Spike Chunsoft’s Danganronpa series has been and always will be my most cherished game series. My love for the series has always been in its colorful approach to murder mysteries and suspense. It’s a series that’s willing to do the impossible in order to play with each of your emotions. But what I believe makes Danganronpa shine the most, murder mysteries and killing games aside, is its diverse cast of characters. Looking back on my past experiences with the franchise, I always found myself connecting with each character in some way. I would laugh with them, cry with them, and even sympathize with them. I’ve always believed this is what the Danganronpa experience was all about; connecting with the cast and finding a glimmer of hope under such cruel circumstances.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony takes everything that made the series so iconic and refines it all from the ground up to create what I believe is the series’ strongest and most memorable entry to date.
A New Academy, A New Killing Semester
The setting of Danganronpa V3 is the Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles, a school that acts as the center stage for our new killing semester. After regaining consciousness within the school’s walls, our sixteen new Ultimate students are forced into a killing game by Monokuma, along with the colorful Monokubs. If our students hope to escape the academy, they must either survive the killing game...or die trying.
I’ll start off by saying that the Ultimate Academy is absolutely gorgeous. You can tell that a lot of detail was put into the environments compared to its predecessors. It was the first time in the series where I just wanted to stop advancing the story and simply take in the ambiance. As you explore the academy, while investigating the new facilities and classrooms, you’ll sometimes come across plant life growing on the floors and walls. With the light shining into the academy, it felt as if I was walking through a sanctuary, undisturbed for hundreds of years. It gave me a sense of peace as I was interacting with fellow Ultimate students and visiting areas like the dining hall every morning. The courtyard, on the other hand, felt like exploring a whole new world. You would think that the Ultimate Academy was large enough, but once you step through its front doors, it suddenly feels like the entire world is opening up to you. I’m not joking when I say that the courtyard is huge. It almost felt like a mix of Trigger Happy Havoc’s trapped school life and Goodbye Despair’s open island life. I encourage you to explore every inch of it as you progress through the story. With so many new locations to discover, you’ll always find yourself with a desire to go out and look for anything you may have missed. Despite the academy being the setting for a gruesome killing game, it succeeds in capturing true visual beauty in its overall design and encouraging exploration more than ever before.
Free Time is your prime opportunity to get to know each Ultimate student amidst the chaos of the killing game. If they’re available, you can meet up with a student of your choice and spend your block of Free Time with them, deepening your bond and allowing you to learn more about their individual personalities and hobbies. Danganronpa has always been known for making each Ultimate student special and unique, but Danganronpa V3 kicks it up a notch and introduces the series’ most memorable cast yet. I enjoyed seeing character development within the students of the 77th and 78th classes of Hope’s Peak Academy during their Free Time Events, but the students of the Ultimate Academy open up to you so much that you can’t help but feel attracted to their presence at all times. To put it simply, every character from the game was so interesting to talk to. The Free Time Events between me and the other Ultimate students felt very personal and honest this time around. Going into them, I never expected the students to be so open about themselves and what they enjoyed. Characters like Rantaro Amami were very honest about themselves, while characters like Tsumugi Shirogane were very vocal about their hobbies and how the world perceived them. Each character in Danganronpa V3 had something new to offer in ways I never expected, to which I’d walk away impressed. It’s easy to see that a lot of love and care was put into writing the new characters this time around.
"The killing game...will begin again."
Sadly, even though these relationships were so precious, they can end in an instant while everyone is still within the domain of the killing game. This is the cruel truth of Danganronpa. Characters you’ve loved since the beginning can die at any moment. Characters you thought were opening up to you can become the blackened before you realize it. Trust and relationships are important, but even those can be taken away from you when you’re forced to live in a world where murder determines your freedom. Naturally, Danganronpa V3 is no exception. In the case that a student is murdered by another student, it’s up to you to search for clues about their death and expose the blackened at the class trial, or else you’ll be the one who gets executed in their stead. V3 makes it easier than ever to investigate to your heart’s content. With the press of a button, you can enter Observe Mode and see everything target-able inside the room you’re investigating while omitting everything else. In past games, observations would only last for a few seconds before you needed to re-activate it, but in V3, Observer Mode lasts for an indefinite amount of time, allowing you to investigate without any interruption whatsoever. This made my investigations very seamless and a lot more engaging. It helped a number of times when I was missing potential Truth Bullets and still needed to investigate a couple more areas. It was a much-welcomed quality-of-life change. Once the investigation is complete, all the students will be forced into a class trial and engage in debates to narrow down the one responsible.
Class Trials: The Truth? Or a Lie?
Most of the class trial will consist of Nonstop Debates, Ace Attorney-esque arguments where testimony will advance without pause. Truth Bullets make a return from past games, but new to Danganronpa V3 is the Perjury system, which involves turning your Truth Bullets into Lie Bullets with the opposite meaning in order to advance the discussion. At first, I had no idea how lying would work in class trials, but after trying it out for myself, the idea of lying to your classmates to get closer to the truth is brilliant. The fact that all of the students are able to roll with it as well is something that took me by surprise. However, as great as it felt to lie to my peers in order to gain control of the argument, I felt that it wasn’t presented enough throughout the entire game. Out of every trial I participated in, I can only remember a few times where I had to lie to continue the main discussion. The Perjury system was a wonderful idea that was executed properly, but I would’ve liked to see it more throughout the game. Two other new systems they’ve added for Danganronpa V3 are Mass Panic Debates, where three people will speak at once during a discussion, and Debate Scrums, debates where the students will have a split opinion about a topic during a class trial and go against each other to argue their sides. Debate Scrums were by far my favorite debates to go through. The goal of Debate Scrums is simple; the opposing side will give their testimony, and your job is to refute it by matching the right term with their testimony. What impressed me the most about Debate Scrums was simply the whole idea behind it. I loved the fact that students took sides during class trials and had differing opinions about the topic at hand. It added a lot more life and depth to the courtroom and made the characters feel more realistic than ever.
Modified versions of Hangman’s Gambit and Rebuttal Showdown also make a return, along with a slew of new segments like Imagination Excavation and Psyche Taxi. Another mode called Argument Armament is introduced as well, which plays the same role as Trigger Happy Havoc’s Bullet Time Battle and Goodbye Despair’s Panic Talk Action. I’m...somewhat divisive about how much I enjoyed each mini-game. I loved segments like Rebuttal Showdown (which saw a massive improvement in V3) and Psyche Taxi because of how they manage to keep you on their feet, but segments like Hangman’s Gambit Ver3.0 and Imagination Excavation, while enjoyable to some extent, felt slow and only made the trials feel longer than they needed to be. However, the Argument Armament segments were a lot of fun. These types of segments seem to improve with each entry in the series, and Danganronpa V3 without a doubt features the best of the three.
An Ultimate Soundtrack Fit For An Ultimate Academy
I’ve talked about the game itself for a while now, but I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t talk about V3’s stellar soundtrack, once again composed by the talented Masafumi Takada. Fan favorites like Mr. Monokuma’s Lesson and New World Order return with new, remixed versions, but they only make up a mere portion of the game’s long list of original tracks. V3 has the largest soundtrack in the series to date, featuring over 100 pieces to listen to over and over again. If the entire game was a giant cake, then the music would be the icing on top. The music of V3 does an excellent job at setting the mood of the game and complementing the “psycho-cool” theme Kodaka was aiming for. I often like to see the narrative and the music as two sides of the same coin; they’re both vastly different, but they both play equal roles in driving the momentum of the game. The narrative in V3 was successfully able to set the stage for the music, and the music was able to set the right tone to help advance the narrative.
My Final Verdict
It was a painful two years waiting for Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony to arrive, but after playing through it for hours on end, I can say with extreme confidence that it was worth the long wait. Of course, we had Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School to keep us occupied until the game’s release, but it felt amazing playing through a traditional, honest-to-god Danganronpa game once again. I think the worst part about all this is that I’ll never be able to experience Danganronpa V3 blindly ever again, but just goes to show how much I enjoyed my time with it, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what it has to offer. It’s going to be very difficult to top the effort put into V3, but if the series can reach heights this high, then I don’t have to worry about the series’ future for a very long time.
+ beautiful environments
+ memorable characters and narrative
+ thrilling class trials
+ exceptional soundtrack
- Perjury system underused
- slow trial segments
This review covers the PlayStation 4 version of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. The game will release on PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, and Steam on September 26th, 2017. I would like to sincerely thank NIS America for providing our podcast with an early copy of the game and giving me the opportunity to write this review.