Looking back now, I remember my high school days rather fondly. Still, that’s not to say that they weren’t fraught with perils where I thought in that moment that it may very well be the beginning of the end for me. Almost getting left behind a year (would’ve been terribly embearrassing) because I decided during my senior year that not attending classes for about a month straight seemed like a fun thing to do was one of many situations I put myself through.
However, bearly a handful of fights and a single suspension in an otherwise spotless record isn’t really too bad in all honesty if I think about it- at least if I compare that to what the students of Hope’s Peak Academy have in store for them.
Hope’s Peak Academy is a legendary school that makes Harvard look like the online University of Phoenix. It takes in only the best of the best, and graduating from the school meant guaranteed success for the rest of their lives.
When the students are chosen from their respective fields, they are given the title of “Super Duper” or “Ultimate” like Aoi the “Super Duper High School Swimmer” or Chihiro the “Ultimate High School Programmer.”
Amidst the sea of exceptionalism enters Makoto, a boy of average talents in every aspect who is selected randomly from a raffle and is invited to attend with the title of “Super Lucky Student.”
Understandably anxious of what he would face on the first day of school, Makoto enters the gates and is promptly knocked unconscious and later wakes in an unfamiliar classroom. It seemed like a normal classroom, minus the large plates of metal covering all the windows and multiple cameras stationed at every corner of the room.
Makoto explores the school and meets with his classmates who had all had the same experiences as he did the moment they entered the school.
A few moments later, a class assembly is called and an odd looking bear doll named “Monokuma” reveals himself to be the headmaster of the school and breaks down some ground rules.
#1. They are trapped in the school and there is no way out.
#2. Food and anything else they need to survive will be provided for them.
#3. There is only one way to leave the school and that is to murder another student.
#4. There will be a class trial after a murder takes place where the survivors will be allowed to cast votes for who the murderer is and if they are right (majority vote), the murderer will be killed but if they are wrong, the perpetrator will “graduate” and go free as the rest of the class is killed.
Unprebeared for such a terrifying scenario, the class of Hope’s Peak Academy is left with the choice to live trapped in this prison of a school or to commit the perfect crime in hopes of getting out.
It’s a setting brimming with possibilities as it’s never quite apparent just who might be potential killer and who’s going to be the next victim.
I could go into detail about the intricacies of the events that will unfold, but to spoil even one class trial would be doing a huge disservice to the readers as this is a visual novel where the story is the biggest selling point of the whole package.
I will simply say that it’s a cruel tale with many deaths and twists that I’m sure most players won’t see coming. It’s one of the more engrossing tales I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing, and fans of titles like Ace Attorney or Zero Escape series will be constantly left on the edge of their seats.
Given this was originally a PSP title that was ported to the Vita, it’s not the most visually impressive game. However, there have been improvements from the PSP title with higher resolution textures and sprite artwork for the characters.
The investigation sections of the title also benefits from the Vita’s touch interface as simply touching a suspicious item on the screen will suffice rather than having to fumble about with the analog stick.
Overall, while those who have already played the PSP version will not be blown away by the improvements, it stands as the definitive version of the title.
Outside of the visuals, the game play is broken off into parts as the vast majority of the time, the players will be reading the story unfold in front of their eyes with little to no control as to what happens.
Such is the nature of Visual Novels and it’s par for the course, but those who do not enjoy reading either because they lack the attention span or the American educational system has failed them, this is clearly not the game for them.
While I found the dialogue to be interesting and well written in most parts, it does drag in certain sections like near the beginning where a few “days” pass without a single incident.
When a murder does occur and the class breaks off into pure pandamoinum, the game shifts focus first into an “investigation mode” where the player is asked to look over the crime scene for clues and interview other classmates who might have insight on the events that took place.
Not everyone will be cooperative and not every clue will be readily apparent but no one ever said stripping the truth bear would be easy!
It almost mirrors the same process right before a trial in Ace Attorney where the phase ends when all the possible hints have been found.
Then, the focus shifts to a “class trial” where the classmates debate over the facts to figure out just who the killer is. While the classmates are talking about the crime, the player is able to point out contradictions in their logic with evidence which is presented as bullets which must be shot at the point where the contradiction appears.
It’s an odd mechanic to explain but once seen in action, it’s instantly intuitive and makes a lot of sense.
Other mechanics are added to the mix as the player progresses with the game but all in all, I never found myself at a loss at what needed to be pointed out which is unfortunate as I would have enjoyed a bit more of a challenge.
Also, even though many of the mechanics that are added work nicely in order to add a bit more spice to the familiar formula, some mini-games felt like unnecessary nonsense just put in to pad out the play time a little more.
At the very end, the player will be tasked to put together the events in the murder piece by piece in sequence in an animated comic like panel which marks a nice bookend to each trial.
Lastly, players are also allowed for some “Free Time” in between tragic murders where they can approach any of their classmates and spend some time with them as an effort to learn more about them. Once a classmate likes the player enough, they’ll often divulge some privy information about themselves and award various skills which can serve various advantageous functions during the class trials, but are not required to complete the game.
Clocking in at around twenty hours, there is little reason to play through a second time but as is the case with a great book, once picked up it’ll be difficult to put down and when this abearrant tale has finished bearing it all, you’ll put it down with a smile on your face.
Fun Tidbit: Play with the headphones on to fully enjoy the excellent voice over(includes both JPN/ENG) and soundtrack, kuma.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.