Time for some Dengin Flangan Romper Rumpus, everyone’s favorite video game in which a robot bear convinces a bunch of high schoolers to start killing each other.
Or maybe I should just say… everyone’s favorite video game? Right? I’m probably right.
Dangan Ronpa is a fun game to explain to people. Basically, a bunch of high school students are enrolled into Japan’s elite academy for teens who are the very best at whatever specific talent they happen to have. The best baseball player, the best pop star, the best novelist, the best computer programmer, and so on. The protagonist Makoto Naegi is the exception, in that he is simply the “ultimate lucky student” (i.e. he won the random drawing). As you can imagine, he is a fish out of water–a normal kid among a variety of highly unusual prodigies.
Things at this academy play out even stranger than expected however, when the principal turns out to be none other than Monokuma, a sadistic monochrome bear-bot that locks everyone in the school. The only way to “graduate,” he explains, is to murder a classmate… and get away with it! A class trial is held for the surviving students to work out who the culprit is. If the final vote is accurate, the perpetrator gets executed–but if everyone guesses wrong, the smooth criminal goes free and everyone else gets to die instead. Fun times! They weren’t kidding when they said high school in Japan is killer!
How does the game actually play? The vast majority of the story takes the form of a visual novel, so you’ll be reading lots of text. However, once a murder takes place, you will have to search through the school for clues (akin to a 1st-person adventure game). Inspect everything suspicious and talk to all your classmates. Then, when it’s time for the trial, everyone will start throwing out accusations at each other. It’s up to you to use the on-screen cross-hairs to shoot down specific sentences that fly across the screen, choosing from various bullets labeled with various counter-arguments. Very unique and engaging way of going through a trial in a video game! You have to really get all your facts straight and use your head a bit to figure out what discrepancies are being spouted, and pick out the correct pieces of evidence at your disposal to prove your classmates wrong.
There are a number of mini-games to spice things up a bit as well. One is a variation of hangman that Makoto uses to bring up something new he has realized about the crime, and another is a sort of rhythm game that has you standing firm in your resolve against a classmate who has lost it and won’t listen to reason. They’re a bit silly, but I liked them well enough. My favorite mini-game though is the one at the end of each trial, in which you fill in the missing panels of a graphic novel that shows step-by-step how the elaborate murder was committed. If you would prefer to just focus on the story and not be challenged by these activities, the game is nice enough to give difficulty options for both the logic and the skill-based aspects involved in progressing through each trial.
What stands out the most in this title is, without a doubt, the story and its colorful cast of characters. Dangan Ronpa is a work of detective fiction which entails not only the whodunits of each chapter, but also the overarching mysteries surrounding the academy, Monokuma, and the purpose behind the bear’s killing game. The story works really well at keeping you guessing, and there are quite a few huge plot twists that keep things exciting from beginning to end.
There are fifteen characters that make up the class of students in this battle royale, and each one of them is… memorable, to say the least. The character designs are certainly some of the best I’ve seen in a game, and their eccentric personalities work perfectly for the type of story Dangan Ronpa aims to deliver. It’s fun to get to know them, and you can choose which ones to spend free time with and learn more about in-between chapters. Everyone who plays this game ends up with their personal favorites, but considering the nature of this game’s story… Well, let’s just say you shouldn’t be surprised if some of them get killed–or worse, become killers themselves (and are subsequently executed, provided you don’t game over). Though the game is exceptionally quirky, it’s also more than happy to dive headfirst into rather dark territory. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, and you’ll despair!
Or… will you? Will you give in to despair, or will you persevere and become a beacon of hope, solving all the mysteries needed to overcome Monokuma’s cruel game of life and death? It’s all as dramatic and ridiculous as it sounds… and it’s awesome. If you’re interested in storytelling through the video game medium at all, you’ll be doing yourself a big favor by giving Dangan Ronpa a shot! Pull the trigger!
More positive points I didn’t get into:
- Fantastic soundtrack! I love the music for this game.
- The graphics aren’t anything special, but damn, the presentation is top-notch. Very interesting “pop-up book” style for all the rooms you explore.
- Best character
- For those who want something more to do after the game is completed, a bonus “school mode” is included: a sort of life-sim time management game that gives an alternate story to go through, and more time to interact with all the characters.
- For the record, I was able to figure out most of the whodunits easily enough, but there was still a good challenge to be had in working out all the specifics in each case. Also, some of the biggest reveals in the overarching story took me completely by surprise–but never in a way that felt cheap or random. All in all Dangan Ronpa was an impressive read, even managing to work in a theme I felt was quite nice for a video game. And at the very end, I liked how– (shot)
(Header artwork by Mikomizu)