Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is on mobile devices now, and if there’s one thing that having one of your favorite games on your phone can tell you, it’s that you have an unhealthy relationship with your phone at this particular point in history.
For those that don’t know, Danganronpa, and two of the three games that spawned from it that are also coming to mobile platforms, are murder mysteries focusing on a different group of high school students. These students are trapped in an enclosed space (a high school, an island, and a school campus) by a black-and-white animatronic teddy bear called Monokuma, and the only way they’re allowed to leave is if they can successfully get away with murder. So you, as protagonist Makoto Naegi, are watching your friends kill each other to escape confinement, and having to solve the mysteries of each death in order to prevent all your surviving classmates from suffering execution as the culprit gets away scot-free. It’s a harrowing and poignant story, with dashes of hope sprinkled through as even murderers find redemption in a story colored in shades of gray.
It also works especially well on mobile devices. Up until this point, I’ve told prospective players that the PlayStation Vita was the best place to play these games, but playing the first game on my iPhone X, I’m starting to reconsider. Trigger Happy Havoc on iOS runs smoother than the game does on Vita, and for a visual novel the idea of running smoothly probably doesn’t sound that exciting, but when it came to more complex animations and effects, I realized just how frequently the game could chug on Vita when those moments went off without a hitch on my phone. The games ran just as well on PC and PlayStation 4, but putting handheld assets on the big screen meant scenes would be grainy, distorted, and downright ugly to look at. Here on my phone, the game’s art looks gorgeous and is on a device that can portray every moment with clarity.
In terms of making mechanics work on a device without buttons, Danganronpa holds up pretty well, even if some of the input options don’t feel as intuitive as they do on other platforms. Moving around the halls of Hope’s Peak Academy feels decent enough with the makeshift analog sticks on the touch screen, and reading through the visual novel sections is as simple as touching the screen to turn the page. It’s getting to the Class Trials, where you’ll find the culprit of each murder through puzzle solving, deduction, and mini-games.
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For the most part, large sections of these trials are dialogue-driven, and play out like any other visual novel section of the game, but when it comes to moving the case forward by using evidence, getting into arguments, and unearthing clues through mini-games, it’s where the mobile version can get more cluttered as it has to put every action or modifier you can use as a button on a screen.
In these debates, other students will assert one thing, and you have to refute them through “truth bullets” that contain evidence you gathered during your investigation, literally shooting their statements on the screen. That particular point works well on mobile, as all you have to do is tap the offending words, but when it comes to slowing down speech for a more precise shot or speeding up voice lines to get to the bad arguments more quickly, all of this is mapped to buttons on the screen. It’s not a dealbreaker, but Danganronpa hurts for buttons in ways that any console or handheld game ultimately will when it’s brought onto a device with only a touch screen. This is also at a point where this series was demonstrably less complex than it ends up being by the time it got to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, and I’m a little wary of what parts of that game are going to look like on phones in the coming months.
But ultimately, I think there’s an argument to be made that the mobile version of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc might be the best version of the game. These games began on handhelds for a reason, and even though it lacks the Vita’s superior input, it just runs so smoothly and works well on a device you’ve always got on your person and can dip in and out of. However, having the first game in one of my all-time favorite series on my phone has probably unmasked how much I use the thing for everything else right now, and trying to really invest the time into it that I’d like has been almost unnerving at points.
Because of the nature of my job, the fact that I’m a millennial, and that my social interaction is coming exclusively from social media engagement in the time of a pandemic, my phone is always on my person right now, and Twitter, Slack, or Discord is always lighting up the screen. So even when I’m attempting to “unplug” and play a long game like Danganronpa, there’s a compulsion going on in the back of my brain to check social media, and it has been so strong in some cases that I would switch in and out during pivotal scenes.
Perhaps some of that comes from already knowing this story by heart, but it is probably telling about how reliant I’ve become on my phone right now to talk to anyone. For the longest time I’ve told people I tend to skew away from mobile games because I use my phone for so many other things, but I don’t think any game has illustrated that more to me than one that really requires you to buckle in for the long haul. I still want to see the iOS version through to the end, as I’m due for a Danganronpa series replay and this is as good an opportunity as any, but it would have been nice if it had come to phones in a time where the tiny rectangle of despair wasn’t my one gateway to anyone outside the four walls of my home.