Catharsis is a powerful thing. It can apply to a good cry from letting out pent-up emotions over a troubling experience, or finally achieving an emotionally fulfilling goal. In the case of Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc, it also applies to surviving a death game.
Danganronpa is one of the best murder mystery visual novels on Xbox Game Pass, and it’s leaving Microsoft’s subscription service on January 15. You should play it before then, because it has a super high school level character-driven story you shouldn’t miss.
Our story begins
Welcome to Hope’s Peak Academy. You play as Makoto Naegi, who is standing at the gate of the school for elites that he’d always dreamed of attending in his youth. Just as he’s about to enter, his memory drops. Next thing he knows, he’s in a classroom inside the locked academy building with a bunch of other confused students. Then, a black-and-white animatronic bear called Monokuma appears to initiate the death game.
The rules of Monokuma’s game are simple. Whoever manages to kill one of their classmates without getting caught gets to escape. After each death is an investigation and trial, where the survivors gather clues and try to figure out who the killer is. Meanwhile, the killer is expected to be amongst the group, trying to hide trying to sabotage the truth.
Every Danganronpa character has a “super high school level” talent, meaning they are the best at that skill in their age group in the world — or, sometimes, the best regardless of age. There are some straightforward epithets like Super High School Level Swimmer, but there are more complex ones that actually involve a variety of skills and background characteristics, like Super High School Level Heir.
Naegi has none of these conventional talents. He is the Super High School Level Lucky Student, a student picked at random out of a lottery to enter Hope’s Peak Academy. By all means, he should be one of the first to die. He’s a naive, “talentless” kid surrounded by elites. Yet, he survives and even manages to be a key player in Monokuma’s trials. It’s his continuing presence that makes escape possible.
Hope from despair
Danganronpa doesn’t have elaborate, branching endings. Each trial spells two deaths: one personally caused by one of your allies and the inevitable death of the killer once they are identified. The reasons vary, whether it’s a selfish ploy or attempt to help someone else. No matter the reason, though, the killer meets an elaborate end on Monokuma’s stage while their classmates watch helplessly from the sidelines.
Betrayal. Loss. Despair. All of it brews from this seemingly inescapable situation where only more and more people seem to die and the survivors are at the mercy of a psychopathic grandmaster. The remaining students still choose to fight for their lives with the time they have left.
Komaeda Nagito, a character from the second Danganronpa game, believed that despair was just a ladder to hope.
“The deeper and darker the despair...the brighter and powerful the hope born from it.”
Naegi is the Super High School Level Lucky Student, but he’s also Super Level High School “Hope.” In Danganronpa 3, the Danganronpa anime that’s considered a canon continuation of the second game, Kyoko nearly admits that Naegi is the reason she even made it through their game.
“Talentless” as he is, Makoto Naegi symbolizes the “hope” of Hope’s Peak Academy. He stays optimistic, even when others like Byakuya are rude to him or insult his intelligence. He trusts Kyoko, even during a trial where helping her would incriminate himself in exchange.
It really makes you want to see them succeed, especially in such dire circumstances.
“He’s the strongest human being I’ve ever known. Bar none. He’s optimistic, he always puts his friends first, and he couldn’t give up if his life depended on it,” Kyoko says of him.
At its heart, Danganronpa is about its characters. The iconic graphics and satisfying puzzles are just the flavor. Naegi wouldn’t have survived without help from Kyoko, Byakuya, or even Chihiro. But it’s highly possible that the survivors wouldn’t have made it without him, either.
I first played Danganronpa when I was in what I felt was a hopeless situation. I thought, I might as well play through this game because what else am I going to do when I don’t have a job or any friends?
And there was, you know, catharsis. The feeling of hope emerging from despair, of uncovering a glimmer in the darkness. If you want to experience an emotional upheaval between young teens in a fight for their lives, then maybe this game will be for you too.
Danganronpa Trigger Happy Havoc is currently available on PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Nintendo Switch.