A heaven of hellish murder, Danganronpa stands by its clever writing and great atmosphere.
Danganronpa is not an easily understood game, and I think that the game honestly revels in that fact. The quick and dirty explanation of the series , ’Phoenix Wright by way of Saw’, actually boils it down way too far to be of much use. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the kind of visual novel that goes from laugh out loud funny to ‘how could you rip my heart out this badly’ as quickly as the two toned antagonistic bear mascot, Monokuma.
V3 decidedly takes things in a different direction, divorced from the previous games in the franchise and the baggage that comes with it, such as Hope’s Peak Academy and its students. Themes have carried over unhindered, pitting ultimate despair against ultimate hope, in a completely engrossing tale that keeps you on a roller coaster of emotion.
"I’m stuck in a precarious position as a reviewer, where I have a story heavy game to review, but don’t want to say anything concrete about that story, because that would completely ruin everything."
I’m stuck in a precarious position as a reviewer, where I have a story heavy game to review, but don’t want to say anything concrete about that story, because that would completely ruin everything. Protagonist Kaede awakens in the totally secluded and desolate Ultimate Academy, alongside a mysterious boy and soon find themselves involved, like it or not, in the Killing game with 14 other ultimates, talented teenagers that excel at a specific task. The game is overseen by the manic, psychopathic, Monokuma, which is basically what would have happened if Jigsaw was invented by a Japanese company, complete with bear puns.
Honestly, that’s all I dare to say. Danganronpa V3 is masterfully written, and the folks at the writers table can bounce back and forth between heavy tension and uplifting speeches all within the same scene, while also weaving in the kind of brilliant twists that will blow your mind that you didn’t see the clues right in front of you. You almost ironically grow close to Kaede and the eccentric participants of the killing game, even while suspecting them every step of the way.
The wildly diverse cast is often listed as one of the strengths of the series, and in that way, V3 proudly continues that tradition. Kaede and the 15 other ultimates, from the ‘Ultimate child caregiver’, a young woman who seems better suited to a punk band, to the hulking gentleman ultimate anthropologist Gonta, are built up with fantastic personalities, their own quirks and shortcomings, and feel like full characters with their own motivations and wants.
Some like the Ultimate Robot, K1-B0 lean on tropes but eventually grow past them, and others like the supreme evil leader Kokichi seem there to just be one of the many red herrings the game releases to keep you guessing, but V3 has a strange way of bucking expectations. You’ll grow attached to these characters against all odds, moments before they’re brutally killed. None of the case resolutions feel forced and they’re almost always legitimately surprising and subversive. As in comparisons to Metal Gear Solid 2 aren’t unearned kind of subversive.
"Timers as well as your influence standing in for health create that dynamic push and pull of needing to be on target with your logic but also reactionary to your debating partners."
Further, the wild aesthetics of the game stand out enough to draw me in on their own. Flat character portraits against fully 3D environments give the feeling of a pop-up book while the hand drawn art gives each Ultimate a certain flow and distinct silhouette to accent their personality. UI elements pop with colours and animations comparably to the stylish Persona 5, particularly during the highly intense Class trials.
Class trials are the centrepiece of gameplay and the climax to each chapter, where the survivors of the latest murder either discover the true culprit through logical deduction of the evidence and discussion, or die trying while the killer goes free. Much like Phoenix Wright, The player and Kaede are tasked with sorting the truth from the lies using the evidence gathered. While technically segmented into multiple, subtly different mini games that break up the action, the goal remains similar. Using select pieces of evidence for each minigame as ‘truth bullets’, you’ll fire contradictory information against the weaker parts of their testimony as the words fly all over the screen.
"Enjoying this game is almost completely contingent on knowing as little as possible."
Things can escalate and the courtroom can be whipped into a frenzy, challenging you to follow multiple testimony at once and find the contradiction, or multiple sides of an argument forming as two teams to be countered point by point. Sometimes you might even need to lie using a surprisingly elegant mechanic to guide the discussion back toward the truth. Timers as well as your influence standing in for health create that dynamic push and pull of needing to be on target with your logic but also reactionary to your debating partners. It’s an engrossing tug of attentions that mirrors a room arguing over a serious topic very well.
The few gripes I can level at Danganronpa almost feel trivial next to the payoff, but it can take awhile to get off the ground, running nearly 8 hours of play just for the first chapter. They vary between better and worse pacing but the game has a habit of repeating itself in the moment, perhaps to lead into revelations later but it can drag at the time. The sluggish cursor in the trials also feels too slow, holding back reactions and wasting precious seconds while you wait for the testimony you already nailed down to come back around to break it.
While I can’t bear to reveal too much, and trust me enjoying this game is almost completely contingent on knowing as little as possible, I can say in no uncertain terms that Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is by far one of the best ways to kill 40 hours on a fantastically weird, depressing, laugh out loud story with some pretty tense logic driven courtroom gameplay. It sounds like a strange matchup, and it is, but it’s worth diving into despair to find the truth of the Ultimate Academy.
This game was reviewed on Playstation 4.
Fantastic writing and aesthetic design build a wonderfully creepy tale that can play with your emotions like a cheap toy.
The pacing of the story can sometimes feel drug out, and only sometimes is it doing something to set up for later.
Danganronpa is completely silly, deranged, weird, terrifying, awful, ironic, depressing, hopeful, wonderfully written, emotional and engrossing. It's an experience you absolutely need to try as blind as possible.