Danganronpa 1.2 Reload
PS4, £34.99, Out Now
(Please note, this review will contain minor spoilers on the premise of both games included in 1.2 Reload. Read on at your bear-il, puhuhuhu!)
Some people say that school is the best time of your life. With a wealth of knowledge at your disposal, countless friends, plenty of free time and few responsibilities, it's easy to see why. At first glance, the students of Hope's Peak Academy have it easy. They don't have to attend classes, they've got access to swimming pools, beaches, stacked libraries and convenience stores and they can essentially do whatever they'd like. Sounds like a dream, right? Well... not quite.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a two-pack consisting of 2010's Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and 2012's direct sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. As alluded to earlier, both games focus on a class of high school students, albeit a particularly unique set of students. The school is invite only, taking only the very best pupils. These pupils are known as the pinnacle of their respective fields and have thus been dubbed as "Ultimates" - they range from more banal fields such as "Ultimate Programmer", "Utimate Baseball Star" or "Ultimate Gymnast" to slightly more esoteric titles such as "Ultimate Lucky Student" or "Ultimate Moral Compass". However, despite the idyllic school life presenting to these Ultimates, school life is by no means easy for them as they've been embroiled in the Killing Game ran by a stuffed bear known as Monokuma.
Trigger Happy Havoc sees the students trapped inside Hope's Peak Academy whilst its sequel has the class stranded on a tropical island known as Jabberwock Island. Monokuma - more on him later - tells the class that the only way to escape is by successfully murdering one of their classmates and then surviving a class trial as an innocent party. Whilst any normal individual might resist such a horrible game, Monokuma speeds things along by offering up "motives" in the form of divulging information about the character's personal lives or the predicament they find themselves in. With the stage set, the game is afoot.
Both games are visual novels at heart, but the game isn't simply just a text scroller. The game allows you to roam Trigger Happy Havoc's Hope's Peak or the sequel's Jabberwock Island, interacting with the characters or searching for clues during your investigation phase or attempting to unravel the truth during the class trials. Think Ace Attorney's gameplay loop, and you're more or less there. Danganronpa's trials are far more fast-paced then Ace Attorney's equivalent, though. Rather than simply presenting a piece of evidence to blow holes in statements, Danganronpa asks you to literally blow holes through testimonies and provides a reticule and "Truth Bullets" to do so. Select the correct Truth Bullet, find a weak point in the testimony and fire away - whilst at its core it's no different to Ace Attorney's trial system, by allowing for an extra level of control the trials zip along at a fair pace and consequently feel more tense than a plain old courtroom trial.
The trials aren't all good, sadly. Besides the main Truth Bullet sections, the trials also comprise of a number of mini-games where you'll either focus inwardly on a tricky problem or square off mano a mano with more stubborn classmates to push the trial onwards. Some of these work brilliantly - the Panic Talk Action segments, the aforementioned one-on-one debates, take the form of a rhythm game. It's genuinely a lot of fun tapping away furiously trying to power through the flawed logic of your opponent. Goodbye Despair expands on this with Rebuttal Showdowns, which are similar premises but sees you slashing through the opponent's statements with the analogue stick rather than tapping away.
However, a lot of these mini-games simply just bog down the pace of the trial segments. Logic Dive is basically a snowboarding segment as you rocket down a Tronesque tunnel and whilst it's more involved than the worst offender, it simply overstays its welcome. The worst offender is known as Hangman's Gambit, a mode in which you fire at letters that lazily drift across the screen to spell out a word pertaining to the case. This can be assuaged by pressing the fast-forward button, but more often than not this results in missing out on vital letters or having them clash with each other, ending up in a depleted life bar. This leaves you with either a deathly dull wait for the necessary letters or a frustrating juggling act. Thankfully, these games are quarantined to Goodbye Despair, so Trigger Happy Havoc's trials are still cracking affairs.
Having said that, games such as these live or die by their overall story and characters so a blip or two in how it plays is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. As you'd expect, with a cast of characters known as the best in their field, the game does not disappoint with its cast. Whilst the protagonists of both games fall more into the everyman role - Trigger Happy Havoc's Makoto won entry to the school through a lottery and Goodbye Despair's Hajime is an amnesiac) - the remaining cast are a veritable menagerie of madness. Some personal standouts include the wonderful arrogant asshole Byakuya Togami, the unpredictable Nagito Komaeda and the stoic Kyoko Kirigiri. The game allows for free time before each investigation to unravel some of these character's backstories and to simply spend time with them. This freedom is fortunate as whilst some of the cast are so terrific that gravitating towards them feels only natural, some of the cast fall flat either through being one-note caricatures (looking at you, Hifumi) or by not having enough time to shine by merit of the Killing Game. On another note, the cast is fully voice acted during the trial scenes. The performances are generally good, but some veer into spectacular territory. One endgame performance in Trigger Happy Havoc (naming the character would be to unload a barrage of spoilers, but if you've played the game before you should know who I'm referring to) was genuinely spellbinding, and Goodbye Despair is full of similarly captivating performances.
Of course, there's only one star of the show in 1.2 Reload - Monokuma. Easily the best character in the game, the stuffed tyrant improves any scene he's present in through his quips and threats. It's ludicrous on paper to think that a monochromatic stuffed bear outshines a cast such as this, but it's through the strength of his writing and the voice performance provided by Brian Beacock that this is possible. Monokuma sounds like a cross between a Saturday morning cartoon character and a serial killer, with some lines coming across as chirpy as Mickey Mouse in a Disney feature film or oozing with as much malice as Hannibal Lecter pouring himself a nice glass of Chianti.
Being the mastermind of the Killing Game, it's Monokuma that keeps the plot itself moving along. Both Hope's Peak and Jabberwock Island are of full mysteries for the class to unravel, with both locales alluding to a darker hidden meaning to the Killing Game. The twists and reveals uncovered in Trigger Happy Havoc are on a whole more shocking than the reveals in Goodbye Despair, which is likely down to Hope's Peak setting being grounded in the reality of a fairly normal high school meaning any twists are more shocking by comparison. The story told through the class trials themselves are never so far-fetched as to require a massive leap in logic, but as mentioned previously the first game's trials are better paced by excluding those dreaded minigames. On a whole, the game's plot is compelling enough to keep interest rolling, and personally I had to keep playing both games until I got to the truth of the Killing Games.
Minigames blips aside, this is a strong combo pack for fans of visual novels and adventure games. Its overall premise and cast of characters are strong enough to hold the game up by themselves and the gameplay in the trials keeps the pace zipping along, which should help those dissuaded by the generally slower gameplay of the visual novel adventure genre. There's a lot of bang for your buck here.
Reviewed by James "Jay" Moyles. This review code was kindly provided free of charge, but this did not colour any of the views expressed in the review above.