The Vita's only real previous western-release diving into the visual novel field was Virtue's Last Reward. If you tried that game, playing the opening section of Dangaronpa (previous coverage), things feel very familiar indeed. The good news is, if you liked VLR, then this is great fun and different enough to be worth playing. If you haven't, and are unsure about the whole visual novel thing, its might be worth a go.
In short, you arrive at a new school, pass out and wake up in a bedroom with the windows sealed by metal plates. When you meet your fellow high-achieving school chums, they too are trapped, and soon face the wrath of the psychotic Monokuma, a robo-teddy-headteacher-from-Hell. There follows a lot of meet-the-class chat before the issue becomes clear, you have find out who's killing whom, as that's the only way out.
If you can put up with some of the perkier or more abrasive characters, with lots of screen jarring and squeaky voices, you should enjoy the game, its puzzles and strategy. If you find the banter and vocals irritating the nuts off you, then probably give the genre up as a dead loss (apparently more games are coming).
Once you start the detective work, there are a slowly opening set of floors, new locations to visit and inspect. With the mad bear urging on your fellow captives to kill a classmate undetected, there are plenty of red herrings and bloody endings (if your dorm is called The Despair Hotel, you know things are pretty bleak). The early cases are pretty easy and it'd be great if there was a big "here's the killer, next case please" option to skip the trudge to each conclusion, but then you could miss a lot of the game.
I can't say much about the game as you skip between sections of free time where you can explore and the tightly-scripted narrative scenes or the gruesome detective work of investigating the murder scenes for clues. But with plenty of neat touches (scenes drop into place, objects of interest are pretty obvious [or just press triangle] and you get credits for spotting them to buy stuff in the school store) to offer as presents, the game is fun, fast and fluid to play.
Even conversations are perked up as key phrases need to be acted upon to advance the story, which are broken up into different cases when the corpses start mounting up. Trials take place after you've amassed enough evidence, but you still need to shoot down the defendant's story, which is where the game's extensive in-game automated note-taking (and handy truth bullets) come in handy. There are various mini games throughout the trail including rhythm argument combat and a neat, final, comic recreation builder.
But these create the only real grind in the game, going through the same phrases again and again, and not knowing if its worth talking to someone standing around. Other minor quibbles including a long unsortable present list and coming out of a place only to face straight back in. Put those aside and we have a darkly sordid tale of murder to wade through which is immensely entertaining.
Price: £29.99 (Amazon)
File size 1.3GB
Progress: Blood on most hands