Danganronpa 1-2 Reload is a remastered compilation of the first two Danganronpa games for the PlayStation 4, the first game was originally released on the PSP back in 2010 although it was only the later Vita port which made out of Japan. The games were then ported to the PC in 2015 and they’ve now found their way to the PlayStation 4 seemingly just in time for the new entry in the series due out at the back end of this year. It’s time to have a look and see if this much ported seven year old PSP game still stands up.
Having never played Danganronpa before the only thing I knew about this series was the black and white mascot bear, I knew nothing of the gameplay. I suppose it says something of the series’ brilliant art design that he was able to stand out in my memory and I was aware of it at all. For any of you reading this that have already played the game I’m going to touch on the conversion quality later on, but if you’re new to the game like me then you may want to know what it’s all about first.
Danganronpa as a series is a hybrid of a game somewhere between a straight up visual novel and something more like an interactive detective story. Both of the games in this package follow a similar setup in that a group of students are trapped in a location by a maniacal teddy bear called Monokuma. Before long Monokuma explains that the only way to escape is to literally get away with murder, and kill one of the fellow students. So far so unexpected.
What follows is a game which plays out with a lot of text discussions with the other students. The students are represented as 2D sprites and drawn in a typical anime style. Each of the students represents an “ultimate” version of a certain character trait and as a result are highly caricatured versions of these. Whilst you really wouldn’t want to spend any time with them in real life these larger than life personalities add both fun and dynamism to the conversations within the game. These caricatures also allow the art to shine through as well which is distinctive in it’s own style. In fact style permeates every aspect of both the games with them feeling quirky and bold, from the music through to the colour choice and the way the rooms appear before you like a set being built, it’s a game with a great style.
The majority of your time with Danganronpa will be in talking to the students to progress the plot, and in this way the game feels very much like a visual novel, although there is more flexibility than in a lot of other visual novel games to steer who you speak to and when. The narrative thrust of Danganronpa then revolves around investigating crime scenes and then taking part in a trial to chose the guilty party.
The investigation stages are simple affairs with you generally clicking on items of scenery to gather clues. As a visual novel type game you rarely get direct control of your character and instead just move a cursor around the screen. The game is linear in how you go about collecting the clues and often you can’t leave a screen until everything has been investigated.
It’s in the trials themselves that Danganronpa really excels. These see all the survivors talking together and it’s generally up to you to spot the contradictions or outright lies. These trials feel really fluid and the outcomes can be unexpected, but very rewarding. It’s great to understand not only who killed who but also why they did it. Rarely is the culprit totally evil and this game revels in shades of grey and offering justifications for each murder. There is some great writing on display here.
In my opinion the one thing which lets these trials down is the way certain sections have been turned into minigames. None of these minigames really worked for me and i found they just got in the way of the story, and let’s not forget Danganronpa is all about its story. Luckily most of these minigames can be dialed back by choosing an easy difficulty from the menu.
The conversion to the PlayStation 4 has generally been handled well. The colour and art still pop out of the screen, and this version includes both English and Japanese voices out of the box. It’s in the cutscenes that the handheld origins are at their most obvious though. The videos look a bit fuzzy and not as clear as the rest of the game. It isn’t enough to ruin the game but it is very noticeable.
What we’ve got in Danganronpa 1-2 Reload then is a mostly successful conversion of two brilliantly unique visual novel games. The constant plot twists and left-field stories makes these games stand out from the crowd. If you’ve never played a visual novel game before this is an excellent place to start.