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RELEASE DATE (NA): February 18, 2016 GENRE: Visual Novel
// review by EscapeRouteBritish

Killed it.

Ask me a month before I started writing this review what I thought of visual novels and I'd have scoffed, "They're not even games, they're just books!" and yet, here we are. I'm reviewing a visual novel, one that left me aghast with my mouth agape during its final chapter. Better twist than any book I've read. Isn't life weird? Certainly is, so let's dive into it.

We play as Makoto Naegi. Weird name aside, we've been accepted into Hope's Peak Academy, a school for the extremely gifted in society. However, we don't belong at the school. Every student here is the "ultimate" something. Among the students attending the school is the "Ultimate Fashionista", the "Ultimate Pop Sensation", the "Ultimate Baseball Star", et cetera. On the other hand, Makoto isn't the ultimate anything. He got in solely because of a lucky raffle - he is the 'Ultimate Lucky Student'.

Knowing how everything plays out, we could be the "Ultimate Unlucky Student"...

When we arrive at Hope's Peak and enter the foyer, our vision blurs and we pass out. Next thing we know, the school is all boarded up and the killing games begin. The rules are laid out nice and simple: to graduate and be allowed to leave the school, we must kill another student and (this is the most important part), we need to get away with it.

Once a student has been "blackened" by murdering another, a class trial begins and the remaining students must successfully identify who the blackened is. Get it right, and they are punished by execution and the communal school life continues unabated. If the killer goes free, everyone else is punished by death and the blackened will graduate and are allowed back into society.

The game starts with fifteen characters you get to know and love, and in the end, only a handful survive. In-between killing each other, opportunities to build social links will present themselves to you, and provided you're spending your coins in the "MonoMono Machine", you might have some nice gifts to give to that special person in your life to progress your relationship. Whoops, you sunk all your time, presents, and love into that character and they just got killed. Ha!

While gadding around this jailed-up highschool, you're going to be ridiculed by a bear named Monokuma. He's the self-proclaimed headmaster of the school and derives satisfaction from forcing every student into despair. By the end of the game you think you have the mystery licked, and know who's really controlling the robot bear, but... You don't! Puhuhuhu! Puhuhuhuhuhuhu! Don't worry about it!

I'm worried about Celeste's iron deficiency.

The game's visuals suffer from being a port of a PSVita port of a PSP game, that's for sure. Blurry and low-quality assets blown up to your monitor resolution, with some noticeable artifacting and very low-quality textures on background 3D elements. It feels like no attempt was made at sprucing up the game's visuals for PC. There are also spelling errors, typos and oversights which I'm told were also in the Vita version and haven't been fixed. Given the age of the game, it's unlikely these mistakes will be fixed, and this port does kind of feel like a botch job in that regard.

Despite the visuals being stretched and uneven in quality, the visual style of the game is very satisfying. How rooms pop up like a children's book as you enter, how blood is shown a bright pink instead of red, these visual decisions ooze cool. This game is style personified, down to its funky and bizarre soundtrack from Masafumi Takada, who scored God Hand and No More Heroes! So now I know why it was so damn catchy!

Controls and gameplay are antiquated and archaic too. The courtroom battles may have worked well on the PSP or Vita, but when these controls are hastily mapped to a gamepad for the PC release you'll find buttons reused even though there are now plenty more to work with. With this being the first game in the series, I'd expect the future games to be better, and from what my friends have told me the battle system vastly improves between each game, so I have that to look forward to as I make my way through the series.

Sadly, only a small handful of the game's dialogue is voiced - pretty much only that which appears in the class trials and certain set-piece scenes. This piecemeal voice-over is certainly disappointing but I understand this is typical of visual novels and something I will have to come to accept. The voice acting is superb across the board but some of it sounds pretty flat probably due to being compressed assets rather than the original recordings. With any luck, the quality of everything will improve as the series carries on.

Those who enjoy murder mysteries, slice of life and highschool drama will eat up Danganronpa. I've deliberately attempted to resist giving any spoilers that would tear apart this game's mysteries.

I could easily talk at depth about each trial, the events before the game takes place, each of the plot twists and how I felt about them, but it's not worth spoiling it for anyone who hasn't played the game yet.

If you're new to visual novels, Danganronpa is a great introduction. If you liked the Persona series for its social aspects and time management, this game is definitely for you. So what's it gonna be? What's it gonna beeeeeee~?

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