Danganronpa–developed and published by Spike and first released in Japan for the PSP on November 25, 2010–is a unique kind of adventure game. Described by its creators as “psychopop” and “high-speed action mystery,” Danganronpa takes your typical whodunnit mystery and straps it to a rocket, fusing puzzle-solving with real-time action elements inspired by shooting and rhythm games–and it does so to incredible effect. But novel gameplay isn’t the only thing Danganronpa has going for it: with music composed by the amazingly talented Masafumi Takada (killer7, God Hand, No More Heroes); a full roster of bombastic, eccentric, and shamelessly irreverent characters; and an intricate story clocking in at just under 1000 pages and jam-packed with twists and turns, there’s more than enough to keep you engrossed from start to finish.
Set in a private school in modern-day Japan known as Kibougamine Academy, Danganronpatakes fifteen “Super Duper” high school students and pits them against one another in a game of life or death. Just moments after stepping through the doors on his first day, the protagonist–Makoto Naegi–finds himself struck with a sudden bout of nausea and dizziness. He collapses, to wake up nearly an hour later in an unfamiliar, empty classroom, with thick, immovable iron plates over each of the windows.
Remembering he was scheduled to meet up with the other new students, Naegi steps out into the eerily empty hallway and searches for the entrance hall. There, he finds the other fourteen new transfers standing around a monolithic metal contraption–resembling the door to a bank vault or a military facility–sealing them in. Two large guns with cameras attached hang from the ceiling. Not quite sure what to make of the sight, and nothappy that they appear to be stuck inside the academy, the fifteen introduce themselves to one another, and Naegi learns he’s not the only one who lost consciousness when he stepped through the gates. As they finish, the television on the wall flickers on, and a half-black, half-white robotic bear called Monokuma orders everyone to assemble in the gymnasium.
There, he explains the situation: everyone’s trapped inside the school, for life. The only way to escape is to murder one of the other fourteen students and get away with it, at which point the “villain” will “graduate” and be allowed to leave. After a murder is committed and the body is discovered, the students will be given a short amount of time to perform an investigation–examine the crime scene, gather any evidence left behind, interview witnesses–after which a Class Trial will be held. During the Class Trial, the students will discuss the information they gathered, debating their conclusions and attempting to determine who the culprit is. At the end of the trial, each student casts a ballot for who they think the “villain” is. If the majority of students select correctly, the “villain” will be executed, and everyone else will be allowed to resume their lives within the academy. But if they’re wrong… everyone except the “villain” is executed, and he is free to leave, all by himself.
Faced with a declaration so outlandish and preposterous, many students express disbelief at Monokuma’s words, but as one student points out, the veracity of his claims isn’t what’s important. Unusually calm and composed, Byakuya Togami says, “No, the real problem… is whether someone here, in this room, took him seriously…” The gymnasium goes silent, and, as Togami’s words echo in everyone’s minds, the curtain rises on a harsh, unforgiving game of trust and betrayal, of friendship and rivalry, of life and death. Will their hope of escaping with their lives prevail, or will they be crushed, one by one, until nothing but despair remains?