Danganronpa 1•2 Reload (Playstation 4 Review)
Danganronpa started its popularity in the west with the Something Awful forums Let’s Play by Orenronen before it exploded. That is, of course, relative. It’s a little bit more than a cult hit these days, spanning a sequel and spin-offs over various different media. It’s interesting to see how it’s come; from a Japanese-only release on the PlayStation Portable to a worldwide release on the PlayStation Vita, Danganronpa has finally hit the home console alongside its sequel in this bundle. The question is no longer “is it good?”, but rather “how good is the port?”
For those that are unfamiliar, both Danganronpa titles are visual novels that follow relatively average protagonists that have just started school at Hope’s Peak Academy. There, only the best of the best at their given talent may attend, featuring students such as the Ultimate Pop Sensation, Ultimate Nurse, or even the Ultimate Affluent Prodigy. Sadly, neither protagonist is having a good day as they find themselves trapped in a horrible situation. Makoto Naegi, protagonist of the first title, is locked in the school with his classmates and informed by series mascot and robot bear, Monokuma, and the only way out is to commit murder. Meanwhile, sequel protagonist Hajime Hinata is stuck on an island with a rabbit robot named Usami that wants everyone to be friends. Both situations culminate in a series of trials in which the protagonist must help uncover who the real murderer is, or everyone is dead.
While conceptually similar, readers may have noticed a bit of a curveball in the Danganronpa 2 description. Both titles in this bundle complement each other with a strong contrast. While the original release is somewhat more grounded, dark and tense, the sequel is rather goofy and eccentric. This might be a little jarring to begin with, but the aim of the game is sequel subversion and it works. Danganronpa 2 also has a really fantastic antagonist, but I can’t really comment more on them.
Mechanically, both games function similarly to the Ace Attorney/Phoenix Wright games where players investigate and then participate in a trial. There’s an additional phase in which daily activities will occur and players can spend that time bonding with the other characters. In the trials, players participate in a variety of minigames to finally uncover the murderer. These minigames can range from a simplified hangman to literally surfing Hajime’s synapses to piece clues together. The main meat of the trial gameplay takes place in a debate in which players load evidence in the forms of bullets and shoot weak points in the other characters’ dialogue. It’s also possible to extract these details to use as evidence against them. It’s interesting and nifty, and both games typically avoid falling into the trap of being a little bit too obtuse on what they evidence to expect. That’s something that plagues similar games, but there’s a more natural flow here.
Both titles also have a very distinct visual style, with Rui Komatsuzaki producing the concept art that brings the characters to life. In-game, each of the characters are displayed in a 2D style in a 3D environment, presented like cardboard cutouts that you can even explore from the side. The flat, colourful characters provide a strange, unnerving dissonance from the bleak backgrounds of the first game, while matching the offbeat and whimsical tone of the second. It’s a shame that these visuals aren’t presented very well in the new PlayStation 4 port. They can be a bit blurry or a little pixelated at times, and objects in the background will often not look too hot. Keep in mind that these are games first developed for the PlayStation Portable (480×272 resolution) before being remastered on the PlayStation Vita (960×544). It’s a real shame, but it’s somewhat understandable since this is just a port. On the plus side, it feels like many of the character portraits got reworked and those are what the players see most.
These issues with the art assets don’t really detract too much from the experience, and are easily overlooked once the drama hooks players in. It’s possible that the move to the bigger screen has just improved the immersion, as it feels easier to be drawn into the mystery.
As far as soundtracks go, both titles feature a rather gripping and tense one. There’s some occasional misses, but Masafumi Takada’s music certainly does enhance the experience dramatically. Key moments hit precisely because of the strength of the title’s soundtrack, though scenario writer Kazutaka Kodaka does deserve some credit for increasingly fleshing out the anime character stereotypes and making them believable.
With Reload providing both games, it’s worth noting that almost everything otherwise mentioned is pretty much identical. The fact that the title is a bundle could have been integrated better into the menus, but given that Danganronpa 2 has massive spoilers for the first, there’s little reason to be swapping between the games anyway.
We already know both titles are good games for anyone interested in murder mysteries or dark, tense videogames. They’ve been around for half a decade now, and there’s still more in the franchise on the way. With Danganronpa V3 hitting PlayStation 4 this year, Danganronpa 1•2 Reload is a fairly good gateway into the franchise’s strongest entries so far. What flaws it has seem small in comparison to the title itself.
Editor’s Note: This review was written by William Main. You can find him on Twitter @Crashscreen if you wish to discuss this murder mystery series.