In a year when Nintendo is back and firing in all cylinders—releasing a hearty duo of behemoth, ten-out-of-ten guzzlers no less—a year with Horizon, Persona, Divinity and more, it’s Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony that I find myself completely mesmerised and enthralled with.
I thoroughly enjoyed Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair back in 2014, even considering it joint with the marvellous Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze as the best game I played that year, but I didn’t actually think they could top it. My imagination must be incredibly low compared to writer/director Kazutaka Kodaka and his team at Spike Chunsoft since as you can guess… they managed to top Danganronpa 2. I must admit I’ve always held Kodaka in a much lower regard to his fellow Spike Chunsoft peer Kotaru Uchikoshi and his Zero Escape series, but with V3, Kodaka truly strikes back. He blew my expectations out of the water and into the stratosphere, beyond my feeble imagination would allow.
The story he weaves with V3 is quite frankly astonishing and like all good art, on the divisive side but before I continue, it may be best to explain what Danganronpa is for those of you not in the know. Danganronpa is a visual-novel adventure game series in the vein of Phoenix Wright with some Persona and Zero Escape thrown into the mix. The plot involves a cast of ultimate students (the best pianist or artist etc.), a Battle Royale style killing game and a murder-inducing robo-bear by the name of Monokuma.
Now Monokuma is a ridiculous character, tumultuous and humorous but he’s never predictable and revels in making these ultimate students play the sick and twisted killing game—deaths in Danganronpa are surprisingly weighty and rarely feel cheap. After someone falls prey to the pressure and kills, Monokuma will impose a class trial in which you debate who killed who and vote at the end. If the wrong person is voted for, everyone else will die and the killer will go free. These trials are the core of Danganronpa and are on the most part exceptional in V3.
Gameplay on a whole has been vastly improved over the previous games, with all the various mini-games of the class trials being far less fiddly and annoying, although ‘Psyche Taxi’ and ‘Armour Armament’ will attempt to test your might. The ability to commit perjury, the multitasking mayhem of the ‘Mass Panic Debate’ and the beautifully scored ‘Scrum Debates’ all make V3 feel gratifying to play and make the last games feel retroactively a bit worse for lacking them—which extends to the visuals of the game too, as the UI is vastly superior to past games, being less Persona ripoff and more comfortably ‘Psychopop’. I can honestly say that V3 was a joy to play but ultimately it’s the story and characters that carry the experience.
Thankfully V3 is littered with great characters thanks to the brilliant localisation by NIS America propping them up, like the refreshing protagonist Kaede Akamatsu and her detective sidekick Shuichi Saihara, more eccentric ones like Miu Iruma—possibly the most foul mouthed character I’ve seen in a game—and the wonderful troll that is Kokichi Oma. Monokuma even has some children in V3 called the Monokubs, which were most definitely a highlight in all their bizarre shenanigans, even upstaging Monokuma in some instances.
V3’s prologue and first chapter are masterfully paced and constructed, ferociously rising up and culminating in a rather gutsy turn in the story which ripples across the rest of the game—some might hate it for a variety of reasons, but keep playing as it’s only the beginning. Sadly this does cause a slight pacing problem with the next two chapters, since they lie in the wake of such a forceful story beat, but in the grand scheme it’s not too much of a problem as the last half of the game ramps up considerably. V3’s ending is possibly more insane than Twin Peaks Season 3 and for anyone who’s seen it, you know that that’s saying something. This is a game that wants to, as the title implies, kill any harmony you might be feeling and will be considered divisive but never forgotten. My brain is still slumped on the bottom of my skull, out of breath, trying to recuperate after it.
The real hero of V3 though is composer Masafumi Takada, Suda 51’s former audio mastermind and collaborator of both Shinji ‘Resident Evil’ Mikami and Masahiro ‘Smash Bros’ Sakurai. Takada’s V3 score is potentially one of his best and really accentuates every element of V3. The ‘Closing Argument’ portion of the Class Trial needs to simultaneously highlight both success for the player, as they are one step away from ending the trial and innate sadness and dread for the characters who are about to lose a fellow classmate to the horrors of the killing game—the score for this section impeccably demonstrates this with a sound that richly resonates bittersweet-success. There wasn’t one moment of weakness in the soundtrack as Takada truly brought his all and managed to perfectly paint both the story and visuals with a diverse palette of audio for every occasion.
V3 is Kodaka’s last game in the series as he’s decided to take a break from the franchise he created, so it’s a wonderful ending to his trilogy. The future of Danganronpa is less clear than it used to be, but regardless of what happens next, it was a crazy ride.
Danganronpa V3 is a fantastic story, great to play with an incredibly fitting soundtrack. One of the best visual-novels of recent years, it’s a meaty experience that took 50 hours to complete with plenty of post-game content to keep you going. If you’re looking to jump in here, it’s probably best to play the first two before, but that’s the beauty of V3: its the best in the series so you have something great to look forward to if you start from the beginning.