Game Reviewby Jacob Chapman,
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
When the Ultimate Pianist Kaede Akamatsu wakes up with no memories inside a mysterious building, she has little time to be confused before Monokuma and his five mischievous Monokubs inform her "class" of 16 kids that they're the newest players in the sadistic bear's Super High School Level Killing Game! Only students who manage to commit a murder and escape the following Class Trial without getting caught will win the right to leave this "Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles." Everyone else is doomed to live out their lives here until there are only two students left alive—unless they can find a way to beat the mastermind behind the game itself!
Prior to the release of this (second?) conclusion to the main Danganronpa trilogy, series creator Kazutaka Kodaka was emphatic in several interviews that this "new semester" would be completely open to newcomers. While it would bring closure to the Danganronpa universe fans were familiar with, none of the characters from previous entries would actually be involved, so V3 (the V is for Victory!) would make a great jumping-on point for new fans.
Well, in keeping with the theme of Danganronpa V3, that turned out to be a big fat lie. Kodaka even acknowledges this, since he gives a contradictory opinion on whether you should actually go into this trilogy-ender blind in other interviews. The reality of its place in a larger franchise becomes evident immediately, when Danganronpa V3's opening movie runs down the entire legacy of Hope's Peak Academy across not only the first two games, but also touring through Ultra Despair Girls and Danganronpa 3 The Animation, before declaring that all of this has led up to the story we're about to play in V3. However, players shouldn't just dismiss Kodaka's assertion that V3 stands alone as empty marketing either. After all, V3 isn't just about lies; it's about lies made in service of a greater truth. His promise to give players a Danganronpa they've never seen before is certainly fulfilled by this unusual way of giving the saga closure, but you should definitely play the first two games before trying this one out. (UDG and D3 The Animation aren't required, they're just appreciable detours you can take into different formats along the way.)
The much longer gestation time between the first two games and V3 seems to have given the developers an opportunity to perfect Danganronpa's formerly uneven game feel. While 2 did improve on many aspects of 1's gameplay, it pales in comparison to the advances made by V3. Loading times are vastly improved, navigation between different modes and chapter breaks are super-streamlined, and the tedium of collecting Monocoins has been made blisteringly easy by the ability to farm rooms through smacking objects around indefinitely rather than investigating them once, to say nothing of the Casino where players can double that hefty balance with ease. (Be sure to complete the demo before starting the full game for a special bonus of 333 Monocoins and one free present and skill!) The formerly interminable School Mode/Island Mode for building affection points has been split into a super-quick dating sim mode for unlocking character skills and an unrelated Game of Life-style board that can be used to level the character of your choice (from any game in the series, although you'll have to win non-V3 characters via gachapon) to do battle in an old-school dungeon crawler. This mode will probably still feel dry for anyone not into low-rent Famicom-era RPGs, but it's still far more engrossing than the bonus modes of past games.
Back in the main event, minigames like the Hangman's Gambit, Brain Dive (now Psyche Taxi), and rhythm showdowns have been simplified into the breeziest versions of themselves, shifting the focus more to new features in the Class Trial, which has always been Danganronpa's greatest strength. Panic Debates and Scrum Debates are just a few of many new ways to cut through bullshit in each heated murder mystery, but the star feature of V3 is the ability to pile on a little bullshit of your own by committing a Perjury.
Gaining the ability to lie in court means there's now multiple ways to get past a round of debate. Players can take a "back route" on occasion by lying to wring the facts out of someone instead of showing evidence, but beyond these optional workarounds, it's also necessary to lie at least once in each case if you want to survive. Kodaka's mad talent for crafting whodunnits shines in V3's cases more than ever before, because he sculpts every murder to result in the wrong conclusion given the evidence alone. Instead, you must choose to pursue a falsehood at the right moment that will force the culprit to foolishly change the context of your evidence and open a contradiction.
V3's murders aren't only as diabolical as ever, they also take direct advantage of loopholes in Monokuma's rulebook that have never been tackled by previous games, gracefully vaulting over the high bar already set by twelve memorable cases to thrill players in totally new ways. Even after hundreds of hours of Danganronpa stories, Kodaka's thirst for ambition hasn't dulled, nor has his thirst for vulgarity as V3 boasts the largest amount of M-rated content in the franchise yet, both comedic and tragic in nature. You definitely can't play this with the voices turned up in polite company, but on that note, the voice acting is stellar in both languages, alongside the franchise's always-excellent soundtrack and inimitable pop art style.
However, all this boldness in other regards makes the game's lack of inspiration in one key area puzzling. After so many successful rounds of exploring large casts of characters throughout Danganronpa's history, V3 seems to slip backwards in terms of characterization. Longtime fans will expect this wacky cast of mismatched anime stereotypes to grow through the adversity of the killing game, with each death peeling back their layers to reveal something unexpected, some surprisingly human core beneath the character's cartoony behavior. While V3 seemingly attempts to keep that tradition alive, the secret each character hides is often more melodramatic and ridiculous than sympathetic. While this does keep the meta-story as flashy and entertaining as its individual whodunnits, they're never as emotionally rewarding as in the two previous games, which is especially disappointing if you're just coming off the poignant heights of Danganronpa 2's character arcs. While V3's larger-than-life backstories can still tug some heartstrings now and again, there's a cynical kind of simplicity to everyone's motives that keeps players one arm's length further away than usual: this one hides a blood-coughing fatal illness, that one hides a tragic past right out of a straight-to-video action flick, there's one who always lies or one who always tell the truth, and so on. The unusual lack of relatability in V3's cast would have been my greatest criticism of its story.
It would have been—before Case 6 revealed that V3 was saving its greatest lie for last. Kazutaka Kodaka is thorough as ever in his mission to wrap his trail of murders around a giant central theme that redefines everything in hindsight. Danganronpa 1 challenged the idea of espousing hope in the face of absolute despair. Danganronpa 2 challenged the idea of living for the future when you feel fatally bound to your past. But Danganronpa V3 makes all of these conflicts look like a cakewalk by challenging the very idea of truth itself in a world dominated by the need for lies—lies like "never lose hope" or "the future is always open", for example. Everything you thought you loved or hated about the game's first 90% could be totally flipped and rewritten by its final hours.
I'll be blunt: the finale to Danganronpa V3 is going to cause an absolute uproar, a wildfire in Danganronpa fandom that might not die down for a long time. It stands among the most ballsy conclusions to a franchise I have ever seen in any medium. (That's not to say Danganronpa as a whole will end with V3, but it certainly could.) It is so outrageous that I had to break my own personal policy of not writing in first person to tell you how outrageous it is. I know that sounds hyperbolic, so I wish I could defend this assertion with more concrete details, but I couldn't bear to do so. This ending is so important to how you will personally process everything leading up to it that spoilers will ruin Danganronpa V3 for you. Now I'm a firm believer that spoilers can't ruin most good stories, even the twist-driven mysteries spun by Danganronpa 1 and 2. The journey matters more than the destination, spoilers are overemphasized in entertainment discourse, blah blah blah, but no, this is a rare exception: Spoilers Will Ruin Danganronpa V3 For You. I know the curiosity can be overwhelming with this much hype, but you might not be able to even enjoy this game if you know how it ends early on, so avoid as much information as possible.
This might make it sound as if the ending is some kind of disaster, so I should clarify that I think it's absolutely brilliant. If you're a fan of Danganronpa because you like to see its creator push himself to his limits and hold nothing back, you will find this game rewarding on some level. However, creative decisions this fearless are guaranteed to be divisive, and I completely sympathize with the various arguments against this ending that are bound to crop up. The most spoiler-free way that I can sum it up is that the previous Danganronpa games made me want to replay them as soon as they were over. For Danganronpa V3, I won't feel ready to replay it again for a long time, and that's coming from someone who loved its ending. I loved it because it not only challenged me, but it also challenged all previous Danganronpa stories in ways that were only possible because every new Danganronpa entry has challenged the ideas of the one that came before. It was the Ultimate Culmination of Kodaka wringing himself dry and then asking the fans if they will accept the damp rag that was left over, no matter how dirty and tattered. It's a creator sharing all his feelings about his own legacy, good and bad, so sitting through a couple hours of that is bound to be challenging for those who love his work.
However, one gamer's fist-pumping challenge conquered is another's controller-throwing time-sink; the number of hours players invest into a game make this love-or-hate divide just as pertinent for the stories games tell as the tests of skill they offer. Danganronpa lovers should prepare themselves to have a hell of a great time playing through this inspired piece of mystery fiction once, but also be ready to spend a few days processing their feelings about it before wanting to romp through those bonus modes. Whether this is the end of Danganronpa or not, never let it be said that its creator didn't reach for the stars every time (and come rocketing back down in a heap of cartoon bones and rad pink blood).
Overall : A
Graphics : B+
Sound/Music : A
Gameplay : A-
Presentation : A+
+ Fantastic art and music/voice acting, satisfyingly twisted mysteries that are great fun to solve, gameplay mechanics are a massive upgrade from previous titles, audacious finale that's bound to provoke tons of discussion
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