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‘Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’ is a killing, chilling, thrilling experience

This review is based on the PC version of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony and was conducted on a PC with an AMD Radeon HD 7500, i7, 8GBs of RAM.

The visual novel genre is still somewhat of an anomaly for the Western gaming world. It used to be that these games would never even cross the pond aside from fan translations of the games. However, similar to how now-widely successful series like Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei came to the states, more visual novels are making their appearance. This is definitely a good thing, as without visual novels we wouldn’t have Danganronpa, and without Danganronpa we wouldn’t have Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, which is a must-play murder mystery visual novel.

A story that creates both despair and hope

Visual novels cannot succeed without a good story. Fortunately for Danganronpa V3, there’s no problem there. The story involves the protagonist, Kaede Akamatsu, waking up in an unfamiliar environment with no memory of who she is besides her name. In fact, every other one of the 15 students she meets can’t remember anything either, until a group of giants robots surround the cast and bless them with the memory of who they are. Now, with a name and an identity as the Ultimate Pianist, Kaede works with her newfound companion Shuichi Saihara to uncover the mysteries of the Ultimate Academy of Gifted Juveniles.

 Image from Polygon

Eventually, the cast realizes they’ve been thrown into something more twisted than most of them can even imagine: the killing game. This killing game is, of course, run by the lovable psychopath mascot Monokuma, who wants to create despair among the students. With nowhere to run and a deadline approaching, Kaede and Shuichi must investigate everything they can to find the truth behind the killing game and end it before it can even begin. To the surprise of no one, they fail, and the killing game begins anew.

The story in Danganronpa V3 is easily just as good, if not better than previous games in the series. The mystery within this game is much stronger than previous entries, and there’s truly a lot to figure out within the world. Some of it can be figured out through context and putting pieces together, and some of it is spoonfed to the player by Monokuma and his adorable Monokubs. As the game progresses, more pieces of the puzzle are given to the cast so they can learn more about the past, but not enough to really understand the bigger picture. This lack of knowledge turns into motive, and motive turns into murder. It’s a twisted cycle, and one that should be experienced by anyone who loves a good murder mystery story.

The biggest strength of Danganronpa V3, and the series as a whole, comes from its ability to create likable, dynamic characters that make the murders that happen along the way that much more impactful. The game is designed for the player to talk with their fellow students, make friends, build true bonds, and then watch their friends kill or be killed. Almost every character in Danganronpa V3 is dynamic and human. Characters like Gonta: a gentle giant who wants to be a gentleman, and Kokichi: the human embodiment of chaos, make the game much more enjoyable, especially when there’s the threat of them dying at any time. A personal favorite character is Himiko Yumeno, a small magician- er, mage girl who starts off as a one-note joke character, but goes through a fantastic character arc and becomes a fully fleshed out character. There’s not a single character in this game that really ruins the experience with an obnoxious personality.

Gameplay that’s Ultimate status

Danganronpa V3’s actual gameplay loop has two parts, daily life and deadly life. Daily life involves the player investigating the Ultimate Academy, talking to their peers, building relationships, gambling for knick-knacks, and trying to solve the mystery of the world around them. Living a normal student life is key to really enjoying the game, especially when reality comes around and another murder occurs.

Which leads to the second part, deadly life. After a body is discovered, the player must cooperate with the other students, even the potential culprit, to discover the truth around each murder. Investigating the murders themselves is still the weakest point of the game. While there was an effort to be made to allow freedom in the investigation, it still results in the player being stuck in a room, inspecting every object you can, then moving onto the next room. It’s underwhelming, but finding clues is rarely going to solve the case on its own. It merely serves as a gateway to the best part of these games, the class trials.

 Image from Steam 

The class trials are the core part of the killing game and Danganronpa V3. After a murder is committed and the investigation is done, the cast is brought to a trial where they must decide “whodunnit.” If the culprit, called the blackened, is decided on as the killer, only the blackened is punished. However, if the wrong person is voted to be the blackened, everyone else is executed and the blackened is free to leave the Ultimate Academy. The truth of the cases are uncovered through a series of non-stop debates, rebuttals, scrim debates, and wacky minigames that reveal who committed the murder and how they did it. Once the truth has been uncovered, the case is put back together in a comic style and then the vote is done.

The class trials in Danganronpa V3 are fantastic. For a comparison, it’s like high energy Ace Attorney, though with a lot more to it. Non-stop debates require the player to aim at their opponent’s argument and literally shoot it with a truth bullet. Truth rebuttals require cutting through the opposition’s words. The other minigames follow a similar pattern. Ones brought back from previous games are better than before, particularly with Hangman’s Gambit finally being not terrible.

New minigames are hit-or-miss though. On one hand, debate scrims are easily the best new thing they added, taking every good aspect of the series into one minigame that’s criminally underutilized. The new lying feature also adds a whole new dynamic to trials, and opens up a completely new way to conquer the trials, adding some replayability. On the other hand, Psyche Taxi and Mind Mine are dull, unexciting, and don’t do anything that a non-stop debate couldn’t. Psyche Taxi is especially not fun, as the driving controls are like M&M’s Shell Shocked on the PlayStation, and if that’s the level that’s being achieved, it’s time to reconsider the game mechanic. Despite those minor complaints, the gameplay and trials achieve even higher than previous games, with twists and turns that no one will expect.

Art and music perfectly mask and complement brutality

The Danganronpa series is well known for its style, and this game turns that up even higher than normal. The art in Danganronpa V3 is fantastic, especially for lovers of anime. Each character has a unique design to go along with their personality, and makes them that much more enjoyable. Characters like Angie are absolutely perfect because of the life given to her from the art style, which gives form to her weird eccentricity.

 Image from Steam 

In terms of the look of the game itself, it’s easily the best in the series. The 3D world of the Ultimate Academy is very nice to look at, with plenty of visual flair in the school’s design. The 2D parts of the game are even better, with the art being more vibrant and interesting than previous entries. Class trials are given new visual overhauls, with every aspect of them given a new element to enhance the experience. Non-stop debates have especially improved, with text given much more animation and life. Other trial minigames also have a great style that more accurately fits the theme of the minigame, with Psyche Taxi being a favorite visually. Additionally, the game runs fantastically even on a PC that has some outdated hardware, so most systems should be able to run it. Overall, the art style perfectly compliments the genuine brutality of the scenario, along with looking great on its own.

Another aspect that’s just as good as the previous games is music. Danganronpa V3’s soundtrack reflects the themes of hope and despair within the game. Some tracks are really upbeat and cheerful, like the music the plays during free time. Other tracks are calming and hopeful but slightly unsettling, like the music that plays during the Closing Argument part of the class trials. There are so many different styles of music within the game as well, and composer Masafumi Takada is a master of making all of these different parts fit together as a whole soundtrack. Remixed versions of songs from previous games are even better than their older counterparts as well, which is an achievement considering how good the original songs were. The soundtrack is perfect to fit the different themes and craziness that make the game fantastic.

Featured image from Twinfinite

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