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Best of the rest of 2014: Danganronpa got stiffed, and my colleagues should feel bad

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Every year the Polygon staff chooses 10 excellent games to award our Game of the Year honors, but that means some games we love don't quite make the cut. This year we've decided to run a series of opinion pieces by members of the Polygon staff explaining why certain games earned top marks from them even if they didn't make our staff-wide Game of the Year list.

If you've come to Polygon to see Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc listed among our game of the year choices, I’m here to break your heart.

Our staff has been chipping away at a list of about 50 games over the last month or so, playing what we can, voting where we want. When the dust finally settled, we emerged with 10 stellar games that have been democratically decided to be the best of the best from 2014. Unfortunately, that list has a gaping hole — two even, if you're counting Danganronpa's equally fantastic sequel, Goodbye Despair.

Where did we go wrong, Danganronpa? How could we have failed you? Join me, friends, and let us pour one out for this criminally unappreciated game.

Dangan-what?

If you're currently repeating the proposed question above — that is saying, with feeling, what? — color me unsurprised. It's a response I get often. Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc has several things working against it, least of all its tongue-twister name. It launched here in North America only this year, but fans in the know are well aware that this is a re-release of sorts for a 2010 PSP game. Yes, it took us four years to get Danganronpa from Japan, and it arrived for a new generation on PlayStation Vita.

Even as a steadfast Vita player, you could be forgiven for looking this one over. Danganronpa is incredibly strange, and it's hard to fully explain why it's so good without sounding a bit like a psychopath. Observe.

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is the story of high school students trapped in their school with fading memories. They're frightened and confused, but their situation becomes immediately worse when a maniacal teddy bear (stick with me) tells them if they want to escape, they have only one option: a good old-fashioned murder, and one you can get away with. See, if anyone is clever enough to figure out who committed the crime and how they did it, the punishment is execution. But you can't turn a blind eye to these transgressions either, because if this "blackened" student is successful, everyone else pays the price.

Children murdering children. That's what you'd call a hard sell.

Children murdering children. That's what you'd call a hard sell.

But if you're thinking Danganronpa relies on a sort of Hunger Games-esque appeal or even simply acts as another murder sim in a sea of plenty, you're, ahem, dead wrong. Danganronpa isn't just about murder. It's about why people kill, and the consequences of those actions. It's a complicated, fascinating look at desperation and motivation, as well as despair and depression. In short, it's a step above its peers in almost every way.

Maybe you're the kind of person that's uninterested in the deep, heavy stuff, and that's OK too. To put it in the most simple, childish terms, Danganronpa is just plain fun. It gives you the chance to play detective in a crime and to put those findings to good use as you try to pin down a killer. There's something fascinating about piecing together how a person commits their crime, and even on a morbid level, it's exciting to guess who will be next.

Danganronpa

Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc really is a game that you can't judge by its cover, because said cover includes a cutesy little teddy bear and not a hint of what lies inside. It flew under the radar for many people, and sadly, I'm counting my colleagues here at Polygon in that tragic little boat.

This piece is part of Polygon's 2014 in Review series. Throughout December we'll be exploring the games, people and events that shaped gaming in the past year. You can check out more 2014 in Review stories in our StoryStream.