Danganronpa 1.2 Reload takes two of the best visual novels ever made and flawlessly transfers them to the PS4. Full of fantastic writing, engrossing characters, and blood-pumping adrenaline-filled trials, Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is a necessary purchase for anyone who enjoys strong narratives.
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platform: PS4 (reviewed)
MonsterVine was supplied with a PS4 code for review.
Danganronpa is a fascinating concept for a game series. An anthromorphic robotic teddy bear traps a group of incredibly talented high-schoolers in an isolated area and tells them they have to kill a classmate and get away with it, after putting everyone on trial of course, if they want to escape. It sounds like utter lunacy, and realistically, it is, but that lunacy makes for two of the most enjoyable games in recent history.
As previously mentioned, both Danganronpa games star a different eclectic cast of high-schoolers, each with their own particular talent that has earned them global acclaim, referred to as “Ultimates”. While one character may be the Ultimate Baseball player, another will be the Ultimate Animal Breeder. While many characters look the part of their Ultimate talent, there are a few that completely clash with their talents, visually speaking, making for a hilarious contrast.
You play as Makoto Naegi in Danganronpa, and Hajime Hinata in its sequel. Each of these characters was either admitted due to luck, or for reasons they can’t remember. Being the only “normal” teenager in the group keeps you grounded as you watch the insanity that unfolds around you, which is necessary for some of the situations you’ll be in. Though they may be somewhat basic, Naegi and Hinata are enjoyable, and eventually fascinating characters in their own right, keeping them from becoming the sour note of the group.
Each character has their own fleshed out backstory, often discovered through spending your free-time sessions with them. These stories are often surprisingly “normal” for such outlandish characters, making them more relatable and accessible for any audience. This also makes the murders and executions of each student have far more of an impact, as you knew them in a way that any other characters didn’t. This is especially painful when you haven’t finished someone’s backstory, only to have them die before you can max out your friendship, as you feel as though your character was just starting to befriend them. This is a true feat, as each game juggles 15 characters, all of whom manage to have their own distinct stories.
While the main characters are all entertaining enough, it’s Monokuma, the villain of the franchise, that truly steals the show. There are few villains as simultaneously hilarious and terrifying as Monokuma, a walking, talking toy bear that relishes in the idea of despair. Whether he’s referencing entirely unrelated mediums, or making brutally timed jabs at the deceased, Monokuma is constantly making you laugh, even as terrible things happen around you. This lively presence keeps things from getting too heavy and dour, even if it’s the equivalent of brightening a dark room with a blacklight.
Danganronpa 1 and 2 both boast exceptional gameplay that balances the smooth storytelling of a visual novel and the investigative fun of an adventure game with an adrenaline-fuelled court system that will make you feel argumentative for some time after playing. Outside of the obvious chunk of the two games that is spent in discussion (as this is a visual novel), you spend a fair amount of time wandering the school/island hub in an attempt to find clues to the murders you encounter. These segments are paced in a way that lets you gather your thoughts on each piece of evidence you obtain, as Naegi or Hinata will comment on each item upon their discovery. As you piece together crime scenes and examined items, you begin to come to your own conclusions before the trial even begins, making you feel like a true detective.
The trials of Danganronpa, both 1 and 2, are where things really heat up. As you stand in a circle of podiums with your classmates and fellow suspects, you feverishly debate with one another in order to find out who the “blackened”, or guilty, student is. There is an air of uneasiness preceding and leading into each trial, as the number of characters on the elevator headed to the courtroom is thinned out until it consists of only a small group of students. Then, once you arrive, Monokuma sits in a heightened throne, commenting on the trial from on-high. The atmosphere lends an incredibly strong sense of anxiety to each trial, keeping you on-edge and at the top of your game.
Trials primarily focus on pointing out lies using “truth bullets”, and ending the trial with a short rhythm minigame to shut down the murderer’s final arguments. As each character brings up aspects of the case at hand, lies and misunderstandings will crop up. Once you spot them, you can call your fellow students out on what they said, which, I can say with confidence, is a remarkably empowering feeling. Provided you can prove your classmate wrong, you’ll begin to clear up the circumstances surrounding each murder.
This leads to a more intense state of debate, where you’ll load a “mental gun” of sorts with “truth bullets”, which are pieces of evidence and statements from your investigation. Once someone makes a statement that contradicts your evidence, you fire your truth bullet into the statement, shattering it in a wonderfully satisfying way. These shatters prove to be an incredibly satisfying payoff to the build-up of tension throughout the trial, providing a gleeful rush of argumentative bliss that you won’t find anywhere else. The rhythm minigame that follows towards the trial’s end, which is a fairly simple response-based tapping exercise has you put the last nail in the culprit’s coffin, leading to an overpowering breakdown on the part of the killer.
Once the trial is over, you’re treated to a gloriously morbid display, as the culprit faces an execution made specifically for them and their Ultimate talent. The combination of the absolutely brutal concepts with the irony of each death is nothing short of brilliant, and more unsettling than anything else in the game.
Overall, the trial system provides players with a fantastic and incredibly unique method of deduction that makes you feel as smart as your characters, as you came to the same conclusions based off of the same evidence. The build-up and payoff are exceptional, making the entire trial process a sadistic joy to partake in.
The visuals of both Danganronpa titles are endlessly charming. Every character looks completely different from one another in a way that is, as previously mentioned, either perfectly fitting or laughably clashing with their Ultimate talent. The style of character design is distinct and completely in-line with the tone of the dialogue and overall story, and there’s an odd charm to the flat 2D illustrations that fly up as though they were a pop-up book. The overly cartoony backgrounds provide a humorous contrast to the events that happen in front of them, giving Danganronpa a truly unique atmosphere unlike any other game.
Surprisingly, both games’ soundtracks are full of varied and catchy tracks that span across every type of music. Every possible emotional tone is covered in some form of song, from the wackiest scatting behind a rap beat, to the most ear-wrenching shrieks, befitting of a disgusting murder scene. The soundtracks are both memorable and fun to listen to, thanks to their use of every genre under the sun.
The voice acting is also superb, with only a couple voices feeling off. While the Japanese dub is superior, the English voices are rather well-done, and the localization is particularly humorous. While it’s easy to slip-up and add in jokes that don’t fit in the slightest, Danganronpa manages to blend these jokes in, complimented by fantastic voice-acting, in a way that feels strangely natural to the weird world of Danganronpa.
The Final Word
Danganronpa 1.2 Reload is an experience that no one with a PS4 should miss out on. The story, characters, and world of Danganronpa are fascinating, and full of gleeful darkness, and the visuals and music create a world that could only be found in a title like this. No one should miss out on this fantastic package, so don’t waste another second, and may trial be in session.
– MonsterVine Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excellent