A third entry in the Danganronpa series was never going to be an easy task for series creator Kazutaka Kodaka, yet by the end of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, the sky was the limit for the future of the series, so the decision to advertise Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony as taking part in a whole new universe was confusing to say the least, especially after the incredibly disappointing Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School anime which brought the first two games’ characters to an incredibly disappointing conclusion. I discussed this, along with my early impressions of the opening chapter of Danganronpa V3, in a preview I posted earlier this year, and unfortunately, my worries for the game were realised in the final release. Danganronpa V3 is the most disappointed I’ve been with a video game in a long time.
Fans of the series will be used to V3’s approach to plot. 16 gifted (or ‘ultimate’) high school students are kidnapped by a robot bear named Monokuma and trapped inside Hope’s Peak Academy for Gifted Juveniles. There they are forced to partake in a brutal killing game where getting away with murder is their only means of escape.
Danganronpa’s greatest strength has always been its character writing. At their best some of the series’ characters are some of my favourite fictional characters of all time, and at their worst they’re still incredibly charming and easy to enjoy. This has always worked in the games’ favour because it makes the character deaths all the more painful when it’s a character you’ve fallen in love with. That said, after the game’s second chapter, not only could I tell who was going to die in each case, I honestly did not care.
Instead of letting the player grow to enjoy each character, the game chooses to hold the mystery of each character’s past and identity over them to the point where it leaves little room to actually develop them within the story itself. Each of the characters is suffering amnesia while taking part in the killing game; it’s a plot device that has been used in the series since day 1, but in the case of the first game and especially the second game, the characters used their new identities as Ultimates in the killing game to determine who they would be for the rest of their lives. It was a great part of what made Makoto Naegi and Hajime Hinata great characters. V3 only gives about four of its characters the same luxury, making the rest of them borderline uninteresting. They pretty much just choose a stereotype, and now that’s the character with no movement towards originality. The only character from V3 I would put with my favourites in the series is probably the one intentionally sinister character who ends up being the only one who keeps the story moving at all.
The best addition to the story, hands-down, goes to the introduction of the Monokubs, Monokuma’s five children: Monotaro, Monosuke, Monokid, Monodam and Monophanie, who offer the best comic relief in the game. Most of the reason I found myself seeing V3 to the end was to see what bizarre sub-plots these characters would find themselves in next. They are the only consistently written characters in the game.
It’s almost as if Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony knows it has no reason to exist. The game’s writing is quite clearly that of a creator just trying to pander to fans, and since it’s been just over 5 years since the release of the last main entry in the series (which released on the PSP), one must wonder if Japanese audiences were really begging for a new entry in the series. Nowhere more is this evident in the game’s terrible ending.
With the jump from PSP to PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita and PC, the gameplay has surely seen a huge overhaul since Danganronpa 2. Despite this, the investigation and exploration elements remain essentially the same as in the first two instalments. Where the gameplay really shines is in the Class Trial gameplay. Non-Stop Debates return and remain the same, despite the new implication of the new lying mechanic, allowing the player to turn a Truth Bullet into a Lie Bullet for when it may be required to finding the truth. With this gameplay, now Mass Panic Debates have been introduced. These sections occur when three characters talk at the same time, and the player must find the contradictions in three testimonies at once and choose which one to shoot a Truth Bullet at.
Hangman’s Gambit has received a complete overhaul. In this mode the player must spell out a word using the floating letters on-screen, but this time around they are in complete darkness, and the player must carefully use the lighting to their advantage to spell out the correct word. Bullet Time Battle returns in this game in the form of Argument Armament, a rhythm game that occurs at the end of a case where the player must destroy a testimony in conjunction with the beat.
New modes include Psyche Taxi, a Logic Dive-styled mini-game inspired by Crazy Taxi where the player must spell out a question by collecting letters while driving on a linear route. Upon spelling out the question, they must answer it by driving towards the correct answer; and Mind-Mine, a puzzle mini-game where the player must destroy a sequence of blocks and choose the correct image underneath to answer a question.
These new gameplay modes amount to the most diverse Danganronpa game yet and definitely the most involving one too. The best of them are Argument Armament and Psyche Taxi, despite the latter being used a few times more than necessary.
Being the first Danganronpa game developed with both the PlayStation 4 and Vita in mind, this is technically the most impressive in the series too. I switched between both versions quite frequently during my playthrough, and while the PlayStation 4 version is clearly the more refined version, the Vita version is easier the more comfortable to play. The game’s UI and cheap production cost doesn’t lend itself too well to a 60 frames-per-second, 1080p display (4K for PlayStation 4 Pro owners). That doesn’t mean that the Vita version is clear of its own technical hiccups. The game doesn’t exactly shine at a 30fps, 544p display either. There are a lot of washed out, low resolution textures on the handheld version, and I noticed it drop below 30fps quite frequently while exploring the academy. Both versions offer their own fair share of visual and audio glitches too (on top of the Vita version having an HQ Audio DLC pack to download so that the voice acting doesn’t sound like something from a PS1 game), so this is one where it truly depends on your platform of choice to determine which experience you will prefer.
Masafumi Takada returns to compose the game’s soundtrack that, while offering a few too many simple remixes of past games’ tracks, is another great set of music, albeit less memorable than Danganronpa 2’s. NIS America also return for the game’s localisation and English voice acting, all of which are once again great and fit their characters well. Brian Beacock’s portrayal of Monokuma in this title truly stands out, with what is definitely his best outing of this character yet, and he truly shines now with 4 games’ worth of experience.
Overall, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony offers an upsettingly dry ending to what has been, up until now, an amazing series of visual novels. While offering the most underwhelming cast in the series, it also manages to negate any enjoyment of them with an unsatisfying ending. The game is filled with interesting ideas that are executed in the laziest ways its writers could manage, especially having such a great framework. The only reasons I kept myself through the 45 hour shuffle to the end was the promise of an interesting twist, hilariously written Monokubs and the idea that I was playing a sequel to one of the best games ever made, none of which made the horrible conclusion any more satisfying.
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Platforms: PS4, PSVita, PC
Release Date: 29th September 2017