Review: Danganronpa 1•2 Reload returns to the chamber for deliberations

Danganronpa on the PS4. It’s something that’s been desired for a while by a vocal audience that likes quirky Japanese games but won’t (or can’t) buy a Vita. The series made the transition to Steam, but here — on a Sony console — it definitely feels at home.

At this point, the Danganronpa setup is almost a genre to itself: a group of strangers gets trapped and tormented in various ways while it’s the job of players to figure out a mystery and escape. Both games in this package follow similar formulas in that way, so don’t expect to jump between the two as a change of pace. Also don’t expect this to be of much use to people who’ve already played the games elsewhere; these are essentially visual novels, and ones that don’t sport an impressive list of enhancements in this version. It’s simply a convenient way to play the game on a system you’re more likely to own.

Danganronpa is a game that revels in its visual novel roots but does so with a veneer that may appeal to different players than the genre’s usual domain.

The investigation setup draws its immediate comparison to the Ace Attorney series, but in practice it’s less warranted: Danganronpa really holds your hand and makes you find evidence, so quick thinking and observation in those segments is more about just saving yourself some time walking around the environments. It’s more about the conversations; it’s a game that revels in its visual novel roots but does so with a veneer that may appeal to different players than the genre’s usual domain. The end of each chapter brings in more of these critical thinking skills, though: you’re tasked with tying together the evidence and conflicting statements.

It’s in these segments that it really sets itself apart, and it does so with a little stumbling. You actively shoot “truth bullets” at words scrolling across the screen and tap buttons to a rhythm to overwhelm suspects, allowing for a crescendo of activity as the truth is revealed. It’s really a cool feeling! Still, these systems could be a lot more precise and well-crafted. It also ends with a wrap-up of the chapter that has you piecing together manga pieces to correctly show the series of events. This can be a lot of fun, but inevitably you’re going to run into a drawing thumbnail that’s too small or too much like another to properly decipher, and you’ll end up making mistakes or wasting time even though you know exactly what happened.

That last part is a perfect example of another problem, too: this is a port of a remaster of a PSP game, and while it looks largely fine, there are times when interfaces really should’ve been reworked for a larger screen. Why not get a better look at these manga pieces? Why break up menus to so many pages? Why have all the text so big on the screen at all times? These choices make sense on Vita, but there’s a different expectation on a platform you’re displaying on your TV. There are also times when the seams show, when elements of the game were partially remade or upscaled, leaving heavily-pixelated art assets beside partially-pixelated art assets next to the text, which is really the only part of the game that appears totally as intended.

Even with these issues, there are two things that keep Danganronpa 1•2 Reload afloat. One is the aesthetic, which takes a bit to get used to but is well-executed. The game presents environments as dioramas, with two-dimensional art stylistically positioned around the area. This allows simple art to really stand up to all that upscaling and extra scrutiny, and it allows the game’s careful feel — something like the smooth, slick style of Persona but with more sinister undertones — to shine through. The other is its casts of characters, larger-than-life presences that never feel realistic but also never really seem to try for that.

Danganronpa takes uninformed stances and uses them as hammers in its debates.

With a game so focused on its story, it’s important to avoid spoiling any of the events, but there’s an aspect of the storytelling here that’s worth addressing. Danganronpa doesn’t always do a great job of handling its subject matter. It takes uninformed stances and uses them as hammers in its debates, at its worst point simultaneously using mental illness and gender identity as punchlines. There’s some interesting activity here if you can tolerate these missteps, but it’s also totally understandable if you can’t.

Danganronpa 1•2 Reload is a totally fine, reasonably affordable version of some games you may have been wanting to play, and that’s an okay thing to be. It’s a convenient way to catch up before Danganronpa V3 releases later this year, and an accurate, faithful adaptation of the original work. Oh, and one more thing to put on your shelf if you’re a fan.

Score: 7/10
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: March 14, 2017
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platform(s): PS4
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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