It’s been 4 years since Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair launched in North America, but at last, the next mainline Danganronpa installment has arrived in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony! While it’s not out to re-invent the wheel, V3 builds upon the solid foundation set by it’s predecessors while also adding welcome improvements. It’s the same great Danganronpa taste, with 100% more despair!
Danganronpa V3’s story is similar to past entries in the series. Players take control of Kaede Akamatsu as she and 15 of her fellow students are trapped inside a school and are forced into a “Killing Game”. The rules are simple, if you kill a classmate and get away with it you are able to leave. Throughout the game you’ll make new friends, look for clues to escape and solve murder cases all while trying not to become the next victim.
Kaede and the other students are known as “Ultimates”, individuals who are scouted as the best in the country at their chosen study. You have standard “Ultimates” like the Ultimate Pianist and Ultimate Astronaut as well as odd disciplines like Ultimate Cosplayer and Ultimate Supreme Leader. These abilities make each character unique and interesting, each with their own backstory and intimate knowledge of their craft. It incentivizes you to get to know each character and each has their own way of surprising you thanks to the game’s fantastic writing.
The main one returning character is Monokuma, the game’s main antagonist, who once again steals the show. He’s one of the most intriguing modern video game villains as he is equal parts lovable and terrifying at the same time. This time Monokuma is not alone with the introduction of the Monokuma cubs! These 5 new cubs have similar charm to Monokuma himself, but have very diverse personalities. I wasn’t a huge fan of them at the start of the game but I warmed up to them over the course of my 40+ hour play session.
The story takes place in a separate timeline than the other Danganronpa titles at a different school, the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles. With the story threads from the first two games being wrapped up in the Danganronpa V3: The End of Hope’s Peak Academy anime, Killing Harmony is meant to act more as a soft reboot of the series, setting the stage for what’s to come in the future. The same high standard of writing is once again on display here, with excellent character dialog, interesting cases and spot on jokes and references. Like a good book, once the game got going after it’s prologue, I found it very hard to put down. There were some directions the story goes that may upset fans of the series, but I didn’t really mind them and in the interest of keeping this spoiler free I won’t say in this review.
The core gameplay of the mainline Danganronpa titles has always remained the same, but Danganronpa V3 offers subtle improvements that improve the experience. The story unfolds through visual novel segments, followed by an investigation phase and capped off with a class trial. During the visual novel segments, the story will progress with school exploration thrown in. “Free Time” segments will come up where you’re able to deepen your friendships with your fellow classmates by spending time together and exchanging presents. The investigation phases largely remain the same as previous titles, as you explore both the crime scene and the school until you have enough clues to move to the trial phase.
The biggest changes to the gameplay come in the class trial phase. Returning from previous titles are the non-stop debates, Hangman’s Gambit and the rhythm based Argument Armament with all getting interesting new tweaks. New to non-stop debates are V-Counters, that occur when you fire your truth bullet at a certain point of the argument, allowing you to earn extra points. Also new is the Perjury ability, allowing you to use a lie to get past certain debates, replacing the absorb bullet power. There are also new multi-person arguments that have you work through multiple simultaneous arguments.
New to the V3 trials are Debate Scrums, Psyche Taxi and Logic Mine. Psyche Taxi takes the place of Logic Dive from Danganronpa 2 and has you driving a taxi solving questions. Logic Mine has you match pairs of coloured squares in order to reveal images that solve a specific question and is a play on Minesweeper. Debate Scrums have you on one of the two sides of an argument as you watch for clues in your opposition’s arguments so you and your other teammates can counter. All three add a nice dynamic to class trials, allowing varied gameplay that doesn’t get stale and each is fun in their own way.
The visual style of the Danganronpa games has stayed fairly consistent between all 3 mainline entries. Exploration of the school is still done in first person with varied environments and rooms that are interesting the first time you explore them. I was particularly impressed with the design of each student’s “Ultimate Labs”, which are rooms that are specifically designed around each student’s ultimate talent. However, I found myself using the fast travel option more often towards the end of the game since once you explored each area once there’s not much new to see (other than hunting down hidden Monokumas). An improvement this time around with the exploration is the new “Shooter” control scheme, replacing the original movement control scheme allowing easier movement throughout the school.
One subtle change to the game’s visual style though is how it tells it’s story in the visual novel sequences. In the original titles, during the visual novel and investigation segments the camera was mostly static with some movement here and there. In V3, the camera is much more dynamic, moving along with the action at a fast pace more akin to how it moves during the class trials. This new change brings you further into the story and made everything flow much more fluidly this time around. Characters are also much more expressive this time around, and with these combined really improves the way the game tells it’s story from previous incarnations.
The character designs and art are still very strong overall, with each character appearing in a hand drawn 2D anime style that’s remained consistent across all 3 titles. The full motion video used for certain events and at the end of class trials is much improved over the previous titles as well. I’ve always been a fan of Danganronpa’s overall visual style, and V3 brings it in spades this time around.
Once again, Masafumi Takada returns to score the game’s soundtrack and it’s just as good as previous Danganronpa titles. It mostly contains new music but there’s also remixes of songs from past games as well. The music really pulls you into the experience and is nicely balanced throughout the game.
Voice acting is also well done across the board as well, with solid acting on both the English and Japanese voice tracks. While the majority of my playtime was with Japanese voices, the English voices from my limited use seemed to get the job done as well.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is my favourite visual novel game, my favourite game in the series and is easily one of 2017’s best games! If you’re new to the series, it’s enough of a reboot to be enjoyed, but I still think you should go back and play the first two games before moving onto V3 (you can read about what I thought about the Danganronpa 1•2 Reload collection here!). Certain elements of the story could rub longtime fans the wrong way but I still think the full experience is brilliant! In a year with so many amazing titles, Danganronpa V3 really stands out and should not be missed!
NIS America provided a PS4 copy of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony for review. The game will also be available on PS Vita and PC.