The PlayStation Vita is a dying console. That much is certain as we head into a new gaming era dominated by virtual reality and incremental console upgrades. Sony dug the grave themselves thanks to bad timing, poor hardware decisions and the eventual total lack of first-party support, but the powerful handheld is home to countless unique games from the graphical behemoth Killzone Mercenary to the endearingly retro Downwell. For a lot of PS Vita fans, the system has become synonymous with visual novel titles, chief of which is the Danganronpa series from developer Spike Chunsoft.
The murder-mystery franchise exploded in Japan, and whilst it hasn’t seen quite the same level of success in the West, those who have played it know how special it is. Thankfully, Sony is throwing the series a lifeline with the recent launch of Danganronpa 1.2 Reload on PlayStation 4 – a re-release of the first two Vita titles – plus the upcoming dual release of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony on PS4 and PS Vita.
Danganronpa is unique in that it successfully fuses a hard-hitting subject matter with a light, comical tone and a varied cast of characters. The first title, Trigger Happy Havoc, takes place in Hope’s Peak Academy, where you assume the role of Makoto Naegi, an altogether average student mixed in with a bunch of ‘ultimate’ students. The catch? Hope’s Peak Academy is not a real school, and the menacing headteacher – a black and white teddy bear called Monokuma – tasks the students with one objective: successfully kill one other student without being discovered to graduate from the school.
If all of this sounds completely insane, that’s because it absolutely is. The murder-mystery plot unfolds following the first killing, and thanks to the delightful cast of characters, the narrative races along without ever outstaying its welcome. Spike Chunsoft has created one of the most memorable villains in recent memory with Monokuma, an endearing, funny and yet altogether unsettling character brought to life with outstanding dialogue.
The rest of the cast is similarly unique, with the ‘Ultimate Fanfic Writer’ Hifumi Yamada providing much of the comic relief, and the ‘Ultimate Affluent Progeny’ Byakuya Togami preferring to antagonise and belittle his fellow students, and as such is often the first to be suspected of murder.
Each murder culminates into the star of the show, the Class Trial. All remaining students gather to assess the evidence at hand in sequences very reminiscent of Pheonix Wright – everything you’ve found out during the prior investigation is vital to the trial as you work to whittle down the potential suspects and discover the true killer. All of this is complimented by a stellar soundtrack that shifts tone at exactly the right moments, creating the perfect sense of mystery, fear and excitement.
If you have yet to experience Danganronpa on the PS Vita, I urge you to give it another shot on the PS4. It’s certainly not a game for everyone – you no doubt already know whether or not a visual novel will appeal to you – but in a landscape littered with FPS and open-world titles, Danganronpa is a refreshingly unique, complete experience that will engross you from beginning to end. Just try not to get too attached to any of the characters.