Danganronpa Game Review: Obscurity on the Weekly #2


You’re reading obscurity on the weekly, a home for obscure things retro to modern. This time, we’re taking a look at “Danganronpa”, a video game series with enough creepy atmosphere to fill a room. The game is available on Steam, the Playstation store or as a physical copy on the PS Vita or Playstation 4.

The Danganronpa games feature a very distinct visual aesthetic, described as “psychopop” by director Kazutaka Kodaka. The heavily stylized character designs are placed on the background in such a way that makes them appear as flat cardboard cutouts, contributing to the off-putting vibe of the game. Occasionally, rather than the standard character portraits, the game will display a more detailed still image, usually in moments of high impact. If that didn’t sound bizarre enough, the blood is all hot pink. And there is a lot of it.

Photo by William Whelchel
The characters almost appear to be paper cutouts, pasted onto the background.

A stand-out in the visual presentation category are the wonderfully macabre and hilariously over the top executions. Among the most outlandish of them include someone being electrocuted and turned into butter somehow, being launched into space on a giant muscular forearm, and being coated in oil, breading, and spices, then subsequently being fried in a volcano. Fun.

Photo by William Whelchel
An example of the typical appearance of Danganronpa 2

Equally as ostentatious are the characters and the talents that got them admitted to the school in the first place. Notable “talents”, if they can even be called that, range from the mundane such as Ultimate Writing Prodigy and Ultimate Artist, to the unconventional such as Ultimate Supreme Leader or Ultimate Mobster, even including the abstract Ultimate Moral Compass and Ultimate Lucky Student. What does being a “moral compass” even mean? These talents provide a basis from which the rest of the character is built, although some characters talents play small parts in their overall personality, such as the Ultimate Animal Breeder having a ridiculous super-villain persona. Who would guess that the violent, belligerent, Ultimate Biker Gang Leader has a strict code of honor, or that the terse, stoic Ultimate Swordswoman has a soft spot for cute things, for instance?

The characters, and the actions they take upon being thrust into the killing game, is the main focus for much of the plot, and my personal favorite part of the game. Despite starting from talents that often have an obvious stereotype associated with them, the characters in Danganronpa all bounce off of each other in unique and entertaining ways. These characters create a strong skeleton to be built upon with surprisingly muscular pathos, and a grim sense of humor as a skin. Oh, and some cute clothes too, because who doesn’t like that?

Photo by William Whelchel
The user interface shifts during the Class Trial.

The game-play is segmented between two parts, aptly named Daily Life, and Deadly Life. During Daily Life, most of your time is spent getting to know the characters, and every once and a while, you get a chance to hang out with your favorites. Deadly Life begins immediately when a body is discovered, and your focus shifts to investigation of the murder through examining the environment. Deadly Life culminates in the Class Trial, where you test your theories and catch the killer through a series of argument themed mini-games.

The main mini-game, Nonstop Debate, is fairly engaging. Using the evidence you’ve gathered to disprove the other students assumptions makes for a good way to give the player agency in the solving of the mystery. Most iterations of the mini-game give you multiple possible Truth Bullets, as well as multiple  weak points to fire at. Hangman’s Gambit, which is used to discover keywords by spelling them out, is not nearly as entertaining, with the answer usually being either completely clear from the beginning, or way out of left-field. Rebuttal Showdown is a stylish game in which you defeat the opponents counterargument by cutting their words down with argument swords, because evidence bullets evidently weren’t cool enough. Bullet Time Battle is a rhythm game used to disrupt opponents who won’t shut up, and is fun in small bursts. Overall the game-play is nothing special, but serves to complement the story and can be pretty captivating when used correctly.

Photo by William Whelchel
The yellow text is a weak spot, or a possible target for your Truth Bullets.

The game improves quite a bit from the first installment to the sequel, but the original is required to fully understand its sequel, and the first game stands on its own as well. The third game, Danganronpa V3 has been out for less than 3 months at the time of writing, so unfortunately I have not gotten a chance to play it. You can blame my bank account for that.

If you enjoy dark stories, edgy humor, or perplexing mysteries, Danganronpa may be the game for you.

Be on the lookout for more Obscurity on the Weekly.