incriminating evidence. In my favorite minigame, the “Closing Argument,” you summarize the case by inserting panels into a fun comic strip. One of my least favorites is a rhythm game where you follow a beat to break down your classmate’s argument, placing less emphasis on logic and more on precise timing.
The bundled Danganronpa 2 is an excellent sequel, following off where the first game ended, while introducing new characters, settings, cases, and minigames. Essentially, it does everything the first one does and more. Even if the premise is a retread, the sequel’s story remains compelling, thanks to its rich cast and more complex mysteries. The only point where Danganronpa 2 suffers is in its overuse of poor minigames, which include a sword-based duel and a 3D isometric pro skater challenge. Otherwise, the two complement each other, telling a full story of the mysterious events of Hope’s Peak Academy.
Though this is a PlayStation 4 remaster of the original PlayStation Vita games, there are no real differences aside from an improved frame rate. That said, the characters and background still look nice, with an evergreen cardboard cutout style. The anime characters are all well-designed, with distinct personas that are further emphasized by their great voice acting. Though the visual novel portions only feature grunts and reactions, court segments are fully voiced, immersing you into their debates. The visual novel’s easy listening and the trials’ techno music fit perfectly with the game’s style, and the main theme is an excellent electronica take on spy or heist music.
The true killers’ executions represent the most stand-out cutscenes, presenting brutal murder in a somewhat facetious tone, thanks to Monokuma’s silly nature. Some of the scenes are very graphic, but they’re so over the top cartoonish that it’s hard to take seriously – an interesting juxtaposition of violence and comedy. Case in point, the blood is pink both for stylistic reasons and so that it’s deemed suitable for its audience.
Danganronpa 1-2 Reload takes two fantastic point-and-click visual novels and ties them up in one discounted package. Between both games and some surprisingly fun post-game alternative modes, Reload offers over 60 hours of content. If you’ve already played through these games, the only incentives to double-dipping are if you want both games in the same package and the ability to play it on your PS4. If you haven’t experienced the series, then this game is the best way to get your fix of high school murder mysteries, trigger-happy courtroom action, and psycho bears. Oh my!
I am a lifelong gamer, having grown up with Nintendo since I was young. My passion for gaming led to one of the greatest moments of my life, my video game themed wedding!