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    How do you stop a game series from stagnating? If you’re talking about visual novels, options are limited. Since the visual style most likely won’t change and the genre is light on gameplay, you’ve got to innovate in your approach to storytelling, but Danganronpa follows this advice in an unconventional way. While each game has a unique cast and setting, they follow the same structure and echo each other enough that the familiarity can become grating. Thematically, however, things are always different. Not content to expand on the original game’s themes or tell a new story using the same format, each sequel seems to be a rebuttal against the themes of its predecessor, without entirely invalidating that game either. It’s an interesting way to put the games in conversation with each other and muddy the thematic waters, ultimately being more thought-provoking than just telling one story that tries to cover as many perspectives as possible.

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    The series revolves around the students of Hope’s Peak Academy, a prestigious private school that scouts the most talented students around the world and gives them a free ride to foster their gifts, and it’s generally accepted that graduates will be set for life. The academy does this to establish them as symbols of hope, extraordinary people for the general population to look up to. Each game starts with the same basic premise: fifteen Hope’s Peak students find themselves held hostage by a gleefully psychotic robot teddy bear named Monokuma who informs his prisoners that the only way they can escape is if they kill another student, at which point an investigation and trial will be held to determine the murderer. If the incorrect student is identified, the culprit will be released and the other students will be killed. If the correct student is identified, the murderer is executed and the killing game continues as before. Following this, every game uses the same basic structure. There are six chapters, divided into two sections; “daily life” and “deadly life.” Daily life consists of exploring your environment, moving to the next story beat and getting to know your fellow students in optional free time events where you choose a classmate to hang out with. Daily life ends when a body is inevitably found, which signals the start of deadly life and an investigation. Afterwards, a class trial is held where the students gather with their findings and debate who they think the killer is.
    The idea of filling icons of hope with so much despair that they’d be willing to kill one another forms the main thematic conflict for the first game; are people more naturally inclined towards despair over hope, and which is stronger? It’s fairly straightforward, just a redressing of a good vs. evil story essentially, but it becomes more nuanced in the second game. Danganronpa 2 takes the first game’s admiration of hope and twists it, showing the folly of locking yourself into a binary between hope and despair and how a fanatic devotion to any one ideal, no matter how noble, can be dangerous. Danganronpa V3 takes things a step further and turns the thrust of the entire series, uncovering and facing the truth, on its head. The sequels also take concepts from the first game and expand on them to introduce new ideas, but the main focus is always on looking at what ideas came before it from a different angle. As interesting as a lot of these ideas are though, their presentation leaves something to be desired. These themes usually come to the forefront during the class trials, and as such, they are endlessly talked to death rather than being allowed to breathe as a natural part of the story. At some point they become a bit of a word salad, with certain words key to the series - “hope” and “despair” and “truth” and “future” - repeated ad nauseam to the point of unintentional hilarity.

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    Given the way Danganronpa layers its stories, this doesn’t necessarily have to detract too much. At any point, the game can be telling three stories; each chapter functions as a stand-alone murder mystery, the chapters come together to make a tense survival story while building the core themes, then near the end everything gets tied into the deeper lore of the series (and those themes are talked into the ground). So if you’re not into the hope vs. despair thing, you’ve still got a great murder mystery to enjoy for the majority of the playtime.

    This approach allows the game to show how much it excels with its genre elements by letting each story work on its own without relying on player investment in the previous entries. The music is excellent, effortlessly switching moods from somber to madcap, breathing more than enough life into the game to make up for the sparse voice acting and lack of visual fluidity that come with the visual novel genre. The art design also does a lot of heavy lifting. Character sprites are wonderfully expressive and their designs are informative on their personality while still seeming like a natural outfit for this world. The game also knows how to handle its large casts, focusing on a few characters to keep the story focus tight, but not letting any of the background characters be forgettable. The mysteries themselves are varied and interesting too. While each game has at least one case that doesn’t work, for the most part they are inventive and fun, complicated enough that you’re normally only one step ahead of where the game’s going, but not so complicated as to be totally nonsensical. The full stories on what lead up to the murder also display the range of emotions the series is capable of showing. Some are absurd and farcical, some are genuinely tragic and moving. As the games progress, certain patterns emerge that can be frustrating to see repeated over and over again, and sometimes the game will get close to doing something different or embracing a fun quirk of the established rules before backing away and going with something seen before. Even then, the duller cases still have some fun surprises to turn up, so they’re never entirely without merit.

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    Danganronpa’s approach to storytelling is bold, to say the least. In an interview with Otomedia, series creator and writer Kazutaka Kodaka notes that he likes to take ideas that are taboo in the mystery genre and get them to work anyway. He might do it by building an entire game’s themes around justifying that trope, or he might just make the implications of that reveal too interesting in this particular context to get caught up on whether or not it’s overplayed. He knows how to leverage a bad idea by not getting bogged down in minutiae and making sure that the twist is a means to an end, rather than a satisfying answer in and of itself, and he’s also willing to taunt his audience for falling for his trick. Near the end of the first game, after a certain reveal Monokuma urges the students not to think too hard about the details of this news as they now have to contend with the way it fundamentally changes their perception of the entire experience up to this point. Early on in the second game, he makes an offhand comment mocking the idea that anyone would be willing to just accept such a cliché in a mystery story. Kodaka proves that no trope has been overused to the point of it being banned in storytelling; just that the requisite work must go in to peel off the stagnation.

    TAGS: Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Danganronpa 1-2 Reload Danganronpa Trilogy
     
  2. Discussion (55 replies)

  3. ignare

    ignare GBAtemp Regular
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    Why would you recommend a series that sucks so much? Weird.
     
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  4. Scarlet

    Scarlet Pretty Pretty Princess
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    weeb trash, play call of duty like a real gamer ;O;

    on a serious note though, what a series. hooooooot damn.
     
    Stealphie, phonz, gnmmarechal and 7 others like this.
  5. Chary

    Chary Never sleeps
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    I'll always recommend this series to anyone who's wanting to try out a visual novel, right alongside Ace Attorney. While there's a lot of anime tropes and the overall story can get a little hamfisted at the end (at least for 1) I absolutely love all the games.

    I still consider Danganronpa 2 to be one of my favorite games of all time--the characters, the themes, everything just worked so well. Overall just a really impressive series, and one that I seriously hope will get further entries, despite Kodaka moving onto other projects.

    Also had to be a heck of a series to get me to switch my avatar from Naoto to Kokichi.
     
  6. WD_GASTER2

    WD_GASTER2 Hated by life itself.
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    Great series. It will Gaslight you to hell and back but amazing for sure. LOL
     
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  7. relauby

    OP relauby Idiot Child
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    I'm with you on this. I think V3 hits the highest highs, but it has some really brutal parts too (cases 2 and 3 and the first half of 4 are complete slogs to get through). But 2 is smooth pretty much all the way through while doing some really impressive stuff.
     
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  8. Justinde75

    Justinde75 Capsule Co's VGM Addict
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  9. sonicvssilver22

    sonicvssilver22 You're myself, I'm yourself
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    Holy crap @Chary is in this game so it must be good!!! ;)

    But seriously as a fan of Persona and Ace Attorney I’ve always been interested in trying this series out.
     
  10. Justinde75

    Justinde75 Capsule Co's VGM Addict
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    But jokes aside you have to play Danganronpa 1, 2 and V3 (and well watch the anime Danganronpa 3) The story is very well written and the characters are great. The writing especially makes them feel like real people and rarely feels out of place. You'll LOVE Danganronpa if you like twists and a story that'll make your head spin (ESPECIALLY 2s Ending damn thats some good stuff)
     
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  11. relauby

    OP relauby Idiot Child
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    I agree, except for the part about the anime. There was so much potential with that and man, they just did nothing with it.
     
  12. Justinde75

    Justinde75 Capsule Co's VGM Addict
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    Yeah I personally am not the biggest fan of it too, but its a big part of the story and is meant to be watched before playing V3, especially because it does alot with the characters from 1 and 2
     
    Last edited by Justinde75, Oct 17, 2019
  13. Wuigi

    Wuigi GBAtemp Advanced Fan
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    Very cool series, played everything on my weebstation vita.
    The whiny protagonist in ultra despair girls, the unenjoyable last class trial and ending of v3 are the only parts I didn't enjoy.
     
    Last edited by Wuigi, Oct 17, 2019
  14. Justinde75

    Justinde75 Capsule Co's VGM Addict
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    You think the class trials in v3 aren't good?
     
  15. Wuigi

    Wuigi GBAtemp Advanced Fan
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    @Justinde75 I corrected my typo, sorry for the confusion.
     
  16. Justinde75

    Justinde75 Capsule Co's VGM Addict
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    I agree with the v3 ending being pretty bad, especially since they haven't done anything with the series since then. So much is still open
     
  17. Sansgaming420

    Sansgaming420 Advanced Member
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    I would enjoy DR more if the characters were not just literal cardboard cutouts.
     
  18. Silent_Gunner

    Silent_Gunner Lost Wanderer Who Sees No Evil
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    I've heard about all of these games, but the thing that's confused me is all of the different versions. I know this started on the PSP/PS Vita (more likely the latter if I remember right), but then it got a port to Steam, and I really wouldn't be surprised if the Switch didn't see a port much like the re-done versions of the first three Ace Attorney games did further down the road. If I had to choose between getting it on Steam or the Switch in the future, a game of this format I feel fits a handheld more than sitting on my thron-*cough*...I mean, my bed with a backrest and being confined to a TV!
     
  19. jt_1258

    jt_1258 Ella
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    Well, it's back onto the radar of games I keep meaning to try and then forgetting to >.<
     
  20. Flirkyn

    Flirkyn GBAtemp Regular
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    One of my favorites VN saga's! Loved all games (even Ultra Despair Girls) and kind of like the "3" anime (even if it have a lot of issue).
    I would say my favorite is globally two, with three just behind (with my favorite ending of the saga).
     
  21. Essasetic

    Essasetic General Spectator
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    Ace Attorney (especially Trials and Tribulations) was really fun to play. I might give this series a try one day.
     
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