Returning for the third time to the main Danganronpa series developed by Spike Chunsoft, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the latest release to continue the zany murderous killing games filled with despair, hope, and lots and lots of pink fluid from dead people. Monokuma approved content indeed.
Those new to this series don’t have to worry about not having prior experiences with the franchise. But as it’s highly recommended for late game, I would suggest to at least be aware of the first Danganronpa game (if not the series as a whole). The series continues its tradition as a Killing Game. 16 students who are known as Ultimates within their field, are tasked with escaping the Killing Game by either being the last two surviving students, or getting away with a murder. Playing as the main character, you must solve the murder case within the high school setting and find the murderer, known as the Blackened.
Known for its pink blood and over the top murders, not much has changed from the mainline series in terms of core mechanics other than just refining the main gameplay loop. As well as the odd, quirky mechanic, it feels like the third installment with the sheer polish the game contains. There’s a lot to go into, with how well made this game is, from the anime artstyle being distinct like JoJo’s with its strong defining lines and absurdly deformed expressions. V3 is very much the pinnacle of the series mechanically. Along with its ear-rippingly good music.
Flowing between the free roaming and the more restricted (and slightly hand-holdy) investigation sections, the game feels consistent and not disjointed in the slightest. Investigating the environment isn’t mandatory, it’s something more for the min-maxers/completionists, that’s not to say it doesn’t have an integral role to play. You can collect a lot of coins, experience, and the odd hidden collectable Monokuma figure (which you can find in the court cases). Functionally, these are useful for unlocking skills that can be make or break for some people (myself included) in reducing the difficulty of the court case. These skills aren’t required, but the inclusion of them definitely is appreciated for the less puzzle-inclined, and those in search of the game’s narrative over courtroom battles.
Narratively, V3 starts off incredibly strong. From the opening sections and its maddeningly weird prologue, it will leave even the uninitiated somewhat confused. But, thanks to the stellar English voice acting, the game feels consistently good, with very few negatives as a whole. The vocal delivery is on-point for when things really start to kick off. Within the court battles, seeing the dialogue is only half the battle. Beyond the easiest difficulty, those without quick wit and responses, will find this as a somewhat difficult endeavor. From the constantly fluctuating state of affairs, you battle with your classmates in the “whodunnit” court case. Changing between its unending deluge of Non-Stop-Debates, Mass-Panic-Debates, and the bizarre minigames for deducing the answer. The inclusion of dialogue between each debate provides a slight breather before the next fusillade of arguments. Testing everything you know, and the information gathered prior to the murder, you’re forced to find the Blackened as well as the actual Mastermind of this Killing Game.
Your classmates are never your friends, with strong mechanics like this. The character writing has to remain on point. Which this game does, but like previous games the narrative slows down after the initial lot of cases. With the second act, the pacing slows slightly with the interaction of certain characters. They become somewhat mellow and humdrum compared to the previous and following murders. But this calm before for the storm is almost needed, as the characters that you start with, Kaede and Shuichi, are able to shine during down times. They’re voice acting work is a treat, which extends to the entire cast, with the show time they have. The characters are a hodgepodge of eccentric fellows ranging from the deranged to the insane. Their personality range is almost alarming, until you realise that as much as they are Ultimates, they’re fundamentally written to be human. Well, most of them anyway, this helps ground the narrative from its lofty heights of hysteria.
The main big bad of the story is Monokuma who runs the Killing Game, and the true Mastermind who set this Killing Game up, like previous installments. Monokuma now has his/her/its own kids in the form of the Monokubs. As far as additions go, they’re fine, but they do become grating over time. As much as the game likes to break its sequences of narrative with weird interludes, the Monokubs boil down into one-trick ponies that you end up shrugging as being more Deus-ex-machinas to keep the Killing Game going, even if Monokuma is technically pulling the strings. The Mastermind is written fairly competently, although given the game’s use of logic it’s written to make sense, even if it is absurdity in itself. But in terms of the overall plot, there’s a few criticism that can be levied, aside from the slight dip in pacing of the second act. For one, the game struggles to keep its pace in terms of constantly feeding a narrative.
Whilst mechanically the free-roams are designed to gain additional favour with the other classmates, the game does very little to make the interactions be integral or worthwhile beyond being the find your favourite waifu/husbando ordeal. Which is a plus or minus depending on tastes, but certain characters with their rivalries and interactions do become mind numbing when over-experienced. This is unfortunate when you consider what the other Ultimates could’ve done from a narrative sense. This does affect the court cases, but in the game’s benefit. The red herrings and attempts to trick you on who the Blackened is are praiseworthy. The only criticism here is that the cases are somewhat too long for a single play session, unless you have plenty of time. The halftime break is nice, but unless you have your PS4 set to allow you pause the game indefinitely, the 2-3 hour court time can be mentally tiring for some. As a side note, the PSVita’s load times are somewhat long when roaming the world.
Talking about what happens within the closing act is spoilery, but needless to say it nearly ends as strong as it starts. The fact it doesn’t keep that high is part of the narrative. But once the fifth court case happens, the Killing Game is accelerated at a blistering speed. You begin to lose sense on why the Killing Game is happening, and descend into the inevitable Ultimate Despair the Danganronpa series always alludes to. With the underlying subplot being why you’re in the Killing Game always being in question, it’s finally resolved in a weirdly anticlimactic but well suited ending that will leave nearly everyone questioning what just happened. This isn’t a negative, but you have to experience how the story almost devolves to get a scope of this. And yes, Ultimate Despair does ensue. It’s just a question of how.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (Reviewed on PlayStation 4)
This game is great, with minimal or no negatives.
I would give this higher, but I know later down the line and looking back this is by no means a 9 or even 10 in terms of the game’s scope. But if the writing kept its pacing from start to finish, it would’ve matched the astonishing soundtrack, blistering court cases, impeccable murders, and superb characters. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to find myself a tissue for the tears I shed to those lost in this Killing Game.