“Massively singleplayer Phoenix Wright” doesn’t even start to sum it up.
Our “Port this to Switch you cowards” list has some regular entries on it, such as older Final Fantasies, Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, and the Persona series. However, a regular on that list dropped off the list in June when it was announced that the entire Danganronpa trilogy—as well as a board game—were all coming as part of the “Danganronpa Decadence” collection. It’s probably coincidental that a bunch of fireworks went off near my apartment when that clip ran in the Direct…
There's fireworks going off near me so I guess they just got the Danganronpa news— Donald Theriault 🥀 (@NWRDonald) June 15, 2021
...but it’s also appropriate for my own reaction. But as it comes out at the end of this week, in a year that’s seen other demanded Japanese adventure games come out in the Famicom Detective Clubs and The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles, what makes the Danganronpa series stand out?
For the record, the name “Danganronpa” is compounded from the words “bullet” and “refutation” (弾丸, dangan: 論破, ronpa). This refers to the series’s most well known element, the “truth bullet” that shatters an argument.
The Danganronpa series was developed by a team at Spike Chunsoft in 2010, and originally launched for the PSP. Although the PSP version and its 2012 sequel were never localized on that platform, it did become popular in the Let’s Play community; when the duology was ported to the PlayStation Vita in Japan in 2013, this gave an opportunity for NIS America to localize the games for Western release in 2014. And yes, that covers both games: the original came out in February 2014 with the subtitle “Trigger Happy Havoc” while the second came out in September as “Goodbye Despair.”
There was about a three-year hiatus for the series as far as new adventure games went, but this meant one thing: SPINOFFS. Specifically, two—or more accurately, three—series of anime aired between 2014 and 2016 in Japan: you should be able to see dubbed versions on your Switch via the Funimation app. The confusion about the numbering of the anime is that although the first one was a retelling of Trigger Happy Havoc, the second anime treatment was two distinct series that aired on consecutive days. One series was a prequel to Goodbye Despair, while the other was essentially a sequel to Goodbye Despair even named “Danganronpa 3.” There was also the 2015 spinoff third-person shooter Ultra Despair Girls, best known for the end of Chapter 3 which ended up spawning an early column from me asking what would happen to “games of questionable content” after the Vita died. Suffice to say, if you’d like Ultra Despair Girls to come to Switch, please leave a comment on some other website.
The first Danganronpa adventure game to be designed ground-up for the Vita was “New Danganronpa V3” in Japan in December 2016, which came out in the West in September 2017, from NIS America again. There are two reasons why this was named “V3”: the aforementioned anime burning the name “Danganronpa 3”, and
***MASSIVE SPOILER DELETED***
So yes, they couldn’t exactly recycle the name. Danganronpa V3 also launched day and date on the PlayStation 4, marking the series’s console debut, with the remainder of the series being ported to PS4 in the interim. V3 also released on PC via Steam—published by Spike Chunsoft themselves, who had opened a publishing arm and ended up taking back the series from NISA in 2019. Today, the Danganronpa series can only be purchased on Steam prior to its Switch release. Several of the original series creators have moved on, working on titles such as May 2021’s World’s End Club—which adopts many Danganronpa themes—and the AI: The Somnium Files games.
The adventure games will have the same setup, though the setting can differ slightly. Sixteen high school students who are the best in Japan/the world at something are brought to “Hope’s Peak Academy,” which is basically an international baccalaureate school taken to its logical extreme. There, they are trapped in the school and forced to play “The Ultimate Killing Game;” the only way to escape the school is to either get away with murdering a fellow student or be the last person standing. After a few free days for exploration and plot, a body is discovered (with appropriate announcement) and the “Deadly Life” begins. Deadly Life involves gathering all the evidence for the Class Trial, the endgame of every chapter.
A Class Trial is basically what happens when everyone in a Phoenix Wright trial is simultaneously the accused, prosecuting attorney, defense attorney, and jury (School headmaster and series mascot Monokuma—a multi-colored bear—serves as the judge and executioner when necessary). The remaining students discuss the circumstances of the murder, but the constant talking is interrupted by frequent “Nonstop Debates,” where the student’s words appear on the screen and you have to literally shoot one of the statements with a counteracting one in the form of the Truth Bullet. Later games in the trilogy mix this up with the ability to support statements or even commit “perjury” to force the case forward. Depending on the difficulty level, “white noise” may appear on the screen during one of these sequences: it has to be shot out before the proper word can be used.
The Nonstop Debates are not the only minigames that break out in the midst of the trial. It is sometimes necessary to remind people by way of the “Hangman’s Gambit,” which needs to create a word to serve as a reminder. There are also ways to have a one-on-one debate with another student, which usually takes the form of a rhythm game, and later games tack on a choose-your-path racing game called the “Psyche Taxi.” V3 also enables “Scrum Debates,” where the students are divided evenly and the player has to use the right teammate to refute the other side. All games end chapters with the “Closing Argument,” which sets up the case as a manga with panels missing that have to be placed properly to sum up the case.
How It Gets Rated M
Although Danganronpa 2 did have a less violent version in Japan, all of the Danganronpa games released in the West have been rated M or 18+. The murders are explicit, even with the blood being bright pink instead of red in all localized games, and the executions after someone is found guilty can be brutal. One of the first executions in the series involves someone getting pelted with enough baseballs to run Major League Baseball for a season, all being fired gatling-gun style out of a pitching machine set to 100+ mph.
It also picks up the “Sexual Themes” descriptor from the ESRB, and not just because of the presence of particular characters designed for fanservice. The main games each offer a social rank with the other 15 students, with a non-canonical mode that offers unlimited opportunities to woo them. Unlike other games where the reward is some hyper-powered items, the Danganronpa series awards… the character’s underwear.
I probably should have said this up front: I am not making ANY of this up.
Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp
The fourth game in the Danganronpa Decadence physical collection is a new game never released in this form before. Known as “Ultimate Summer Camp”, it’s an expanded version of the “Ultimate Talent Development Program” post-story game from Danganronpa V3, and combines dungeon crawling with Fortune Street. Players are rolled via a gacha system, covering the entire series, including Ultra Despair Girls, and build their stats by rolling around a giant board game for 50 days (turns). At the end of the game, a party of four is formed to explore the “Tower of Despair,” a 200-floor monolith, and obtain more materials and characters to try and reach the 200th floor.
The purpose of this game is going to be fanservice of the “hey, this is a neat interaction” variety, as though the board game portion looks fun the battles are incredibly brief. Also, there's going to be real money gacha involved - though Spike Chunsoft swears that all characters, including the Ultra Despair Girls ones, will be available if you're "F2P btw". (Which in this case, you may want to be.) Other major rewards will include more characters—including some guaranteed top-tier drops from the gacha—and collaboration illustrations that Japanese fans will be able to buy on their own.
With usual series writer Kazutaka Kodaka departing for World’s End Club developers Too Kyo Games, this will actually be the first Danganronpa game he hasn’t written. The original director of the Ultimate Talent Development Program game and the writers of previous free time events have been left to write the game instead.
Aside from the inevitable overdoses on hope and despair, I’m really looking forward to returning to Hope’s Peak Academy this Christmas. Am I going to 100% the games? Well, I didn’t the first time, but that was just due to time. Maybe this time, I go for it… or at least stop right before the underwear.
I’m also intrigued with the possibility of new stories in that universe—if Ultimate Summer Camp is good enough, I’d really love to see them try something else in that universe. But even if it ends up on the pile of “franchises that should just be re-released” with Earthbound and Final Fantasy, I’m just glad that the series is preserved.
And one last hint: Pack a lunch for the class trials. I replayed case 1 of Trigger Happy Havoc recently and recorded it - the file is four hours long.