Danganronpa on Switch should’ve been a sure thing. And for the most part, the Danganronpa Decadence collection brings the series’ three visual novels to Nintendo’s console in a serviceable, more accessible handheld package in comparison to their PlayStation Vita originators. It also comes with a new game entirely, Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp. For more extended thoughts on that, click here. Ever since the release of the Nintendo Switch in 2017, I’ve wanted to see Danganronpa make its way to the platform. The series started on handheld, and after playing the games on Vita, PlayStation 4, PC, and on my phone, I still think experiencing Monokuma’s despair-inducing killing game on a portable device is best.
For the longest time, Nintendo Switch felt like Danganronpa’s destiny. And now that I’ve played each of the games in Decadence on the console, it’s hardly the definitive version of games that ran better on every other platform. But it’s still an adequate version of a stellar series, even though the collection is too incomplete to recommend as a one-stop shop for a story of hope, despair, and all the grey that exists in between.
Danganronpa Decadence contains three of the original games in Spike Chunsoft’s murder mystery visual novel series. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair are two parts of the story of Hope’s Peak Academy. This institution houses Japan’s best and brightest high school students, each given the title of “Ultimate” in their respective field. Each student is considered the best at what they do, and Hope’s Peak Academy is the springboard that will launch them into a successful future. The school is hope for these students in the same way it’s hope for society at large. It nurtures and studies talent in an effort to provide hope for civilization’s future. And it believes so wholeheartedly in its mission that much of Japan’s youth are enraptured in its impact. For good and for ill.
But upon arriving at Hope’s Peak, protagonists Makoto Naegi and Hajime Hinata find the school’s promise is a lie. They, alongside their classmates, are trapped within the school’s walls and on the deserted Jabberwock Island by Monokuma, an animatronic teddy bear who tells both groups that if they want to return home, they have to get away with the murder of a classmate. What follows is a cross between the movie Battle Royale, Ace Attorney, and a little bit of Saw. Students of an institution meant to be humanity’s hope fall into despair as they betray and deceive each other, all while wrapped up in an engaging investigation and class trial to unmask the culprit. But despite all the distrust Monokuma sows, Danganronpa is all about the silver linings cast out by a hopeless situation. Students who commit these crimes are almost never selfish villains ready and willing to sacrifice their classmates for their own freedom. The series revels in the grey and in dissecting how hope and despair manifest for different people. So the murder mystery is rarely black-and-white.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the third and, as of right now, final visual novel in the series, takes place in a different continuity. Hope’s Peak Academy doesn’t exist here, and the Ultimates caught up in Monokuma’s killing game are part of the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles. Describing how V3 deviates from its predecessors is a spoiler-ridden affair. So I won’t do that. But while the first two games are obsessively deconstructing the conflict of hope and despair, Danganronpa V3 is more broadly about truth and lies, or more specifically, fact vs. fiction. It’s the best the series has ever been from a mechanical standpoint but is deeply cynical in a way Danganronpa usually isn’t. It makes a hard break from the original story to speak more boldly about being a franchise trapped in its own success, and a fandom unwilling to let it go. It’s not carrying the weight of Danganronpa’s usual emotional core, and is instead a satire showing you the worst-case scenario of a story extrapolating into something unrecognizable. And it’s not really flattering to anyone involved. It’s a game I still reference in conversations about the video game industry today, but it’s not because of the same emotional attachment I have to the Hope’s Peak storyline.
Therein lies Danganronpa Decadence’s shortcomings. It’s an incomplete collection that doesn’t tell the whole story. The most notable omission is Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, a puzzle shooter spin-off that launched after Danganronpa 2. It takes place between the first two games, and helps pave the way for Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. This is an anime series that concludes the story of Hope’s Peak Academy before Danganronpa V3 goes on to do something else. This is part of a larger problem Danganronpa has had as it came to the west. To the untrained eye, the series looks incomplete. And Ultra Despair Girls’ omission supports that viewing, as if the game isn’t an important piece of this puzzle. Decadence was a chance to present the series in a complete way that previous collections never have, which is especially odd considering its main characters grace the cover of the compilation.
As an anime, Danganronpa 3 wouldn’t have been part of Decadence anyway, but its presentation is a problem Spike Chunsoft and Funimation have never corrected. Danganronpa V3’s title implies that it’s the next sequential part of the story following Danganronpa 2, but that’s not the case and it’s not reflected in the ways these games have been packaged, as Danganronpa 3 is hidden away on Funimation’s app and in fragmented blu-ray collections that divide the show in half in a way it’s not meant to be watched.
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All of these problems aren’t specific to the Switch ports, but there’s one that certainly is: all three games have some degree of technical trouble on the console. This was surprising, considering each of them ran perfectly fine on the Vita years ago. The first two games are especially troubled. During the exploration segments across Hope’s Peak and Jabberwock Island, I experienced significant framerate drops. This was most notable in the larger, open spaces of Danganronpa 2, where the game chugged constantly. It was especially noticeable in places I had to frequently pass through, like the resort Hajime and his classmates were staying at. The first game suffered its own issues, but there’s often a lot less going on in the environment in that game, so it was less frequent. Surprisingly, for a game that was originally aimed at PS4 and Vita, Danganronpa V3 probably runs the best on the Switch. Though even it still had significant frame drops during the class trial segments where the visual effects were kicked up a notch. As visual novels, performance isn’t that detrimental to the experience, but performance has never really been an issue for the series prior to this, either.
Since Nintendo unveiled the console, Danganronpa has been at the top of my list of games I wanted to see ported to Switch. However, my recommendation of this collection has several asterisks next to it. It’s not the most thorough place to play the series, as the Vita, PC, and PlayStation 4 have all the games in one place. It’s not the most technically sound place to play it, either, since the PC and PS4 versions run all the games at a stable 60fps. But the Switch is still the most readily available system to play these games in a handheld format that suits them, and even though there are performance issues, it still runs well enough 75 percent of the time. Danganronpa Decadence is a serviceable version of three out of five pieces of this story. It’s one I still hold a lot of game franchises to because of its thematic consistency and narrative integrity. I just wish it had been the definitive version instead.