A few notes before we start: these two separate games will be reviewed as one, with no spoilers. I have never played these games before but have always wanted to, so expect to read this through the eyes of a freshman to the series, enjoy.
Getting accepted to a good school is always a crucial part of an adolescents life, looking down the barrel of adulthood, pressure from your parents to do well and psychotic teddy bears trying to kill you and everyone you love…ya know, just normal kid stuff. When DanganRonpa was first released back in 2013 it shocked everyone, in more ways then one. NIS had yet again published a game that not only captured audiences attention on a quality of gaming level, but also in the direction a wacky and dark visual novel.
DanganRonpa Reload is a murder mystery visual novel that takes it’s trade very seriously, and not much else at the same time. A combination of western and eastern gaming and entertainment traditions that creates a wonderful orchestra for the eyes and mind. Whether you are a child full of hope entering his prime in high school or a wide eyed energetic one looking to have fun on a far away island, your life will be filled with despair. You are desperately trapped in a school or island after being deceived into coming there, with the crazed Monokuma keeping you imprisoned to play through his sick game of murder she wrote. The key to winning is to kill everyone around you without anyone being all the wiser, and the only way to run that gambit is to go through the trials where you must pick apart everything you have figured out.
DR Reload infuses the beautiful hues and dark expressions of anime and comics alike to energize the experience. Visual novel is a good way to generalize this game, but visually pleasing story scape would be a perfect one. The cutscenes present themselves in a mix between anime and comics (but not as a comic book of an anime…if that makes sense) that create for a faced paced and brutally gorgeous way to deliver shots of story and art.
The clue like murder mystery stylings have always been a hallmark for the series, somehow feeding off of nostalgia and creative character spunk to act as the beating heart. It immediately sets you up for a grand adventure that can only be described in one word : ambiguous. The sheer power that these games present to you in the form of a mystery is something even the Riddler couldn’t even solve, constantly making you think in terms of lateral movements that can only be coddled until you fall through one of the dark cracks of your own decisions. This game has a special way to allow you to get a sense of the world on your own, with your own bearings and abilities. Searching around for clues, interrogating characters and even getting to familiarize yourself with them gives you a greater sense of who is a friend and what the surrounding world really provides for you. With the genre this is, character familiarization is worked into the experience without any type of hindrance and it makes it one of the best facet of the game. Learning all your friends and enemies have to offer is not only an intricate part of the experience, but also at times makes it feel like it’s own game. This also opens up the feel of the game, learning dark secrets, deciphering lies, falling in love and watch it degrade in front of you creates an emotional attachment unlike any game I have personally ever played.
Of course, in visual novels there is no feature more important then the story, DR Reload has the most consistent story across two games that any series can possibly ask for. Not only is it well written, but the story will take you to some unforeseen places, namely when it forces you to look inward. Story is what makes the novel part of visual novel and this game could have easily just been the former. From the jump this game throws you into a fire with nothing more then a fan and expects you to put it out, that alone doesn’t make for a great experience written experience but running through this fire having to save people, put yourself in harms way, stamp out the fire and founding out what caused it is the full gambit that DR Reload is offering. The more surprising part is that initially, this story makes no sense…almost as if this metaphorical fire had started under water. The more impressive aspect of the start is tat in a few minutes not only does it present a coherent version, but it also makes you fully believe that this could be a plausible situation. WIZARDRY, that is the only way I can fully describe their writing, it prods all of your emotions and in a way that makes sense…more than what most other games can say for themselves. Even with all the impressive story telling and deep well thought out characters, there is still one piece that trumps everything else in this game – Monokuma.
Monokuma is the antagonist in DR Reload, and he may be the ultimate version of one as well. Monokuma is undeniably intrinsic to the plot and game as a whole, it would not even be close to how different this game would be without him. From the second he is introduced it is made so abundantly clear that he is the pure embodiment of evil. This is a difficult subject to write about considering the fact that Monokuma is unbelievably important to this game and talking about him feels almost spoiler-ish, but not writing about him will fail to truly give the best explanation possible about this game and if you all have learned something about me, it is that details are of the utmost importance to me. I will tiptoe this line like a Russian ballerina. Monokuma is evil in a way that makes his devilishness seem almost child like in a fun way, he knows no boundaries in pursuit of his deplorable endgame. This entity is not only the reason for all of your despair, but he is also hellos equivalent to a guidance counselor….to some he would just be a regular guidance counselor. He has not only put all the pieces into motion for this terrifying death game, but he helps you all through it with puzzles, words of encouragement and even…well…sexual provocation. Monokuma is somehow a worse and more perverse version of the joker, this is not a test…yes I said it. He puts himself into a position of being an untouchable God in terms that if he is touched, he will kill said touched on site and he even acts as the judge and executioner of the trials.
Besides Monokuma being a disastrous and twisted game master of death, he also is gracious enough to put himself into an even larger position of power…somehow. The trials are essentially mini games made to prosecute the killers of the game and keep them from becoming the blackened…the killer that gets away with their murders and possibly leads to more insanity ensuing. This is where all of the information you’ve learned and relationships you’ve created pay off in spades. Trials in this game are sort of related to real life trials, you must solve a murder with a group of your peers using your information as fun little objections. Fairly simple concept that breaks up some o the pacing issues this game has, creating for a more coherent and complete addition to learning everything. The outcome to these are usually very brutal, with the executions showing some disturbing yet honestly gorgeously bloody visuals…does that make me a bad person? No, right? Ok.
DanganRonpa Reload is a MUST play game, it brings together all the positive aspects of visual novels, comic books, anime and gaming into one ( really 2) perfected experiences. The stories are so deep and full of detail, characters are full of life and bring more emotion to the table and choices you make have real consequences, they may not have initial pay off but that makes the experience all the better for it. Every aspect of this collection is done so well that it is an anomaly it isn’t one of the best selling games every release. When DanganRonpa 3 releases, I will be the first SOB on that line screaming like the little weeb Bronson Fiori has turned me into.
5/5 An unmatched experience in the visual novel genre. Play this game or die. Just kidding no harm will come to you if you don’t play this game…as long as Monokuma doesn’t find out.