As the third entry in the series, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony seems predictable. It is half visual novel and half murder mystery with some light RPG elements sprinkled in alongside a dark yet hilarious tone. This is a unique mix in itself, but with two games preceding it, we know what to expect by now. In Danganronpa V3, sixteen high school students are trapped in an academy and face off in a killing game. Only the culprit of a perfectly planned murder or the last two standing can survive. Being well acquainted with the series I thought I knew it all. By the time I had finished the first chapter, Danganronpa V3 had already set a precedent. Everything I thought I knew about Danganronpa was about to be subverted.
What made the original Danganronpa so special was the sense of mystery and surprise. Aside from figuring out “Whodunnit,” Danganronpa’s biggest mystery was the school itself. Being the first in the series, the ending plot twist comes as a huge shock. While you are trapped in this hellish killing game, what faces you outside is much more dangerous. Initially, placed in a kind of “Battle Royal,” players see the other characters as their biggest threat. This is rather than their true enemy, the killing game itself. Seven years later, both mysteries have long since been exposed. So how can Danganronpa V3 continue to intrigue and surprise players?
As the strength of Danganronpa V3’s storytelling hinges on its ability to subvert the player’s expectations, I will not reveal spoilers here. Let me assure you the moments of shock and awe are even stronger than before. Instead of giving us more of the same, each game builds on its predecessor’s ability to warp your expectations. The first game takes everything you know about death, murder, and humanity, and twists those expectations for the final shocking reveal. The second builds on the first but uses your knowledge of the first game and your sense of reality against you. The third further explores this by blurring the world of the characters with the player’s own role in the story.
Danganronpa V3 throws the story-telling rule book away. The answers to the riddles that Danganronpa V3 sets for players are both very much out in the open and yet obscured almost entirely by your own preconceived notion of how a murder mystery should play out. It removes cliches and safe scenarios. Your expectations of the series and even what you expect from video games as a whole are used to obfuscate the truth. I entered Danganronpa V3 feeling smug, believing I could figure it all out. As such, I was taken in all the more by the time the credits rolled.
The Danganronpa series relies entirely on the smart writing of both the story and characters. Danganronpa V3 is outstanding in these areas. However, it builds up very slowly, in a way that might deter new players. This long, slow setup locks in your anticipation for what is to come, but some might find it a struggle to push through the prologue. The walls of text that Danganronpa V3 places in front of the player can be very intimidating, especially when much of it sets up characters instead of moving the plot forward. Yet those who are willing to give something so dialogue-heavy a chance will certainly reap the rewards. Danganronpa V3 builds to one of the best video game stories I have ever played and the sixteen new characters are some of the most interesting and complex to date.
The plot hinges on the characters feeling real to you, so a lot of extra effort has gone into bringing them to life. This is the main reason why Danganronpa V3 is so text intensive. The cast feel like a group of friends you are meeting for the first time along with the protagonist. Not only do you learn about them along with your character, but can choose your favorites to grow closer to during your “free time.” These interactions help you learn more about each character’s backstory and the motivations behind their actions in the main storyline.
Their deaths did not pass me by lightly, and each one carried a sadness and a weight. With one exception, Danganronpa V3 is a lot more complex in motive than the previous entries. This is not simply a case of ” a bad person commits murder for selfish reasons.” Not only is the line between good and bad blurred here, but even guilty and innocent or what makes someone a victim or a culprit. Danganronpa V3 questions for the first time in the series whether catching the culprit is necessarily for the greater good. It forces you to place a value on each character’s life. My connection to every character was so strong that, without fail, I was in streams of tears at the end of every class trial.
The new theme in Danganronpa V3 is lies and deceit. You never know who or what to trust. Even your personal memories and knowledge are called into question. This is woven in perfectly with the new perjury system. In previous titles, you could only use evidence and fact to bring the truth to light. Now you can lie in the class trials to force culprits to confession or to protect those you know are innocent. It is also exemplified by my favorite character, Kokichi. His lies are so numerous that you are never sure where the truth is or what his intentions are. As someone you can never pin down, Kokichi demonstrates what is so special about this new title.
Danganronpa V3 also introduces the Monokubs. These five tiny Monokumas take on the role of their father to deliver news and items to the cast. These new characters each have their own unique and twisted personalities. The cubs are so adorable and yet say the darkest things. They inject the perfect amount of zany humor that the series is known for. Personally, I am a big fan of Danganronpa’s irreverent style of comedy, but this humor will not be for everyone. Whether it is the suggestion of piloting robots using your nipples or having the “c” word scattered about like confetti, the gags can be seen as utterly distasteful or purely for shock value. In context with the characters being high schoolers, it helps make them feel more realistic. That being said, if you cannot laugh along with insults like “cum soaked urinal cake,” it may be difficult to see past the puerile jokes to the depth of the story.
Danganronpa V3 uses the classic Danganronpa art style where Parappa the Rapper meets anime. This may not be to everyone’s taste, but all the characters and cutscenes are extremely well-drawn. This cohesive style brings the world to life. The soundtrack mixes Danganronpa classics with some new tracks. All of these perfectly fit the game world and atmosphere. The songs are so good that they could hold their own in any personal music collection. Before you start your adventure, you are asked to choose between English or Japanese voice acting. There is no wrong answer here. Both are excellent and work perfectly in bringing the characters to life.
Danganronpa V3 adds several elements to the trials which help break them up into fun little mini-games. Some of them are more successful than others, but all of them are welcome in disrupting the standard “Non-Stop Debates.” My favorite entrant was the all-new “Split Opinion” round, where half of those present at the debate face off against the others in rhythm-based rebuttals. The trials seem a bit longer here than in previous games. While the complexity adds to the story-telling, this can lead to the repetition of debates becoming discouraging.
The logic seems consistent, but missing an answer or rebutting incorrectly when firing at the argument’s “weak point” will begin the debate again. “Weak points” also move and appear for a very short period of time, sometimes with obstacles obscuring them, making them very difficult to aim for. While you can turn down the difficulty to make things easier, it can be frustrating playing the same debate over and over. Using the touchpad when playing the PlayStation Vita version has helped me with this issue in the previous titles. Despite this, it is very rewarding when you finally make your mark. While more mini-games breaking up the debate would have been welcome, this does not deter from the well-written story altogether.
Danganronpa V3 is arguably the best game in the Danganronpa series. It will have even hardcore fans guessing right up until the end. By the third in a series, games often fall into a predictable pattern giving their fans simply more of the same. This is fine but does not help new titles stand out or impress. Danganronpa V3 surpasses this in every way. It does not settle for safe and succeeds in adding to and elevating what has already been established in the first two titles.
Absolutely everyone should play Danganronpa V3. As Danganronpa V3 does not only play with your knowledge of the series but of video games as a whole, it is not necessary to play the first two in order to enjoy this latest entry in the series. However, I do recommend going back first. As the strength of this game lies in subverting expectations, knowledge of the first two games will see your assumptions pushed further.
Never has a game delivered such a strong, emotional impact as Danganronpa V3 for me. From start to finish you will be hooked and even hours after unlocking all the art, characters backstories, and quirky mini-games. No matter which version you pick up, Danganronpa V3 is something everyone should experience.
Danganronpa V3: Killiing Harmony not only gives fans more of the Danganronpa they know and love, but it elevates the series to new heights and leaves old players scratching their heads and reeling in shock at the twists the story takes.
- Shocking Writing that Subvert Expectations
- Brilliant Soundtrack and Quirky Art Style
- Superb Cast of Characters
- Replaying Debates can Become Repetitive
- Large Amounts of Dialogue will Deter Some
- Some Will Find Humor too Edgy