"Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a wild ride which will leave you feeling both hope and despair, and that's exactly what I was looking for."
Danganronpa caused a bit of a stir back when the first two games came out in 2014. They presented unforgettable scenarios with a cast of over-the-top characters, and more than anything, they made you feel despair. The anime series Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak High School
concludes the Hope's Peak Academy Saga and begins a new arc with new characters and a new school. This is the first new main game since Goodbye Despair back in 2014, and Spike Chunsoft has taken the time to revise the Danganronpa formula so they can throw their fans for a loop.
V3 starts off with 16 gifted students, known as "Ultimates," who are imprisoned within The Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles. The megalomaniac teddy bear Monokuma returns and brings five children dubbed Monokubs to help out with his evil bidding. Together, they set the rules for yet another killing game — a student can only escape if they murder another student and get away with it, or if they survive the whole killing game. It's a familiar setup, but one not without its twists and turns. In V3, I quickly learned to never take anything for granted.
The game is structured almost identically to the first two installments, with the action split between School Life and Killing Life, and each chapter culminating in a Class Trial. Fans of the series will find the layout comfortable and easily slip back in. To shake things up a bit, there are new ways you can explore the school. Instead of just clicking on objects and examining things, you can now slap objects away to make exploration easier or just to collect Monocoins. Like in the second game, Monocoins can be used to purchase gifts for your fellow Ultimates and allow you to build relationships with them. The game does take a few chapters to really get going, so all of these extra bonuses helped me bide my time.
Luckily, V3 once again brings us a colourful and zany cast of characters. These 16 Ultimates are all contrasting in design, manner, and portrayal, and each of them has their own little quirks that make them memorable. The standout for me is K1-B0, the Ultimate Robot, who's just trying to fit in with the rest of his fellow students. He dreams of becoming a pop star at one point, doesn't like over-the-top technology, and is a delight to be around. Aside from the main cast, the Monokubs are a great addition to the story; they take what makes Monokuma so funny and only build on the formula with their squabbles. I enjoyed every moment I spent with them.
The Class Trials have always contained some of the most memorable moments in the series, for better or worse, and V3 is no exception. This entry in particular takes a lot more risks with its class trials, and while I give credit to the writers for changing things up, this doesn't always work in the game's favour. V3 does not pull its punches lightly, and perhaps more so than the previous games, the outcome of each keeps you guessing from the first chapter onwards. Some of these risks pay off exceptionally well, while others will leave fans scratching their heads and potentially disappointed. There wasn't a single point in the story where I felt comfortable giving my answer in a class trial, and while I might have gotten individual factors right, the overriding answer evaded me more often than not.
There aren't many new additions to the trials, but rather, Spike Chunsoft has focused on making what they already have more effective. The biggest and most interesting addition is the ability to lie — sometimes you need to turn a truth into a fabrication, and then use it to turn the argument in your favour or get someone else on your side. This makes for an exciting dynamic as it's often the key to reaching the truth of each trial. In terms of the minigames, both Hangman's Gambit and Logic Drive have received a much-needed upgrade, with the latter being completely redesigned: now called Psyche Taxi, this minigame has you controlling a taxi, and you can no longer fall off the track. Sadly, while it's impossible to fall off the course, the car controls very awkwardly; this makes the minigame tedious, as it can already take four minutes without crashing into walls constantly.
V3 is actually the first main entry to be developed for PS4, and this shows in the game's visuals, even on Vita. The Danganronpa series has a unique visual flair that's only been enhanced as a result. The Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles looks much bolder and brighter than the previous two games, and environments are sharp and detailed. The overall visual style of the game remains, with rooms popping up like story books and characters appearing like cardboard cut-outs — it never fails to bring a smile to my face.
Masafumi Takada returns to compose the soundtrack, and he's succeeded again in creating an atmospheric feel that fits the murder mystery game to a tee. The Monokubs' theme is particularly memorable with its funky beat, as it reflects just how crazy they are. And just like the previous two games, the voice work is brilliant, with each actor perfectly portraying every character's ticks and tropes. That's why it's such a disappointment that the sound quality is not up to scratch. At times, the background music overrides the characters' voices, making it very difficult to hear what they say, and even when you can hear them, the dialogue is extremely muffled. This was a problem that plagued the original Japanese release, but it's nothing a patch can't fix. It's just a shame a solution isn't readily available, as this was a known problem.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a wild ride which will leave you feeling both hope and despair, and that's exactly what I was looking for. It's another excellent entry in the series, and it solidifies its place as one of the best visual novels out there. The game takes some big risks, and that deserves credit, but some outcomes are going to split opinions. Yet the overall product is a very polished and well-thought-out experience that kept me guessing the whole way through. I'll be thinking about the consequences for days, and that's when you know your game has made an impact.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.