DanganRonpa: Murder Is Afoot. What Will You Do?

By Jack . February 15, 2014 . 5:00pm

It finally happened. Murder is afoot at Hope’s Peak Academy, and Makoto Naegi, the Ultimate Lucky Student, is fortunate enough to be the prime suspect. Now it’s my job to help him investigate the crime scene and defend himself in a class trial, or he’ll face execution.


Since DanganRonpa is a very story-heavy game, I’m going to keep spoilers at an absolute minimum here. No killers or victims shall be named, and details to the crime will be as a vague as possible. Those discoveries are half the fun, so I’m definitely not going to ruin them.


Now I’m an unreasonably devout Ace Attorney fan, so when I heard that DanganRonpa shares some elements with the series I got pretty excited. Are they similar? Well, yes and no. It’s got investigations and courtroom battles, but there’s some interesting twists that make DanganRonpa stand out.


Before Makoto can prepare his defense, he needs to look over the crime scene for clues. Investigations work the same way as the rest of the game up to this point: first person view with a cursor to select objects. It’s a pretty standard affair, and works just like an Ace Attorney game. A nice touch is that you can press the triangle button at any time and circles will appear around all interact able objects. No pixel hunts here.


Perhaps the biggest difference between Ace Attorney and DanganRonpa’s investigations is the pacing. Within minutes of looking around, I had amassed a sizeable pile of evidence (referred to as ‘Truth Bullets’ in the game) to peruse. It makes sense, as Monokuma has given “whenever I feel like it” as the deadline for starting the trial, so there’s no time to waste.


With so much happening, it can feel like an overload of information. Mercifully, you’re free to check Makoto’s electronic handbook at any time for some review. It’s important to be aware of all the facts too, as the game assumes you’re paying attention to every bit of info. There’s so much information, in fact, I felt like I had figured everything out a little over halfway into the investigation.


DanganRonpa is a different flavor to the video game murder mysteries I’m accustomed to. While you can certainly figure things out ahead of time in Ace Attorney games, there’s usually at least one revelation waiting in court that’s hard to see coming. In DanganRonpa’s first case, I managed to identify who the killer was, how the murder went down, and the way the evidence was hidden. The first chapter is a little simple, sure, but I was surprised at how detailed all of the evidence was. After collecting every clue I could find, Monokuma announced that court was ready to convene.


Before the trial officially begins, you’re given some prep time to review all your evidence. I really like that this opportunity exists, because to me it says that the developers actually want you to have things figured out beforehand. Makoto’s no Phoenix Wright, DanganRonpa’s court rides a consistent train of logic; no bluffs, magic powers, or sudden revelations are required.


Court began with a Nonstop Debate, a group discussion about the murder, and I had to point out any inconsistencies with evidence, Ace Attorney style. Unlike Ace Attorney, however, there are a few added twists. The conversation moves in real-time and will continue whether you spot a fault or not, meaning that you have to be on your toes and familiar with the evidence. Every debate loads you up with a couple pieces of evidence, and from there you have to figure out which one to fire at a statement.


I mean “fire at a statement” literally, by the way. Statements have to be manually aimed at, and since the conversation is always moving, you have to be careful not to miss. In addition to aiming, firing the gun has a delay to it. Often I had figured out the correct statement to shoot, but reacted too slowly and had to repeat the discussion. Thankfully this isn’t a huge deal, as conversations can be accelerated—complete with squeaky sped-up voices —and the time limit for repeating discussions is quite forgiving.


Nonstop debates aren’t the only trick DanganRonpa’s sleeve, however. To mix things up, Makoto is often asked to answer multiple choice questions, present evidence, and play various mini games like Hangman’s Gambit. Despite being a simple mechanic, I really enjoyed answering the questions. They often force you to recall a tiny detail that wasn’t explicitly shoved in your face, providing good motivation to always be paying attention. Hangman’s Gambit has you shoot different letters to fill in blanks on a word, and while it’s interesting, sometimes the word is too shorthanded or vague for the mechanic to be completely intuitive.


My favorite variation is the closest thing the game gets to boss fights. This being a class trial, it’s not exactly being run by professionals. The best moderator we’ve got is Monokuma, and he’s more than happy to allow emotional breakdowns and wild accusations. If someone gets out of control, you have no choice but to fight back. That’s where “Bullet Time Battles” come in.


When a classmate goes on a verbal tirade, things switch to a rhythm game where you have to time your button presses correctly in beat with the music. Your opponent’s insults act like bullets that fly towards you, and you have to lock onto and destroy them with good timing. It’s a great way to portray the verbal battle, and it’s sweetened by the finish. One last contradictory statement will fly at you in slow motion, and can only be destroyed with the correct evidence. Firing off that last truth bullet for the death blow is extremely satisfying.


If I had to make one complaint about the court sections, it’s that the balance between its logic and action aspects seems a little skewed. Neither element is particularly difficult, especially in the first chapter, but I spent a lot more time trying to shoot the statement I wanted rather than figuring out which one needed to be shot. One reason this might be is that the evidence pool you’re given is pretty small, so it’s easy to deduce what evidence is going to be important, as well as what kind of statements to keep an eye on.


In fact, I’d highly recommend cranking the difficulty level up for your playthrough. This allows less room for error, more evidence to pick from, and a few other bells and whistles to raise the stakes. The game often gives you a taste of the highest difficulty whenever it introduces a new concept, and I found myself wishing I had played through the whole game that way.


Imperfections aside, the class trial was by far the strongest section of DanganRonpa. There’s never a dull moment here, and the gun aesthetic makes things interactive in a way I wouldn’t expect from a visual novel. That’s not to say the rest of the game is bad at all, but rather they all serve as build up to the main course. It’s a climax that’s frenetic, rewarding, and wholly unique.


Food for Thought:


1. My advice for the trials is to be calm and take your time. Unless the answer is blatantly obvious, hear every conversation through at least once before firing an answer. Don’t be fooled by the big scary numbers counting down—you’ve got plenty of time.


2. There’s a concentration mode that slows down time, making it way easier to hit statements and figure things out. It’s so helpful that I couldn’t decide if it felt like cheating or not. It doesn’t seem required though, so I can deal with it.


3. All of the class trials are fully voiced, a very welcome change compared to the repetitive voice clips featured everywhere else.

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  • iamakii

    Dang! My wallet’s gonna be empty with all these JRPGs.

    • Andrew Arndt

      this is a VN not a jrpg…

      • urbanscholar

        As my first VN game I’m rather surprised at all the game genres blending together.

        • Shippoyasha

          Yeah, some VNs do a great job at splicing together genres. Danganronpa combines court drama, dating sims, detective/crime drama and suspense effortlessly.

          • Lumi

            And the rhythm thing and shooting the words thing. Thankfully, those parts can be dumbed down for those of us who just want to focus on the plot and crime solving.

      • k.b.a.

        wait this is a VN?!

        • Not genuine one, but yes, Danganronpa is a Visual Novel (Date-sim) with some action-packed elements, including: shooting words with correct arguements, rhytm mini-game and so on. :) Personally I give this game a 90 out of 100. Still playing School Mode. Hope this helps! And sorry for ban English :(

        • greeeed


        • Lumi

          It’s a murder mystery VN with puzzle solving, kind of like Ace Attorney

  • アティ

    Murder is Afoot. What will you do?
    Simple. “SORE WA CHIGAU YO!”

    • DeAndre Atchison

      If only you could do that to everyone who’s lies you pointed out.

    • Shade DMessiah

      Better yet,

    • Wrathful

      If only you could do that to Byakuya for real, it would’ve been quite relieving.

      The only fact I’m not happy about the game is the character I like dying on the first chapter.

    • Kenny Loh


    • Kumiko Akimoto

      If only that happened in the game

    • Mochi

      Poor Togami.

  • Mirai

    The first class trial is damn easy compared to the other trials for example Jack here hasn’t even mentioned White Noise lines that pop-up on the screen to interfere when you try to shoot a statement.
    Overall Dangan Ronpa is an excellent game and for you Jack your despair has only just begun.

    • natchu96

      Yeah, oftentimes when I lose in Danganronpa it’s not because I can’t figure out the answer . . . it’s actually getting the shot in properly on a moving target with white noise everywhere.

  • k.b.a.

    i can’t seem to turn left or right for two days without hearing about this title. this isn’t a cue for you to say “because it’s so good!” take into account genre preference before spouting

    • Shippoyasha

      If you weren’t a fan of VNs, games like this and Steins; Gate will make sure you become one. I agree about genre preferences but if you can play stuff like text heavy western PC adventure games, you are likely able to enjoy this one.

      • planetofthemage

        I’m actually not a VN fan — I’m into action games. But games like this, 999 and Ever17 are special. They can suck you in on more than a “I like this because I like VN’s” level.

        • Shippoyasha

          I can kind of see that because some VNs go for a more of an adventure type of feel. But it’s a big ocean of VNs out there. It’s not a small, singular type of game genre even during the genre’s infancy. Not to mention most other types of genres in Japan are starting to pickup VN mechanics as well. I never understood why liking Visual Novel format is something to be looked down upon, even though I can understand not everyone will be up for very text/plot heavy games.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            ever 17 has adventure properties? I thought all of the infinity series were pure vns through and through

          • Shippoyasha

            They are but you are learning a lot about the backstory, the locales and a lot of the text elements probably can translate well into action segments. I suppose a lot of the Infinity series can be an adventure/text hybrid like Corpse Party if they so chose.

          • Kumiko Akimoto

            It probably could but isn’t it finished now?

  • Shade DMessiah

    Literally finished this about an hour or 2 ago. The game is amazing, point blank. After the first (Or second, if you’re good at this) trial, the game will not baby you anymore. If you try and just get through, you will fail. Pay full attention to every bit of evidence. Nonstop debates get harder when you have to use other peoples statements and when they give you multiple bullets. The Bullet time battles are actually the easiest thing to do. But yeah, i’m done.
    Oh yeah! This isnt important, but after every trial i had to stop playing the game for a while. Each trial has that (OMG WTF) moment that i have to sit and think about :p

  • Aaron Alcindor

    Like I am the only one who played the fan translated version a year back , Dangan Ronpa 1 feels like old news to me :(

    • Shippoyasha

      Good on the fan translation effort, though it was not quite like the Valkyria Chronicles 3 situation thankfully. Still worth buying the localized games and still worth being an active agent in making the third game happen (and the localization of course).

    • Kumiko Akimoto

      I played it but I still wanna play this.I can’t wait to go into danganronpa 2 fresh though

  • 無尽合体ブランタコブスキ

    Murder is a foot and I am justice’s shoe.

  • Eric Harris

    I wish I bought the LE when I had the chance. I was gonna pass on it, just didn’t think it was gonna be real good. Question, does part 2 use the same characters/continue the story? In other words is it beneficial for me to play the first one first?

    • Baka-Juice

      IF you’re asking about the second game’s relevance to the first then:
      As far as I know the second game shares subtle similarities to the first, such as the evil mascot monokuma, and a reference here and there to the prior game, but other than that it’s not a direct sequel, so it brings all new characters to the mix.
      That being said if you’re gonna play the second, play the first first. After playing it you’ll probably love the game as much as we all do, and fully appreciate what the second game has to offer.
      Damn I can’t wait for the next game….

      • Eric Harris

        I appreciate the info. I missed the LE because I was sick, and I just can’t buy a regular edition after missing the LE and won’t pay $90+ bucks for the LE now. Will just pretend the first one was never made.

        • Baka-Juice

          Got ya, or if your down with it you can watch the anime. Although its not as great as the game, it literally goes over everything the game does, crazy twists and all. It’s as if you played the game, but watched it instead…. yeah that’s about right :P

          • Lumi

            Agree with the anime part. It’s not as fun as solving the cases yourself, but the plot is 100% there.

      • SgtFrog

        the second game is direct sequel of the first.

        and i wont go with the detail. just wait until how mindblow the second game in fall

    • Mirai

      I strongly suggest you play the first game first otherwise there will be some parts of the second game’s story you won’t understand if you haven’t played the first one.

  • Demeanor

    Just popping up here a sec without reading the article or the comments (terrified of spoilers) to say I’m playing this game and it’s seriously awesome! This and zero escape go hand in hand, if you liked one, don’t miss the other!

  • xXDGFXx

    I’m glad they’re choosing a different variety of fonts to use, but for the love of god, please be consistent. From smooth, clean font to the out-of-place typewriter font.

  • RagingTiger44

    And here I thought it was some regular visual novel. Color me interested. I should check Ace Attorney while I’m at it.

  • Aerii

    After Phoenix Wright, I’m definitely not used to this type of mystery, where you’re given all the evidence up front. It made the trial itself pretty boring, since what is the point if you already know how the whole thing went down halfway through the investigation? Just ask me who the killer is.

    The evidence was a bit /too/ ample and the way you’re meant to interpret it is waay too simplistic. And I wouldn’t mind all of this if it felt like Makoto felt the same way. But because he doesn’t appear to make basic connections during his investigation (even without saying what the connection actually is) and everyone is constantly holding the idiot ball, I feel like I’m playing a total moron.

    Also, this voice acting isn’t very good. I’m used to watching anime dubbed, so that’s not my problem. The voices fit, but they sound flat, and redundant, and they’re usually stressing totally weird parts of the lines.

    But the game’s pretty and its aesthetic makes up for everything, so.

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