Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review
A new cast of 16 characters find themselves kidnapped and imprisoned in a school. Inside, some will kill, some will die, and some will be punished. Reimagine what you thought high-stakes, fast-paced investigation was as you investigate twisted murder cases and condemn your new friends to death.
The sadistic killing game returns once again in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, with thrills, chills and, of course, kills, as the evil mechanical-bear Monokuma forces 16 new characters to participate.
Much like the previous entries in the franchise from Team Danganronpa and Spike Chunsoft, Danganronpa V3 opens with a prologue chapter that introduces you to the cast of 16 characters, the place in which the killing game will take place -- an unknown building to you -- and the motive. For those familiar with the series, it’s standard stuff -- you’re trapped in a building, a crazy teddy-bear explains you are to kill one another and take place in a case-trial afterward to deem the correct killer. If you get it wrong, the killer walks free, and of course, everyone freaks out. As it so happens, eventually someone does die, you’ll walk into a room and someone's body will be sprawled out dead in some fashion with the franchise's signature pink blood surrounding them somewhere. As the ball starts rolling, the body count starts racking up.
I’m being particularly vague on the story elements because that is why you play Danganronpa -- for the story. With that said: slight spoiler warning for this paragraph. Danganronpa V3 returns you to a secluded school building setting again, unlike the previous game, which took you to several islands, each having their own theme. Walking around a zone and getting to learn it, much like the first game, felt a lot better and it also makes this game more "grounded". I say grounded in air quotations, as some crazy stuff happens in this game, but it doesn’t have the continuous wacky settings of each island like Danganronpa 2had.
Gameplay wise if you’ve played the series before, you know how this works. Daily life: you’ll explore areas, talk to characters and use free time to level up your relationships with whoever you please; that is, until a murder occurs. Deadly Life: explore and investigate the scene of the crime gather clues and information by talking to others. Class Trials: battle it out in a courtroom-inspired system to deem ‘the blackened’ and solve the case. The first two aspects of Danganronpa remain relatively unchanged here, but the case trials have seen some improvements and changes since the previous game. Two of the mini-games I found infuriating in Danganronpa 2 have seen much-improved iterations here. Hangman's gambit has been ditched in replace of Epiphany Anagram 3.0, which doesn't require you to constantly maintain a minefield of letters to find what you’re looking for, instead just having to use a flashlight system to see the letter bubbles in front of you to spell out the word. Brain Drive sees you driving an actual car, not a hoverboard in a Tron-inspired world like the previous game, to answer several questions about the case, which is way less tedious. There is also a new mini-game, Evacuation Imagination, where you chip away at a Tetris-like board, matching colours to reveal images and pick the correct one to the question.
Some new case trial elements have been added amongst the usual gameplay of counteracting someone's point with a piece of evidence. Mass Panic Debates see you having to hear several characters yelling at the same time while you work through what they're saying to find the right statement to counteract. My favourite new element was Debate Scrubs, where you’re paired off into a debate team when the group becomes split on a decision, and you have to choose the right statements to counteract the other team.
For the first time in the series, you can also now lie. There were certain points in debates I’m pretty sure I had to lie to progress, or maybe that’s just how it seemed to me. Either way, the lying mechanics are introduced as seemingly optional, and characters do pick-up on your lies sometimes, although I never noticed any negative effects when they did. It’s still an interesting addition to the trial system and a big difference from the protagonists in the past games where they were always about being 100 per cent honest and true.
Danganronpa’s gameplay can sound confusing to new players, but it is relatively simple. If you have played Ace Attorney, it’s like that, but with less “Objection!” being shouted and more profanity and violence.
Monokuma is joined by four Monokuma Kubs this time -- his ‘babies’. They're on his side though and not like Monomie from Danganronpa 2, who was seemingly trying to help the characters. The Monokuma Kubs are fun -- each has their own personality and traits and some of the funnier lines of dialogue come from them interacting with each other or with Monokuma. Danganronpa V3 is funny and I laughed out loud several times, but I guess this is highly dependent on how much you like some of the darker humour.
Some of the material alongside the dark sense of humour might not be for everybody, especially the game's treatment of its female characters. I expected as much -- considering the franchise's past -- but the blanket excuse of it being expected, or being stereotypical for the type of game, doesn't excuse it, and it’s quite prolific here.
The cast of 16 new characters are all great (previous paragraph issues aside). While the cast from the first game will probably forever hold the top spot, this group is pretty close. I found everyone interesting - no character bored me, I didn’t hate any of them before they earned it, and some of the stories are very sad and tragic. In fact, Danganronpa V3 might be the bleakest entry into the franchise overall -- and that’s saying something. In previous games, there was usually a case where I didn’t particularly care when a certain character was killed, or when the murderer revealed their motive, but here I always cared, and I was always interested by the motivations. Even if a lot of Danganronpa V3 feels very similar to the past two games, it at least has a cast of well-written and interesting characters, and that is honestly the most important part of these games.
The feeling of ‘been here, done that’ is Danganronpa V3’s biggest issue. Although I loved the characters, the majority of the cases were very similar to the previous games. Where Danganronpa V3 was marketed as a ‘soft-reboot’ of the franchise, it feels more like a mash-up/best of the previous two entries. Some twists and turns became predictable as they followed a Danganronpa formula of sorts. This makes chapters two, three and four drag in the middle, especially as they have the least to do with the overarching mystery and plot.
I loved the final chapter and the big reveal in this game, but I can see it being a turning point for fans of the series. It’s definitely a sign that the franchise needs some fresh energy to continue, or just needs to end -- which I’d prefer? I’m not really sure.
Much like the previous games, you’ll unlock some optional mini-games when you finish the story. One of them is a neat idea for fans of the franchise and long-time players, but it’s probably more enjoyable going in blind, so, Google that if you desire.
Soundtrack composer Masafumi Takada has done his best work for the franchise with Danganronpa V3. It’s the best of the music from the previous games, while also adding some of the catchiest tunes of all the games. It’s moody and dark when it needs to be, mysterious as you search for clues, and, of course, bouncy, fun and crazy when you have a bunch of mechanical-bears talking nonsense in front of you.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is everything I love about the franchise: getting to know a group of interesting and crazy characters, ultimately having to watch my favourites die off in horrible ways, investigating complex crime scenes, and getting the final clue to the case to find the murderer. Oh, and of course, the lovable psychopath that is Monokuma. However, this is the third entry into a franchise that already feels like it’s retreading too much familiar ground and not doing enough new, or to move the series forward.