Bright futures at Hope’s Peak Academy turn to despair when the students are locked inside and forced into a game of death, murder, and mistrust. Taking the general concept of the prisoner’s dilemma and working a fascinating mystery around it, Danganronpa quickly became a cult classic hit after its Japanese release on the PlayStation Portable in 2010. American audiences got their hands on the thrilling visual novel when it was ported to the Vita and localized in early 2014, where it saw critical success with many high scoring reviews.
Danganronpa 2 was similarly a Japanese exclusive game, but as English interest in the franchise grew, the 2012 PSP release was localized for English speaking audiences as a Vita release in late 2014. Lauded as a brilliant follow up to the dark and despair-inducing narrative of the first, the second title in the series received critical acclaim as well for continuing with the themes introduced and upping the ante on many of the twisting mysteries that it contained. English speaking audiences who don’t have a Vita are finally getting the chance to play both with Danganronpa 1&2 Reload, a collection that brings both games to console, specifically the PS4.
If you’ve never played a Danganronpa game before, they sit somewhere at the intersection of Persona, Zero Escape, and Phoenix Wright. There’s quite a bit of reading to do — they are visual novels after all — but the writing is smart and quick witted, which helps you get a deeper sense of each character. This becomes crucial moving into the murder and trial portions of each game, both in the attachment that you’ll feel to certain characters, and the small details that the story has sprinkled throughout to let the twists and turns of each murder trial come to light, yet not give away the answer until the final moments of deliberations.
When I reviewed Danganronpa 2 on the Vita (shortly after having played the first game), I was struck by how notable each character’s personality was. Though many of them are killed off through the course of the story, it’s rarely set up in such a way that you can easily guess who will die or who does the killing. Every character is written evenly and given the opportunity to shine in their own particular style until the moment that Danganronpa’s iconic bright pink blood is seen covering their body.
In fact, the juxtaposition between the cutesy anime art style and the dark themes and circumstances lend even more of a weight to the series. No punches are pulled, and you had better believe that even some of the characters you grow to love the most will either be killed off in horrific ways or be found out as a killer themselves, and subsequently killed off in calculatedly sadistic ways as punishment.
The master of ceremonies for this depraved contest is the terrifyingly adorable Monokuma, a black and white stuffed bear with a penchant for showing up at inopportune times and making light of the death and confusion at hand. Fitting in perfectly with the rest of the character extremes, and he himself being a physical embodiment of the very duality of hope and despair that the games each accomplish, Monokuma makes for an adept villain while at the same time turning these groups of high school students on each other.
As I noted in my review of Danganronpa 2 on the Vita, the games do start out a little on the slow end. They seek to set up enough of a background and foundation for players to gain an attachment to characters and a get a thirst for learning more about the mystery, but from the moment that the first student dies, the train picks up speed and never lets off as everyone’s trust erodes with one another and characters are progressively killed off.
While much of each game consists of reading the narration of the main character as well as dialog, the murder investigation and class trial portions do more to promote interactivity as you investigate each crime scene, and then use the information found during class trials to narrow down the circumstances surrounding the death and discover the identity of the killer. If the class fails, they will all be executed while the killer is allowed to walk free, so there’s a fair bit of incentive to get it right.
If you’ve played either or both of these games on Vita before, you won’t find anything different with Danganronpa 1&2 Reload, except that it’s on a TV screen. Actually, the move to larger screens reveals some inconsistencies in the textures and assets, with some being bizarrely low resolution. It certainly highlights that this is more of a port than any kind of significant upgrade for the PS4, but being an anime styled visual novel, high graphical fidelity is not something that would make or break it, so it’s little more than a minor annoyance. The real upgrade is that people without a Vita finally get to play Danganronpa.
I previously told all Vita owners that they owed it to themselves to play the Danganronpa games. With the move to PS4, I urge the same of all console owners. It’s really exciting that non-Vita players are finally getting a chance to play this series with Danganronpa 1&2 Reload. Even having played them through multiple times before, I found that I couldn’t put the controller down as I experienced them again on PS4, and not just because of my review. Though they start off a little slow, the pace at which they begin to move is exceptionally thrilling, and you’ll find yourself drawn in until the very end, especially if it’s your first time through. My hope is that you’ll give in to the despair that is Danganronpa.
Danganronpa 1&2 Reload review copy provided by publisher. For information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.