Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: 19/09/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), Playstation Vita, PC
I actually came to the Danganronpa series a little late, with my first foray into the deadly doings of the cute (yet evil) Monokuma coming with the recent release of the first two games on the Playstation 4. I instantly loved it though, so naturally I’d been eagerly awaiting Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’s release ever since seeing the end credits roll of the last game. It has finally come out though and I’m actually a little surprised to say that it has managed to exceed all of my expectations; whilst I didn’t doubt that Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony would live up to the brilliant reputation of the series, I didn’t expect it to improve upon it.
As you’d probably expect, the premise of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony doesn’t change up too much in comparison to other entries in the series. Once again, you’re one of sixteen ‘Ultimate’ students that has found themselves locked up in a school and forced to partake in a game. What game you ask? Well, one where you all kill each other in order to be granted your freedom, of course. No-one can find out you murdered anyone too, so there’s a lot of mystery, deceit, and betrayals along the way. Of course, when someone is murdered you’ve got to find out who did it, so you’ll be taking part in plenty of trials for characters in order to find out who needs to be executed too. It’s an incredibly extreme case of survival of the fittest, but it makes for an exceptionally entertaining experience.
It’s probably worth noting that you might appreciate the game more if you’ve actually played through the previous games though; whilst it’s certainly not an absolute necessity, there are plenty of references and moments in the narrative where having that extra bit of background knowledge will enhance your overall experience.
I won’t go into the narrative in too much detail here though, because let’s face it – no-one wants to see spoilers for a game that’s main focus is on providing a gripping tale for the player. I can confidently assure you that it’s more of the same high quality writing that players have come to expect from the series though, with plenty of twists to keep you on the edge of your seat and an abundance of edgy pop-culture and political references to keep a grin wrapped across your face.
It wouldn’t be a Danganronpa game without ‘Ulitmate Students’ making up the cast, and there’s a real eclectic variety on offer this time around – there’s Kaito Momota being the ultimate Astronaut and Korekiyo Shinguji being the ultimate anthropologist for example. Whilst the student’s talents have always been peculiar in previous games, the odd choices this time around almost felt like the developers were running out of ideas in some ways. The further you progress through the game the more you realise that everything is done for a reason though; characters fully embrace their roles, regardless of how odd it might seem when compared to more conventional talents. It’s something that I could really appreciate, with the bizarre nature of the game not only shining through in the scenarios each character finds themselves in but also within their personalities too.
The bulk of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’s gameplay is spent taking part in the ‘Daily Life’ routines and the ‘Class Trials’ for each murder. Don’t grow too attached to any of the characters in the game because you’ll never know when they might be murdered, or on the flip-side be the murderer; the game forces you to expect the unexpected, because you’ll never know what’s going to happen next. Just when you think you can trust someone you’ll find they’re behind a conniving murder or alternatively are going to end up dead themselves, regardless of how vital of a cog they might seem to the grand narrative machine. It works so brilliantly though that you won’t be too sad if you see one of your favourite characters die, but instead impressed at how the game expertly executed it.
A lot of the main narrative will progress during the Daily Life sections, where the player is able to freely explore the school from a first-person perspective and interact with all the different students as well as the environment. In honesty, these sections were probably the least interesting of the game for me; whilst it was nice to have an interactive element to add to the visual novel-style of the game, I would’ve been happy enough just to see the story progress in a traditional manner in order to get to the Class Trials. At least the game goes some way not to leave you simply wandering around not knowing what to do though; you won’t actually be allowed to leave a room until you’ve uncovered everything it has to offer, whilst holding down a button will actually highlight everything you need to see. It’s an incredibly useful feature that ensures you’re never actually going to be stuck in the game, but instead always see things progressing in a timely manner.
Class Trials take place every time there is a murder, with every (living) student grouping together to discuss the murder and find out who was behind it. This means revealing evidence, grilling people, lying (a new feature to this game, might I add) or even just letting chaos unfold as the truth slowly makes its way out. Whilst these trials could’ve easily been simply relegated to walls of text though, Danganronpa instead presents them in a creative way that embraces both constant dialogue as well as intriguing gameplay mechanics.
Listening to what each student has to say to defend themselves or accuse someone else typically takes the form of a mini-game, with the player having to literally shoot at student’s statements in order to prove them false, solve block puzzles to uncover evidence, match up keywords in order to uncover lies, and even partake in an Outrun-style mini-game where you drive through neon landscapes collecting letters to unlock new questions that need answering. Honestly, as in previous games Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony delivers plenty of absurd ways to reach conclusions that aren’t only downright bizarre to witness but actually a lot of fun to perform. You’ve got a timer going on behind the scenes too, so there’s a bit of pressure on you to reach a conclusion fast – thankfully, the game’s quite generous when it comes to checkpoints, so failing won’t be too much of a hindrance.
The mixture of both old and new mini-games in the Class Trials ensures returning gamers will get to enjoy what they’re used to in the series, but also get something new to try out that fits in perfectly with the game’s zany nature. Nothing is ever over-convoluted either, with everything falling into place almost immediately; there aren’t any ridiculous controls or mechanics to get used to, but instead a system that’ll instantly click with you regardless of how bonkers it might seem at first. Everything just comes together nicely to ensure that the Class Trials once again stand out as the highlight of the whole experience.
With Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony being designed with the Playstation 4 in mind as opposed to the portable consoles, it naturally looks a whole lot better than its predecessors. The visuals are sharp, full of colour, and have the same stylish aesthetic that has blessed the series from the very start. Everything in the game simply looks fantastic and it’s easily the best looking entry in the series so far. There’s some great English voice acting on offer too, which only helps strengthen the overall presentation of the game.
You’re going to be playing Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony for a long time, with the game easily lasting well over twenty hours just to clear the main story. There are plenty of scenes you’ll probably miss throughout the main game too, so there’s certainly an incentive in place to go through and do things a little differently. Outside of the main story there’s some optional modes to partake in after completing the game, including a card collecting game with RPG elements.
Despite the series setting some serious high standards in previous games, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony manages to exceed them in almost all facets of design. The story is exciting and full of twists, the Class Trials are spiced up with some all-new features, whilst it also happens to be the best looking game in the series so far – seriously, it’s just brilliant.
Whilst I’m not sure it’ll be the case for everyone, for me Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony has earned its place as my favourite entry in the series. Its brilliant combination of bizarre murder mysteries mixed with a great variety of different gameplay elements made for a fascinating experience that I simply loved being a part of.