DanganRonpa: Let The (Murder) Games Begin

By Jack . January 13, 2014 . 5:30pm

Whenever I would have my first day at a new school, a million different worries would race through my brain. Do I know where my classes are? Will I make any friends? Did I remember my lunch? Will a psychotic bear entrap my entire class and force us to kill each other?


Well, maybe not the last part, but if I had played DanganRonpa, the thought might have crossed my mind.


DanganRonpa is a visual novel game that revolves around solving murder mysteries among a group of high school students. I’ve been given the opportunity to do some undercover investigating behind the secretive walls of DanganRonpa’s upcoming localization, and I’m ready to report my findings on life in a school filled with hope, despair, and death.


The story begins with Makoto Naegi standing outside the imposing Hope’s Peak Academy, an elite school that only accepts the best and brightest students. That’s not just hyperbole either, every student attending the school is considered to be at the highest level of their specialty, complete with titles like the Ultimate Baseball Star or Ultimate Fanfic Creator (a prestigious title, to be sure).


It’s strange then, that Makoto introduces himself as the most average human being in existence. However, rather than being the Ultimate Average Guy, it seems he was accepted as the Ultimate Lucky Student. Immediately, I couldn’t help but think there was more to that situation, and quickly found that it would be just one of many mysteries that awaited.


Makoto is so nervous that he arrives an hour early, much sooner than anyone else. Just as he manages to collect his thoughts, the world begins to swirl around him and he loses consciousness. When Makoto wakes up, he finds himself in an eerie classroom, alone and confused.


Here, I got to take control and investigate the classroom. Navigating the school is done from a first person perspective, and works similar to games like Ace Attorney, where you move a cursor around the screen and click on interesting objects. The most noticeable thing in the room was a suspicious note left on the desk, with the words “this school will be your entire world,” written in childish scribbles. A bold threat to be sure, but I never thought school was that bad. Upon further investigation of the room, however, I realized my own school also didn’t have giant surveillance cameras and bolted-shut windows.


One thing that immediately jumped out at me is that DanganRonpa really nails atmosphere. The music is threateningly ominous, and I could feel the mysteries piling up in my brain. After leaving the classroom, I was greeted by some strangely-lit purple hallways that further enhanced the uneasy tension in the air. If it weren’t for cutesy graphics on the in-game map, the academy could almost pass for a horror locale.


I warily made my way towards the main hall, and it was there I finally made human contact. Fourteen other students were there waiting, all seemingly as confused as Makoto. That said, while things might have been getting a little weird, it seemed like a good idea to get acquainted with my classmates.


DanganRonpa features a fairly sizable cast of Ultimates, so it makes sense that they would give very distinct first impressions. The Ultimate Moral Compass, for example, is an overly strict do-gooder with a loud voice and fiery eyes to match, while the Ultimate Martial Artist is gruff and looks like she came straight out of Dragon Ball Z. Every character feels like they were exaggerated to the extreme and as a result they ride a strange line between interesting and obnoxious. While I wasn’t a fan of all my classmates, putting so many strong personalities in one place promised to keep things exciting.


After the introductions, everyone convened to assess their situation. All the windows were bolted, the entrance blocked, and any communication with the outside world was cut. In other words: there was no escape. To make things worse, an odd shadowy figure appeared in a monitor, beckoning the students to the gymnasium for an opening ceremony.


Once, inside the gym, the class is assaulted by an oddly cheery voice. The greeting came from Monokuma, an insidious looking bear who leapt out from behind a podium. He introduced himself as the headmaster, and confirmed the reality of the situation: the students were indeed trapped, and they all had to live in the school until they died.


Things were already looking bad, but Monokuma nudged in one last detail to drive it all to a breaking point: the way only way to escape was to kill a fellow classmate.


Suddenly, Makoto finds himself in a crowd of potential murderers, wondering who will make the first move. The stage is set for the killing game to begin, and I was hooked on finding out what would happen next.


Food for Thought:


1. Every character has voice acting in the form of preset catchphrases based on the mood of the text. Unfortunately, DanganRonpa doesn’t handle these voice bits as well as it could. I can handle grunts or maybe a single word, but full phrases are used frequently, which not only gets repetitive but also distracts from the real dialogue.


2. That said, I’m no connoisseur of dubbing, but I think the English voices hold up pretty well in general.

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  • HershelLousyton

    I’m told this is basically Ace Attorney if its story revolved around a blood sport…So I have it pre-ordered. Looking forward to it.

    • Juan Andrés Valencia

      Yep, this is basically Corpse Party + Zero Escape (Or Saw or euphoria if you are into ero-guro VN’s *shivers and pukes*) + Ace Attorney. At least the PSP version played like that.

      • kaotron

        Yeah, for the most part it’s just zero escape + ace attorney(I’d minus out the Corpse party) every character is a living breathing cliched trope on legs but still fun to play. man, only japanese game can have such a bizarre premise for games/anime and play it with a straight face…

      • Leon_Tekashi

        Let me add on to that. Corpse Party + Zero Escape + Ace Attorney + Persona (In a sense.)

  • Mugiwara

    Danganronpa is sooooooooo gooooood. And thanks to the anime, many people discovered this masterpiece. Please, support these series so we can play the second game and luckly the third game!!!

  • DigiWing

    Also to those wondering, the game is much much better than the anime, as the anime is quite rushed. If you haven’t seen the anime yet I strongly suggest playing the game instead. And if you have seen it, well, play the game anyway :)

    • AlteisenX

      The anime from what I saw was basically like the dot.hack one that was released for G.U (or people just ripped the scenes?) and felt very empty. The game definitely opens up a lot more (in the case of books vs. movies type of thing)

    • xe7en

      Haven’t seen the anime but I’ve heard it was lacking. Good to know that I’ve finished the fan translated version of the game before I check the anime out.

      I’ve finished the game itself around 15-20 hours (I think). So knowing each arch length they must’ve had a hard time cramming it into 13 eps. I guess danganronpa falls into the mediocre videogame-to-anime adaptation category.

  • Randgriz

    I hope EU gets some of this

    • laoni

      We do indeedy, and *gasp* only 3 days later!

      • Ash_Riot

        Makes you wonder how NIS America do so well with this and yet other certain games are taking AGES to come over here,

  • Shippoyasha

    Slightly disappointed that they are releasing Danganronpa 1 and 2 separately but they got it in dual audio. Which is awesome and well appreciated! Can’t wait to get it!

  • Mirai

    Dangan Ronpa was indeed a great game it still pains me a little however to see the title “Super High School Level” localised into just “Ultimate” in the NISA version.

    • MXC

      I think its because that would be difficult to fit into the text boxes due to a character limit. 22 vs 8 is. Though I can sympathize as well.

      • Kumiko Akimoto

        But the fan translators did it or did the standards change from the psp to the vita?

  • Tiramii

    I played the PSP version a few weeks ago and loved it. I also ended up preordering this back when I didn’t have a Vita. Now that I do, I’m excited for this game. <3

  • Earthjolly

    I avoided the anime like the plague to get the full experience from the game

    • Yeah, I’ve also avoided spoilers of any kind too.

  • alixraen

    I enjoyed Zero Escape but I’m not a huge fan of guro/gore but I also
    want to see this game do well…should I pick it up? Does it focus more
    on the Ace Attorney type stuff or the Corpse Party type stuff?

    • Laith Rem

      It’s more focused on the investigation stuff but it does have some gruesome things here and there. It’s a murder mystery after all.

    • Bacon_n_Lettuce

      It’s not that gruesome. There’s really no detailed text descriptions of the gore, as it takes a more forensic point of view of the murder scenes. There are full images of the bodies, but the shock value is more in the atmosphere than the visuals (and the blood is really trippy and neon, more stylish than grotesque).

      • alixraen

        Pre-ordered. :)

  • Eric Harris

    Seeing as how it’s an adventure text/mystery game only. Seems kinda lame that there isn’t full voice acting. You say the atmospheric music is great, it’s too bad they had to ruin that with repeated “phrases” instead of voice acting. This saved me from buying it day one, thank you.

    • DyLaN

      The trial segments are fully voice acted. And there are some mini games in between the trial segments as well.

  • Detrimont

    Can’t wait to play it again(this time in official english)

  • Laith Rem

    I hope the dub is above average, it’s what I am looking forward the most.

  • Kornelious

    I was gonna get the limited edition for this, but I never really played a game like this so i probably shouldn’t sink too much money into it…

  • 3PointDecoupage

    So its Japanese Saw? Im sold. Is it gory?

    • Detrimont

      yes and no, in some parts, there is a lot(kinda) of blood(which is neon pink(which imo, is more shocking)), otherwise, not really, as the executions are kind of comedic

    • Hunts Rattata

      Most of the executions and murder scenes are relatively tame. The very first execution is pretty brutal, though.

  • AlteisenX

    I can’t wait to compare the fan translation and the official one. I know for a fact I already dislike a few of the English voices, but its more of that “Oh, you read the book before the movie, the movie won’t be as good” but instead “Oh, you played the japanese version first, English voices will sound bad” thing. Once you get used to a voice, its hard to put another voice in that characters visual representation.

    I hope it sells really well to warrant the sequel’s translation by NISA. I’m dying to see what happens next.

    • fireguardiancoty

      I think part of it depends on who the original actor was. If it was someone like say…Norio Wakamoto, then it’d be pretty hard to find a suitable English voice.

  • JunHoward

    Played it, finished it, and am not disappointed with the story at all. I’m looking forward to playing the sequel when my japanese’s good enough or at least when the fan translation is complete (if there’s any like the first one).

  • Learii

    do we have to aim and shoot something? in this game

  • xe7en

    I somehow miss the true villain of the story already (* ̄(エ) ̄*) … I’d probably get this once it comes out. It will take some adjustments since I’ve played the fan translated version but you gotta show some appreciation for them to include the original jp voice.

  • Bacon_n_Lettuce

    I’m really curious to see how NISA’s version compares to the Project Zetsubou translation. It was probably the best fan translation I’ve ever seen in terms of writing quality, localization choices, and overall fidelity, and really carried a strong sense of personality. I’m almost hesitant to play through any other version, but perhaps NISA will surprise me.

  • michel

    If you are a “nonary player”, I would strongly recommend this game. You won’t put down your Vita until the case is resolved.

    • Mugiwara

      Nonary Player… I see what you did. :P

  • I’m anxious to hear what they did with MK’s voice. Hopefully it’s tolerable enough to not make me switch the language to Japanese.

  • Yan Zhao

    Im kinda sad I watched the anime already since I didnt even know it was based on a game when I did it, so now I know everything, but to those that both played the game and saw the anime, do the game at least go beyond that horrible pointless-cliffhanger ending that the anime had?

    • Mugiwara

      Let’s say that the game-anime thing is like to book-movie thing. Play the game, it’s better. And I don’t know how to answer you without spoilers for others.

      • Yan Zhao

        Well at least you’re implying that theres stuff to spoil, meaning theres got to be more stuff. Guess I’ll be checking the game out.

        • Mugiwara

          Yeah there is. I mean, the anime needed to be rushed, a lot, so there are some details that they forgot to put. And in the game you can befriend the characters in the Free Time part of the game. Like Persona 4.

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