Good morning everyone! Today, we’re going to be looking at the latest entry in Spike Chunsoft’s completely mad visual novel series; Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. The bonkers roller coaster rides that are the previous Danganronpa games are some of my favourites of recent years. Even the third person shooter spinoff, Ultimate Despair Girls, was pretty damn solid. Because of this, I was incredibly excited, but also slightly dubious, when V3 was announced. This latest game promises a clean slate, a story that is completely removed from the ones before it. I was also worried that, after playing three of these games, the series’ unique charms had worn thin. While the second game shook things up by unfolding on the deserted Jabberwock Island, school is back in session for this new game, and we return to familiar waters. I am very pleased to report that, despite my initial skepticism, Danganronpa V3 might just be the best game in the series to date.
For the uninitiated, it’s probably easiest to explain Danganronpa by breaking it down into its constituent parts. Imagine the board game Cluedo mixed with Battle Royale. Danganronpa is primarily a murder-mystery visual novel series. Sixteen Japanese “ultimate” high-school students (who are deemed to be the best in the country in their chosen field) are locked in a school together and forced into a sinister game, led by maniacal, sadistic, literal two-faced teddy bear and his five adorable (and equally as mad) cubs. For a student to escape the confines of the school, they must kill another of their fellow students and get away with it. Whenever a student is found dead, it is up to the other students to investigate the murders to find out, in Monokuma’s words, “whodunit”. If the majority identifies the guilty student correctly, then that person is executed and the deadly killing game continues undeterred. If they choose wrong, then everyone besides the murderer is executed, and the guilty party walks free.
What sets Danganronpa aside from similar stories is the perverse sense of glee to it all. Unlike say The Hunger Games, Danganronpa seems to revel in the suffering and violence it inflicts on its very quirky cast. Some students are lovely, others downright evil and all of them very, very weird in their own ways. The brutal murders are presented with a unique sense of outlandish style and bravado; the whole package is so bizarre and entertaining that you just can’t help but look forward to the next savage killing. Couple that with a fixation on crushed dreams and a nihilistic tone, Danganronpa makes for a story that is as engrossing as it is, at times, utterly bleak and hopeless. Danganronpa is not exactly all sunshine and rainbows.
The students come together in Class Trials at the end of each chapter to pass judgment. These play out a lot like the courtroom battles in Capcom’s Ace Attorney series. The general flow of objecting to statements, finding contradictions and figuring out the truth is all here. The mechanics are very different though. Pieces of evidence become ‘truth bullets’ used to literally shoot down contradictory statements (or agree with correct ones) in a first-person shooter-esque view. Couple that with some quirky minigames and some great techno music to keep the flow going and you have Danganronpa. The class trials are the series highlight for me, never getting stale even after three games of them now.
For this instalment of Monokuma’s wild ride, sixteen new students are imprisoned within the halls of the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles for the newest iteration of his despicable killing game. It’s up to the students (including Ultimate Pianist Kaede Akamatsu, whom the player controls) to solve each of the murders and. while they’re not busy killing each other, to solve the mysteries of how they came to be imprisoned in the academy, and who is the one pulling Monokuma’s strings.
First and foremost, Danganronpa V3 is a story-driven game. The game’s many plot-twists have all the force of a megaton bomb. Knowing them going in will greatly diminish the experience, more so than most. I greatly recommend that you go into Danganronpa V3 knowing as little as possible. All I will say is that I greatly enjoyed the story in this latest entry, even though it’s very much standard Danganronpa fare in some places. Unfortunately, this focus on the story comes at a price to streamers. Much like Atlus’ RPG masterpiece, Persona 5, streaming using the PS4’s inbuilt sharing functions is disabled for near the entire duration of the game. This did not detract from my personal enjoyment of the game, and I won’t be factoring it into my review score as such, but it’s very disappointing to see this implemented nonetheless.
So, what’s new for this latest game? For the most part, V3 plays very similarly to the previous games but with new bells and whistles and everything polished to a near mirror shine. Danganronpa’s signature manga-strip style looks better than ever in this PS4 version. The colour palette is at times a little more subdued than previous games, but the striking, stylish art makes the jump to the big screen perfectly; having only ever played the Vita versions of previous games. Animations are more varied and dynamic than previous games, and I’ve not experienced any performance issues at all during my playthrough. While Danganronpa V3 is far from the most graphically impressive game, it definitely is one of the most eye-catching and unique games on the PS4, and one that plays buttery-smooth throughout.
- Class trials have received a whole host of new features this time. While there have been some lacklustre parts of class trials in the previous games, I’m pleased to say that all the ones present for V3 are pretty fun. There’s a minesweeper-esque game in which you have to uncover ideas by matching tiles, a Project Diva like rhythm section and even one that reminds me a lot of Outrun. There are sections when several people will scream over each other, and times where the group opinion will be split right down the middle, causing Monokuma to launch you all into the air for a ‘Scrum Debate’. Strangely, the most interesting new idea, that at times you must lie to steer the debate to its correct conclusion, goes a little underused for my taste. Overall, the class trials are the most fun they’ve ever been. And that’s a good thing since, like Ace Attorney, the heated courtroom battles can last several hours.
Outside of class trials and investigations, Danganronpa can feel a little like a Persona-style high school sim. You’ll have free time, which you can spend getting to know your classmates better by hanging out with them. What makes it all the more painful is you’ll never know who will kick the bucket next. I’ve had more than one experience when I was really starting to connect with someone, only for them be taken from you. Outside of some of the more grandiose motives, most of the incentives that drive characters to kill tie into their very real anxieties and fears. This all results in a very well-rounded, well developed motley crew that, despite its initial daunting size, you can quickly become attached to, making it all the more tragic when they’re the next victim in Monokuma’s twisted games.
There’s also a new minigame parlour, in which you can bet and earn coins playing slot machines and even the minesweeper and Outrun games from the class trials. These coins can be exchanged for presents you can gift people and cosmetic rewards such as skins for your pause menu. They serve as a fun distraction from the meat of the game but probably won’t hold your interest for long.
The final thing to discuss is the audio. As with other Danganronpa games, the OST is a mix of light-hearted melodies to happily talk to your friend who does the cosplays why they like to cosplay so much to, tense atmospheric tracks for when the murderball gets rolling, and bombastic techno to pump you up for the class trials. It’s a highly-varied soundtrack and one that has a perfect track for every moment. Some, if you’re like me, you’ll want to listen to outside of the game (my personal favourite being the Scrum Debate theme. If I ever somehow end up as a DJ, you can bet that song’s going on the playlist).
The localisation is very well done. Dialogue is very well written and full of nerdy in-jokes and references that you’ll love if you’re a big geek like me. It’s also a very funny game at times, helping take the edge off the bleak overarching plot. Across the board, the English voice actors are fantastic and do an excellent job in bringing their characters to life (I have to give major props to Erika Harlacher for a great job as Kaede and to Derek Stephen Prince as my new favourite pain-in-the-arse Kokichi Oma). It makes it all the more a shame that the audio balancing is completely shot on default settings. Music completely overpowers the vocals, making the great voice acting very difficult to hear, especially for quieter characters like Himiko and Rantaro. It took much fiddling with the audio settings to strike a balance and, even then, I’m not entirely happy. It’s not as much of a problem with the Japanese dub from my testing, and I’m hoping that this issue is resolved with a patch down the line.
All in all, if you’ve tried the series before and aren’t a fan, you’ll find little in Danganronpa V3 to change your mind. For existing series fans, this new game is an absolute must buy and might beat Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair as my new favourite in the series. For curious newcomers to the series, while it’s possible to start with V3 as it’s an entirely new story, I’d highly recommend starting with the first game and working your way through. The intro cinematic of V3 contains slight spoilers for previous games, and understanding some of the series histories can add a lot to a playthrough of V3. 2017 has been a fantastic year for Japanese games, and Danganronpa V3 is definitely not one to be looked over.
This review was based on a digital copy of the game, for the PS4, provided by the publisher. Class was in session for 26 hours before coming to a close.