Danganronpa v3 is a visual novel game, focusing primarily on the story. The main action sequences come in the form of classroom trials, in which the characters attempt to deduce which one of them has just committed a murder.
The basic premise is that a group of high school students called “Ultimates” find themselves trapped in a school with no memory of their past, aside from what their ultimate skill is. For example, these skills range from Ultimate Anthropologist to Ultimate Magician, to Ultimate Astronaut, it’s quite eclectic. Monokuma, the series antagonist, intends to force these students to participate in the Killing Game. The only way to secure freedom is to murder a fellow student and not get caught during the resulting class trial.
The trials are far and away the best part of the game, and one of the few enjoyable aspects. There, you use the “truth bullets” you’ve acquired from your investigation to either refute other arguments, agree with them, or use perjury to your advantage. Truth bullets are simply any factual evidence you’ve been able to learn about any of the murders. By holding triangle you can turn any truth bullet into a lie bullet and try to sway the momentum of a trial through deceit.
You’ll be doing lots of reading throughout Danganronpa, and in an attempt to break up the monotony a bit there are numerous mini-games littered throughout the trials. Each trial lasts for a few hours, so get comfortable. Non-stop debates have characters talking one after another while you search for an incorrect statement you can counter. Panic debates have characters talking over each other, making it more difficult to focus on what you need to hear. Other modes include hangman, taxi driving, brick breaking, and rhythm minigames, all just different ways at exposing the truth.
The other fun part of Danganronpa v3 are the investigations that immediately follow the discovery of a body. During these you use the first person view and screen cursor, the usual method of control in this title, to locate places to further scrutinize. You will assemble alibis for the other students, check out murder weapons, look for methods of entry and exit by the culprit, and more. Doing the detective work of piecing together the murders is usually a great puzzle, Chapter 1 aside.
Unfortunately, the overall pace of the game is glacial. While the investigations and trials are fun, it is a slog to get to them and even the trials themselves wear out their welcome eventually. It feels like it takes hours between the end of a trial and the next body turning up. If you’re really into the game, you might enjoy the character building done in this time, but I find it overwhelmingly boring. The fact that you can hold down circle and superspeed skip your way through the dialogue, in my opinion, is a concession that much of what these characters are saying simply isn’t worthy of holding the player’s attention.
Free Time segments are scattered throughout the game, and represent the only time you can truly do pretty much whatever you want. The game tells you often early on that you have this freedom, but usually, you’re being forced down a corridor. Right after being told I’m free to explore on my own, I tried to do that. I was greeted by popups at every wrong turn telling me no, I had to go do something else instead. During Free Time, however, you can do whatever you want, so long as it’s participate in a sleep-inducing dating simulator. Free time is code for “choose a character, hear a bit of their backstory, and give them a present.” This appears to be the only way to learn the full backstories behind the other characters, and it is done by giving them presents you acquire at random by spending the in-game currency you receive for smacking objects in rooms. Did I mention this game is really weird yet?
Danganronpa v3 leans very heavily into stereotypical Japanese anime styles. The art is well drawn, and the scenes that include full voice acting are well acted. The content of these scenes bounces around often from absurdist comedy to disturbing sexualization of minors. I find myself frequently uncomfortable playing Danganronpa v3.
Sure, it’s got the female children wearing revealing clothing, but it goes so much further than that. One character, in particular, makes constant, never-ending, sexual innuendo until she just dives straight into overt references that don’t even try to disguise what they’re saying. Keep in mind, these are minors. The rhythm-based minigame in the class trials has you press buttons to the beat, representing your argument. These arguments you make are so strong it knocks the clothing off your verbal jousting opponent, forcing them to cover themselves up awkwardly so somewhere a young boy who shouldn’t even be playing this M-rated game can find himself titillated.
Other themes played for “jokes” include domestic violence and rape. It’s disturbing stuff and if this were a more mainstream title I would expect huge controversy making the waves on social media. One character’s existence seems to pretty much just be a punching bag for domestic violence references. I don’t know how anybody could have signed off on this being a good idea.
Earlier I mentioned the dating simulator part of this game. Once you fill the friendship meter with any given character, they decide to give you a present! Their underwear! Isn’t that something you’ve done in your own life? Once you become great friends with somebody you gift them your underwear. It would be weird if adult characters were doing this, but these are minors. I had a character declare their love for me and immediately hand me their underwear, and it’s implied that it was what she was wearing at the time. It’s disturbing and an entirely unnecessary distraction from the parts of the game that I could otherwise recommend.
The story itself in Chapter 1 relied on a cheap trick that infuriated me. I won’t reveal it here, but you can check out my spoiler-filled post about how the first chapter was a terrible way to kick this game off. By the end of Danganronpa the entire plot was preposterously meta. It managed to simultaneously convince me that nothing I played mattered and that anybody who enjoys these games is a bad person. Fortunately for me, I guess, I was begging for this game to end.
Upon completing the story a couple modes open up to add to the play time. One mode is a combo board game and RPG. I can see fans having a good time with this, but it moves way too slowly for me to put any time into it. Another mode lets you go back into the school to continue building your relationships. It’s literally a mode purely made for one of the parts I least liked about Danganronpa
If you can’t tell by now, I personally couldn’t wait for Danganronpa v3: Killing Harmony to end. It started off on the wrong foot with the cheap plot devices, and they never got any better before ultimately rendering everything meaningless. The treatment of girls, and I specifically use that word because they’re underage high school students, is appalling. The game makes repeated jokes out of domestic violence. I teetered between bored and disturbed for what had to be at least 30 hours. Investigations and trials were fairly entertaining little puzzles, but are far overshadowed by the negative aspects here. I believe Danganronpa v3 is really only going to appeal to a niche audience who are already fans of the series, but even they’re going to have to turn a blind eye to many problematic themes to get find any hope in this despair.