Danganronpa has been a bit quiet as of late. Sure, there's been the anime series Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope's Peak Academy last year, and the west has got the Danganronpa 1/2 Reload collection of the first two games this year, but there hasn't been a main entry in the series since 2012. That's all changed with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, though, which introduces us back to the Killing Game, featuring familiar faces like Monokuma as well as a brand new batch of victims... we mean, classmates.
To give a bit of context, each game in the past has been about the Killing Game, whereby an evil teddy bear called Monokuma traps students in a school with the deal that they can escape if they kill a fellow student and get away with it after a class trial takes place. Danganronpa V3 is no different, as the students wake up in a school and are greeted by the same premise. Also as with previous games, this entry is split between Daily Life (where you go through the story and have Free Time to build relationships with characters), Investigation after a murder, and Class Trial.
The series has been known for its creative casts, and here we meet perhaps the most eccentric to date. Whether that's the masked Ultimate Anthropologist Korekiyo Shinguji (trust us, he's very odd) or the Ultimate Robot K1-B0, aka Keebo, there's plenty of variety both in terms of personality and visual style. Even your own character, Kaede Akamatsu, is the first female protagonist we've seen, which was a breath of fresh air too.
Danganronpa V3 is also the darkest game in the series, as some of the events take incredibly twisted turns in comparison to the previous entries. Don't get us wrong, the game still has its iconic humour and charm, but this is mixed with more sinister content, including some character portraits later in the game. For a series the bases itself on the battle between Hope and Despair, the latter comes through more often than the former, especially considering the game's fantastic ending.
What we noticed most during our first foray into this new world was the updated look of the game. Sure, the format is still the same in terms of 3D worlds with 2D characters, but a lot more has gone into the style this time around. The UI is bathed in a neon glow, for instance, and onomatopoeic phrases pop up in a comic book style as well, all of which reminded us a lot of Persona 5, which had a very similar style to it. As you'd expect after five years, everything looks sharper too (we played on the PS4), including the definition in the characters and the 3D environments.
There's no way we can mention any more of the story without spoiling anything, such is the curse of the visual novel, so instead we'll mention what's new this time around. As franchise creator Kazutaka Kodaka told us earlier this year, this time around there's an emphasis on lies as well as the truth, meaning that you can use perjury in the class trials. While this was an interesting concept, bending the truth to protect someone or pursue a lead, we found that this was sadly underused, as you only got to use the feature a few times throughout the whole game. It did change the way some elements of class trials were approached, though, meaning that a lack of evidence doesn't always mean a dead end.
Other new features include the ability to hit things in the levels to get monocoins out of them (the currency necessary for buying the gifts you give your classmates in Free Time) and new mini-games in the Class Trial. The first of these is Psyche Taxi, where you drive a car a little like Logic Dive in the second game. Then there's Mind Mine, requiring you to uncover blocks on a grid to unlock clues. Hangman's Gambit has been tweaked as well, requiring you to fill in the letters to a clue but with limited visibility, as the letters only show up briefly once in a while.
Aside from mini-games there are other elements of the Class Trials that are new as well. Debate Scrum, for instance, sees the class split down the middle in a debate, and you have to match up key phrases to the arguments being thrown at you from the other side. On top of that, there's also the addition of Mass Panic Debates too, where three people talk at once and you have to work to spot the weak points in arguments and refute them (as with previous games) while also silencing loud voices.
In short, there's a lot of new content here, and all these little features work together to revitalise and freshen up all elements of the game without changing the core formula, something we very much appreciated. One element that struck us as totally useless, however, was the Reaction Voice. While talking with someone you can bring up a voice wheel with the right stick that gives you agreeing or refuting voice lines in a negative or positive tone, but this doesn't affect things at all. Instead, it's a purely aesthetic feature that throws out little voice clips, and struck us as a wildly unnecessary addition to the game, one that we'd have liked to see actually used to impact the narrative if it had to be there at all.
While we don't have an exact number of hours we spent on the game, it was certainly over 20, and a minor niggle we'd have with this is that some parts of the game were a bit long-winded. The introduction and exit "So Long, Bear Well" segments from Monokuma's children, the Monokubs, for instance, happened every time and got a bit annoying after a while. Again, a minor niggle, but we should clarify that there's plenty of content to see.
All in all Danganronpa V3 serves as a great third entry in the series, and was very much worth the wait, delivering the expected quality when it comes to classmates and mystery, with some of the most creative class trials to date. The ending might be divisive for some, but it's a Danganronpa game worthy of the name, and it should keep you hooked for the many hours it takes to explore.