Danganronpa Decadence Review: The Ultimate Treat for Ultimate Fans
Almost everyone who plays video games has a series that they’d really like to get into but haven’t been able to so far. Naturally, there are plenty of reasons why this could happen. The series could be a long-running one with a laundry list of titles, the games could be rare or expensive, or maybe, despite enjoying the premise of a series, you aren’t very good at that particular genre—the “why” of it all doesn’t really matter much in the end, though. What matters is that almost all of us have been in that position at some point or another. I’m no exception, of course. The Danganronpa series is one that I’ve been itching to dive headfirst into since Trigger Happy Havoc came out, yet, for some reason (I honestly couldn’t tell you why), I ended up doing, well, the exact opposite of that. And, as the series continued to grow, so did my desire to get into it. Fortunately for me, however, my time finally arrived earlier this month; all thanks to the arrival of Danganronpa Decadence. And, yes, it was definitely worth the wait.
Hoping Against Hope
Trying to explain Danganronpa Decadence is going to be a little on the tricky side for several reasons. For starters, the game itself isn’t a game in the truest sense. Rather, it’s a collection of four different games. Three of those games are the core Danganronpa titles—Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. Each of these games revolves around a unique group of 16 extraordinarily gifted students—known as “Ultimates”—as they attempt to escape from the clutches of a strange, murderous, two-toned robotic bear named Monokuma (and, later on, his equally bizarre children). Oh, and also they murder each other. Like, a lot.
[The following paragraph contains spoilers for Danganronpa 2] The fourth game in Decadence, Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp, is quite unlike all of the others. For starters, it’s the only new game of the bunch, so that’s pretty cool. It’s also a spinoff, game—and a very noncanonical one at that! Ultimate Summer Camp follows each of characters from the three core titles, plus Ultimate Despair Girls, as they all embark on a 50-day-long training session together. They aren’t just training at any old location, though. Rather, the rowdy roster of Danganronpa characters have all decided to head on over to the digital version of Jabberwock Island found within Danganronpa 2! And, yes, despite it being a simulation, their training does apparently have an effect on their real-world bodies.
As someone who had zero experience with the series before picking up Danganronpa Decadence, I can, with complete honesty, say that I don’t remember the last time that I found myself so enamored with a series’ overarching story. Danganronpa is a series which quite obviously wants to tell a story that is both very serious and very bizarre. A lot of the time, a combination like that isn’t exactly something that’s going to work. But, Danganronpa has apparently found a way to get past all of that. From the start of Trigger Happy Havoc to the end of Killing Harmony, I was completely engaged with (and oftentimes baffled at) the complex, interweaving stories of each group of Ultimates. So much so that I was kind of happy that I didn’t play any of the games when they originally came out. By experiencing each core title back-to-back, I was able to pick up on a lot of subtleties that I would have otherwise missed, and could clearly make any and all story-related connections as necessary. There aren’t too many series with stories so engaging that I’d recommend playing all of the games back-to-back, but Danganronpa Decadence certainly makes a strong argument in favor of doing so this time around.
Once again standing out from the crowd, Ultimate Summer Camp‘s narrative prowess isn’t quite as brilliant as the core titles. However, I really didn’t mind that. It’s clear that Ultimate Summer Camp was created less to expand on the story of the series, and more so to allow players to enjoy all of the characters who have been introduced so far in brand-new ways (and there are a lot of them). It’s fanservice through and through, in more ways than one, and is filled with small stories and unique character interactions for players to enjoy. Just be sure to play the other games before this one, as failure to do so will ensure that you 1) have no idea what’s going on and 2) spoil a bunch of important stuff for yourself.
Diving Deep Into Despair
When it comes to gameplay, each of the core titles within Danganronpa Despair play very similarly to one another. Danganronpa, as a whole, is an eclectic mixture of visual novel, mystery, and adventure elements. Due to how their stories are set up, the core titles are all divided into chapters, with each chapter following the same basic gameplay loop. The beginning, or “Daily Life” portion, of each chapter is very much focused on progressing the overarching story, meaning that players will do little more than wander around a bit via first-person exploration, and talk to people. It’s a mostly standard visual novel setup, and it works quite well. All of that gets thrown out the window, however, when someone gets murdered.
Murder is a very common theme within Danganronpa, meaning that, within almost every chapter of every core title, one of the students in your group of pals ends up murdering someone! And, when the inevitable does happen, players get thrown into the second part of whichever chapter they’re on, known simply as the “Deadly Life” portion. While that in itself is plenty of reason to get excited (or scared, I suppose), Danganronpa takes things a step further by having players work together with their fellow Ultimates in order to, as Monokuma is so fond of saying, “find out whodunnit.” For the player, this means doing several things. For starters, you’ll need to collect as much information as possible. And, after that, you’ll need to participate in what’s known as a “Class Trial.”
Class trials differ ever so slightly depending upon which specific game you’re playing, but they’re all equally exciting. Despite essentially being little more than a round-table discussion among a group of teenagers who are all scared out of their minds, Class Trials are presented to the player in about the most stylish way possible. What this means for the player is that, rather than just doing something boring like picking from a group of sentences during a debate, you’ll literally be taking a gun (and, on occasion, a sword) to pierce through your opponents’ lies with “truth bullets” (and, yes, that’s really what they’re called). Honestly, you’d think that that things might get old when a series decides to use the same layout for three games and you’re playing each of those games back-to-back. …But it really doesn’t. Between the stellar voice acting, intense visuals, mind-bending mini-games, and catchy music, it’s impossible to resist being drawn into Class Trials regardless of how many you’ve already participated in. And, because of how they’re set up, you’re almost always guaranteed to encounter a surprise or two by the time the dust settles.
Beach Bods & Brutal Battles
So, as I’ve already made clear, Danganronpa Decadence contains a brand-new game in the form of Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp. However, despite it being new, those of you familiar with Danganronpa V3 might notice a few similarities between its bonus “Ultimate Talent Development Plan” mode and what this new game has to offer. And by “a few similarities,” I mean to say that Ultimate Summer Camp is literally just an expanded version of Ultimate Talent Development Plan. Seeing as how much fun V3‘s additional mode was, though, I can’t say that I mind at all.
The goal of Ultimate Summer Camp is simple. The game takes place as a single-player board game with the player getting 50 turns to strengthen their chosen character as much as possible. This can be accomplished in a number of different ways—such as landing on training spaces, duking it out JRPG-style with a myriad of Monokuma-themed monsters (plus Danganronpa 2‘s Monobeasts!), and even just crossing paths with your fellow classmates. After completing your run, you’ll then earn rewards which will allow you to purchase characters, items, and power-ups via special in-game gacha machines. While the fact that you aren’t guaranteed the characters that you want due to the game forcing you to resort to random pulls from character pools is a little annoying, the game’s honestly a lot of fun and has plenty of replay value.
A Truly Decadent Decade
Danganronpa Decadence works well for several different reasons. Not only is it a great way for fans—both pre-existing and prospective alike—to dive into the three core titles that truly helped to sculpt the series into something spectacular, but the additional bonus title, Ultimate Summer Camp, is a neat, albeit very much noncanonical, way of celebrating the plethora of weird, wonderful, and wild characters that have graced our TV (or Switch) screens. Sure, three-fourths of the game, technically speaking, isn’t “new,” but that’s no reason for anyone to pretend that the decadent, 4-in-1 Danganronpa combo pack is nothing less than spectacular.
Final Verdict: 5/5
Available on: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed); Publisher: Spike Chunsoft; Developer: Spike Chunsoft; Players: 1; Released: December 3, 2021; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $59.99
Full disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher.