The Beginner's Guide to Danganronpaby Heidi Kemps,
Where to start with this murderous series? Don't despair -- our guide will help!
Danganronpa is something you've probably heard of if you follow anime or video games. What began as an under-the-radar visual novel series has blossomed into a multimedia extravaganza encompassing games, anime, manga, and more. Where do you even begin with all of this material, and where can you get it?
Fear not! We've written a guide to help you understand where and how all of these various properties fit into the wider Danganronpa universe. We've done our best to keep spoilers to an absolute minimum, because uncovering the story of Danganronpa -- and seeing what becomes of all of the characters -- is part of what makes the franchise so engaging. (Protip: don't ever enter any Danganronpa character names into Google if you have autofill on. Trust us on this one.)
For the sake of keeping things simple, we're only going to cover material that's seen an official English release. There's plenty more in terms of Danganronpa-related light novels and manga in Japan, but we don't want to plunge you into too much despair over all the cool stuff that hasn't been translated yet.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc
If you're wanting to jump headfirst into the pink-bloodstained world of Danganronpa, the best place to start is the original game. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc introduces us to the world of Hope's Peak Academy, a place where the most gifted of students are invited to cultivate their unique talents. But one class of fifteen students wakes up to find their school's been turned into a heavily fortified prison with no escape -- and they can't remember when or how things got like this. Things go from bad to worse when the fiendish Monokuma (the black-and-white bear you no doubt have seen on anything DR-related) makes his appearance. He's the adorably evil mascot in charge of the Game of Mutual Killing.
How does the Game of Mutual Killing work? Well, when a murder happens, the survivors must do their best to sniff out the culprit among them. The case is brought to a Class Trial, where the “blackened” perpetrator is decided by majority voting. If the correct culprit is chosen, they receive punishment, but if the wrong perpetrator is picked, the criminal gets to escape the school scot-free -- and everyone else dies as a result. It's a high-stakes game where everyone's life is on the line, everyone has their own motives, and trust all too frequently gets thrown out the window.
Danganronpa plays out like a mix of point-and-click adventure and visual novel during its school life sequences, where you talk to other students, attempt to forge friendships, and see how the story unfolds. When a murder happens, the point-and-click part takes a bit more prominence, as you investigate crime scenes to look for key pieces of evidence to use in the class trials.
When it comes time to go to court, however, things become anything but boring: instead of simply presenting evidence, you have to aim “truth bullets” with a controller and, quite literally, shoot down the bad arguments of others that appear as giant onscreen text. Other minigames include a unique spin on Hangman that represents deep thinking and a rhythm game that lets you break through the mental resistance of particularly stubborn characters. It's a unique and engaging experience that combines action, tension, and logic. It's fun to trounce your ideological foes with well-placed logic, but once you see what happens to those found guilty in the Trial, you might feel a bit less pleasure in what you've done.
Since Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc sets up a lot of the characters and institutions that appear in later DR games and media, it's the ideal place to start to understand the basic concepts of the series. While it was initially only available in English on the Vita, Danganronpa has been ported to the PC via Steam, and is also available physically and digitally in a combo pack with Danganronpa 2 on PS4.
Danganronpa: the Animation, available from Funimation on DVD and Blu-Ray, covers the game's story in its entirety, though it abridges a fair amount of material to fit the game into a 13-episode anime series. The anime adaptation has been further adapted (and further abridged) into the Danganronpa: the Animation manga, available in 4 volumes in English from Dark Horse. While both of these cover the major story beats of the game, there's a lot lost in the transition, and I'd still recommend playing the game over either of them.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair
You've probably seen some lavish class trips in anime and manga, but Class 77 of Hope's Peak Academy is getting perhaps the coolest field trip ever: a class bonding session at the private Jabberwock Isle! Fun in the sun with beloved schoolmates is the order of the day, and under the loving tutelage of the cuddly rabbit mascot Usami, all is well for our new group of sixteen Ultimate Students.
Unfortunately, Monokuma and a group of killer mecha surf on in to wreck the party, and a new Killing Game begins with the same rules as the last: kill someone, don't get caught, and you can escape the island. Now more than ever, it's crucial for the students to support each other -- though that's a tall order when murders are happening, trust is being shattered, and the island itself is revealed as a strange construct with an unknown purpose. Just what is going on here on Jabberwock Isle, and can anyone escape alive?
While the basic gameplay and presentation is mostly the same as the original Danganronpa, Danganronpa 2's change of setting and completely new cast give it a very different feel. Being outside of a stuffy school building allows for the characters to go to some very strange places -- figuratively and literally. Class trials have a few new elements added in: using Truth Bullets to agree with others' statements; mental swordplay battles where you skillfully cleave apart the arguments of your peers; and Logic Dive, a deeper mental exploration that feels like a bizarre Sonic the Hedgehog special stage.
Much like the first game, Danganronpa 2 was first released in English exclusively on the PS Vita, but has since seen ports to the PS4 (as part of the aforementioned combo pack) and PCs via Steam.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls
This is where things start to get a little weird. Well, weirder than a game series where a bear forces a bunch of unstable kids to commit unspeakable crimes against each other already is, anyway.
Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person action/adventure spinoff that takes place between Danganronpa 1 and 2. The main protagonist is Komaru, the sister of Makoto from the original Danganronpa. She's been cooped up in an apartment for the past few years, living a quiet, dull existence mostly unaware of what's going on outside. That all changes when the complex is attacked by an army of robotic Monokuma sentries. As Komaru flees for her life, she's given a megaphone-shaped hacking gun to protect herself by a mysterious (but familiar) man.
Once she's fled the complex, she discovers that the city is overrun by evil children, brought together by a group of five kids called the Warriors of Hope. Their goal is to turn the island-based Towa City into a paradise for kids -- by brutally killing all of the adults in a game they call “demon hunting.” It's up to Komaru -- and an unexpected friend -- to find a way to put an end to the kids' rampant death and destruction.
Unlike the other Danganronpa games, Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter with adventure-game puzzle solving elements. Don't fret too much if you're not super skilled at action games, though: it's far lower-key than the likes of Gears of War or even Splatoon, with more emphasis on figuring out where and how to use the various bullets in the hacking gun than taking out hordes of Monokumas. There's still plenty of text and story development here, however, so fans of the character development and twisting, turning plots of the “traditional” Danganronpa games will still find a lot to love here. You'll find quite a few cameos of characters related to the original Danganronpa cast, as well, so it's a nice opportunity to learn a bit more about the people important to the original game's characters. Be warned, though: things get pretty intense by the end, so you'll need to face some heavy emotions in the game's climax.
Given its place in the series timeline, you might be tempted to play this one immediately after Danganronpa. However, there are a few spoilers for the revelations towards the end of Danganronpa 2, so I still strongly suggest waiting on Ultra Despair Girls until you've finished that one.
Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy
The direct followup to Danganronpa 2 isn't a game, as you might expect -- it's a full-fledged original anime series. It's also split into two thirteen-episode arcs under the same title, each with a different cast of characters. Confused? You might be, but it's actually pretty simple once it's explained.
Danganronpa 3 features two story arcs: Future and Despair. The Future arc follows the exploits of Danganronpa hero Makoto Naegi post-game. He's since created an organization called the Future Foundation, but has been accused of treason by others within the group. Suddenly, he and several other Future Foundation members find themselves trapped in yet another Killing Game, where a traitor in their midst systematically murders other members of the foundation. The Despair Arc, meanwhile, covers the story behind Hope's Peak class 77, who we last saw in Danganronpa 2. It's basically a background story that covers what happened before that game, elaborating on plot points and characters only briefly touched upon in the game's story.
The anime serves to wrap up the saga of Hope's Peak Academy nicely, closing a lot of the dangling plot threads from previous games and giving us a fuller picture of what transpires before and after the events of Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2. Both arcs are available on Funimation's premium streaming service, but if you're willing to wait a little bit longer, a release on DVD and Blu-Ray is coming early next month.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Finally, that brings us to the newest installment of the Danganronpa saga, Danganronpa V3. Despite a similar title, it actually has nothing to do with Danganronpa 3 -- in fact, aside from similar thematic elements (a school for talented “Ultimate” students, a killing game with class trials, and Monokuma), there's nothing from the start that overtly connects the game to previous installments. Essentially, it's a “fresh start,” with a completely new cast and setting.
Kaede Akamatsu has woken up in the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles, with no idea of how or why she's there -- or why the school is covered in barbed wire and overgrown with vegetation. She soon discovers fifteen other students in the same boat as her: uniquely talented individuals all trapped in the school with no recollection of what happened before that. It's not long before everyone's favorite murder mascot Monokuma reappears with five of his cubs in tow, ready to start an all-new killing game. Will anyone survive long enough to figure out what the secret behind the Ultimate Academy is?
In terms of gameplay, Danganronpa V3 is very similar to previous installments. There a few new trial minigames like Mind Mine (a Minesweeper-like), Psyche Taxi (a bizarre take on driving games), and Debate Scrum (a back-and-forth team argument battle). You can also commit perjury during a trial by deliberately lying to steer the case in a different direction, which can actually change the case flow significantly if you lie at the right times.
Outside of the trials, the exploration and story sequences aren't too different. A few new additions provide some fun distractions, like a casino where you can play games to win items, and optional, humorous cutscenes that only happen if you're in the right place with the right item at the right time. And if you're that kind of fan, even a “Love Hotel” you can take characters you've become exceptionally close to so you indulge in your OTP fandom fantasies. Yes, really.
Danganronpa V3 is available on PS Vita, PS4, and Steam. The PS Vita and PS4 versions support cross-save, so if you buy both versions, you can play the adventure on the big screen when you're at home and then take it with you on the go, giving you nonstop access to the story. The first print of the PS4 version also includes an artbook and a CD. The Steam version includes the soundtrack as a digital bonus, but only through October 3rd. If you're looking for some fresh gaming blood, now's the time to hop onboard the Danganronpa train and get those preorder bonuses!
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