I was pretty wowed by the first Danganronpa, a devilish twist on visual novels and detective games that I never thought I’d see a sequel to, but here we are, at “Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony“, and I couldn’t be happier to be proven wrong.
V3 is a game that’s incredibly easy to spoil – even more so than its predecessors – by talking too much about literally anything when it comes to its wacky plot, so I’ll tread carefully. Much like the first two games you play an ‘Ultimate’ – a kid prodigy who’s been chosen as the absolute best of their field and then kidnapped and forced to participate in a ‘Killing Game’ run by a bat-shit crazy robot bear called Monokuma.
-The sixteen teens wake up in an isolated prison and are soon told to start murdering each other to stay alive. Only catch is that if they do, the rest of their classmates are allowed to investigate the murder and try to figure out whodunit. If they’re successful, the killer is executed and the game continues. If they fail, everyone dies and the killer walks free. It’s an interesting premise and one that continues to serve the series incredibly well. The mysteries could easily feel a little tired by now, but the ingenious murders are constantly surprising.
Elsewhere the plot moves forward, trying to figure out who the true mastermind is behind the robotic army of bears that has taken you captive. The ominious and ever-present Monokuma is joined by his kids this time around, the Monokubs. These screechy additions get pretty annoying very quickly, without Monokuma’s personal brand of sadism, wit and intelligence to balance out their lunacy.
Like any good visual novel, V3 is a very chatty game. There’s reams and reams of text here to make your way through, and amazingly it’s all pretty great. Before the first case had even started I’d been bombarded with up-to-date political satire and pop-culture references, delivered by some of the most memorable and fun characters the series has enjoyed thus far. The list of talents is as out-there as ever too, with wacky skills such as ‘Ultimate Astronaut’ and even more bizarre ones I don’t want to spoil. Danganronpa is weird, and the localization team don’t shy away from this: in fact they lean into this unique strangeness hard – and the game sings because of it.
After a lengthy opening the game devolves into its core gameplay loop of talking to your classmates and progressing your friendships with them, discovering a murder and finding clues, and finally going to trial to figure out who the killer is. As far as motivation for playing goes, Danganronpa provides a very engaging one. The gameplay itself could have been filler – a competent vehicle for the story and little else – but Spike Chunsoft aren’t willing to go easy on themselves.
The gameplay here is the most diverse, varied and complicated suite of systems they’ve crafted thus far, and it all works together to make an addictive whole.
The relationship building is solid and each character is an absolute hoot to get along with. This bonding earns you points to buy items that help in class trials – like giving you more time when trying to figure something out – but at its core is simply a way to get you to fall in love with a wacky set of characters just to be heartbroken if and when they die. When they do get their ticket punched is when the real gameplay begins. Gathering clues and interviewing your classmates adds ‘Truth Bullets’ to your files – essentially evidence to be used in trials.
Under the watchful gaze of Monokuma is where you’ll use this evidence to destroy testimonies and hone in on the culprit through a variety of minigames. It’s here that the game feels most like a game, with relentless barrages of text you zap, lightgun style, with relevant evidence. This is the beating heart of the trials, but its wonderfully teased out into something truly feature rich thanks to load of twists on the formula. Tactical lies, class scrums, split debates and a whole host of fresh approaches liven up every twist and turn in the cases and constantly keep you on your toes. The first trial is an intimidating barrage of tutorials that are mercifully concise, but once you’re familiar with them all you’ll begin feeling like a master of the court.
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