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The Despair Inducing Horror Of Danganronpa



Sixteen high school students are imprisoned before being demanded by Monokuma (a robotic bear with an adoration for evil) to play a killing game. To escape their confinement, students must satiate his sadism, mercilessly murdering one another in order to be granted escape, as they steadily succumb to Monokuma’s almighty despair. This is setup for the Danganronpa series of video games, a series evoking heinous horror via a one of a kind means.

Our association of horror is stereotypically characterized by sudden shocks, distressing imagery, and oppressive sensations enhanced by bleak background soundtracks. Danganronpa executes these moments of misery in such a manner that it conscientiously creeps under the player’s skin, as opposed to sloppily slapping them with a jump scare.

I’m a recent convert to the Danganronpa craze. After stumbling upon the killing series by chance, I’ve become engulfed in the narrative of Japanese high school students bumping one another off at the behest of a higher power, in a similar vain to Kinji Fukasaku’s 2000 movie Battle Royale (which is coincidentally one of my favourite movies). Unlike Battle Royale however, Danganronpa boasts bonkers layers of science fiction underneath its thick blanket of murder mystery, and whilst its implementation into the narrative feels sudden at first, I was well and truly on board by the time Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair closed its doors on protagonist Hajime Hinata and co.

So how does a series flaunting so many disparate elements, from the comedically cruel antagonist Monokuma, to the far removed from reality plot twists, evoke such a severe sense of fear in its players?

The Danganronpa agenda:

1. Meet and greet the characters.

2. Spend time getting to know said characters.

3. Begin to cherish Character A and Character B, they’re an adorable and/or uplifting presence in the grim galaxy of Danganronpa.

4. Shock! Character A has been murdered.

5. Conduct a tense investigation.

6. Survive a deadly Class Trial, overseen by Monokuma.

7. Surprise! Character B committed the murder.

8. Character B is executed by Monokuma.

9. You, the player, plummets into an empty void of heartbreak.

10. Repeat.

Danganronpa’s code of conduct, whilst soul destroying on the regular, is captivatingly enjoyable due to the fascination the player develops in the colorfully quirky cast. Each gratuitous instance of death is punctuated by gratingly tuneless ambience, bearing parallels to the harsher instances of Disasterpeace’s marvellous soundtrack for 2014’s sex orientated horror extravaganza It Follows. Even Danganronpa’s most incidental of sound effects elicit discomfort due to their warped, tonally discomforting properties.

At last, the player is greeted with the gory corpse of a two dimensional buddy, sodden with Danganronpa’s signature pink blood. The washed out colors of the animated cut-scene marry with janky camera movements, soundtracked by dark pads, glitched noises, and an eerie female vocal that savagely shoots shivers down the player’s spine. The means by which each and every crushingly grim instance of murder unfurls, merged with Danganronpa’s callous crescendo towards it, overwhelms the player with an ultimately unique sensation of fear, one utilizing nuanced subtlety, entirely non-reliant on the traditional tropes of terror.

Danganronpa’s conceptual theme, a venomous war between hope and despair, follows Monokuma’s attempts to sink the sixteen high school heroes into the deep dark depths of the despair he so passionately pushes upon others. The player must combat this dismally dreadful despair with their own weapon of hope by overcoming and escaping Monokuma’s antagonistic killing game. However, when the despair isn’t only kicking the fictitious characters of Danganronpa to the ground, but the player themselves, the sensation of potential defeat becomes all the more prevalent. How can the real world stick flicking button mashing hero continue their desperate struggle against Monokuma, when the ruthless rules of his killing game have resulted in the demise of their favourite character(s)?

Truly, no video game series squishes the player’s conviction with the words “All hope is gone” quite like Danganronpa, and this is where the most hideous horror is born. Not from a zombie bellowing boo, or the mystical presence of a ghost, but the obliteration of hope by a behemoth of utter despair, spearheaded by the cackling black and white bear that is Monokuma.

I invest my time in playing all manner of video games, and as of 2017, writing about all manner of video games.