Did you know Danganronpa’s Junko Enoshima was named the most popular video game character to cosplay as by Guinness World Records: Gamers Edition? It’s true, even if the publication’s description of the game as a “fight club overseen by a robot bear” isn’t exactly correct. Junko, with her mess of a personality and easily replicable style, has become an international icon for fans of the series. Perhaps more than the Monokuma mascot, Junko is everything we love about Danganronpa: she’s the personality, the mystery, the murder, the mayhem and the despair, all rolled into an eye-appealing package we can’t help but look at.
In fact, we never want to look away. In the immediate aftermath of the carnage of every killing game, we cry out for more, never fully satiated by what the series has given us thus far. We demand more characters, more killings, and more mysteries, and Team Danganronpa continues to abide, this time delivering with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS4 [reviewed], PS Vita, PC)
Developer: Team Danganronpa
Publisher: NIS America
Released: September 26, 2017 (NA), September 29, 2017 (EU) January 12, 2017 (JP)
MSRP: $59.99 (PS4), $39.99 (PS Vita), $49.99 (PC)
The setup for Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony will sound familiar by now: 16 ultimate high school students suddenly awake in a strange school, fortified to keep anyone from getting in or out, and must compete to stay alive in the killing game, a blood-soaked whodunnit monitored by the adorably creepy Monokuma. Taking control of Kaede Akamatsu, the Ultimate Pianist, I do what I must to unmask the culprits in class trials, make friends, regain lost memories, give gifts, explore the school, and uncover the truth of the magnificently gaudy Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles.
Gameplay is still split between exploring the campus during Daily Life, investigating murders and holding class trials. Joining Kaede is a hodgepodge of students with an eclectic array of ultimate talents and personalities that run from gonzo to grotesque. I wasn’t on board right away with the Ultimate Maid or the Ultimate Child Care Giver, but as I slowly turn the pages of the game’s six chapters those titles begin to make sense, even if it is in the most nonsensical way.
Something like the Ultimate Maid is decidedly Japanese, but there is a mishmash of cultures that accents how absurd Danganronpa can be. These are decidedly Japanese students and characters making extremely well-timed quips about Taylor Swift and call-backs to ’80s American television. It isn’t just pop culture references I find in the dialog, but deep-rooted American political commentary too with lines about “alternate facts,” “fake news,” and riffs on “MAGA.” I half expected the localizers to fit a milkshake duck joke in here as well.
The references aren’t just jokes, in fact most of them aren’t funny, but they, unknowingly at first, create a connection between the students of The Ultimate Academy and I. We are inundated with false information on a daily basis through social media, where people willingly lie to prove a point and it is no different in the world of Danganronpa. One of the new elements of the class trials, which can last up to four hours, is the ability to lie. There are instances where I know the ultimate truth, but in order for me to get everyone on my side, I have to lie to them first. As I repeatedly find out, the ultimate truth of every case isn’t always what the other students want to hear.
During these sessions, Kaede’s classmates are combative with one another, screaming vulgarities that easily earn the game its mature rating. Trials play out very much as before, with Non-Stop Debates, much improved Hangman’s Gambits, Rebuttal Showdowns, and Theory Armaments, which are new versions of Bullet Time Battle. There is also Debate Scrum, a showy but simple exercise that divides the students in half to argue their points; Mind Mine, a not-too-entertaining spin on Minesweeper; Mass Panic Debates, which are like Non-Stop Debates but with three people arguing at the same time; and Psyche Taxi, a visually brilliant Outrun-like that is never fun and only seeks to artificially lengthen these trials. There is probably a good half-hour that could be cut from every class trial without lessening the impact of the process if redundant dialog and games like Psyche Taxi are removed.
Of course, these debates are kept quite lively by the Monokubs, the five cute and deadly robot kids of Monokuma who are assisting in the killing game’s procedures. They have a storyline all their own that is as fascinating, twisted and wildly inappropriate as anything I get out of my fellow competitors. They’re funny, and I genuinely enjoy the English voice acting from the cubs and the students. The psychotic sociopath Kokichi Oma is a delight throughout, sounding like an unhinged Josh Gad, while the five-year-old who apparently wandered into the studio during recording sessions and voiced the part of Himiko Yumeno shows real growth throughout her character’s development.
Good-to-great voice acting is necessary here because it brings to life one of the best video game stories I have ever experienced. Don’t be mistaken, the story will drag right in the middle like a cow in desperate need of a good milking. But the chapters that lead into and out of that section have the type of draw that keeps me awake until three in the morning, pushing me past my drooping eyelids to uncover the truth of the latest dead body. It’s the type of story that overcomes any issue I have with the game because it proves I’m willing to briefly put up with some mindless mini-games to get more of what I consider to be the perfect summation of everything that is Danganronpa.
This is a mic drop if I have ever seen one, a story that grows more thought-provoking as it becomes more incomprehensible. It’s manic, it’s shocking, it’s surprising and it successfully hits certain story notes and reveals I see fail in other projects. I wish I can tell you more, tell you everything, but to reveal more than I already have will undoubtedly spoil the experience.
One week isn’t enough to really understand everything about this game. The campaign is complete, but there is much still to do with the post-game content, trophies and what I can only assume are many more mysteries I can solve. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is not a game you should just read about or watch a Let’s Play of on YouTube. It’s a game that absolutely demands 40 hours or more of your time. You must experience it first-hand if you truly want to understand what Team Danganronpa is trying to tell us.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]