The release of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc in North America for the first time marked another successful visual novel series making its way across the Pacific. Naturally, Danganronpa has drawn many comparisons to perhaps the most prominent visual novel series available in North America, the Ace Attorney series. Let's take a look at the similarities and differences between these two series, examining which game is right for you as the player.
Note: I'll be comparing the mainline Ace Attorney games, not the spinoff series Ace Attorney: Investigations.
The Ace Attorney series follows lawyer Phoenix Wright and his associates as they navigate the legal system in order to solve cases and prove their clients innocent. The game is heavily story driven, weaving an elaborate tale centered upon individual cases and the trials that take place during them. Gameplay is split into two segments: the investigation where players talk to witnesses and gather evidence on the cases before moving to the trial. In trial players square off to attempt to prove their clients' innocence, cross examining witnesses and rebutting the prosecution's version of events.
Danganronpa follows a group of 15 students trapped in Hope's Peak Academy by the evil Monokuma as they attempt to discover the mystery of the school and escape. In order to escape, a student must kill another student and get away with it. Controlling student Makoto Naegi, gameplay has three distinct segments. During school life mode, players have the opportunity spend time getting to know their fellow classmates. After a short time a murder will occur and investigation mode begins, with players attempting to gather evidence and question other students. This culminates in a class trial, where players are tasked with shooting down the opposing arguments and find the true killer. The stakes are high; if the wrong murderer is chosen, the murderer escapes and the rest of the students die but if the murderer is caught they alone are executed.
In Danganronpa the focus is placed on the 15 students trapped in the school, and each have their own unique backstory and personality which is explored throughout the game. This is viewed through the lens of Makoto, and the player is privy to his internal monologue. In comparison, Ace Attorney focuses on a small cast of main characters throughout the game, introducing a variety of secondary characters in each case. This is an entertaining approach and provides the opportunity for quality character development on the part of the main characters.
The character development in Danganronpa is not as strong as the focus is diluted among the students, with only select characters receiving some character development in the main plot. Ace Attorney has deeper and better characterized main characters, but Danganropa makes up for this with a sheer number of characters featured in the main story and through spending time with them, it is fascinating learning more about their personalities and respective backstories.
The writing in both of these games is also very good, but the edge definitely has to go to the Ace Attorney series. Characters are fantastically written, and the inner monologue of the protagonists is consistently hilarious. Characters are brought to life well in Danganronpa but the characters do not have the same depth as in Ace Attorney.
If you want a wide focus on a variety of characters and their interactions: Get Danganronpa
If you want a tight focus on a few main characters and their development: Get Ace Attorney
The Ace Attorney series and Danganronpa each feature an overarching story told through a series of cases. Danaganronpa tends to emphasize the role each murder has in the overarching story of the students trying to escape from the school, while Ace Attorney focuses more on the individual cases with involvement in the overarching story usually secondary. This makes Danganronpa more cohesive narratively on a broader scale, but each case is less memorable and impactful when compared with Ace Attorney.
If you like complex and entertaining cases with unpredictable twists: Get Ace Attorney.
The premise of Danganronpa is entertaining and provides a compelling narrative backdrop to the proceedings. It draws players into a high-stakes story and portrays the despair inherent in the situation at hand very well. Each murder presents an interesting mystery to be uncovered, but unfortunately the explanations given are not as compelling as might be expected and tend to be rather predictable. Danganronpa is quite dark in note which fits the atmosphere of the story perfectly.
If you want a compelling premise with a stronger over-arching story: Get Danganronpa.
The cases in Ace Attorney are extremely well told and usually have their own beginning, middle and end, with different supporting characters involved with each case. The pacing takes time to build up, before reaching a fever point during decisive trials during the later cases. This is accentuated by music that wonderfully accompanies all of the twists and turns that occur in each trial. There is also a lot of good closure after each case which serves to conclude trials in a satisfying manner before moving on to the next case.
If you want a game that takes its time to build up the story before a furious climax: Get Ace Attorney.
In comparison, Danganronpa's pacing starts fast right from the beginning of the game and lags off a little bit in the middle before reaching a climax in the end. Trials tend to be much more fast paced in comparison to Ace Attorney with a frantic sense of urgency that draws the player in. However, trials never reach the same sort of satisfying climax that they do in Ace Attorney.
If you want a compelling premise that is intense right from the get-go: Get Danganronpa.
Both Danganronpa and Ace Attorney feature investigation sequences where the protagonists must find evidence for the upcoming trial. In both games this mechanic is very similar, players use select areas in each location to investigate and question witnesses. However, compared to the first 4 iterations of Ace Attorney, Danganronpa gives the player much more direction in their investigation, which is very helpful to the player in reducing the monotony this. In fact, Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Dual Destinies has moved much closer to Danganronpa in guiding the player more during these sequences.
Trials in Danganronpa and Ace Attorney function very differently, with trials in Ace Attorney inspired by real-life legal proceedings. Players rebut arguments and cross examine witnesses by presenting pieces of evidence that contradict certain statements. The pace is much slower but is much more thorough in fleshing out each case. However, each trial climaxes with such intensity that leaves a significant impression on the player.
If you want a thorough and emotionally satisfying take on legal trials: Get Ace Attorney.
Trials in Danganronpa have a frantic pace to them and this is conveyed through the various minigames such as bullet-time battles and endless debates. Again, the focus on a wide range of characters comes into view as the students must work collaboratively to find the murderer. The pacing is frantic and this keeps the player engaged throughout the trials with a more active role in the proceedings.
If you want frantic and fast paced trials, that involve the player through minigames: Get Danganronpa
Both Danganronpa and the Ace Attorney series are compelling series, successfully drawing the player in to their respective stories. For those who have not experienced either series yet, I recommend playing Danganronpa first before Ace Attorney because when played after Ace Attorney, the murders in Danganronpa feel much more predictable in comparison. They are both visual novels worthy of being experienced by everyone, and fans of each series will find plenty to like by trying the other. Don't miss out!
mdubs has played through all 5 mainline Ace Attorney games twice, and recently finished Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc.