I adore games like the Zero Escape trilogy, Corpse Party, Time Hollow, Ace Attorney… The story and setting are the strongest parts of these games, and they tend to stick with me longer. It has been over 5 years since I had beaten one of my favorite series in this style of adventure visual novel games, and I was hungry for more. I knew that Danganronpa existed, but I never really played it. And then, last summer, Nintendo suddenly dropped that for the 10th anniversary of the series… The games will be ported to the Nintendo Switch. Not too long after the games were released, I bought the first game and hoped that it lived up to my expectations. Well, I already revealed the answer to that in a previous article. The fact that I chose this game to be my game of the year 2021, does reveal a lot. So, why did I decide to select this game to be my game of the year? What did I like so much about this game? Is it actually good or did it just click with me? Well, let me tell you. But, before that, I want to invite you to leave a comment in the comment section with your thoughts and/or opinions on the content of this article and/or the game.
Editorial note: this review will be spoiler-free. Also, this review is written for the Anniversary Edition on the Switch.
Extreme Education Surviving
In this game, you play as a lucky student named Makoto Naegi. The reason why he is a lucky student is that he was chosen by a big lottery to attend Hope Peak’s Academy. A school for the most gifted students in their fields. From the best swimmer to the best fortune-teller. But, when school starts; something strange happens. Suddenly, he and his class find themselves in a locked school building without any way to escape. Well, the students do get offered a way to escape by a mysterious bear figure. If one of them is able to kill another student without being found out in a class trial, he or she can escape the school and the others… well, they won’t be living long. So yeah, it’s a game of life or death.
To avoid spoilers, I’m not going to go too much more in-depth on the story. The story works the best when you go in blind. If this game looks interesting to you, do yourself a favor and don’t use a walkthrough or look up the story in any kind of way. While I personally found certain things predictable, the execution and pacing of the story are wonderful. There is barely any unneeded filler to the game.
The writing of this game is one of the strongest I have seen in a while. I was pulled into the characters and story right away. It really felt I was playing through a thrilling anime series that sometimes made me feel I was part of that group. Something that really helped with that is how the game handled free time. Something I really liked in games like Time Hollow, is that there are moments where the characters just interact with each other, where there are moments of character building. Some downtime between the big action moments or story beats.
In these moments, you can choose with whom you interact. If you give these characters a present, which you can buy from the school store, you get extra information about that character. And these moments are optional. So, if you don’t want to do them, you can decide to sleep these chances away. At no moment in this game, this mechanic is forced on you.
There is a lot of voice acting in this game. Almost everything in the class trails is voiced by very talented voice actors, and they knock it out of the park. They add so much character to the characters and really made me root for certain characters. I enjoyed the voice work to the point that I even read the non-voice acted parts in their voice.
Counter with an objection
I already talked a bit about the gameplay. In between the investigations and the class trials, you’ll be able to have some free time. In this free time, you can investigate the school to find coins to buy presents. You can also interact with the other characters. This gives some replay value since there aren’t enough moments to see everything.
Now, in terms of keeping track of how far you are with each character… Well, that has been handled in the sequels a lot better. The UI is decent, but the sequels have improved the UI so much… Not to say that the UI is bad, but it could be better. It’s the same for how you can earn coins. That’s easier in the sequels than in the original. But, those are minor nitpicks to be very honest with you.
Anyway, let’s focus on the investigation first. When an incident occurred, you have a certain amount of time to search around before you start the class trial. At this moment, the game turns into a sort of Ace Attorney investigation style of game. A feature I really love in this game and I missed in the original Ace Attorney games is that you can highlight the search spots by the press of a button. So, you don’t have to “pixel hunt”. The game also stops you from leaving a location when you haven’t found all the information, so that helps in not being stuck.
But, the meat of the game is in the class trials. In these trials, the difficulty that you choose matters. The higher the difficulty, the harsher the game is with its penalties for messing up. Also, more additional mechanics are in play. During these class trials, you go through a non-stop debate. It’s up to you to shoot the actual contradiction with the right piece of evidence. Think Ace Attorney’s Cross-Examination, but you can’t flip through the statements AND there is a time limit.
Yes, there is a time limit for each section of the trial. The better you perform, the more coins you’ll earn at the end of it. So, do be careful. Now, you can also make the class trials easier or more difficult depending on if you unlock and/or use skills. These skills can be unlocked by spending free time with other characters and giving them the correct present. You can’t use them all at once, since some of them cost SP and you have only so much to use per trial.
There are several mechanics in play during these trials besides the non-stop debates. One of them is the white noise. These are basically comments from the other students that block statements you could shoot a truth bullet at. (A truth bullet is an evidence bullet basically.) If you shoot the wrong statements instead of the white noise, you’ll lose time. Shooting white noise, you’ll gain time. Oh, and truth bullets can’t go through white noise!
You can also memorize a statement. Sometimes, you’ll notice that during the non-stop debates, people contradict each other. So, shoot others’ statements at their statements. But remember, you can only shoot these statements once. If you miss or hit the wrong one, you’ll have to re-remember the statement.
On top of this, you have the Hangman’s Gambit. This is basically Hangman, but instead of you guessing the letters, you’ll have to shoot them down. A wrong answer you’ll cost you some life points. And just like the UI, the sequels made this mini-game way more fun to play. Making this version of the Hangman’s Gambit boring to play if you have played the sequels.
Then, you have Bullet Time Battle. I hated these sections with a passion. I understood what I was supposed to do but either I understood the timing wrong or my lack of rhythm did me in here. But, visually, the sequels improved this section a lot as well.
To finish the mechanics during the trials, you also have the closing argument. In this argument, you have to complete the sequence. The sequence is basically a retelling of the events with all the facts.
This game is quite forgiving. When you lose all your health points, you can choose to restart from that section right away. You’ll also get full health right away. The only consequence is that you’ll earn fewer coins in the end for that section. This means, fewer chances to buy presents for the other students and that means fewer chances to unlock new skills. But, after I unlocked the skills I’m happy with, I didn’t mind that too much.
In which dimension are we?
Visually, this game has a unique art style. While you can run around in this school in 3D, most of this game is in 2D. And, what’s in 2D stays in 2D. You’ll notice that every character is in 2D and during the class trials when the camera spins around, the backside of the characters is totally black. Just look at this screenshot here. You’ll notice that the characters don’t have any depth. If you don’t really notice what I mean, take a look at the chair and desk on the left side of the screenshot. See what I mean now?
This unique art style is also present in most of the cutscenes of this game. I really love the bold visual presentation of this game. It gives the game a unique character that really sets the tone of the visuals in the next games.
While this game tackles very grim and dark subjects, this game never loses its visual identity and the charm really worked on me. I really felt that I was in some sort of manga where I was having a huge adventure.
Add to this, an amazing soundtrack and great sound design… And you have a complete package. I already added the soundtrack of this game to my playlists, so I can enjoy it while I’m on the train to work or just during work.
Now, the controls of this game work pretty well. It didn’t take long at all before I was able to get used to them. There was only one moment when I wasn’t able to figure out how something worked. That was the first time I had to shoot a bullet. It took me some time to figure that out, but that might be just me. As soon as that clicked, everything fell right into place. Thankfully, you can see the controls at the press of a button. There are tutorials and those explain the game and the mechanics amazingly well. I just misunderstood the section of “how to shoot a bullet”.
There is one thing you should know. And it’s something that can trip you up if you aren’t careful. This game doesn’t really autosave. You’ll have to save manually. And you can’t save during the mini-game sections of the class trial. You can’t name your saves either, but the name of the save explains it quite well.
Speaking of saves, there are no separate save slots for the main game content and the bonus material. So, when you have beaten the game, there is additional content for you to enjoy. From character art to a music player. But, this is something the game doesn’t handle too well.
First, unlocking the additional content costs in game coins. This would be fine if there was an easier in-game way to “farm” these coins. Since in this game they are quite rare to find outside the whole heap you get at the end of a class trial.
Second, they are save-dependent. Basically, when you revert to an earlier safe, the additional content gets locked. And if you don’t unlock it again or spend your coins elsewhere… Well, though luck.
Third, because you can save over your completed game save, it’s also possible to lock yourself out the additional bonus game and content unless you “refinish” the game.
Fourth, but this is actually a good thing. You can’t unlock certain things unless you have progressed in the game far enough. Otherwise, the additional content could have been spoiler territory.
All in all, the bonus section isn’t as polished as the rest of the game. The bonus content and mini-game is amazing, don’t get me wrong but the usability could have been so much better and it would be so nice if you were able to avoid screwing yourself over.
One thing I want to mention is that I did mention some minor performance hits during the trial preparation. I felt that the visuals were a bit lagging in some menu sections. Thankfully, nothing else lagged so it wasn’t such a big deal. And it was only during that moment… So, yeah.
The final thing I want to say is that this game is quite lengthy. Playing through the game casually will take you give or take 30 hours. You can add at least 15 hours on top of that, if you want to fully complete it.
And that’s basically everything I wanted to say about this game. Before I ramble on too much, I think it’s high time for the conclusion no? So, let’s spin the wheel for the results.
+ Amazing story.
+ Excellent soundtrack.
+ Unique and fun visual design.
+ Quite lengthy game.
-The additional content unlocking could have been handled better.
-The rhythm mini-game didn’t work for me at all.
-The game is a bit too forgiving for a game over.
Quite recently, I have beaten the final game in this trilogy and while I was reviewing this game… I always had something in the back of my mind saying… But the sequels improved such and such. While I highly advise you to play these games in order, I do want to say that it gets even better in the sequels. Especially the UI and things like that get a lot better.
Now, don’t see this as me saying that “this game is bad” or anything of that nature. This game deserves all the praise it gets. This game started an amazing series that I’m so glad that I gave a chance. Currently, I’m saving up to buy the anime on DVD.
If you enjoy games like Ace Attorney, Zero Escape, Corpse Party, Time Hollow, Professor Layton… You really owe yourself to give this game a shot. It’s an amazing ride from start to finish with a few minor blemishes that can be solved with just paying a bit of attention. So, it’s totally worth your time.
I’m so glad that I gave this game a chance. Since, it’s becoming part of my favorite series ever list and I’m silently hoping that we get new content in the future and if we don’t, I’m looking forward to more work of the creators of the series…
And with that said, I want to wrap up this article. Thank you so much for reading this article and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I hope to be able to welcome you in another article but until then, have a great rest of your day and take care.