As someone trained in rhetoric and debate, I've always found a certain subtle thrill in picking apart the arguments of others.
I'm aware that not everyone shares my proclivities, but Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc makes the process of debate exciting from start to finish.
And that's not just because your counterpoints take the form of 'Truth Bullets', or because whoever loses the debate is usually put to death - although, that certainly keeps Danganronpa from getting dull.High school is hell
Before we dive into the game, you need to know that Danganronpa is a murder mystery.
As such, characters you like may die, and the killers - also characters - are brought to justice and executed themselves. Think of it like your basic George R.R. Martin drill and you'll be good to go.
Danganronpa's pretty inflexible about who dies and when, however, so square yourself with this inflexibility and you'll enjoy it more.
You'll also need to square yourself with the fact that Danganronpa is a visual novel, which means there are about 30 hours of reading to get through. Happily, the text is broken up by investigation sequences reminiscent of Zero Escape, and each chapter is punctuated with a Phoenix Wright-style debate session.
Still on board? You should be. Danganronpa has a lot to offer patient players.
Danganronpa's story kicks off in a mysterious high school for the uber-privileged where a gaggle of 15 disparate teenagers find themselves trapped and at the mercurial mercy of a sadistic two-toned teddy bear named Monokuma.
They quickly learn that the only hope they have of escape is to murder a fellow student and get away with it. If they're unmasked as the murderers, however, they'll face a gory and unsettling death at the hands of Monokuma.
Fittingly, it takes the otherwise innocent students some time to build up to the murdering - but when they do, Danganronpa really starts to clip along.
Unfortunately, it takes it about three hours before this happens and the pacing of the story is positively glacial beforehand.Peer reviewed
Before the murders happen, you're given 'Free Time' segments which you can use to bond with Danganronpa's cast of characters. The more you bond, the more skills you can add to your repertoire for trials and debates, so it pays to be sociable.
It's also important that you dive into this aspect of Danganronpa, because it's about the only way to pass the time between murders. Each day that there isn't a death tests your patience far more than it builds an atmosphere of tension.
These pre-investigation sections are by far the weakest part of Danganronpa.
Once a murder happens, there's a student-led investigation followed by a trial.
And at this point, Danganronpa becomes a different game entirely, and a much better one.
Each fact you collect during an investigation becomes a Truth Bullet which you literally fire at inaccuracies or falsehoods in your classmates' statements.
These trials also feature interactive word hunts along with fast-paced Bullet Time Battles - enjoyable, encapsulated rhythm game sections where you shoot down filibusters from recalcitrant students.
Fair warning to new players: the trial at the end of the first chapter is rather simple, with a laughably obvious solution, but don't let this turn you off of Danganronpa. The trials and mysteries in subsequent chapters amp up the difficulty noticeably and provide some pleasingly mind-bending plot twists.Pull the trigger
When the post-debate dust settles, Danganronpa is a strikingly beautiful game.
The various characters are diverse enough that you can readily tell them apart, but they're unified enough in design that they all feel like they belong in the same world. Better still, each one brings a signature brand of humour to the otherwise oppressive murder mystery atmosphere of the game.
Danganronpa also handles like an absolute treat on the Vita with touchscreen controls and joystick schemes both available to suit your playing style.
Most enjoyable, however, are the free-roaming sections through the halls of Hope's Peak Academy which are a particularly welcome departure from the cumbersome, grid-based navigation standard to many other visual novels.
With all this in mind, however, Danganronpa ultimately feels like you're nodding off on a rollercoaster.
Just when you've had your fill with the directionless and tedious intermezzos, Danganronpa pulls out all the stops and tosses you into pulse-pounding interrogation scenes where your character's life hangs in the balance.
It's a bit frustrating that you're led through the plot with very little influence on the direction it takes, but the drama, action, and storytelling presented in the halls of Hope's Peak Academy combine make this one a surefire crowd-pleaser for the intellectually inclined Vita owner.