Ever wanted to play a game that combines Phoenix Wright, Japanese visual novels, and survival horror? Do you also want to use your intelligence to its fullest potential and play detective? How about a series that utilizes amazing anime style pop art and cool pink blood? Then the dangerous world of Danganronpa is tailormade for you.
The game series was released by Spike Chunsoft through the 2010s with scenario writing duties for the three main titles primarily handled by Kazutaka Kodaka. The first title, Trigger Happy Havoc, blended dark humor, smart mystery game mechanics, and tragic horror in its own unique, twisted way. Danganronpa gave us an abundance of memorable characters with distinct personalities and designs. You never wanted to get attached to any of them, however, because of their high potential of death and heartbreak.
Since the success of the first game, various sequels, spinoffs, and related media have been released throughout the years. It also led Kodaka and his Too Kyo Games team to develop the original anime Akudama Drive with Studio Pierrot. Although this guide will focus on the games of the Danganronpa franchise, we’ll also look at the light novels, manga, and anime adaptations it’s inspired.
What We’ll Cover
- Common Themes & Inspiration
- Gameplay Mechanics
- Danganronpa Games
- Anime Adaptations
- Manga & Light Novels
Common Themes & Inspiration
In Danganronpa, ‘Hope’ and ‘Despair’ dominate the storytelling aspect of the main video games. These concepts are often put at odds with each other throughout the plot with characters such as protagonist Makoto Naegi representing optimism and hope while villainess Junko Minagawa stands for chaos and despair. When one side wins, the other side finds a chance to strike and take back the momentum. It’s really a straight black versus white battle played out to perfection.
In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the theme of lies is introduced and demonstrated through surprise twists, mysteries, and hidden routes. The development team wanted to make sure the game provided no easy answers, hints, or solutions. They want you to work for the best endings and solve the mystery yourself to get the best experience.
Series producer Yoshinori Terasawa credits the Saw franchise as an influence on the series because the first film came out during early development of the game. Writer Kazutaka Kodaka, on the other hand, was inspired by the 2001 cult classic game Illbleed and the works of David Lynch when crafting the story. He, Kodaka, and the rest of the team not only wanted to make the characters suffer, but incorporated a ‘psycho pop’ imagery to distinguish itself from other games. The stark pop art visuals complement the stylishness of the pink blood used during murder scenes. The team credits former X Japan guitarist Hide with this concept and is a clever way to go around the issues of censorship.
The Danganronpa games utilize what they call 2.5D motion graphics. It’s the combination of 2D character designs and item art with an open, explorative 3D setting. There’s also usually animated cutscenes used when a character is executed by Monokuma.
On the gameplay side, a typical Danganronpa game is split into six different chapters with three sections: Daily Life, Deadly Life, Class Trial.
Daily Life: A visual novel type of storytelling that serves as an introduction to many Danganronpa characters. Here, you would usually explore the school grounds, learn more about your fellow classmates, and gradually progress the story. Also included here are ‘Free Time’ segments where you can converse with anyone to get to know them better and gain skills that’ll be useful during the Class Trial.
Deadly Life: This is where a murder occurs and you’re tasked with searching for clues and evidence to use as part of the Class Trial.
Class Trial: The main portion of the game where the class determines who the culprit is and decides their fate. Within this section there are several mini games that can be played. The first of them is the Nonstop Debate where several characters are talking at once and the player loads ‘Truth Bullets’ that shoots down any falsehoods or contradictions being said. Other mini games include Hangman’s Gambit, where you shoot down letters to reveal a clue and the Closing Argument where you piece together a comic depicting the circumstances of the murder.
Other spinoff games like Ultra Despair Girls use a different gameplay style. In particular, it uses a third person adventure shooter game where you control Komaru Naegi and a special megaphone called the Hacking Gun. This weapon uses Truth Bullets to attack and control electronic objects such as the Monokuma robots and various buttons and switches. It can also scan the environment for clues or secret items. You’re also assisted by Toko Fukawa throughout the game who can use her split personality to kill enemies and help you out.
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc (2011)
The first game was released in 2011 to critical and financial success from both audiences and critics. We’re introduced to average student Makoto Naegi who’s selected to join Hope’s Peak Academy via a lucky raffle along with several other young prodigies. He and the others awaken in the empty school and are greeted by a mysterious bear called Monokuma. He tells everyone that the principal is dead and they’re all trapped in his devious survival game.
Monokuma explains that the only way that a student can leave is to murder another student without being caught. If they’re caught and the class finds them guilty, they’ll be violently executed. If the class accuses the wrong student, they’ll all be executed and the culprit is allowed to leave. Naegi must work with the other students to avoid being killed and find the mastermind.
- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair (2012)
Originally, scenario writer Kazutaka Kodaka hadn’t prepared to write Danganronpa 2, but the series’ popularity inspired him to create the story for Goodbye Despair. Influenced by the TV series Lost, the story now takes place on the uninhabited Jabberwock Island and follows an amnesiac boy named Hajime Hinata. He and several other ‘Ultimate’ prodigy students are greeted by Monokuma and his sister, Monomi. Similar to the first game, the students can’t leave unless they murder someone without getting caught. If the right culprit is caught, they’re executed, but if the wrong culprit is killed, every student will die and the real killer is set free.
- Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls (2014)
Ultra Despair Girl is the midquel entry in the series, taking place sometime after the first game and before Goodbye Despair. The story shifts focus to Makoto Naegi’s younger sister, Komaru, who has sheltered herself off in her apartment building for the past year. Outside, chaos has descended and various Monokuma robots have invaded her surroundings. She’s later rescued by Genocide Jill (alter ego of writer Toko Fukawa) who helps Komaru escape the city in exchange for helping her rescue her close friend, Byakuya.
- Danganronpa: Unlimited Battle (2015)
Unlimited Battle was the first mobile game of the Danganronpa series released exclusively on the Japanese IOS and Android systems in 2015. Its service was short-lived despite having around 700,000 user accounts, running for nine months before shutting down in November of that year.
Like most mobile games, it was free-to-play with an in-game microtransaction system that let you buy your way to get new content or advantages. The game used a collectible card system that utilized the phone’s touchscreen to shoot down characters billiards style.
- Kirigiri Sou (2016)
Released with the 3rd Blu-Ray box set of Danganronpa 3, Kirigiri Sou is a unique sound novel that serves as a crossover sequel with a 1992 game called Otogirisō. The game features both protagonists from each series with Kyoko Kirigiri and Kouhei Matsudaira respectively. It follows Kirgiri’s investigations into several disappearances at a remote mansion with Kouhei providing assistance after almost running her over with his car.
While the game functions with multiple routes and endings like any other visual novel, it’s unique for emphasizing the sound and dialogue of various characters and background environments. The visual aspect is centered on reading walls of text over a background slide.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (2017)
Danganronpa V3 follows Kaede Akamatsu, who awakens in the mysterious Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles along with Ultimate Detective Shuichi Saihara and several other students. They’re attacked by various bear robots called the Monokubs, who are the ‘children’ of Danganronpa villain Monokuma. Like in previous stories, Monokuma tasks the students with murdering one another without being caught and executed via class trial. This time, however, if no one is killed within two days, everyone will be executed regardless. Now, Kaede and Shuichi work together to solve a series of murders around them and uncover the true mastermind.
- Danganronpa the Animation (2013)
An anime adaptation of the original Danganronpa game was released in 2013 with animation by Lerche. It was directed by Seiji Kishi with a written script by Makoto Uezu. The series can be streamed on Funimation.
- Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School (2016)
Danganronpa 3 is an original anime to the series, meant to conclude the long running Hope’s Peak Academy saga involving Makoto Naegi. The anime is again animated by Lerche and is noted for its concurrent streaming release split into two chapters: Future Arc and Despair Arc. An epilogue titled Hope arc was also released to properly send off the series on a positive note.
This was Kazutaka Kodaka’s first foray into writing an original anime and he wanted to write a fitting conclusion to this chapter of the series. Interestingly, an anime of Danganronpa 2 was planned, but Kodaka’s team opted to adapt what happened after that game, as it wasn’t easy to write about what happened to that cast and he felt it was too painful to revisit.
Manga & Light Novels
- Danganronpa Zero (2011)
Danganronpa Zero is a prequel to the first game, Trigger Happy Havoc, and is set between the events of the Despair Arc from Danganronpa 3. It follows the amnesiac Hope’s Peak Academy student Ryoko Otonashi. She has a crush on her therapist, the Ultimate Neurologist Yasuke Matsuda, who carefully observes her as the school deals with the consequences of a school tragedy. Ryoko learns she’s somehow involved with the incident and gradually uncovers what really happened.
- Danganronpa Kirigiri (2013-2020)
Danganronpa Kirgiri follows middle schooler Kyoko Kirigiri before the events of the first game and her assistant, Yui Samidare. The light novel series follows the two protagonists over the course of several years as Kyoko and Yui strive to become elite private detectives within the Detective Shelf Collection. Seven volumes were released over a seven-year run.
- Genocider Mode (2015-2017)
Genocider Mode is a manga adaptation and retelling of Ultra Despair Girls told from the perspective of Toko Fukawa and Genocide Jack/Jill. It highlights her relationship with Byakuya Togami, Komaru Naegi, and Nagito Komaeda throughout the series.
- Danganronpa: Togami (2015-2017)
This light novel trilogy series focuses on Byakuya Togami’s past before and during the Tragedy of Hope’s Peak Academy. It begins with his reawakening in Prague stark naked and his battle with an Ultimate Imposter who has taken over the Togami Conglomerate and ordered his assasination. The second volume reveals that Byakuya competed with fifteen other siblings for control of the family business, gradually turning into a dangerous death game.
- Killer Killer (2016-2017)
Killer Killer is a spinoff manga series of Danganronpa 3 written by Kazutaka Kodaka and Yoichiro Koizumi. It wasn’t originally marketed as connected to the Danganronpa franchise until the ending of the first volume.
The series follows Misaki Amano — a fresh recruit of the Future Foundation’s 6th division dedicated to investigating mysterious murders. She works with her partner Takumi Hijirihara, whom she’s infatuated with, to track down murderous serial killers after the events of The Tragedy. Unbeknownst to her, Takumi is a serial killer of serial killers himself, going by the name ‘Killer Killer.’
With that, we’ve covered everything in the Danganronpa franchise. What’s your favorite game in the series? Who’s your favorite Danganronpa character? Did the anime adaptations do the series justice?
You can purchase most of the Danganronpa games on Steam and stream the anime series on Funimation.