I’d never really considered visual novels as a genre of games I’d be particularly interested in. I felt like there wouldn’t be much actual ‘game’ there (whatever that means). But this one caught my attention when it turned up on Steam. Yes, I realise it has been around on PSP for years, but I wasn’t one of the 8 people that bought one of those. Anyway, a mystery investigation game with rhythm action and hangman elements sounded just a little bit too interesting to pass up. Also murderous teddy bears. Japan makes some weird games.
Evil teddy bear. Yep.
Without spoiling too much, the premise is that you wake up trapped in a school with a number of other students. You’re quickly told by Monokuma, the evil teddy bear, that if you can murder someone and get away with it, then you’ll be free to leave whilst everyone else will be executed. If you are caught out though, you will be executed. The different characters are very colourful with their own distinct personalities and quirks. This can make identifying the killer tricky at times once the murders start flying. Once a murder occurs, you’ll spend time investigating the crime scene and related locations, interviewing the other students and gathering information. Once you’re done, a trial takes place in which you have to piece together the evidence to find the killer.
The students range from great writers to bike gang leaders. All are interesting and well fleshed out, although some do slip a bit far into stereotype territory.
In reality, you’re guided through the trials by the other students. You need to think through your evidence and find something to disprove statements a bit like in Phoenix Wright, but there aren’t that many to work through at any one time. You can fail, but if you’re paying attention you’ll probably do alright. Occasionally it’s not too clear what piece of evidence you’re supposed to use, even though you know what you’re disproving which can be a bit annoying as you’re forced into explaining things in the exact way the game wants. When this happens you feel less like an investigator and more like a dog jumping through hoops. Sometimes you’ll have to complete a hangman puzzle or a bizarre rhythm action game involving shooting statements in time to a beat. These sections are the weakest part of the game in my opinion and the rhythm action section doesn’t seem to fit too well into the theme.
Each case is distinct from the others, with their own twists and attempts to misdirect you.
The cases will drive you forward in the overall plot as to why you’re even in the school in the first place, and why there’s a teddy telling you to murder each other. It’s engaging and I found myself wanting to find out what was going on. I feel like the game was very linear though. I’m not too familiar with visual novels, but I was hoping for multiple endings or different routes through the game, with differing survivors. It’s still very good as it is, but I don’t feel there’s much replay value after having finished it.
Why hello friendly lady!
Danganronpa was developed and published by Spike Chunsoft (although Abstraction Games dealt with the PC port). I played the game on PC and would recommend it if you’re looking for a good story without too much challenge.