Since Danganronpa mania didn’t sweep the west until 2014 when it was re-released on the Vita (or possibly even when the anime was aired in 2013), many forget that it began life way back in 2010 on the Vita’s predecessor: the PSP. Though its original platform and release date do nothing more to explain its uniqueness. It borrows from so many pieces of media and genres of games that it makes one’s head spin, and merges things both western and Japanese. But there is a very good reason why it caught fire in the west as it did: It takes the best parts of everything involved and mixes them all together.
The first bit of Danganronpa’s uniqueness appears before you even see the title screen: Its name. It’s a combination of the word “dangan” (Literally “bullet”, though in this case it refers to the words that you fire as bullets in the trial sections of the game) and “ronpa” (Literally “refutation”, which is exactly what you are doing to the arguments of other students in the trial sections by using your “bullets”). The fact that it is a combination of two words that don’t naturally fit together make it difficult to coherently translate, so it was a good decision to leave that portion of the title un-localized when it was brought to the west.
In order to describe what type of game Danganronpa is, we must first discuss the story. This is far and away the game’s main appeal, so if you have a fondness for well-written game stories that make you think, this is already required playing. The game takes place in a school called “Kibougamine Gakuen” (“Hope’s Peak Academy”) that only admits “Ultimate” students, each of which are the best at something (a sport, singing, etc.). What the students don’t know though, is that this school is nothing more than a sick game in which the only way that they can “graduate” back to the outside world is to kill other students and not be convicted in the class trials that take place after a murder. As you may guess, if a student is correctly found guilty then he or she will be executed. The academy and all of its proceedings are headed up by Monokuma: An evil and sadistic, yet also strangely funny and lovable bear who is undoubtedly high on the list of the best written video game characters for any who have played list (also voiced by Ouyama Nobuyo, most well known for voicing robot-cat Doraemon in the anime of the same name from 1979 to 2005). In fact the entire cast of characters is extremely well written and voiced, reinforcing the already strong story. It’s a pity that the game isn’t fully voiced (important cut scenes and class trials are, but otherwise you get the classic visual novel treatment of just hearing a character speak a line or phrase periodically), though it may have been a matter of capacity on the UMD since there’s quite a bit of dialogue.