Interview: NIS America on Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

PS Vita's twitsted school murder mystery launches next week.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc

With Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc due out next week, I sat down with NIS America script editor Phoenix Spaulding to discuss the Spike Chunsoft-developed cult favorite.

For those who aren’t familiar with the game, could you briefly introduce the setting and gameplay of Danganronpa?

Spaulding: The quick and dirty version is that you play as Makoto Naegi, a painfully average high schooler who’s been invited to attend the prestigious Hope’s Peak Academy along with a class full of the nation’s most “ultimate” students. You’re pretty psyched about it…except when you get there, you suddenly find yourself trapped inside, and you’re told that the only way to escape is to murder a fellow classmate and get away with it. You hear this from – what else? – a psychotic robot bear. Day by day and case by case, the students start to murder each other, and it’s your job to find out who’s behind each grisly killing, while also looking for a way out of the living nightmare.

Gameplay wise, the game is broken up into two basic phases. During the investigation period, you’ll move around the 3D world, talking with characters and searching areas for clues, similar to standard point-and-click adventures. Then once you get into the trial phase, characters will shout out their thoughts and arguments, and these will appear as moving text onscreen. You’ll have to use facts and evidence you’ve uncovered to aim a reticle and literally shoot down their testimony. This part is a little more active, since each statement will appear and disappear in a matter of seconds. There are a few other varied minigame type elements involving rhythm, timing, matching, and so on.

The version you’re publishing isn’t the same as the original version that was published in Japan. What changes can experienced players expect to see in the game, and how do you think the changes will affect the experience of new players?

The Vita version has enhanced visuals, new touchscreen controls, and an all-new New Game+ mode that will offer a “what if” scenario involving all the students being stuck in the school, but no murders actually taking place. So for those long-time fans who want to see more of their favorite characters, they’ll get even more dialogue and interaction. For new players, this will definitely be the definitive version of the game.

Your company is no stranger to quirky and unique characters, but everything I’ve seen (while avoiding spoilers) suggests that Danganronpa is pretty heavy on the crazy. Has it been difficult to keep the characters unique while avoiding too many changes to the important parts of the dialogue, such as information that can help solve the mysteries?

Keeping the characters unique was actually pretty easy, since the original Japanese did such a good job of differentiating them all. Our only task was to get the most accurate and expressive translation possible so that none of that personality was lost. The important parts (clues, vital info, etc.) was actually laid out in a pretty straightforward way once you knew the full story, so we really didn’t have to do much in terms of getting that info across (although we did have to be careful not to make things too obvious or too obscure).

Does the office as a whole have any favorites among the cast of the game?

Between the design and his ridiculous dialogue, Monokuma is definitely the runaway favorite here. He’s just too nuts not to love.

Let’s talk about the dub of the game. What percent of the game can players expect to hear dubbed in English, and how does this compare to the Japanese version?

Everything that was voiced in the Japanese version has been voiced in the English version. In the game, the investigation phase is voiced using “generic” lines (so one short clip is used several times throughout the game), and for the class trial, all of the lines are fully voiced. This is true for both the Japanese and English versions, and just to note, the game will also include the full Japanese dub.

Dubs have been a big topic around your company for quite some time, so this seems like a good time to ask – what goes into deciding how much of a particular game gets dubbed? Does it get a budget based on expected future sales, available funds, drawings from a lottery, or decrees from the Overlord…?

We’re not able to talk about all that in too much detail, but basically, we have a pretty set amount of time and resources we’re able to put into any given game project. So whether a game has 1,000 voiced lines or 100,000 we still have a certain ceiling that we can’t really go past. If we expect a game to be a pretty small project, we might cut that back, and if we expect it to be bigger, we might scale it up. But we don’t generally stray too far from that set amount regardless of the project.

Also, does NIS America have any particular goals when it comes to the future of dubbing in your games, like a minimal percentage or number of lines?

Unfortunately, it’s really tough to base the dub on a percentage of lines in the game, because a game might have a ton of voiced lines but not be expected to sell a ton, so it’s hard to justify that kind of expense and time investment. Obviously we’d love to be able to dub everything from the original Japanese, but a lot of times it’s just not feasible.

Out of all the games you could have chosen, why Danganronpa?

There’s always a multitude of reasons for why we pick up the games that we do, so the full answer to that question is kind of tricky. But the core reason was that this is an awesome game from an awesome company, and we had faith that our fans would respond to it and love it the way we at the office did.

Is there anything else you’d like to say about Danganronpa before we go?

As of this writing, the game isn’t out yet, but early impressions from people seem really positive, and our fans seem really eager to get into the game. So anyone who does pick it up and enjoys it, we’d love for you to tell anyone who will listen. We’d love to see the rest of this series and even more games like it come over to the West, and the better this does, the better the odds of that are. Thanks a bunch!

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is due out for PS Vita on February 11 in North America and February 14 in Europe.

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