Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co, Ltd.
Publisher: NIS America, Inc.
Platform: PS4 (reviewed), PS Vita
Price: $59.99 (PS4), $39.99 (Vita)
Danganronpa is a strange thing to introduce new people to. The intricacies of the storyline have always required you to know what has come before, while also being completely oblivious to anything coming up, lest ye be spoiled. Knowing the answer to a burning question the first time through the game can truly ruin 20-100% of the storyline. Going into Danganronpa 2 without playing #1 is feasible, as they do a decent job of describing things, but there's an endgame plot twist that ties everything together, adding more actual meaning to the end than if you played it alone. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony allegedly addresses this by giving players a new place to jump in.
I say "allegedly" for good reason. Danganronpa is "Clue" for the modern age: A select group of teens are trapped, and the only way out is to kill a fellow classmate without being caught. The entire team goes to trial to figure out whodunnit. If the killer can convince the group that someone else is responsible, they get off scot free, at the expense of everyone else's lives. By and large, the game series has regularly been about finding the truth, but this time there is a hint of lying involved. You can change the game's famous "Truth Bullets" into "Lie Bullets" if necessary to push forward in a conversation to lead toward the truth. This has leaked over into their promotion as well. I don't want to get into spoiler territory, and I fully admit I haven't finished the game as of this review, but I have a strange feeling that even though this is a good place to start, longtime fans will end up getting a bit of a bonus before it's over.
If you want more of the history and basic gameplay functions than I go into here, I would like to forward you over to my original review of Danganronpa 1-2 Reload, as well as my Ultra Despair Girls review. As I said before, so far they aren't necessary for V3 but they really do flesh out the core story and make it more understandable. My review will focus on what they're doing different this time around, and I really feel as if they paid attention to fans. Nearly everything has been polished for this, the first true "console release" of the series (Danganronpa 1 and 2 were originally PSP/Vita games).
The game is divided into three core sections. In "Daily Life," you are tasked with spending time with your classmates. Either through lighthearted chit chat or trying to find an escape, your crew simply spends time. The headmaster of the "school" Monokuma, arrives and prods everyone on, trying to convince someone to snap and attempt escape by killing another person. Then comes "Deadly Life," the post-murder section where you investigate and try to determine who the killer is. After finding enough "Truth Bullets," you are thrust into the third section. The actual Class Trial involves you refuting the arguments of your classmates until you find the solution.
Every single section of gameplay has been improved for V3. The polish of coming first and foremost to a more powerful home console is obvious. Daily Life is basically a graphic novel section, though it is improved with dynamic styling. Instead of a text box on the bottom of the screen and one character in front of you speaking, the character and text boxes scale back and forth, the shapes of the boxes change with intensity of words, two characters can banter back and forth with their portraits scaling in size based on who is talking, and the camera will fly back and forth between people, zooming past everyone else in the room. The characters are stills with a number of different poses, but this is traditional Danganronpa and anything else would feel odd. V3 goes back to Danganronpa 1's full 3D landscape and moving between areas, which I liked much better than DR2's area selection, forcing you to travel between islands to find particular areas. Everything is encapsulated in a much smoother way. For example, the dormitories are now in a round building; you look around to find a room in rather than all down a particular hallway that you have to walk every time you needed to talk to one person. The locations are beautifully spread out yet wonderfully compact: you remember where locations are much more easily.
The part I like about Deadly Life's improvement circles around streamlining the investiagaion. In the older games, you could leave a room and come back, with the narrator saying "I think we've seen everything there is to see here," while in this one you may try to leave an area and get an "I think there's more to investigate" narrative, preventing you from missing that one little piece of information that you might miss. In previous titles, pressing the Triangle button would give a brief flash, with every interactable item glowing for a second. Now, you can do a Batman "Arkham Mode" of sorts, going into a 3D scan with the interactable items popping out of a darkened background. Definitely makes it easier to locate all of the needed components.
Perhaps the greatest improvement in the series is in the trials themselves. During debates, you are supposed to shoot down the opposing words with "Truth Bullets." When an argument is raised, the words literally fly across the screen, and you have to shoot them down with evidence. V3 marks the first time in the series the words are rendered in 3D, and it really makes a difference. Arguments can fly in, bow out, arc, and more. It really feels much more dramatic than the previous entries. During debates, several minigames come up to help your main character jar their memory or take down a particularly difficult argument. I'm loving the games they put in this time. Danganronpa 1 only had a couple of minigames that fit well and were a nice distraction, but 2 really kicked it up to stressful levels for me. The "Hangman's Gambit" and "Logic Dive" had dexterity issues that made them more stressful than anything. I'd groan every time they came up. Here they are replaced with smoother minigames. You can still lose them due to time-outs, mind you, but they are more manageable and fun. Internally, you may have a "Brain Drive," finding the path to the answer, or select the right letters to form the words in a blackout-style puzzle. In-game arguments are really fun too. Aded to the Nonstop Debate is a Mass Panic debate, where three different arguments are running at once. A "Debate Scrum" arises when two clear teams disagree with each other, and you have to match up the arguments. It is great how several different play styles can combine cohesively.
I do have a few complaints that concern me, but I do warn you they may lead to SPOILERS. If you want NOTHING ruined, get out of this paragraph. Given all the polish, I am surprised that I ran across a couple things I boiled down to translation errors, where I basically had a conversation that led to me giving a yes-or-no answer that I couldn't tell which answer I needed. They were trivial parts of the Daily Life, but still annoying. Also, as the series goes on it relies on ramping up the shock value more and more. A certain character starts the game cussing every other word and insulting others to no end. As I said, I haven't finished the game yet, but as of right now it comes across as annoying. Then, the biggie. There is a plot twist. We're talking Metal Gear Solid 2 Raiden, Final Fantasy Aeris-level plot twist. It's a beautiful twist. One that you could NEVER expect. Your jaw hits the floor. Yet, the resolution takes one of the most unique parts of the game and rips it out, plugging in a staple trope that really disappointed me. I really don't want to ruin it for fans, but through watching the previews, playing the demo, and starting the game proper I got set for one thing that was a different experience, and it is taken away, replaced with more of the same. I will likely write a spoileriffic article around this once I get through the ending of the game and can give a proper analysis, but as of right now I can see how the theme of lies is prevalent in this game, and it's advertising. Blah, blah, this is a sentence designed to make people not accidentally read anything in the middle. How are you? I'm fine. Really, if you don't want spoilers STAY AWAY FROM ABOVE. I even tried to hide it in code, but it could kill one of the biggest impacts of the game.
Sadly, that is one of the inherent problems with Danganronpa. A series so tightly based on story and surprises that you can't really look up things without risking being spoiled. From fanart to a basic strategy guide, anything and everything can hurt your playthrough. If you do need help, it's best to find one of the strategy guides that breaks every little chunk onto separate pages, or simply discusses input options, and not the actual storyline. When I played previous entries, I had to change my way of gaming life: I like to look up neat history and fan material as I'm playing. You don't want to do this with a Danganronpa title.
Speaking of the previous entries, I am a little frustrated at the way they closed the previous storyline. I don't have regular access to all anime news (as much as I'd like it) but what I do know is that the endcap of Danganropa's storyline in 1/2/Ultra Despair Girls was done in an anime...well actually two...or is it three..... Officially titled Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School (not to be confused with the game's V3), it is meant to be watched in alternating format, going from the Future Arc episode 1 to Despair Arc episode 1, all through the end and then adding the final Hope Arc at the end. Meanwhile attempting to purchase the Blu-Ray versions only gets you one arc, so if you really want to watch it correctly you have to swap discs every other episode. They're even streamlined apart on the Funimation website, making streaming a chore as well. And for V3's intro movie, you are introduced to a few screengrabs from all previous entries and the anime, which makes me feel it's not as disconnected as advertising makes it out to be. Gamers without knowledge or access to the anime will be frustrated when they start the next one only to find that the loose ends from the previous game were tied up somewhere else. The game does cater to fans of the series with some special modes that are unlocked post-game.
Overall, however, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony does everything that you would expect from the series and more. The gameplay is fine tuned to be less frustrating and more intuitive, and the game truly shines now that it's had a chance to be designed for a modern system. The story is shocking as always, and takes everything to a new extreme. Long time fans will NOT be disappointed, despite a few issues that fall into spoiler territory. New players may highly consider going back and getting the previous games in the series, still widely available, as they are high quality and you will appreciate the improvements as you go up. Still, V3 is a great intro place for new victi...er...players to hit the ground running.
-Beautiful graphics and dynamic storytelling flesh out the tale in a way never seen before for Danganronpa fans
-New modes and minigames are fun but far less frustrating than previous entries
-Points in the story let you actually do more than talk during Daily Life moments, as you explore the environment
-"Extreme" taken too far where a constantly cussing character just becomes grating and annoying
-Fans may be frustrated that Game 3 doesn't wrap up Games 1 and 2's loose ends
-Plot Twist SPOILER takes away a unique part of the game
Special Thanks to Spike Chunsoft Co, Ltd. and NIS America, Inc. for providing a digital copy of the PS4 edition for review.