Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Review


Title: New Dangan Ronpa V3 Minna no Koroshiai Shingakki
Original title: NEWダンガンロンパV3 みんなのコロシアイ新学期
Alias: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Release date: 2017-01-12
English release date: 2017-09-26
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
English publishers: Spike Chunsoft (PC)
NIS America (PS4/PSV)

Over the years, the Danganronpa series became pretty extensive, not only with video games of a few different genres, but also with anime and even novels composing the franchise. For someone not going out of their way to read up on the series, it may come as a surprise that the continuity is less clear cut than may be expected. I, for example, had no idea initially that Danganronpa 1 and 2 got capped up in the anime series Danganronpa 3, which in fact has no relation to the final game known as "Killing Harmony".

I somehow managed to avoid any spoilers over the years before going into the game and the only two things about "Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony" (DRV3) that I knew were: a) it's only tangentially related to the first two games and can be treated as a completely separate entry, and b) the game was somewhat controversial among the DR fans. However, before going into the DRV3 I think it's prudent to say a few words about the Danganronpa 3 anime, as it basically served as the conclusion to the Naegi Makoto's storyline.

If I had to use one word for the anime, it was "mediocre". I had quite a lot of problems with it. The way the action moved didn't let us easily acquaint with the cast of characters in the "Future" arc, and so we felt very little when they died or suffered. The "Despair" arc worked a little better initially, as we were already familiar with the majority of the cast, and the new additions were actually very well fleshed and sympathetic. Sadly, it all went downhill after that, as The Mastermind's plot and their means of achieving it in the Despair Arc are so unrealistic, that I felt cheated. It would have been better to keep such details out of our view and just say "And so it was done". It would have preserved mystery and kept the mastermind as a menacing character, because they become less frightening the more you know about them. I was also dissatisfied with the nature of the killer in the Future arc, but took the greatest offence at the show killing a major character, only to pull a deus ex machina at the end and say: "Lol, nope. They didn't die, after all".
The premise of every Danganronpa game.
But I'm not actually writing this review for the anime - I'm reviewing Danganronpa V3, and thus we are leaving "Hope's Peak Academy" for "The Ultimate Academy of Gifted Juveniles". The name might have changed, but the gist of the game has not. Sixteen talented students have been imprisoned in a school, with seemingly no way for them to escape, other than to participate in a killing game and win. The only way to leave the school is to commit murder and get away with it, or become one of the last two students remaining alive. Seems pretty straight forward, which is an illusion, as the killing game in DRV3 is much less straightforward than in the previous two iterations, even if the murders once again have certain parallels with the ones that happened before.

I would normally introduce the main characters now, but I think there is another entity that begs for an introduction, or more precisely, a re-introduction. Of course, it's Monokuma! The murderous sociopathic monochromatic talking bear! And this time he has company - his five children, called Monokubs. Don't think too hard about the fact how an animatronic bear can have children... it's not important :-) The five new arrivals are the co-hosts of the killing game, with their infamous daddy, and they are pretty good at it too, even attempting to usurp the main position from him. I have noticed that the opinion about the Monokubs is kinda divided online, as some players actively hate them, but I myself actually enjoyed their antics. Now, in addition to the interaction between the main cast of characters, we also have the interactions between the Monokubs, and between the Monokubs and the cast, which has given us plentiful of hilarious conversations.
Well, you know, no one says anything about "agree"...
The relationship between the Kubs and Monokuma is a bit complicated, and they sometimes seemingly go against him, or even help the cast in certain struggles. It's no wonder that Monokuma tries to "lick them into shape" by... actually licking them, which is a truth in television. Bears do actually lick their young, and this activity is brought to its natural conclusion in the game: lots of dirty and inappropriate jokes.

That said, DRV3 is probably the filthiest of the three games without even the antics of the Kubs, and while we have to thank Iruma Miu for the majority of the R-rated content, other unexpected participants also join in on the fun to make sure you will be embarrassed to play the game in public :-D
And this is an almost flattering speech by Miu's standards...
There is an obvious and major mystery surrounding both Monokuma and the Kubs. Who is controlling them? From the start I was pretty sure it cannot be the main villains from the first two games, as we have got rid of them pretty permanently. So, who is it? The answer might surprise you... or it might not. With a cast of sixteen characters, whose number is constantly dwindling, the mastermind cannot remain hidden for long. The first two games avoided this downfall through a tricky sleigh of hand. Unfortunately, that is one area where DRV3 kinda loses, as I was only halfway through the game before I figured out the mastermind's identity.
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On the other hand, this time figuring out the identity of the mastermind is the least of the mysteries, and there are still real surprises hidden from your gaze.

Moreover, Monokuma has quite a change of personality between the games, which is another point for a different villain in control. First of all, he is much much more hands-off in relation to the main cast. His interactions with the characters are somehow less openly sociopathic, with him sometimes even coming across as a reasonable authority figure. Rather than being a main character, who constantly needles and eggs the students, he is content to sit on the sidelines and allows the cast to create their own drama. At the same time, he is much meaner when presenting the motives, as the very first two motives can attest. They are much less subtle then any of the motives in the previous games, and the Monokuma himself tends to be more direct when speaking, and not going around in circles, like he was wont to do previously. I'm not sure which Monokuma I like more, as both have their pros and cons, but the open sociopathy of the DR1/2 mascot was somehow really endearing, while he is so much more serious here.
Poor Kaito sucks at gambling.
Let's throw our focus onto the main cast now, and I have to say, I got some real surprises here. The characters of DR1 were pretty exaggeratedly portrayed, always acting in a larger-than-life way. It's pretty clear all their traits have been amplified by the writer to more clearly portray both their positive and the negative traits. DR2 took the concept to the logical conclusion with the characters bordering on a parody, and even their own clothing and appearance reflecting that, though I admit, the very nature of the second killing game, allowed for such eccentricities. However, if DR2 over-exaggerated all the character traits to 11, DRV3 lowers everything down back to the baseline. For the first time, the Danganronpa cast actually feels like real people and not fictional characters we are reading about. There are no overblown character quirks or out of the world dressing, which makes everyone more relatable...
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At the some time, the cast reacts to the killings and the ensuing investigations both more cynically and more realistically. Most of them are incensed to catch the culprit and there is none of that ridiculous waffling present in the previous games: "I will believe my friends... No one of us could be the killer... Etc." This time the characters display simple determination without worthless platitudes about friendship, because friendship can not exist without trust, and trust is impossible while there is a killer hiding among the cast.
Not sure this is the time to worry about that, Kaede.
For the first time we end up actually controlling a female protagonist, which is a refreshing change after the first few games (not counting the Ultra Despair Girls, which I still haven't played). Akamatsu Kaede, the Ultimate Pianist, is a headstrong young woman, who is pretty forward in her decision making and hatching up plans that could save the other students. She believes everyone can be friends after they escape from the Academy, but for now she puts those thoughts aside for the true goal of catching and punishing the mastermind. As an added bonus she is ambiguously gay, and seems to hit on every other girl in sight :-)

Both Makoto Naegi and Hajime Hinata had two great flaws that really affected their likeability. First of all, they never commented on their investigations, making them look dumb like a doorknob. This is finally rectified, as the protagonist actively wonders aloud about the evidence they manage to collect and even share half-formed theories with the audience. The bulk of the reasoning is still relegated to the trials, but it's the first time we are actually Investigating, and not just dumbly collecting evidence. Secondly, there is no pretty way to say that, but both the previous protagonist were fucking "parrots". They always repeated phrases the other character just uttered, for no good purpose. This ugly trait, if not completely removed, has become so diminished that it's not really an irritant anymore. Hence, I can honestly say that this is the first time we are playing a truly likeable and relatable protagonist in the Danganronpa series.

Kaede is joined by Saihara Shuichi, who is a brilliant investigator, nevertheless hampered by his low self-esteem issues. He has earned the name of the Ultimate Detective after accidentally solving a case, but the outcome left him conflicted, which is why he is reluctant to use his skills in the killing game, as he is afraid to make the situation worse.
Sounds like a complete understatement.
Amami Rantarou is an enigma. He has forgotten his Ultimate talent (there always has to be one such character), and seems to know something about the killing game from the very beginning.

I admit that from the beginning I tried to discern who the core of the cast will be. All previous games had three main characters (one female and two males) who served as a "core". They were the smartest or at least the most resourceful of the bunch, and did the most in the investigations and the class trials. In the first game that was Makoto, Kyouko and Byakuya, and in the second game it was Hajime, Chiaki and Nagito. I immediately pegged Kaede, Shuichi and Rantarou as the probable core of the new cast... As it were, it was a small mistake on my part. :-(

The previous titles had an unfortunate tendency to shuffle the other characters that were not a part of the core aside and provide less screentime for them. DRV3 mostly escapes that pit. While there does eventually end up a group of characters that can be called a "core", the other characters are no less important both plot-wise and during the trial. The trials saw some improvement, and most of the characters ended up contributing in some manner during the proceedings, in contrast to the established procedure of basically the same three characters flinging ideas back and forth, while others are goofing around.
Multiple debates now can happen simultaneously.
A big contributing factor ends up being the length of the game. Each DR game is about ten hours longer than the previous one. DR1 took about 25 hours to complete the main storyline, while DR2 was about 35 hours, and finally DRV3 ends up being a 45 hour game. The game uses its increased length not only to weave an intricate mystery, but also to really flesh out all the characters, which was somewhat lacking previously. The negative of that is, that while the game spends a lot of time laying the groundwork for various plotlines, it can get quite slow, especially in the beginning. By my estimation it takes about six hours before the first murder starts, and you can actually finish many shorter VNs in that timeframe, however I cannot say that the game ever gets boring, as the cast and their interaction is the best yet of any DR game.

DRV3 ends up spinning several side storylines that affect the main characters in a dramatic way personally. This is the first time in the series, where a few characters end up developing romantic feelings for each other over the course of the game, and this journey is portrayed in a beautiful and very believable manner. I'm not counting a one-sided Touko's crush on Byakuya in the first game and Akane's/Nekomaru's bromance in the second one, as they were portrayed in a less serious, comedic manner.

Moreover, the game ends up introducing certain conflicts that ring very true in a closed environment with tensions flaring among the characters.
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I'm still conflicted about how quickly that particular plot branch was purged. But the eventual reveal, that they were right all along, even if the methods used were suspect, was frankly a masterstroke.
A vulnerable moment.
I'm not gonna call out all the characters and describe them in detail, as it's not really necessary for this review, but I still have to mention a few that end up having a huge influence on the plot. Harukawa Maki is apparently a cold and antisocial girl, who bears the title of the Ultimate Child Caregiver, which surprises the protagonist, as she doesn't seem like someone who is good with kids. As you progress through the game, you get to know her quite well, and her story ends up intrinsically linked with that of a few other characters.

Iruma Miu is a genius inventor with a bipolar personality and a filthy mouth. She is always aggressive, loud and boastful, but immediately crumbles if anyone shows even a hint of resistance to her. I really liked the particular brand of comedy she introduced in the game, but as the plot progressed, it became clear, that unlike many other members of the cast, Miu is not growing up and learning something new and valuable, which was a pretty shame. There were more characters that failed to learn from their ordeal. An example is a certain girl, who embodies the worst parody traits of a militant lesbian feminazi, and constantly denigrates "degenerate males", while herself perving on her female friends.
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Momota Kaito is the Ultimate Astronaut and also a character who develops not one but several plot lines focusing on him, and is very important both thematically and character-wise, as he forms a very poignant relationship with the protagonist. At the same time, K1-B0 is the most unusual character, as he is an actual robot. He starts his journey as a comic relief, constantly accusing everyone of robophobia, but his plot thread is probably both the most subtle and one of the most important for the game.
How friendly do you want to get?
And finally, I would do the game a disservice not mentioning Ouma Kokichi, the Ultimate Supreme Leader. Do you think he has any ties to the Kim dynasty? :-P Kokichi is Nagito, if Nagito were not only crazy, but bipolar and megalomaniac too. He constantly acts like a spoiled child by weaving intricate and not-so intricate lies into a false persona he has build for himself, and constantly shattering some of those lies and replacing them with others. No one can tell who Kokichi really is, and I'm not sure he knows either, but he is undeniably the smartest member of the cast, and definitely the most entertaining to boot. The thing is, his particular character might endear you, or it might grate on you like nails on the blackboard.

Now that we have discussed the cast for a bit, let's focus on the meat of the game. Danganronpa series have always been about the class trials, as it is undeniably the most important part of the series. I'm glad to say, that the trials, at least from the mechanics side are a vast improvement over the previous entries. With the exception of maybe one minigame, every other challenge has been undeniably improved. DRV3 actually makes the "Hangman's Gambit" and "Rebuttal Showdown" likable, which I didn't imagine was possible! A few new minigames and mechanics were introduced, with the most innovative being "Lying". Yes, you can now actually lie during the debates, which introduced as completely new level of interaction. There are some instances, where you are required to lie, and quite a few, where lying is optional and opens some additional discussions and dialogues. I have found a few of these instances, but missed even more, though I have heard on the internet that there are audio cues to tell you when lying is possible.

Unfortunately, one of my favourite minigames from DR2, "Logic Dive" got a completely lame replacement "Psyche Taxi". Rather than being hard or annoying, this minigame is simply boring and presents no challenge. "Bullet Time Battle/Panic Talk Action" also got replaced with the new rhythm based game "Argument Armament", which I was ambivalent with. I'm pretty bad at rhythm games, thus the mini-game was more of an annoyance to get out of the way, as it was not particularly hard.
A game hidden within a game.
During my reviews of the previous two games, I didn't delve deep into the trials, but this time I feel obliged to say a few things. The trials in DR never cease to surprise me with new innovative crimes the writer manages to come up with. The first trial alone manages to hit us with a "surprise motherfuckers" hammer right in the nads.
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The second trial ended somewhat a disappointment. The murder method was too elaborate to really feel feasible, and the conclusion wanted to present the killer as somewhat sympathetic, but got the reverse reaction out of me. The motive actually made me hate the murderer more, which I'm pretty sure is not what the game was aiming for. On the other hand, the prelude to the trial actually had probably the best body discovery scene in the series. There is truth in saying that less is sometimes more.

The third trial is probably the first time in the series, where the killer is completely and unrepentantly evil and has no sob story to make them sympathetic (not counting the mastermind of the first game). Unfortunately, while there were quite a few thing about the trial I liked, including the fact that the victim was also completely unsympathetic, which resulted in me saying "Thank God" upon discovering the body, the killing method once again was overly-convoluted and, what's worse, the identity of the killer was obvious from the very beginning.

Starting with the fourth trial, we are getting deep into the good shit. The trial is great, especially taking full advantage of certain restrictions upon the set the murder ended up happening on. Working within those restrictions our protagonist has to give it all, to discern plots within plots that ended with a body. I don't want to say too much, but the conclusion of the trial ends up being pretty heartbreaking and a turning point in the game, when all the plotlines start merging into the greater whole. There is just one "but" - I knew who the killer was even before we started investigating. It was pretty obvious after employing the Sherlock principle of eliminating the impossible, which leaves only the improbable truth...

The fifth trial is where the fecal matter hits the proverbial spinning rotary mechanism designed to create air currents. I won't be saying anything about it, only that it has some parallels with the fifth trial in DR2, and we all know how that one ended...
Kokichi trying to usurp the trial.
And now we have reached the sixth trial, or more precisely the ending. Now, I have said previously that the game was apparently quite controversial among the fanbase, and I can see why. The ending is.. quite something, and it has serious repercussions on the whole DR series. So, how did I like the ending? It's... complicated. I know that sounds like a cop out, but that is the truth. It's very polarising even for the same person, and I'll try to talk about that without spoiling anything, as spoiling the ending of DRV3 should be made a crime punishable by public lashing.

The ending of Danganronpa V3 is both the best and worst ending a game can have simultaneously. It would be the best and most mind melting ending for a standalone game. If DRV3 were not a part of the series, I would be hailing its greatness from the rooftops, which is highly ironic, as the ending wouldn't work for any game that is not part of the series. Yes, it's a paradox, that cannot be solved.

As a part of the series, DRV3 completely hacks to bits any bridges with all of it's predecessors, and simultaneously burns any probability of the game having a sequel... and then pisses on the bonfire. When seeing through the lenses of the truth we acquired at the end of DRV3, all of our accomplishments within the previous games lose any meaning. Everything we did, every action we took, every character we spent time with, simply do not matter. This is such a huge blow, that it can probably sink some players into depression and denial. There might be some people shouting that it doesn't matter, as all the games are fictional anyway, but their opinion is factually wrong. The very message of DR2 was that it doesn't matter if it's fiction, or reality. As long as you care about it, it matters. However, this very message is very purposefully shot down in DRV3, which results both in the existential crisis for the characters, and very likely for some players too.
Heartwarming moments amidst the darkness.
The ending is a very complicated matter, as it puts everyone, both the characters and the players in a no-win scenario. I have only seen something like this once before, and it was not a visual novel, or even an adventure game. It was actually a third person shooter, named "Spec Ops: The Line". I wonder if the writer of Danganronpa actually has played that game, as both games ultimately result in the very same message for the player:
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Do you feel like a hero yet, dear player?

Philosophical mind twists notwithstanding, Danganronpa V3 has much higher production costs than either of the previous games. Pretty much every aspect of the game is improved. Starting with the graphics, which is the best yet this series has produced and following with the phenomenal voice acting. There are some actual surprises there. I have played the game with a Japanese voice acting, and it quickly became clear that for the first time in history, Monokuma is voiced by a different seiyuu. That fact gave legitimacy to my initial belief that a different villain must be controlling the murder bear. What's even more surprising is that all the Monokubs (yes, even the female one) are voiced by the same voice actor. They must have an unusual vocal range, as I never clued in on that fact while playing the game. Each Kub sounds completely different and has its own personality. And while I have realized the female Monophanie is played by a guy, as he couldn't quite get the higher vocal notes right, I had no idea he also voices the other four. Sadly, both aspects are missing from the English dub, as here Monokuma is played by the same VA as the previous games, and all the Kubs also have different voice actors. I have listened bits and pieces of the English dub on Youtube, and it's a pretty good one, with well known talents involved, but I still prefer the JP dub, and not only for the reasons above.

Soundtrack has also received some wonderful new additions. Just like DR2 had some spiffy vacational melodies to complement the known and loved tunes, the addition of the Monokubs in DRV3 also comes with their own soundtrack. Their signature track "Rise and Shine, Ursine!" is fucking glorious, and don't let anyone say otherwise! Other tracks are also fantastic and worth listening even outside the game.
That's the matter of perspective.
While there are many cosmetic changes to DRV3, the core gameplay remains the same, true to the old adage that you don't fix what isn't broken. There are Daily Life scenes, where the majority of the dramatic shifts between the characters occur, Deadly Life is when the tragedy usually occurs and the murder happens, and it's followed by the Investigation and the Class Trial. Free Time allows you to get to know your companions better, give them presents and eventually acquire skills you can use for the Trial. Just like always, you can buy presents with Monocoins from the chance-based Monokuma machine, or actually play in the casino and purchase the gifts for the tokens you manage to win. Casino is quite an interesting collection of mini-games, that has multiple difficulty levels, and the games can turn quite challenging on the higher levels.

There is actually yet another new structure in the Academy, and that is a Love Hotel. Yes, really! If you get a certain item from the casino, you are able to invite one of your classmates to the hotel for some private time. Sometimes it's just a friendly conversation, but other characters actually get down and dirty with you, even if you don't actually get to see anything. Our protagonist apparently is a horndog... :-) Of course, all the events in the Love Hotel are purely non-canon and are there just for the fan service.

While DRV3 manages to improve pretty much every aspect of the preceding titles, especially when it comes to the characters, one thing that still remains backwards like the Alabaman family relationships, and that is the interface. It still takes a million clicks to do any action, like saving the game or opening the map. It's like the developers are specifically trying to make the GUI as counterintuitive and confusing as possible. However that is but a small bump on the road. Danganronpa V3 is a marvelous mystery title that deserves of its name, but make sure to play the previous games before picking up. The fact that it has few ties to them only stretches so far, because your experience will surely be diminished if you don't heed my advice.
Healthy soul in a healthy body.
Even once you finish the main storyline, the game doesn't finish. Just like the previous games, it has some bonus minigames, the most prominent of which is "Love Across the Universe". Just like the "School Mode" or the "Island Mode", it's a "what if" scenario without any killing, where you can complete the character relationship events and go on dates with the, however, as a major difference, this time there is no any resource gathering minigame, which has always bored me and made me drop the bonus mode previously.

There are also two intertwined modes that, while have some short character segments, including non-canon interactions with the cast of DR1 and 2, are mostly gameplay-oriented. I don't play Danganronpa for pseudo RPGs, thus, while I gave the modes a try, I quickly dropped them and really have no opinion about them.

All in all, controversial ending notwithstanding, DRV3 is a marked improvement on both previous games in story, characters (especially the protagonist), visuals and gameplay. It is a great game that will last you for a pretty long time, so be sure to pick it up, but only if you have already finished its predecessors.

Links of Interest

Visual Novel Database
Official Japanese site
Official English site
Buy an official PC release on Steam

Final Verdict: 87%


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