Three short years ago, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, and its sequel Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, was released and took the PlayStation Vita by storm. With their tragic story, quirky design, and unforgettable characters, both entries thus far have been Game of the Year contenders on their own. While the recent spin-off title, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, made great use of world-building, its use of characters and the overall story could never quite stand up to the original games. Now, as 2017 ends, a new Danganronpa begins, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
With a new class of 16 “lucky” students to torment, the most dangerous game begins again. But is this Danganronpa worthy of the number 3, or is this murder mystery beating a dead horse?
The story of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony starts just like the two before it, with the dawn of a new semester. Where the previous games began with our protagonists taking their first steps on their new campus, Danganronpa V3 starts with a trip. After being stuffed in a locker by some unknown party, the Danganronpa V3 protagonist finds themselves stumbling upon an unknown classroom. Luckily for them, they are not alone. After a moment for the two to find their barrings, Ultimate Pianist Kaede Akamatsu introduces herself to the Ultimate Detective Shuichi Saihara. Once the initial pleasantries are taken care of, the two set off across the campus in search of clues. What they find is the last thing anybody would expect, the return of Monokuma.
The return of Monokuma means the start the third killing game. With a total of 16 students trapped within the school grounds, their only hope to escape is by killing another. This time, however, Monokuma has added a new rule: the “first blood” perk. The first to kill will get off get off scot-free, without the need of facing a class trial. With this twisted motivation, Kaede and Shuichi realize that there are only two people that they can trust: themselves and each other.
As an anthology of murder mysteries, the story is key. With a similar set up as the previous two games, it is easy for series veterans to predict what happens next. Chances are, that they are wrong. Monokuma and his most “motivated” students are as unpredictable as ever. It preys on the expectations of its players, building up what looks to be familiar territory. This only strengthens the game’s brilliant storytelling. With even series’ veterans unable to predict what might happen next, the game is anything but black and white.
A good mystery, in any medium, is nothing without its characters. Danganronpa is well aware of this. Danganronpa V3 centers around its leading man and lady. With the seemingly normal talent of piano playing, Kaede feels very reminiscent of the series’s initial protagonist, Makoto Naegi. Interesting, this parallel to the original is not the only one. Dubbed the Ultimate Detective, Shuichi Saihara could be described as something of a colleague to Kyoko Kirigiri. Though with his optimistic inexperience, he plays more like a fusion between Persona 4‘s Naoto Shirogane and Persona 5‘s Goro Akechi. In any event, this party of two bring back the hopes felt between Makoto and Kyoko during their own confrontation with the monochrome bear. Not all characters come with positive vibes, however. With other students running around such as the manipulating Ultimate Supreme Leader and the mysterious Ultimate ???, this is truly anybody’s game.
When it comes to the design of Danganronpa as a series, there really are not any games that compare. At first look, Danganronpa makes use of modern anime-style characters much like any other adventure game from Japan. Perhaps the style that it most resembles is that of huke’s Steins;Gate. While an initial glance at the colorful cast of characters may bright and optimistic, closer examination reveals something else. There’s always been a feeling a dread visible in the designs of the world and its characters. From the brilliant eyes of the youths to the vibrant pink of their blood, the game forever teeters between hope and despair. Considering the subject, it is the perfect fit.
In terms of character design specifically, the cast of Danganronpa V3 stand out even more than their predecessors. While Kaede and Shuichi could easily pass as normal high schoolers, the Ultimate Robot, K1-B0, is anything but. If anything these over-the-top designs better fit the personalities of each character. From the socially invisible Ultimate Cosplayer to the dashing Ultimate Magician, perhaps this is one book you can judge by the cover. Until the killing starts, of course.
When Ultra Despair Girls released a couple years ago, the use of cel-shaded graphics throughout shocked longtime fans, in a good way of course. For better or for worse, better in this humble reviewer’s opinion, the old way of doing things is back. The world of Danganronpa V3 is created by blending together both 3D and 2D design. Once again, these differing visuals somehow work. The 2D character sprites give the illusion of playing an anime. Considering the fact that the franchise already has a couple anime of its own, it’s quite fitting. Meanwhile, the 3D level design gives players a first-person perspective, allowing them to step into the shoes of Monokuma’s latest victim.
At the end of the day, Danganronpa V3 is an adventure game. Of course, considering the sheer variety of adventuring types out there, that is admittedly an incredibly vague statement. For those unfamiliar with the series, and for some reason skipping to the third game’s review (shame on you), Danganronpa plays one part point-and-click adventure and one part visual novel. As per series’ norm, Danganronpa V3 is broken up into a total of 6 different chapters. In terms of gameplay and story flow, each of these chapters follows a rather familiar formula to survivors of the past two games.
Continuing from the events of the previous chapter, or prologue, each chapter begins with an ill-willed pep talk from Headmaster Monokuma complete with heckling from his students. After this, the player will be given the chance to explore the game’s 3D world. Initially, players will discover new locations and locate new discoveries has laid out by Monokuma and his cubs. After this is all said and done, however, is when the “dating sim” aspect comes into play. During “free time,” players may explore the campus as they see fit and befriend their fellow classmates. This allows players to not only better know the other students but can unlock useful skills as well. With little to no foreshadowing as to who will be the game’s next victim, you may very well be the last person to see them alive.
Following a series of unfortunate events, a student is generally found dead as each chapter nears its end. After a death takes place, the murder investigation is close to follow. This is where the point-and-click aspect of the game really comes into play. Like Scooby Doo and the gang, Kaede, and Shuichi, and to a lesser extent their classmates, all split up and search for clues. While this part is for the most part pretty scripted, it is important to understand each clue. Afterall triggering a flag only helps so much while in the heated class trial.
Unique to Danganronpa V3 is the “first blood” perk. With this, the first to commit the heinous crime may get away with it, no questions asked. The same cannot be said for the other killers. In terms of story, the class trial is where truths are revealed and the guilty, ideally, gets found out. As far as gameplay is concerned, the class trial is a series of mini-games. While they aren’t too dissimilar to the previous two games, the difference is actually an improvement. Some of the past segments that ground the pace to a halt previously have since been updated or removed. On top of that, the ability to now lie in Non-Stop Debates adds an intelligent layer of deception to the series most memorable scenes. It takes a liar to know a liar, and to be fair Makoto Naegi never had it in him. Speaking of which, it is highly recommended to try the game’s demo first. While the game is non-canonical and doesn’t involve the actual plot, seeing Makoto and Hinata again is certainly worth the trip down memory lane. Not to mention that doing so can trigger a special event in the main game.
All things considering, it is somewhat ironic that this is a series about memory loss. Anyone who has played either the Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Demo or the vanilla may have noticed something off, the sound quality. Even when compared to the previous two Danganronpa which were actually ports PlayStation Portable titles, the game’s audio, specifically the character voices, all sounds kinda bad. At first, I honestly worried that my PlayStation Vita’s speakers might be dying before switching back to Danganronpa 2 to compare. Circling back to the first sentence of this section, this is all due to memory. Since Danganronpa is bigger and badder than ever before, a uncompressed V3 would have required more memory than a PS Vita cart allows. While the game does offer free DLC for high-quality voices in English, Japanese, and (for the first time) French, the subpar first impression was saddening all the same. Anyone looking to play this on the go might want to download some of that free DLC before stepping foot on school grounds.
Returning players may notice that the game’s soundtrack sounds much like the original and its sequel. Danganronpa V3 brings back series’ veteran Masafumi Takada who is best known for his works for Super Smash Bros. 4, The Evil Within, and the previous 3 games. The game mixes classics, remixed tracks, and brand new songs. Without a doubt, the most memorable of these new additions is the Monokubs’ theme, “Rise and Shine, Ursine!” This nonsensical track plays whenever Monokuma’s troublesome cubs appear. While the lyrics may not make that much sense, there’s something about them that makes each and every Monokub scene as unforgettable as the last.
Overall Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a great game and a fantastic addition to the series. Aside from the unpatched audio quality, the game has very few faults. The story feels familiar enough without every becoming too predictable. With perhaps the most diverse cast thus far, Danganronpa V3 is the perfect addition to any PlayStation or Steam library. Though players may still want to start with the first two games.
HEY! HEY!! LISTEN!!! gives Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony 9.3 Monukubs out of 10!