Four years is a long time between initial release and official localization in this day and age. And while it is great that the series is finally getting the recognition it deserves, some players may be divided over how the transition was made. This game's journey to the west has been long overdue, but for some, it might be a shaky, turbulent, plane ride rather than smooth sailing.
Danganronpa may have more gameplay elements than most traditional visual novels, but it is a still a VN at its core and thus the story trumps all in this case. And it goes without saying the plot of Danganronpa is great in many different ways. It can be dark, it can be emotional, it can be suspenseful, it can be heartwarming and above all else it can be insanely clever. When all is said and done and you've solved every mystery and survived each twist and turn, it becomes readily evident that a lot of thought was put into making the plot work.
One of the things I find most impressive is that, on the surface, the premise of Danganronpa is really quite silly. No, really. Try explaining to someone that it's the story of group of "ultimate" students being trapped and coerced to kill eachother in a school by a sadistic teddy bear. In fact, you don't have to look very far to see disdain for this series and how ridiculous it can be at times. There are many who simply can't take it seriously when the villain is a psychotic cartoony teddy bear and the blood is pepto-bismol pink.
But for the more open-minded and courageous, you might find that Danganronpa makes it work. Avoiding spoilers, I can tell you that the game DOES get a bit absurd at times, but that's the weird thing. It works. You can take it seriously, and for a while I wondered why that is.
But now I think I understand that the reason Danganronpa pulls itself off so well is because the core writing is just that strong. Every member of its cast is distinct, personable and believable. Every mystery is so well thought-out and detailed, and every solution is deduced rationally, no matter how ridiculous it gets. Its twists are shocking, its atmosphere is immersive, its messages are well-founded, if a bit cheesy. Danganronpa is quirky, unique and enticing until the end. Story-wise, it is simply brilliant, and that is why we fans take it as seriously as we do.
The gameplay works for its intended purpose, but I never found it to be essential. There's little challenge involved in any of the trial mini-games and it only really serves to make it seem a bit more interactive. Honestly, these elements could've been removed and made the game a straight VN and it would've worked all the same. That being said, the minigames have their charm. There's something about literally "shooting down arguments" that is satisfying in its own right.
And sometimes it does trip you up, forcing you to figure out exactly "which" piece of evidence disproves a certain claim, or trying to put together exactly how a crime was pulled off in an order of events. Still, it isn't meant to be difficult or challenging as the game gives you very lengthy periods of time to figure things out and the only penalty for failure is... to try again.
Now... we have to talk about NISA's localization. I've already made my disdain for it clear before so I'm going to sum up the points I want to make about it as succinctly as I can. These are my issues with it.
1. The change from "Super Highschool Level"/"Super Duper" to "Ultimate".
-This change annoys me. But I understand the reasoning for it. I was really dead set against it at first, but after playing through the whole game... eh... I got used to it. It fits just as well, even if it isn't my preference. So I'll give it a pass.
2. The removal of additional vowels from character names.
-I really do not like this change. NISA has done this before and I've never liked it. Because this kind of change falls under the category of "Assuming the audience for an otaku game has no knowledge of Japanese language/culture", which is a ridiculous notion. It's a minor annoyance but it still grates on me. Other localization companies don't do this, I don't know why NISA thinks they're so special.
3. Everyone addresses eachother by first name. (Aside from one character for plot-reasons)
-This is my bigger issue. If you have any inkling of how the Japanese language works and have heard the JP voice acting, you'll know why this is an issue. Having everyone call eachother by first name makes the whole cast seems a LOT closer than they are actually supposed to be. In my mind, this changes the perception of their relationships and by extent, alters characterization. Which is a big no-no.
4. Absence of suffixes.
-A related point to #3. Now NISA does this all the time, but it is especially egregious here. Getting rid of suffixes in a Disgaea game doesn't bother me in the least. But Danganronpa is a story full of Japanese characters in a Japanese setting. Along with the above point, the absence of name suffixes alters the perception of the character's relations to anyone who knows anything about Japanese culture. There is a BIG difference between "Kirigiri-san" and simply "Kyoko". Again, other localization companies understand this, so NISA doesn't have much of an excuse.
I was honestly shocked when I first heard NISA was going to be the company to bring this game over. It didn't seem like it fit them, and I think even they'll admit that Danganronpa is a bit outside their norm. NISA has a particular style of localization that works for the games they usually bring over, the Disgaeas, the Neptunias, etc. But when dealing with a more... grounded story that has actual Japanese culture in it, that style no longer works. It's a poor fit. A mis-match. It only serves to highlight all the problems I personally have with their style of localization and shows how stubborn and cowardly they can be by ignoring knowledge that most of their audience has.
If there is one thing about the localization that stands out as a positive however, it's the English Dub itself. It's very well casted and very well acted, everyone fits their roles perfectly even if they don't initially seem like they do. The level of back and forth makes it seem like the actors were really playing off of eachother. I don't actually know if the voice actors were recorded in a group (I would love to know though) or if they were recorded separately. Even if they were recorded separately, they did a phenomenal job playing off eachother nonetheless.
I am somewhat disappointed that there isn't much of any voice acting outside of the trials, as some characters kind of get the shaft that way. But that's how it was in the Japanese version as well, so I can't really complain too much. Even if NISA had the budget for it, there was probably a technical reason they couldn't dub more lines.
So to wrap-up, let's review the pros and cons.
+Great Atmospheric Story
+Memorable and Unique Cast of Characters
+Excellent English Dub
-The localization will be hit-or-miss with some fans.
-Mini-games can be tedious if all you want is a straight visual novel.
-I'm still a bit irked that we essentially got half of a game, considering the Reload re-release had both DR1 and DR2 in it's initial JP release. I understand the reasons for it, but I still feel like I'm being forced to pay double. Still, very happy to hear DR2 is coming over as well and so soon too!
Final Score: 8/10.
Final Thoughts: Cannot wait for Danganronpa 2.