Short Version: It’s a fantastic pair of games. Not only are they very well written, but also captivating, thought provoking and in my opinion, important. The PS4 rerelease adds a couple of small improvements that makes the already great games even better. It’s a fantastic entry point for people like me, who are new to the series.
Long Version: I had an incredibly difficult time playing through Danganronpa 1 and 2. In the same way that someone might hesitate to watch a horror movie at the theatres, I had those same emotions when I was assigned to review this PS4 rerelease of this beloved series I knew nothing about. The subject matters, along with the juxtaposition between murder and how lightly the game’s villain takes it, made me feel uncomfortable, almost disgusted to the point that I never wanted to play this ever again. However, this only serves to give more credit to the outstanding writing and depth of the characters on display. I hate these games for making me feel the way they do, but that very same hate is what makes me realize how important and amazing they are.
A Killer Time
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a PlayStation 4 rerelease of the original two games in the Danganronpa series, which are visual novels that first came out on PSP, then PS Vita. Now, along with the long-awaited third installment in the series, the first two games are making the jump to home consoles. Even though they stumble in a few instances, I think everything translates very well from portable devices to the big screen, from visuals to sound and gameplay.
However, there are a couple moments where you can tell that this used to be a portable game that’s now been stretched out to TV size. There are many objects in the rooms and environments that either look fine or super stretched out to the point that I only saw a pixelated mess of what I think was a kitchen appliance. It’s almost reminiscent of when something gets censored on television, but instead it’s tiny objects that were already pretty damn tiny on PSP and PS Vita to begin with. Even in many of the character portraits, you can see a tiny bit of jags and rough spots, but a good job was done overall to making them look like they were meant for consoles this whole time.
Blood Never Looked So Neon
In the visuals department, the game’s stylish use of bright colors is still very pleasing to the eye. It’s a very simple style, but it creates very effective character designs. Everyone and everything has a distinct look to it that makes them easy to identify and remember, which makes the large cast of characters a lot less overwhelming to face. Speaking of memorable, the voice acting on both games is top notch, with many recognizable actors from Doraemon, Neon Genesis Evangelion and even the Persona games, the franchise that everyone constantly references when talking about Danganronpa. Overall, the Japanese voices are fantastic, but the English dubs are no joke either. No matter what language you prefer, both have competent performances. However, I would personally recommend the Japanese voices above its American counterpart, but that is simply due to my personal preference.
The gameplay is fairly easy to understand. Since this is more of a visual novel than anything else, the story is very heavily tied to the gameplay. Basically, you play as a character that got accepted into a really great high school. However, the school is actually a trap set by an insufferable bear, and the only way to get out of the school is by killing one of the other 14 people that are trapped along with you, then try and get away with it. Of course, you’ll be able to see the moral ambiguity and heartbreak of your favorite character dying from a mile away, but the narrative still contains many interesting twists and turns that will absolutely leave you on the edge of your seat, especially during the class trails.
Order In The Court
Obviously, someone will get killed at some point, to which then you’ll have to investigate and make a case for who the killer is during said class trails, Phoenix-Wright style. From here, you are introduced to a series of different mini games that essentially help you in finding the truth. From shooting down arguments with “truth bullets” to completing a rhythm game to debate someone, this is where all of the story elements come together with the gameplay in a creative way, which is where both Danganronpa 1 and 2 shine the brightest. Obviously, the sequel gets many improvements to these sections, but the main idea is still intact in both, so don’t worry too much about having to relearn how to play when transitioning between games.
This transition should be fairly easy. Since Danganronpa 2 makes an enormous amount of improvements over the first game. This is immediately noticeable in the interface, menus, and even how one traverses the environment. That, and the story simply gets a lot more intriguing than in the first game, even though it follows the same structure of being trapped in a place, then having to investigate murders.
Hope Vs. Despair
Granted, if you’re like me and you don’t feel super comfortable with the subject matters in this game, the sequel is not going to change your mind. Believe me, these games are rated M for a reason. Both games will do whatever possible to challenge you at every turn, from your moral compass to your logic skills and who you consider a friend or enemy. This is definitely not a game for people that wish to have a jolly ol’ time making friends and solving whacky mysteries. This is what essentially the villain always asks for: despair. For a person that enjoys playing games for escapism, seeing what happens in these games, especially during the punishment scenes, tore me down in a way that I never expected. Please be aware of what you’re getting into before playing, because you will very likely not be the same person when you finish it, which brings me to another thing.
I Hate It, But Buy This Game Anyway
There really isn’t anything here that’s new for veterans of the series, except for when you beat each game once, which opens up a new mode that allows easier socialization with all the characters. Other than that, it’s still the same Danganronpa as always, making this rerelease better served for newcomers, rather than hardcore fans. I could be talking about both games all day, but it’s pretty safe to say that if you consider yourself strong enough to take in the subject matters of both games, then go right ahead. Despite what I’ve said, I still think this is a game worth playing. It’s compelling, has great writing and both looks and sounds awesome. If you are not a complete sissy like me, then maybe you’ll survive the killing game and still be mentally stable to talk about your experience. I don’t like these games, but I sure as hell believe in them.