The Danganronpa franchise is a twisted, vulgar little thing. Rife with problematic politics, egregious erotic fanservice and some truly breathtakingly ill-judged swings at far heavier themes than it really has any right to tackle, it is in many ways a reprehensible, amoral and quite appalling series of games. And it’s bloody great.
Danganronpa Decadence crams four separate games from the series into one Switch-shaped package for the series' 10th anniversary. With the main games comprising visual novels so trashy that even people who avoid the genre like the plague ought to get a kick out of it, the original Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc Anniversary Edition remains an imperfect diamond, a marvellously depraved multiple-murder-mystery that revels in the sheer strength of its cast and the sick, nasty premise; reminiscent in some ways of classic manga Battle Royale but with a little nod to the long-running Saw series of movies, too.
So what’s the story? Why so worked up? Without spoiling a thing – which is very tricky with a series this twisty – in the first game you take on the role of Makoto Naegi, admitted to the mysterious and prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy alongside 14 of Japan’s most impressive “Ultimates”.
The game presents a paranoid environment exacerbated by the already big personalities of the various Ultimates. You’ll explore Hope’s Peak in first-person style, chatting and investigating in a style akin to the Ace Attorney series. You’ll need to dig deep to collect evidence (and Monokoins, the game's currency) for the Class Trials, called at Monokuma’s whim and thrusting you into, well, a trial. These play out as dynamic interrogations, presented as the various characters blurt out their takes on the situation; facts and conjecture literally fly around the screen and you, armed with your Truth Bullets, must blast the contradictions.
It's still an ace-looking game — the heavily stylised pop-up environments and excellent character art have aged like fine wine, and the soundtrack by Masafumi Takada is as brilliant as ever. The real star, though, is the story, with fantastic, iconic characters, a genuinely funny and smart script, and some superior twists and turns along the way with well-earned emotional hooks and at times shocking violence.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair takes things onto a tropical island. Goodbye Despair is even grosser and slimier than the first game, which is an achievement of sorts. The murders are more brutal, the solutions more convoluted and the cast of characters even more vulgar and over-the-top. It's all that a fan could ever want, really — so why do we not like it quite as much as the first game?
Well, it's a question of familiarity, to some extent. As good as Danganronpa 2 is, it can't really help but hit similar beats to its illustrious forebear. There's also less of a curve here — not so much in the difficulty, but in the way it eases you into its story. Goodbye Despair essentially takes a look at how Trigger Happy Havoc went up to 11, starts from that intensity and never really falters. It's carnage from start to finish. And it's very good carnage, but sometimes it all feels like it's just a little bit much.
Following the first two, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the crowning achievement of the series and, quite frankly, one of the best visual novels ever produced. At its heart, V3 is more of the same. A new school, new students, another Killing Game. The biggest and best one of the lot, with the best conundrums, the best characters, the biggest twists and the most variety. Everything in V3 has been amped up; the soundtrack is the best one yet, the visuals have been overhauled and the game length is much longer and even more packed with fantastic content to keep you coming back even when you’ve finished the main story.
The storyline here is extensive at roughly 40 hours, but we never got bored thanks to the sheer imagination at play and just how entertaining and frequently hilarious the characters are. It's difficult to get across exactly why Danganronpa V3 is so good without spoiling vast swathes of it, but you'll come into the game baffled as to what the writers were thinking with some of these characters, and walk away loving each and every one of them. It has the most extensive post-game of any title in the series, and one of the best endings to any game ever made.
Finally, rounding out this Decadence package, Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp feels like the 'bonus game' of the four — essentially an expansion of a post-game feature from V3, the strangely-titled 'Ultimate Talent Development Plan'. Here, you're presented with a similar board game structure; pick a character from the casts of all four games (yes, even the insipid and un-ported Ultra Despair Girls) and take them out onto the tiles — literally — rolling dice, playing cards and watching your stats shoot up.
Problem is, though, you can't play as a character unless you have one of their trading cards, which you collect from a series of gacha machines using various currencies. And yes, there's a vending machine that you pay for with real-world money. And, with that, Danganronpa finally crossed over from a gross game into a gross game, incentivising these microtransactions with a minuscule drop rate in the main game. If this were a free-to-play title, we'd still disapprove but at least it would make some semblance of sense. But it isn't. When purchased separately, this costs £17.99 / $19.99, which is difficult even to consider "budget" — although as an addition to the Danganronpa Decadence 'set', it's much easier to stomach.
Disappointment in its financial structure aside, though, is Ultimate Summer Camp any good? Honestly, no, not really. Will series fans enjoy it? Almost certainly. That may seem a little disparate, but the bulk of the interesting content here is an absolute surplus of interactions between characters from the entire series; beloved fan-favourites who weren't able to hang out before due to being in different titles or, well, being horribly murdered to death. This is the stuff fan dreams are made of, and the blurb boasts over a thousand new interactions. We're not 100% convinced that's on the level, though — while the vast majority of what we witnessed in our dozens of playthroughs was unique, there were a good number of interactions repeated with only the host character changed; turns out Chiaki's relationship with Hinata wasn't quite as special as we thought!
Danganronpa Decadence is a very fine package that delivers a trio of deliciously devious and salacious murder mysteries, plus a grindy side-game we can live without. The main games here are funny, dramatic and pretty problematic, so exercise some caution — this is resolutely not a game for kids, but even adults will struggle with some of its less savoury or more overtly brash, thoughtless content. If they sound at all appealing, though, we urge you to check the games out for yourself, as they're classics in the visual novel genre. Trigger Happy Havoc offers a memorable Killing Game with fantastic characters and a genuinely funny and smart script. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is even sicker and more delightfully disturbing than the marvellous original; it doesn't match its predecessor in some ways but makes up for its shortcomings in others. Our favourite is definitely the epic third game, though — go in blind and we promise you'll be in for the ride of your life.