The Danganronpa series is built around a deliciously gruesome premise: a bunch of high schoolers are held captive - in a school in the first game, a tropical island in the second - and they're told that the only way they'll ever be allowed to go back to their normal life is if they kill one of the other members of the group and get away with it. If they manage to commit murder without anybody working out that they did it, then they'll be free to go while their classmates are executed - but if they're fingered as the culprit by the other students, then it's their head that'll be on the chopping block.
Danganronpa 1&2 Reload is a collection of the two main Danganronpa games - Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair - originally released on PSP and then on PlayStation Vita, now making their way to PlayStation 4 for the first time.
The first game in the series, Trigger Happy Havoc, sees fifteen students waking up inside Hope's Peak Academy unaware of how they became prisoners and who put them there. They're quickly introduced to a sadistic black and white teddy bear named Monokuma, who informs them they'll have to take part in the killing game if they ever want to leave the school. While the students initially decide that they won't betray each other and working together to find a way out is the preferable option, eventually one thing leads to another, somebody gets bumped off, and it's up to you to figure out who's responsible.
Danganronpa is broken up into distinct gameplay sections. First, there's the visual novel aspect of the game, which is similar to any other title of this ilk on the market. There'll be fairly long periods of time spent reading and listening to what the various characters have to say, as well as taking in the latest plot developments. When there's a murder - and rest assured, there will be blood - you'll enter into an investigation portion of the game in which you must survey the crime scene for clues that will help you identify the killer. Once all the evidence has been collected you'll proceed to a class trial, where the demented Monokuma will preside over the court, and it'll be up to the remaining students to reach a consensus about who they think is the culprit.
Visual novel games do have a tendency to feel quite pedestrian at times, and it's in this regard that Danganronpa is most likely to appeal to those who traditionally steer clear of the genre. While you will be expected to read a lot of text and listen to a lot of anime characters talking to each other, the more interactive sections that are interspersed throughout the story help to create a sense of pacing that more standard visual novel games don't possess. The downtime between killings is spent getting to know the cast in a manner not unlike Persona 4's social links, and then each murder mystery is a self-contained whodunnit that will give you plenty to think about, while also shedding some light on the overarching mystery of why you've been held captive and who's responsible.
Both games feature labyrinthine, mind-bending narratives that contain just enough twists and turns to make sure that you can never truly be confident about the motives of the cast. The characters in both titles are also stellar, with mostly strong writing and voice acting helping to bring the colourful personalities to life. There are many memorable characters in both games, and while some do adhere to genre stereotypes a little too rigidly, there are plenty of surprising character developments, and enough layers to peel back to make the conversations with classmates interesting in their own right.
The second game in the pack, Goodbye Despair, is ostensibly similar to Trigger Happy Havoc in its setup, but while the opening few hours might feel overly familiar, they're part of an altogether more ambitious narrative that will likely leave your head spinning by the time the end credits start rolling. Goodbye Despair also features a refined navigation system for the quieter moments between murder mysteries, and the presentation of the title holds up a little better than Trigger Happy Havoc does.
If there's one real negative about this collection, it's that the transition from handheld to home console has resulted in some jagged visuals, predominantly in the first game. Overall, though, the two games are practically unchanged, and what's more, both control well and haven't lost anything thanks to the lack of touch controls in the PS4 version. Meanwhile, it's worth mentioning that for all you Trophy hunters, both Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair share a single trophy list, and given how time consuming both games are - you're looking at 25 hours for each, just to finish the main story mode - that's perhaps a little disappointing.
One part Persona, one part Ace Attorney, and one part Battle Royale, Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair are two of the very best murder mystery titles available for PS4 right now, together in one pack. While the games may move just a tad too slowly for some players, those willing to take a chance on a visual novel with a difference will find Danganronpa to be a fascinating, multi-faceted, frequently surprising story that's among the most compelling on the market, full of engaging characters, anarchic humour, and jaw-dropping twists.