It’s a good day to put ‘New World Order’ on repeat
Danganronpa Decadence is out today, bringing three mainline Danganronpa games and a newly expanded side game to the Nintendo Switch. It’s a good day to dive into these murder-mystery adventures and discover some truth amongst the despair, but you know what? It’s also a good reminder that these soundtracks from composer Masafumi Takada are absolute, front-to-back bangers.
As I was booting up the newest addition to the Danganronpa family this morning, jetting off to a summer vacation in Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp, I heard some familiar tunes start to play. The tabletop-RPG hybrid is pretty fan service-y so far, bringing together the casts of Trigger Happy Havoc, Goodbye Despair, Killing Harmony, and Ultra Despair Girls.
As different characters popped up on the screen, different themes and melodies played for specific ones, like the telltale theme for the Monokubs. And it wasn’t long before I went down a rabbit hole of soundtrack nostalgia.
If you haven’t played the series, the mainline Danganronpa games—or at least, three of the four included in this Decadence collection—center around a bunch of young prodigies held in captivity, forced to play a deadly game. If they can kill a fellow classmate and get away with it, they get to leave; but if their classmates can prove who-dunnit in a Class Trial, only the murderer is punished.
It’s a pretty dark series that still has a lot of heart. The cast often struggles to keep hope alive in finding a way out, or developing some form of peaceful coexistence, while always fretting that a murderer is lurking among them. Comparisons to other text-heavy adventures like Phoenix Wright are pretty easy to draw, though I think their overlap is less about both series frequently involving reasoning and deduction, and more about how they use mysteries and trial settings to drive a larger story.
A key part of this is the music. I was talking with fellow Danganronpa aficionado Chris Moyse this morning, and he made a point that Danganronpa‘s characters have very straightforward animations for the most part. Text windows are punctuated with exaggerated character stills, but a large part of the broader mood-setting in Danganronpa is with its soundtracks. Take ‘Beautiful Days,’ which often plays when the vibe is peaceful and you’re just hanging out, chatting with other Ultimate students.
This is contrasted by ‘Beautiful Dead,’ which starts to amp up the tension. It’s still got an open exploration feel to it, but the long drawn-out chords tug a little a bit. You can feel a little bit of the anxiety as each chord stretches out.
Then, of course, we get to the trial music. The Danganronpa series soundtracks have some excellent trial music, really heightening the frantic debates and wild accusations that get thrown around as the Ultimates argue over who could have killed another student. A favorite of mine arrived in the most recent Danganronpa entry, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, with its Debate Scrum. When the opinion of the room gets evenly split, the sides go into a face-off where you have to fire retorts back and forth. And as the platforms go up into the sky, the music just ramps higher and higher until it breaks out into an all-out scrum.
What Danganronpa does so well with its music is establish cues and moods early on, and then use them to instill a sense of dread or surprise. It’s to the point that a certain set of numbers makes me hear ‘New World Order‘ in my head. Across the soundtracks, it veers around different musical styles and genres, capturing a lot of the absurdity and despair of the events of the series.
With the collection out today, a new group of console owners have a good opportunity to play these games. And there’s also the summer camp board game, too. I’ve only played a bit of it, but so far it seems like a fan service-heavy expansion of the V3 side game.
But if you do hop in today, make sure you’re playing with the sound on. I know it’s tempting to just second-screen something when you’re playing a Switch game, but the Danganronpa soundtrack is well worth making all the noise those lil’ Switch speakers can make.