Let me just come out and say, as a fan of any particular franchise, sequels can be pretty scary. I mean, sure, it’s a way to extend the brand and continue the story. But there’s always that thought in the back of your head that asks, “What if this sucks?” Sadly, for some games this is the case and the series ends for good.
However, when Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc first released in the West in 2014 it became one of my personal favorite visual novels. Following its release was a sequel, Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, and a surprising third person shooter featuring a few notable characters, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. Each release was consistently good, but the series always seemed to be overshadowed by the the high standard set by Trigger Happy Havoc and I was under the impression that it couldn’t get any better than this. Well, that all changed when I finished Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
I’ll tell you now that Everything discussed in this review story-wise will only include the prologue and Chapter 1, but if you don’t want anything spoiled then please stop reading now.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony begins with an obscure opening that won’t make sense to anyone at the time, but ends up staying with you throughout the entire game. Like the previous titles, we are met with 16 high school students who hold the “Ultimate” title — the series’ running plot point that these kids are the objective best in certain fields. The students range from the Ultimate Magician to the Ultimate Robot, so they cover quite a range of unusual skills.
Players assume the role of Kaede Akamatsu, the Ultimate Pianist, as she learns with the rest of her classmates that they are now participating in a killing game. This time around, five Monokubs will be taking on the responsibility of relieving some of the workload off their dad, Monokuma. Although, that doesn’t mean players will be seeing the despair inducing bear any less throughout the game. More importantly, the students are trapped at the school and won’t be able to leave until one of them wins the killing game or two students are left.
The rules of the killing game are simple, one of the Ultimates must kill a classmate and get away with it. After a murder takes place, the player will be able to investigate the crime scene before being asked to participate in a trial to try and catch the killer, or in game lingo, the Blackend. After looking over all the clues that were discovered and arguing amongst each other, the students will vote. If they get it right, the Blackend is executed; if they get it wrong, the Blackend is set free and everyone else dies.
Now, none of the students want to be murderers, but Monokuma can be very convincing at times — he provides “Motives” to the students throughout the story to encourage them to kill each other. For the most part the students just want to escape and of course they try. It’s clear for the start that the group of students are all willing to work together to try and escape, although any attempt is met with failure.
If you are a Danganronpa veteran, this might sound rather familiar and is reminiscent of situations that the series has presented before. With that said, the story is aware of any similarities it has to the previous games and one way or another calls itself out on the reused lines or ideas, which makes for some pretty amusing comments from Monokuma. Also, there are several huge turn of events that make this entry original and not comparable to any of the games before.
The first chapter is quite long and includes a prologue to set up the story. However, I appreciated the length because it gave me time to pick out my personal favorite characters and figure out who I can and cannot trust. Any conversation I had with a character was dissected in order to gauge how likely the person I was talking to will murder me or another classmate. The anxiety is overwhelming at times when I expect the worst during every morning announcement from Monokubs as they say over the loud speaker, “Rise and shine, ursine.”
Over the chapters, I found that outside of the killing game, Danganronpa V3 takes some rather large liberties with the direction of its characters and story. However, some of these changes might not sit well with long time fans. As for me, I felt that Danganronpa V3 was everything I could ask and more. Danganronpa V3 takes what was great about Trigger Happy Havoc and builds upon it with a more emotional premise and relatable story plot.
This wouldn’t be a Danganronpa title without some death and Danganronpa V3 doesn’t pull any punches. The length of the first chapter plays a separate role as well since it allowed me time to get used to the new characters and feel close to them. Yes, I did this knowing full well some of them wouldn’t be with us for long, but that’s what made the impact of the first killing so intense. The setup and execution was flawless. I was at the edge of my seat as a motive timer ticked down and the loud speaker chimed that, “a body had been discover”.
After the death, I was able to investigate the crime scene and interrogate other students. Every time I would try to piece together the “whodunnit” during the investigation, there always seemed to be a piece missing. Thankfully, the trial scenes are where the students will work together or against each other to fill in the blanks and find the killer.
This structure doesn’t become repetitive because every chapter introduces a new element to avoid or consider as your group becomes smaller and smaller. After every twist in Monokuma’s rules or new realization as to why these characters are in this situation this game makes it tough to get comfortable and I was hooked.
Like the story, the trial scenes only have one possible outcome; if you happen to get too many questions wrong or run out of time, the game is over and you must retry. This comes at a consequence of points that are obtained at the end of th trial, but it’s also possible to save the game at any point, in case you aren’t confident in your deduction skills.
The trials can be very long, with some taking as long as two hours to complete depending on your speed and knowledge of the crime scene. There are a handful of mini-games to play during the trials and each are a differ way to obtain a clue. A returning system is being able to disagree or agree during a non-stop debate, but Danganronpa V3 also lets you lie, which adds a new layer to these debates.
Furthermore, there’s a car game, block matching game, a game where you slice statements with a sword, and more. In terms of the new mini-games, I sucked at them at first, but after a few rounds I got the hang of it and happily participated in anything the trial sent my way.
Sticking with the trials is also supported heavily by the writing. Everything from the students arguing back and forth to Monokuma and the Monokubs putting in their two cents. Everything combines to create an atmosphere that made it impossible for me to avert my eyes. I found myself staying up until 2 AM just to see the end of trial and and get to the bottom of what happened. After hours of debate, me and my group passed our judgment and I was awarded with a scene of an over-the-top execution of a person who decided to try and get away with murder.
Exploration is completely open in Danganronpa V3 and the amount of rooms you have available to enter and look around in. In every chapter, players will get to participate in Free Time where they can hang out with other characters and get to know them better. This is a returning system that always has me cautious because as I get closer to characters I know they have the potential to end up being murderers of victims. Most of the time, I found myself at the casino playing slots as I evaded my responsibility of trying to escape and instead embraced this new world.
During Free Time, I enjoyed my time learning about each character and hearing their back story. Characters will become closer faster if you present them with a gift that they would appreciate. Trust me, they’ll let you know if you got it wrong. By leveling up your relationship with other characters you will gain new skills that can be equipped. I didn’t use this for most of the chapters and I got along fine, but it’s there if you wish to gain the upper hand early on in the trial scenes.
I’m honestly trying my hardest to not give away too much about Danganronpa V3’s story and I’m sure you’ll appreciate that while you’re playing through the game. I never found that the story dragged on or felt out of place. Each scene had me either full of anxiety or laughing my ass off, or somewhere in the middle. Being a linear visual novel, I was impressed by how the story made it feel like it was original to me.
I would also like to add that the localization from the team at NISA was spot on. It’s clear that the liberties taken by the localization team paid off and made this game that much better. Even though I feel that some interactions might have the potential of offending someone, I appreciate that NISA stood their ground and delivered the Danganronpa experience that fans know and love.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is by far the best sequel to a video game series that I have ever played. I personally have fairly high standards for visual novels, but I feel that there is nothing Danganronpa V3 presents that I would change. Every minute of the main story is gripping and exciting, to the point where it was tough for me to remember that I had to sleep because I couldn’t put it down.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony relies heavily on its characters and plot, so if these two things aren’t of interest to you then you might not agree with this review. However, returning fans and those with an open mind will clearly understand why Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is one of the greatest visual novels I have ever played.