This is a review of the exclusive Japanese PSP version of Danganronpa, the game will be released on PS Vita in North America and Europe sometime early 2014.
Danganronpa is a PSP game from the talented Japanese developers "Spike" it is described as a "High Speed Detective Action Game" it's also extremely difficult to pin with a specific genre tag.
The game follows the story of high school student "Makoto Naegi" We first meet Naegi as he is standing at the front gates of "Kibougamine Academy" (literally Hope's Peak Academy) on enrolment day. A fantastical high school for incredibly talented and gifted individuals, the high school itself is looked upon as a bastion of hope by the whole country. It is said that whomever attends Kibougamine Academy is "guaranteed success in life" however there are two requirements one must meet to be eligible for enrolment. Firstly you must be at the top of your class in every subject, and secondly you must be attending a high school.
However Naegi himself is just an average student, with average grades and average interests (as he points out numerous times himself) so how did he find himself at the front gates of Kibougamine Academy on enrolment day? Well pot-luck actually, he was selected randomly as part of a lottery to allow a average student the privilege of attending the Academy of hope, thus earning him the title of the "Super Duper High School Luckster".
All that I have mentioned above is just part of the prologue, the actual game itself however is full of trust, betrayal, hope, despair, life and death. For Kibougamine Academy is not all that it appears to be.
So without any major "spoilers" Naegi finds himself sealed within the confines of Kibougamine Academy, along with 14 other high school students, all of which have only just met one another for the first time that day. Though unlike Naegi they are anything but average, everyone of them are gifted and or talented in one way or another, such as "Sayaka Maizono" the "Super Duper High School Idol" "Celestia Ludenberg" the "Super Duper High School Gambler" and "Byakuya Togami" the "Super Duper High School Scion". The person keeping all of the students trapped within the academy is none other than the one calling themselves "The headmaster" of this "high school of despair" he is known as Monokuma, who appears as a small black and white teddy bear with a menacing red eye on the the left side of it's face. Monokuma explains to everyone that they are not only trapped within Kibougamine academy, but perpetually so, and the only way for them to leave is to "graduate" however in order for a student to graduate they must murder a fellow student.
Needless to say all of the students are put on edge by this sudden despairingly desperate development, the situation they have found themselves caught up in is seemingly "hopeless".
This is where Danganronpa shows its true colours. Over the course of the game you will be able to explore Kibougamine Academy in first person view, where you'll be able to "examine" objects and people in the environment in order to gain information about them and talk to your fellow students (as well as finding hidden "Monokuma coins" that can then be used to purchase "presents" that you can then give to your class-mates) It is essentially the core gameplay mechanic for making progress, the player is encouraged to talk with the other students in order to get to know them and gain "skill points" as well as special "skills" for use later on.
As the story unfolds Monokuma will provide certain "incentives" as well as coming up with various other methods as to encourage the students to commit a murder, despite each students best efforts, eventually the first murder occurs. Shortly after a body is discovered Monokuma will present to you all an item called the "Monokuma file" basically it is information provided by Monokuma himself to help you with the investigation. This then leads to the "investigation phase" where you, along with your fellow class-mates go about investigating the crime-scene, and other significant areas of the academy, as well as questioning one another in order to find motives and establish alibi's, all in order to procure evidence reffered to as "Ammunition" ascertaining to the real culprit, or as they are referred to in game, the real "Villain".
Once the investigation is over Monokuma will call for a "class trial" to be held, this is where the game shifts yet again. During class trials you will use "evidence" and "testimonies" you've gathered during the investigation phase in order to work out which one of you committed the murder. The class trials are typically made up of four "main" events, three of which reoccur during the class trial, the first is called "Non-Stop Discussion" which is done in real time, where each student will make either accusations, assumptions, contradictions and/or misinformation. These discussions are fully voice acted (although currently only in Japanese) but there is also written text flying by, so by using the evidence gained during the investigation phase you can "fire off" evidence in the form of written text that will break the weak point in a persons argument, use the wrong evidence however and you'll loose points, loosing all of your points will lead everyone to suspect you, leading to a game over.
The second event is called "Epiphany Anagram" Basically you are given a word with missing letters, your task is to shoot the correct letters that appear floating on the screen in order to complete the word. Simple enough but miss or hit the wrong letter and you will loose points.
The third event is called "Machine gun talk battle" which is essentially a "rhythm game" While matching the rhythm displayed by circles going from one side of the screen to the other, you'll press the triangle button in time with the rhythm so you can lock on to your suspects attempts to shift the blame, and/or undermine your credibility, then by pressing the X button in time with the rhythm you can than obliterate their statements, wearing them down until you can fire of your final piece of evidence that will mark them without a shadow of a doubt, as the real villain.
Then comes the 4th and final event "Climax Logic" here you'll be given a manga-esque reconstruction of how the murder actually played out, your task is to fill in the missing images with those provided to you at the bottom of the screen. Correctly piece together the events of the murder as it happened and then sit back and watch the whole thing play out in manga form, make a mistake however and you'll loose points.
If successful you'll have pieced together exactly how the murder was committed along with who committed it, resulting in the real villain receiving their "punishment" in the form of a over the top, tailor made execution performed in a 3D mini cutscene. A little much maybe, but the villain is always well aware of the consequences for their actions. If however you fail to finger the real villain, then not only will they be allowed to leave the academy but you, along with all the other students will be executed.
Now that's what I call some serious incentive.
Danganronpa manages to stay fresh and interesting by introducing new rules, gameplay elements and places to search, as well as having enough plot twists and character revelations to rival popular anime such as Death Note, Code Geass and Neon Genesis Evangelion. Not to mention the many Anime pop culture references found scattered about throughout the story, it's truly a game that pretty much any anime fan would enjoy, and is certainly worth being played by anyone looking to try something new and interesting.
I don't say this about a game very often, but Danganronpa may be one of the best games I have ever played. It's certainly one of the best on the PSP, and now that it's headed to the west the PS Vita may very well be getting that much needed "killer app".