This is the Vita compilation of Dangan Ronpa 1 and 2, with upscaled graphics and added touchscreen support (extremely helpful for a certain part of the second game). Since I marathoned both games in a short period of time, it is only appropriate to write about both.
Dangan Ronpa is set in the famous Kibougamine Academy, a high school that accepts 15 extraordinarily skilled students each year through invitations and essentially assures success in life for all graduates. All students are referred to as Super High School Level in their field of expertise, and are seen as hope for the world due to their promising futures. The game is seen from the eyes of Naegi Makoto, an ordinary boy entering Kibougamine Academy as one who possesses a Super High School Level of luck. Filled with hope and nervousness, he steps through the front doors only to lose consciousness and wake up in an empty classroom with bolted windows and a security camera. Thinking that he overslept for the opening ceremony, he goes out to the main hall to find fourteen other students in the same situation as him. As they finish their self-introductions, they head to the gym for the school’s opening ceremony, believing that they are involved in some strange orientation event.
A talking mascot-like bear introduces himself as the school’s principal, Monokuma, and informs the fifteen students that they will be living in Kibougamine Academy forever. Contact from the outside world is cut off, and there is but one way of leaving the academy. That is to kill another student, and not get caught at the classroom trial that will later take place. The uncaught murderer will be allowed to graduate and leave the school, while everyone else will be executed. If the murderer is caught, only the murderer will be executed. Cameras are planted all over the school so Monokuma can see the students’ every action, and the bear himself will often bring forth motives for murder when things get too quiet. With a school that supposedly produces hope as the game’s stage, a tale of murder and deceit amongst students despairingly begins.
With a story that takes hardly any time to get to the action, a fitting tension and suspense that persists throughout the entire game, and some hilariously over-the-top characters, Dangan Ronpa is a gripping adventure game that doesn’t forget fun even with its grim premise. Monokuma knows no empathy or subtlety, and the executions methods are tailor-made for each student to be ridiculous and full of hype while fitting with his or her theme, almost like theme park attractions. A select few are so deep into their absurdity that one cannot help but laugh, even with the realization deep down that the more hilarious the execution, the more horrific it is. It is highly satisfying to see characters break from their initial stereotypes, in both good and bad ways. The serial killer doesn’t kill anyone.
The last stretch of the game reveals a grander plot and scheme behind the events taking place within Kibougamine Academy, and sets the theme of hope versus despair into full motion. Despite the grim premise made all the more unsettling with Monokuma’s cheery attitude and tendency to casually joke around, the ultimate message is positive and the ending, while open-ended, closes on an optimistic note. The major revelations are unveiled in a short period of time and could have definitely been more thorough, but leaving out the details about a major portion that players were dying to know is probably their way of selling the Dangan Ronpa Zero novel, which supposedly describes in detail the incident that started everything. My copy of that should be on the airplane at the time of writing.
The characters are entertaining, but because of the large cast, a number of them fail to get sufficient development. Some character details are also restricted to the optional friendship events that occur during the free time slots given to the player in each chapter, and it is impossible to see them all on a first playthrough. The murders also tend to be quite predictable, with the first chapter literally handing it to the player. Fortunately, the latter is fixed in the sequel.
In stark contrast to the first game, Super Dangan Ronpa 2 takes its set of Kibougamine Academy new freshmen to a beautiful southern island with a shining sun and glittering blue sea for an exciting school trip. Overlooking the trip is Usami, a magical girl rabbit who claims to be their teacher. The goal of the trip is for the students to become friends with each other, and until they’re all good friends, they aren’t allowed to leave the island. Right off the bat, anyone who has played through the first game would be forming countless questions in their head.
Just as Hinata Hajime, the protagonist, decides to put away his suspicions and jump into the water in his swimsuit, the skies turn dark and an all-too-familiar bear complains that a game about making friends is boring. Everyone’s favorite Monokuma pops up and turns the graduation condition from making friends to murder. Re-skinning Usami into his little sister, Monomi, and breaking her magical stick, Monokuma takes over the island and turns it into yet another stage for murder, deceit, and despair.
SDR2 sets up situations that parallel the original game, only to toy with expectations. The creeping tension and suspense created by the oppressive atmosphere in the first game is now replaced by a vacation-like southern island setting and a stronger sense of camaraderie amongst the cast. The game does a good job of setting up more convoluted and interesting murders, and I found them to be more difficult to predict. The motives for murder are also more varied and complex, and chapters 2 and 4 in particular left a strong impression (as with the first game’s chapter 4). The over-the-top elements became even more ridiculous, and for good reason too, as it is revealed later. Monokuma brings along with him four mechanical monsters to guard the island, and instead of simply entering an elevator to head to the classroom trials, the students enter the mouth of a Monokuma-shaped cliff which also happens to be an elevator (yes, the entire Monokuma).
The gears set off by the events in the first game are shown in full motion in the last chapter of SDR2, and the revelations are just as surprising. The themes presented previously return in full circle and are kept consistent, and the ending is extremely satisfying. It is a hard-earned, much-deserved ending that also acknowledges that not all the problems presented can be instantly solved, but restores hope for everyone involved. The best kind of ending, really. I find SDR2 to be an improvement in many areas, but I had a stronger attachment to the first game’s characters. Kirigiri is still the best.
Between tight storytelling and solid writing, combined with a good mixture of suspense, ridiculousness, comedy, and emotional moments, the Dangan Ronpa series is definitely worth a play and has a high chance of wide appeal. SDR2, in particular, has many lines that are a delight to read from a wonderfully delusional certain someone. The gameplay is also fun and engaging, with the classroom trials operating like a faster-paced, more action-packed Ace Attorney court session.
Once a corpse has been found, the students are given time to investigate and gather evidence. During the trials, all living students will participate in a discussion and debate in order to pinpoint the killer. Most of this will be done through Non-Stop Debates, where the characters will continuously talk, and show weak points in their statements that can be “shot” with a bullet of evidence that contradicts it. There will be multiple weak points in each debate but only one will be correct. In SDR2, you can also shoot evidence to support another person’s statements. The game also seems to be harder in general, as SDR2’s easy mode is about as easy as DR’s normal, and SDR2’s normal is probably like DR’s hard when it comes to the logic portions.
When Naegi or Hinata needs to think of an important keyword, they will have to piece it together through the Flashing Anagram. In the first Dangan Ronpa, this was simply a case of fill-in-the-blanks by shooting the right Hiragana/Katakana for each blank to form a full word. In SDR2, the entire word is now blank, but you are only given Kana that are a part of the word and it’s a matter of putting them into order. Characters float around on the screen, and if two of the same characters bump together they grow into a larger bubble which can be shot for points, but if two different character collide, they explode and the player loses HP.
During climatic moments, there will be a Machine Gun Talk Battle (or Panic Talk Action in SDR2) where the player engages in a one-on-one showdown against a stubborn opponent. Rather than utilizing logic like in the Non-Stop Debates, a rhythm game is played where hitting the Circle button at the beats “locks on” to the opponent and hitting the Triangle button deals damage proportional to how many crossfires are on the screen. On difficulties higher than easy, the player also has to reload with the Square button as no damage can be dealt when out of bullets. As the combo continues, the tempo increases. A missed timing causes a loss of HP and decrease in tempo. When the opponent is down to his last bit of HP, the finishing blow is dealt with a piece of evidence.
In SDR2, the Panic Talk Action is an overhaul of the MTBs where the player no longer loses HP for missing beats, but must piece together a word at the end to deal the finishing blow. Overall, DR’s version was better done because the timeframe for hitting the buttons made more sense and it was easier to rack up a high combo.
Unique to SDR2 is one-on-one debates where the bullets turn into swords, and one must use the analogue stick to slash through the opponent’s statements until they reveal a weakpoint that can be cut with evidence. This is the part where having touch screen controls immensely help, as the statements like to float around the screen and appear at different locations and angles.
SDR2 also has a bunch of other stuff in case you want to distract yourself, like an in-game digital pet and a level for the protagonist that increases for every action he takes (walking, examining, talking, etc.). It also comes with bonuses like an If-story for the original Dangan Ronpa in novel form detailing what might have happened had a certain someone survived in the first chapter, and an action game about Usami fighting Monokuma and his mechanical monsters. For both games there’s School mode and Island mode respectively, which allow you to freely finish friendship events without having to replay individual chapters and using their limited amounts of free time. School/Island mode is also a mini item-creation simulation game where you send the students to gather materials to craft items.