The main Danganronpa series last had its outing in 2012's (or later in the West) Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, where we participated in another killing game on a tropical island, but now the series is back again with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, a game that's recently received a demo that gives us a taste of what to expect. Although those in Japan have already had their chance to experience the series' return, those in the West only have this demo to go on, and it's good news, as there's a lot to see for existing fans, but also some new features spicing things up a bit.
One of the main things the demo does is introduce us to the player character, and while the last two main instalments have featured male protagonists, Makoto Naegi and Hajime Hinata, here we play as female student Kaede Akamatsu. We're not totally sure whether this demo's version of the game's start is the same as it'll be in the full game, but as with other entries we wake up in a mysterious situation where we're trapped with lots of fellow students, and Kaede is about as confused as Makota and Hajime were in their respective beginnings, maybe more so. After all, waking up at a desk in a run-down school would be pretty confusing for anyone.
We won't give all the details away here, because as series creator Kazutaka Kodaka said himself, Danganronpa is a series that lives and dies by its spoilers, and there are some key bits of information even here that may well be pushing those limits, but as we wake up we're greeted by another student and are informed that we're all stuck in this building together (shock). We then have to talk to our fellow classmates to get an idea of what's going on, including the big and slightly intimidating Ultimate Entomologist Gonta Gokuhara, and Ultimate Inventor Miu Iruma, who's filled with attitude and foul language. As per, there's a delicious variety on offer with the characters, each with their own incredibly unique personalities and quirks.
Of course, we only get tastes of these characters in the demo, and as previous games in the franchise have taught us, those first impressions aren't necessarily indicative of their true selves, but regardless it's nice to see that there's the same attention to detail and creative flair put into their creation. Considering the close relationships built upon in past games, it's always going to be strange to come into a new class with new faces, but we're sure these guys will fit into the world of despair rather nicely.
When stepping out of the classroom you wake up in, you'll notice most clearly the changes that have been made to the environments. Here there's way more detail and polish than we've seen before, and not everything is 2D either, as you can walk around and examine things like flowers with that extra layer of depth. Of course, when stepping into certain rooms and examining things, some objects remain in 2D, but everything has been tweaked and made to look that bit better. There's even an interesting mechanic where you can shove 2D objects like desks and chairs out of the way when in certain places, although it wasn't shown if this has any practical use.
It won't surprise those familiar with the series to hear that a murder happened over the course of the short demo as well, and we were given a brief taste of investigations, with a couple of clues and a sprinkling of detective work. The 'detective vision' sort of mode that lets you identify what you can interact with has been revamped here, with the whole screen going dark aside from what you can interact with, which is coloured and gives off a faint glow, and although this wasn't the best of changes, it was useful for clearly showing us what we needed to be looking at.
Then came the classic Danganronpa Class Trial to decide who the killer was, and although this wasn't revealed (it's only a demo after all), this served to show off yet more of the game's tweaks and changes. First, we saw three skills that could be set before the Class Trial, these being Attentive Influence, increasing maximum influence a bit; Extraordinary Focus, increasing maximum focus the same; and Machine Gun, giving the silencer a rapid firing effect. None of these showed a drastic change in approach, but all look very useful nonetheless.
We also got a taste of Mind Mine and Psyche Taxi as well, two mini games that help Kaede come to conclusions in the Class Trials. Mind Mine sees you uncover a board of answers by destroying blocks of the same colour, which changes the colour of blocks around it, while Psyche Taxi is much like Danganronpa 2's Logic Dive, except instead of surfing down a tunnel of potential answers, you're driving a taxi and... running over pedestrians that signify the right answer. It's mad, but these two activities are both pretty fun, and the same level of wackiness we've come to expect.
The two biggest new features though are Lie Bullets and Mass Panic Debates. While previous games follow the theme of refuting false statements and agreeing with correct ones, much like in games like Ace Attorney, here you have the option to lie, turning a true statement into a false one to refute a point raised. This was used to protect someone from suspicion in this instance, and we expect it to have very interesting applications within the full game.
The Mass Panic Debates, however, are instances where multiple people are explaining themselves at once, with the screen split a number of ways, and within this some people can 'shout over' others, meaning their statements block out the rest, so it's only by balancing the silencer (which quietens these) and paying attention to everything that's said that can you progress, and believe us when we say this offers a major challenge in terms of keeping up.
Perhaps the most noticeable change this time around is the UI, as it's not only sleeker and easier to use, with character portraits next to the dialogue text when you recap on what's said, for example, but it's also incredibly stylish. All of the text boxes and UI is dripping with neon colours, and all of it is far less jagged and basic than it was back in the first two games. Every effort has been made to make it smoother and shinier, and you can definitely tell.
One minor concern we have is with Monokuma's voice acting. While in between the first and second games we welcomed the return of the evil teddy bear and his iconic voice, with Brian Beacock providing it in English, this time around something felt different, and it wasn't quite the same as in the first two. This may be just a minor thing, but it's worth expressing nonetheless.
The demo was short and sweet overall, but it gave us short and punchy introductions to all of the new features, the new characters, our protagonist, and more, while reassuring us that the basic format is still very much the same. It's always weird being in a class with new people you don't know, but it looks like we'll have a lot of fun meeting with them when Danganronpa V3 comes our way on September 29.