Ever played a visual novel before? Whilst the genre is considerably popular amongst a fairly large audience, it’s surprising how many gamers don’t even know that the reading-focused games even exist. Whilst titles like ‘Hatoful Boyfriend’ have raised awareness of the genre on console, the actual count of dedicated visual novels is pretty limited.
Danganronpa 1•2 Reload aims to change that though, packaging the two incredibly popular ‘Danganronpa’ releases from the Playstation Vita (Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair) and bringing them to bigger screens on the Playstation 4. With a focus on providing an enthralling narrative that sees the player doing a LOT of reading, it’s easy to see why the genre is fairly obscure amongst mainstream gamers. Those willing to give it a try though might find themselves pleasantly surprised – Danganronpa 1•2 Reload doesn’t just offer one of the best visual novel experiences around, but also offers enough interactivity to give newcomers to the genre plenty to love too.
It’s actually a little difficult to review a game like Danganronpa 1•2 Reload; the main selling point of both of the included games is the narrative, how it unfolds, and how the player interacts with it, yet it’s the one thing that I really don’t want to spoil for other players. It’d be a real crime to divulge any of the secrets or plot-twists that come along during the story, yet they are what make Danganronpa 1•2 Reload such a fantastic experience. Bearing that in mind, this review is going to be spoiler free; whilst you’ll learn a little about the story behind the games, I’ll spare you from anything that’ll potentially ruin your time with the glorious experience that the game offers.
The basic story of the first game sees the main character invited to a prestigious school that is the home to students who are the best at their field of expertise – the ‘ultimates’. These fields may vary, with sports stars, pop stars, fanfic authors, gang leaders, and martial artists mixed among the diverse specialists throughout the game.
The protagonist isn’t a specialist at anything though, with his invitation purely coming down to luck – it means he’s the ‘ultimate’ at being lucky. This luck doesn’t last though when the first day of attendance at this school sees him getting knocked unconscious and waking up with the school transformed, boarded up, and under constant surveillance from a series of different cameras. Upon further investigation, you find that fourteen other ‘ultimate’ students are also suffering the same fate as you.
The mystery takes an even darker turn when you find out the headmaster of this school is an evil bear (that’s right, a bear) named Monokuma, who gives the students a choice: be imprisoned in the school forever with no escape or contact with the outside world, or kill a fellow student without anyone realising it was you to earn your freedom. Thus begins the deadly yet thrilling adventure; who do you trust? How are you going to get out of this mess? And will you even survive the deadly halls of the school and its malicious students?
Whilst that’s the basic premise of the first game, the second follows a similar concept except the school setting has been replaced with a tropical paradise. It might seems like a small change, but it actually offers a whole new experience; sure, in principle you’re stuck in the same dire circumstances, but the new cast and setting ensure that the tale is as gripping as its predecessor whilst ensuring things feel fresh.
Throughout both games, Monokuma adds his own insidious touch to affairs by both encouraging and provoking the students into attempting to kill one another. The malicious black and white bear lives up to his dastardly appearance, and isn’t afraid to throw a few curveballs to ensure the world of ‘Danganronpa’ is never a peaceful one. Whilst this may be perilous for the protagonist, it ensures the game constantly entertains – much like a gripping thriller or mystery novel Danganronpa 1•2 Reload’s story constantly keeps things tense, but in an effective way that keeps you hooked in and intrigued at what’s going to unfold. The fact that all of these events are displayed in a visual form only makes the experience a hell of a lot more enthralling.
One of Danganronpa 1•2 Reload’s strongest points is the characters, with a rich diverse range of personalities on show that are each incredibly unique. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these fall into the typical stereotypes that you encounter in popular culture, but the way they all interact with each other ensures the game provides plenty of fantastic scenes. They’ll constantly surprise you too; characters will do things that’ll shock you, yet it still manages to fall in line with their personalities. Everyone is incredibly well written with each aspect of their persona fully explored and divulged to the player… well… after a bit of investigation…
Of course, the cast really shine when they start killing each other and you get to experience the aftermath of each death. You’re left doubting each character’s intentions, thinking the people you THOUGHT you knew couldn’t do these terrible acts. You’re left guessing throughout and the way you put each character on trial after a murder is great to see unfold, with desperation, lies, and unbelievable truths integrated perfectly into each trial.
Whilst the majority of the time you spend in Danganronpa 1•2 Reload consists of reading, there is quite a bit of interactivity that takes place. You’re able to freely explore the environment from a first person perspective, whilst each environment you visit in a narrative scene can be examined from different angles to uncover various items and clues – those who don’t want to show their sleuth side can press the triangle button to highlight everything there is to uncover though.
There are also the murder investigations and trials, where you’ll have to uncover evidence as well as grill your fellow students to find out who is guilty. These scenes are some of the game’s best – not just because you get to fully interact with the tale, but also because of the aforementioned quality of the characters you’ll be investigating. Being able to take on the role of the detective and uncover these things brings an enjoyable twist to the experience, whilst the trials themselves will certainly resonate well with ‘Phoenix Wright’ fans.
Considering that Danganronpa 1•2 Reload is ported from the Playstation Vita (which was in turn ported from the original PSP), the game manages to look visually sharp throughout the entirety of both games. Whilst there are a few iffy textures, a few rough edges, and the cutscenes are a lower resolution than desired, everything still manages to look good blown up on the big screen – you certainly wouldn’t think you’re playing something that started life as a handheld title, though the fact that most of the game is based upon 2D illustrations probably compliments it.
You’re going to get a hell of a lot of hours out of Danganronpa 1•2 Reload, with each of the two packaged games lasting over the twenty hour mark. Whilst the exact time you spend with each game will vary based upon how quick of a reader you are, you’ll certainly be with it for a long time. It’s incredibly good value for money, especially given the quality of the content on show. What’s most important is that you’ll never be bored during those forty plus hours – Danganronpa 1•2 Reload keeps you constantly entertained with the bizarre characters and the situations they find themselves in.
Danganronpa 1•2 Reload offers something entirely unique for Playstation 4 gamers, with an experience that mixes up a gripping visual novel narrative with a series of deadly murder investigations. The fact that it’s incredibly well written, features some fantastic artwork, and has a great cast of colourful characters only strengthens its appeal, ensuring that you’ll be entertained throughout all of the forty plus hours the package offers.
There’s no doubting that it won’t be for everyone – I’m sure some gamers won’t enjoy all of the reading involved with a visual novel – but those who give it a chance will fall in love with the nefarious escapades of Monokuma and his poor students.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: 17/03/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4