When it comes to puzzle video games, many assume we’re talking about the classics: Tetris, Myst, and similar titles. They’re all mostly visual puzzles, with a few logic ones thrown in for good measure. But what if you want to go deeper than that? What if you need something darker, more complex, or something that forces you to interact with others? You want a deduction-based puzzle game, in which there’s a mystery at hand to solve.
You want to feel the thrill of coming through at the last minute with a solution that saves the day. To throw the killer in the slammer. To unlock that torture device locked around your neck, or to escape some bizarre trans-dimensional school you’ve been trapped in by some kind of evil black-and-white bear. You want a series like Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.
The Danganronpa series has been going for an entire decade, and it’s just made its way to the Nintendo Switch for the first time with Danganronpa Decadence, a collection that includes the Anniversary Editions of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, and brand-new game Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp. It’s a smorgasbord of deduction-based puzzle games that put you in the thinking chair, force you to collect clues, and track down the mastermind behind a series of gruesome murders, time and time again.
That makes sense, right? But what is the Danganronpa series? What does it mean in the grand scheme of the video game industry? For starters, it’s a genre you should absolutely be paying more attention to if you’re not already, and one that can very quickly take up all your time and attention. Here’s why you should be jumping into the series, like, yesterday.
and Sadistic Schools
Danganronpa is a long-running visual novel-style deduction puzzle game. It’s heavy on the dialogue and relies mostly on interactions between its wildly colorful characters, a group of students who have been selected from all over the world for their status as the “best” in every category imaginable. They’re forced to attend an elite school called Hope’s Peak Academy, which seems like an important institution for students who are the cream of the crop.
Really, however, it’s a sinister facility hiding a deadly secret. The students aren’t actually attending school, but are instead trapped there by a villainous bear named Monokuma—named such for his black-and-white color scheme, split right down the middle, a visual representation of good versus evil. Heavy-handed? Sure, but it works.
This mechanical bear forces the students to plot against each other by killing one of their own, then pulling off the perfect murder.The students each represent a wide variety of skills, like singing, hacking, fighting, and more. However,the student you inhabit as the player character is none of those things. You’re just “lucky” to be there, because you managed to win a spot in the Hope’s Peak Academy lottery. You’re the “Ultimate Lucky Student,” which seems much more like a curse than anything else.
Each student presents with a colorful (and sometimes disturbing) personality, from the spoiled rich kid to the seemingly laid back girl next door that your character cares a little too much about. Each of them are strikingly bizarre, and rarely who they say they are. But you’re stuck in the school together until you figure out a way to get past Monokuma’s game, and how to avoid killing another student.
Here’s the thing, though: not everyone is as virtuous as you are. When a student decides to murder another, you’ve got to figure out who’s taken the life under Monokuma’s direction. The game opens up to become a veritable murder mystery. You’ll then begin looking for clues throughout Hope’s Peak, interviewing others to find out what they know, and finally, forcing the accused into a court case presided over by judge Monokuma. There’s just one little issue with that: if you don’t choose the right suspect, everyone dies. Nail them, and only the suspect dies. Totally normal system. No reason to panic. With everything on the line, you’ve got to piece together the clues you find along your adventure and figure out exactly what happened.
With a bizarre storyline under your belt (one that extends to several of the sequels in the Danganronpa universe), you’ve got to work on tracking down the true culprit, and hopefully escape Monokuma’s grasp in the meantime.
You start to do this by interviewing everyone, gathering clues (aka “truth bullets”), and working to find flaws in characters’ arguments. This leads to you literally “shooting” them down with your truth bullets. Once you’ve done so, you can present conflicting evidence by way of your on-screen revolver, and fire away at your suspect. If your aim is true and your clues are correct, you’ll soon find the court cases swinging in your favor.
But this isn’t all a bunch of silliness concocted just so you can shoot a fake gun at suspects you think killed one of your classmates. The cases that lead up to these trials are absolutely fascinating. As an in-game detective, you work to slowly reveal the truth, even if it all appears quite simple to you at first, with a clear answer. You must support each of your assertions, and back it all up with clues. It can take some time, and may end up frustrating some, but that’s precisely why others will enjoy it.
Where To Start with the Danganronpa Gaming Universe
If you’re interested in trying out the Danganronpa series, there’s one small snag that might make it tough to do so: you’ve got to know where to begin. Spike Chunsoft’s series began on the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita, but it slowly grew into a much larger phenomenon that’s now available across platforms like PlayStation, PC, iOS, Android, and now Nintendo Switch.
There are a few games in the Danganronpa series that have yet to receive English translations, which makes it a bit simpler to recommend a playing order. It’s not too difficult to understand the extended lore of the Danganronpa universe if you just start at the beginning, with Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc. It’s the first entry in the series and follows protagonist Makoto Naegi, who must deduce the identity of his classmate’s killer.
Next up is a bit of a different one: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. This one isn’t your typical deduction game; instead, it’s closer to a horror game. It follows Makoto Naegi’s little sister, Komaru Naegi, as well as the character Toko Fukawa, who was in the first game. The two must work together to defeat an army of Monokuma robots that work to attack their city.
Next up is Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, which introduces an entirely new set of students you can follow, with Monokuma bringing them into yet another facility that they can’t leave. This time, you get to step into the shoes of amnesiac student Hajime Hinata, as you and your classmates work to solve another murder while being abandoned on a school trip.
The next game chronologically is Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School, which is actually a prequel. It’s set ahead of Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, but introduces another different “game” from Monokuma. Makoto Naegi returns in a different, intriguing role as elements from the past and future converge.
Next up on the list is Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which is another fresh introduction with new students, classmates, and additional mysteries to solve. And, you guessed it, Monokuma is along for the ride as well.
This all brings the main Danganronpa game series to a conclusion, at least in terms of what’s currently available. Once you’ve completed them, however, you might want to move on to thematically and mechanically similar titles, of which there are actually plenty.
What to Play After the Danganronpa Deluge
If you’ve already made your way through the lengthy list of Danganronpa titles, there’s still a wide variety of additional titles to try out, whether you’re into the same kind of courtroom antics as you’d see in those games, but without the bullets, or other types of deduction and detective-based investigation titles. You’ll absolutely love these alternatives, promise.
The Ace Attorney Series
Love courtroom drama? There’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to the Phoenix Wright-centric Ace Attorneygames. Collect evidence and work to get to the bottom of the crimes presented before you so you can nab those responsible for committing murder and other heinous acts. Just like in Danganronpa, you’ll have to speak to witnesses and gather all the clues you possibly can before you make your way to the courtroom as defense attorney Phoenix Wright (or Apollo Justice in later games).
While in court, you’ll state your case, listen to opposing arguments, and do your best to defend your client using all the information gleaned from multiple encounters over the course of each case. You’ll need to point out conflicting arguments from sources, then present evidence that corroborates their story. It’s tense, fast-paced, and full of humor from time to time, but fortunately there’s no sadistic bear involved.
Orwell is an intriguing game that finds you taking on the role of a state surveillance operator. It’s similar to the concepts seen in the novel 1984, and tells a story in the form of episodes as you work in a country called The Nation, for its governing body, the Party. The Party’s Safety Bill allows the government to spy on its citizens to keep the country safe (or so they say). Using a covert surveillance operative, Orwell, they investigate everything from individuals’ actions to social media.
It’s your job to deduce who could be a “threat” by checking out all of this information, but you soon unravel a much more sinister set of charges and a story you won’t soon forget. It’s a lot different from Danganronpa mechanically, but the core idea is still the same.
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games
Zero Escape: The Nonary Games is a series comprising several intriguing, sometimes-terrifying adventures. Zero Escape: 999 (short for “Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors”), the first in the series, follows Junpei, a college student who comes home to find a mysterious figure wearing a gas mask waiting for him in his room. He passes out and, upon waking, can remember only that he was “chosen” to play something known only as “the Nonary Game.” The Nonary Game, evocative of horror films like Saw, involves a group of nine individuals kidnapped and forced to participate in a mysterious game. If they don’t play ball, the bombs planted inside their bodies will detonate.
The Nonary Game requires the participants to proceed through several different doors, each with a different number, in order to find number nine. While most of the game is a typical visual novel, the other half is composed of difficult brain teasers that call on much more than decision-making to solve. It requires a certain degree of skill some players may find off-putting, but those who take the plunge will enjoy an extremely rewarding and enriching story.
Here’s the best part, though: whatever you pick, you can always go back to the impossibly zany Danganronpa series. It’ll always be there waiting for you again, just like Monokuma lies in wait for his next victim. Seriously. That bear is absolutely terrifying.