Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc is a tough game to classify. It's about murder and despair, but with a black comedy twist and cheerful pop art elements that keep things from getting too heavy.
But an early version of the game, dubbed Danganronpa Distrust, conveyed a more sinister tone — and was subsequently scrapped for being too gruesome, series writer Kazutaka Kodaka recently told Polygon via translator.
Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the PSP, the final version of the game, notably included a high school setting, hot pink blood and a black-and-white psychotic teddy bear named Monokuma as its antagonist. Early images from Distrust, however, paint a much darker picture: an execution by guillotine, a dirty warehouse with dark red spatters for its playground, and a drastically different Monokuma in the form of a man missing half of his skin. Although core elements of that original game survived, Kodaka said the team didn't want to continue with such a dark direction.
"Distrust was the original image of the game obviously, and it was 'psycho shock,'" Kodaka said. "So essentially, for us, that would be something like just straight up gruesome horror. However, when we were thinking about whether or not to do it, we felt that the audience for that was really small. Even in a place like America, the audience would still be small but because the population's bigger, it might sell more.
"writing things that are cruel or gruesome or violent, it ends there."
"But at the end of the day, things of that nature that are that gruesome and that dark, the audience was too small for us to really want to pursue that to its end."
From the foundation of such a "dark, horrific game," the team scaled back those elements and added more pop flavors — the pink blood, for example. Red was a little too realistic, Kodaka said, and had no style to it. In the end, the pink was better for expressing the overall tone the team wanted. Kodaka said he writes from a place of entertainment and fantasy, not an obsession with actual murder.
Even the high school setting is more for the fantasy of it, not the brutality of killing teenagers. Kodaka attended an all-boys school and loved the feeling of community. He'd one day like to write a story with adults — something perhaps in the vein of Heavy Rain — but high school holds a special place for him. And when characters die in Danganronpa, Kodaka wants players to feel as though they've lost a friend.
Kodaka said he's included everything he's ever wanted to say or write within Danganronpa, though other early aspects of the game were toned down or tweaked. An early plan, for example, involved a character being sliced into pieces. In this case, gore wasn't the primary reason for ditching the death.
"It's like the character loses his essence by doing that," Kodaka said. "Even though a character might die during the events of the game, provided they remain whole, I feel that they'll remain whole in the person's memory, and that character will still be cute or memorable or liked by the player.
"But if I were to actually have them be dismembered, the character would lose that sense of [their essence] and the ability to remain within the player's imagination and memory."
The writer added that infusing humor into the experience, and keeping the tone lighter, actually made the project more interesting for him. He takes tonal cues from over-the-top violent movies — think Quentin Tarantino films, he said.
"Just writing things that are cruel or gruesome or violent, it ends there," Kodaka said. "There's nothing really interesting about that."
Last week, Kodaka confirmed to Polygon that Spike Chunsoft is currently working on a third entry in the game's numbered series.
Correction: This article previously misconstrued the Danganronpa writer/director's name. It is Kazutaka Kodaka, not Kodaka Kazutaka. We've edited the article to reflect this.