Ten years of Danganronpa, eight of which I’ve been an avid fan. The original game came out in the west when I was in high school, and now I pay rent. Time flies, and I think one of the things I’ve always appreciated about these games is that they feel perpetually in the past. Danganronpa, to me, represents a simpler time. The series coming to a conclusive end in 2017 with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony certainly helps. Series creator Kazutaka Kodaka made it very clear with Danganronpa V3’s divisive (and brilliant, actually) ending that there were no plans to continue the series. Spike Chunsoft has spent nearly five years respecting that wish, with the series remaining mostly dormant since Danganronpa V3’s release.
Until now, that is. Danganronpa Decadence is a seemingly harmless port collection of the three main games in the series with a bonus fanservice game. For a series that got its start on PlayStation Portable and grew even more popular thanks to the PlayStation Vita, I was interested to revisit them.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a game I adored when I first played it but I don’t feel it holds up all these years later. I’ve tried to get a second playthrough started two times over the last few years but I can never get past the first two hours. A group of students are locked in a high school and forced to play a killing game in order to escape. In 2021 the battle royale genre is no longer niche, but there weren’t many adventure games taking advantage of this kind of setting when it came out. It has many good ideas, but it suffers the way many freshman titles do. Struggles to truly find its own identity, plenty of room to improve, and a story that often relies on cheap tricks to grasp a new audience. Hindsight has made the charm fade away from me. The story takes the least amount of chances and the cast is incredibly weak. The gameplay is a genuinely fun take on the trial system popularized by Ace Attorney, but the social simulation aspects feel like a half-baked pastiche added in to sell copies. Both of these are improved vastly in future games, but they’re solid enough here. Having said that, I respect Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc despite its blatant edge. If you’ve never played this before you could very well get caught up in the mystery present and the weird cast of characters. I just don’t think it holds up as much once you know all the big twists.
Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is where the series truly came into its own. Overflowing with innovation, creativity, and most importantly a budget, Kodaka and his team took their formula and ran with it. Everything is improved from the first game: The cast is better written, the story’s themes feel less broad and more personal, the mechanics were fine-tuned, and the change to a tropical beach setting brightens up the drab aesthetic without losing the foreboding tone. It’s not perfect, but it holds up far better than the original. I think some trial minigames aren’t great (Hangman’s Gambit sticks out, but in all fairness that never really improved) and the pacing drags in the middle, but Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair is quite the special game. No more playing it safe, the story out there with gameplay and style to match.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is probably one of the most important pieces of fiction I’ve ever played. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair was such a leap above the first game because that game became a financial success, and Spike Chunsoft pulled out all the stops for this final game. More character sprites, more dynamic trials, mind-blowing production values, and the most engaging gameplay in the series. That’s not all the stuff that makes it stick with me to this day, however. The characters, specifically the main few that lead the story, feel more fleshed out than the past two games. The story challenges the established conventions the series was built on, and in turn, challenged the audience. I wasn’t kidding when I said this game was divisive. This is likely either people’s favorite or most hated game in the series. In my opinion, it’s one of the boldest pieces of fiction given the context of its release, and a damn good game in its own right. The themes resonate with me to this very day, and you can tell the team really reflected back on what they learned from making the series as they made this. A lot of the flaws of the series remain, mainly in how it falls into a few problematic tropes here and there, but it has so much to say for itself that it has always stood the test of time for me. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the best game in this collection, and the trilogy is honestly worth playing through just to get to this one.
Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp… is a soulless appeal to nostalgia. This could have been a cute little addition but it has been fumbled with the inclusion of paid gacha mechanics in a game that already costs you money. This was based on Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’s post-game bonus mode, where characters across the whole series take part in a board game RPG. The meta goal is to see character interactions, which leads to a lot of grinding to unlock characters. I guess someone thought this would be the perfect formula to drop a gacha system into. The grind for characters is slow, you only start with the protagonists, and the only way you can get the currency in-game is to build characters up in the board game. These are quite fun the first few times, I’ll admit. I, like many of you, find pleasure in seeing The Numbers Go Up. Each game lasts 50 turns, and when you’re done with that you can use them in a tower minigame which is actually just endless battles. The only way you get the currency to roll for the gacha is to achieve all the challenges for each floor. So pulling this off requires grinding. Or, you could simply pay real money to buy the currency and roll for characters. If gacha and gambling is your vice, I don’t mean to hate. I just fundamentally disagree with what they did here.
I don’t think the quality of the game is really strong enough for me to look past this either. Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp is mostly an asset flip, and not really a good one. Character portraits from the different games look strange when next to each other thanks to the artist’s style that evolved as time went on. Not only was no attempt made to blend the styles together, but I noticed several sprites that look scanned in wrong. A lot of the Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony characters have really strange lining, with skin color bleeding out on occasion. The sprites also all have swimsuit redraws that just don’t really look good either. These revisions of the sprites existing as higher-level versions of each character for the gacha just sours an already bad creative choice. Not to mention, every background used is simply a low-quality picture of the 3D backgrounds that bring the series to life.
This is not to say the game is devoid of fun, but I feel that I’d only recommend playing it if you’re already planning on getting the physical collection. It is not worth buying on its own. The writing is clearly not Kodaka, he wasn’t involved based on the credits. The whole purpose is to see characters interact who might not have thanks to being from different games or not getting much screen time in their own games. The event scenes that play out certainly got a smile or two out of me, and with low expectations already that’s really all I could have asked for. These events are glorified fanfiction. That word has a negative connotation when discussing the quality of writing, but I think it shouldn’t. At least, not always. Playing this game at its best is like reading a charming fanfic or seeing fanart of two characters you like hanging out in some obscure scenario. Fleeting and fun, and there’s value in that. At its worst, however, it reads like a bad fanfic. Not the fun kind either, the kind that dragged longer than it needed to.
Out of all four of these games, Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp is the only one I don’t really like, but you don’t have to buy it if you don’t want to. Each game is sold separately on the Nintendo eShop for reasonable prices, and even paying $60 for the physical release is a steal since you can ignore Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp. I just wish that was really my only issue with the collection. The ports are just okay, they simply get the job done and don’t strive to do anything more. The most baffling exclusion was the lack of Touch Screen support. Remember that? That neat little thing the Nintendo Switch can do that so few developers utilize. Not only did the PlayStation Vita versions of these games have that feature, but HD PC versions exist with mouse support. The recently released Anniversary versions are on mobile as well. There really feels like no excuse for this feature not being here, especially since trials go so fast, and aiming with the thumbstick can be a pain.
Outside of that, I had a lot of nitpicks. Mainly with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. All three of these games are of course worth playing, I said as such before. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, being originally PSP games, made the transition pretty well. The backgrounds and sprites look pretty good, but Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair’s textures have certainly held up better. Video files across all three games however have noticeable compression that rears its head in some blocky artifacting in docked play. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has this the worst, those videos just don’t look good. That game is also pared back quite a bit compared to PC and PlayStation 4, but looks pretty good all things considered. Considering I played the rough Vita version, this is an improvement, but one thing that drags it down is performance. Locked at 30 frames-per-second, a lot of the visual flare of the previous console version is lost. That’s my absolute pettiest nitpick though, because it holds up well enough if that doesn’t bother you. I think a lot of these gripes will only truly matter for returning players, but I was a bit disappointed in their quality. They’re fine, I guess, but they could have been better. I hope patches fix lingering issues, but I’ve concluded many reviews like this only to never see that optimism rewarded. I can only review the games I played.
I know this review probably came across as rather negative, but I felt it was important to be thorough and fair because I care about these games a lot. This deserved to be a home run, and it’s just an okay way to play some great games. Your mileage will vary based on how much some of this mattered, but if you’re looking to play these in excellent quality I’ll point you in the direction of the PS4 or PC ports. If Nintendo Switch is your console of choice, and you’re desperate to see what you missed a decade ago, you might as well check out the Switch version. Vita copies go for ridiculous prices, and I know maybe two other people who aren’t me that still own that system. I love the Danganronpa games, despite their myriad of flaws and occasional problematic content. These games are important to me, and they were formative for the person I grew into and the content I’ve fallen in love with since. It does not need to continue, as much as it is very likely it might in the coming years now. If it does, I’ll give it an open-minded chance I guess. It just won’t be the same after such a gratifying and perfect conclusion for a series that managed to always ramp up the stakes.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Spike Chunsoft