Friday, April 21, 2017

Danganronpa 1•2 Reload Review (PlayStation 4)

Written by: James Nicolay

Title: Danganronpa 1•2 Reload
Genre: Visual Novel, Mystery Adventure
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd.
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Rating: Mature 17+
Price: $39.99
Release Date: March 14, 2017

Danganropa 1.2 Reload is a special repackaging release of two classic cult hits Danganropa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganropa 2: Goodbye Despair (both originally released on PSP in Japan in 2010 and 2012 and ported first to PS Vita for western gamers in 2014). I played both titles with very little knowledge of the game, clueless of the wicked adventure the franchise has in store for me. At the end of the second game in this PS4 release, I've been transformed into a Danganropa fan: I look forward to playing the release of the third installment on PS4 in September. Yes, Monokuma, you monster, I now crave for your sadistic exploits. Puhuhuhuhu!

Both games play as visual novels. To be honest, this is the very first Japanese game in that genre that I have ever encountered. The closest Japanese game I have played that resembles it is the Professor Layton series. As for western visual novel games, I have played a lot of TellTale Games such as The Walking Dead series, The Wolf Among Us, etc. Being a literature teacher, I have always been naturally interested in games that tell stories, but I normally would end up telling myself that these visual novel games are still not at par with the stuff that makes "real" novels great. Danganropa games are probably the first visual novel games that made me question a lot of things about how video games can make a great argument for how the medium is definitely art. And it comes as a surprise to me, having thought a number of Japanese texts in literature classes, as how a lot of the Japanese aesthetics that we see in Japanese novels and literature are actually present in Danganropa as well.

With the proliferation of many Battle Royal-esque movies and novels such as the Hunger Game trilogy, Danganropa games might seem like they're featuring unoriginal and exhausting narratives by today's gaming generation. But what I appreciate about these games is that they really can be good games to test the gamer's sense of logic while being entertained with pure Japanese weird aesthetics for storytelling.

The backbone of both games is similar: you play as a student who got "lucky" to be selected as part of groups of students in a prestigious school, Hope Peak Academy, which mostly recruits students who are Ultimates, students who are excellent in a specific field. After a short introduction to your peers, you are thrown into a weird situation where a strange stuffed toy bear with innocent/malevolent face (Monokuma) starts telling the class that they are locked in the building and can only be released if they start killing each other. If a student manages to kill a classmate without being caught, the student-killer will "graduate" and everybody else will be slaughtered. However, if the student-killer is proven guilty with the proceedings of a class trial, then they will be punished with execution until the students class size gradually get smaller and smaller in hope of being able to prove their innocence or prove the guilt of another classmate in trial.

Hence, the games call for some exercise in paying attention to details, spotting flaws in logic and reasoning, finding different ways to win the favor of other characters, and solving some puzzles along the way, while being entertained with the weirdness of the situation and tolerating the sadistic humor of the headmaster, Monokuma, whose cunning and wicked ways are either too vile or hilarious.

Danganropa can appear both as a vicious satirical play of human despair or victorious narrative of how hope can overcome the worst of humanity. Having played both games, I found the characters totally unique for each games and the possibilities of how each chapter could have ended differently with so many factors affecting how each have acted and reacted as very interesting and thought-provoking.

To be honest, I felt that the sequel feels a bit bloated exploration of what the original has already set. But I still felt genuinely intrigued as to how the story gets increasingly stranger after each and every chapter.

Each game features six chapters, and each chapter is divided into the following phases: Daily Life (where you can get to explore the world and get acquainted with other characters), Deadly Life (where you investigate the murder scene), and Class Trial (where you use your skills in logic and attention to details in proving someone's guilt or innocence in certain crime scenarios).

The gameplay plays well in all phases. In both Daily Life and Deadly Life, the player click and highlight sections of the scenes or characters to investigate further. In both games, there are hidden Monokuma coins or figures to uncover that would unlock some currency for you to buy presents to give to other characters (to get to know them better). In Goodbye Despair, there's an additional Tamagotchi-like side quest that counts your number of steps and levels you up as per your number of steps in the game and the discoveries you make.

In Class Trial phase, most of the gameplay is like Ace Attorney games where you have to spot for weak statements among the testimonies of the characters by using pieces of evidence you have gathered during Deadly Life investigations. This is mostly done in the endless debate phase of the games. In both games, there are strange parts where you have to guess certain items via Hangman game and there's a strange mini-rhythm game that you play to destroy a character's stream of lies. Additional mini-games are added to Goodbye Despair: there is one mini-game where you try to debate head to head with only one character and use your gamepad's sticks in order to slash away their weak statements, and extra mode called Logic Dive, where you surf on a Rainbow Road kind of path and choose paths that lead to correct choices. Both games end the class trial chapters with comic-strip like puzzles, where you piece together the entire case using various parts of the trial narratives to uncover the full truth. The trial ends with Monokuma punishing the guilty person in the darkest yet strangely apt way possible.

Along the way, more revelations are made; more plot twists and more mean jokes from Monokuma. Once you finish the story mode, there is a New Game+ for both titles where you can continue getting to know the other characters, while doing menial tasks for Monokuma in the first game and Usami in the second game.

For this PS4 release, you can also play the games with English in-game text and choose between Japanese and English for the in-game voices.

Overall, I could not recommend this title enough: for less than the usual price of a brand new game, Danganropa 1.2 Reload is a steal at $39.99. Even if you have already played both titles in the past, I feel that revisiting these characters once in a while on your PS4 is a reason enough to purchase this again.

Score: 4.5/5

A download code was provided for the purpose of this review