Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a murder mystery adventure game from Spike Chunsoft. While this is the third main game in the series, the Hope’s Peak arc from previous installments is over and Danganronpa V3 serves as a somewhat fresh start. Still, the setting may be different, but it retains the same central concept that made the series popular. As someone who enjoyed the other games, I was looking forward to this one with hope that the writing would be just as good.
*Review key provided by publisher.
**To avoid spoilers, trial screenshots were taken from the non-canon demo. All others are from before the first investigation.
In Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, another group of students with exceptional skills are the unfortunate participants in a killing game. If these quirky individuals want to leave school grounds, they must kill another student and successfully conceal the deed. After discovering a body, the survivors get a chance to investigate before attempting to reveal the killer’s identity at a class trial. Should someone get away with it, those who remain will face execution. However, if the killer is caught, only they will receive death. To ensure the game keeps going, the sinister robot Monokuma and his Monokubs periodically provide extra incentives to convince the students to kill.
Of course, there is more to the story than that. As with previous participants, the new cast have missing memories. Over the course of the game, the group receives “Flashback Lights” which provide memories pertaining to what is going on with the world. Still, while there are science fiction elements present, most of the actual murders stick to the rules of reality as we know it. When there is an exception, the special circumstances are made perfectly clear from the start.
Since Danganronpa V3 is a sequel, returning players may have an idea of how the writers work which can make creating effective mysteries difficult. However, this team knows how to turn conventional expectations against the audience. In addition to an assortment of convincing red herrings, this entry contains some of the best twists in the series. The quality of the mysteries is pretty great overall and the big reveal at the end is especially spectacular. However, there are a few references to past titles near the end including major spoilers, so new players may not get as much enjoyment out of it.
As one would expect from a game with an eccentric cast, the game has plenty of comedy. Even the tutorial messages have personality and include a few jokes. Outside of the main story, each character has a number of side events in which the protagonist gets to know these oddballs better. Still, while these scenes provide more information on their backstories, most of the actual character development occurs in the main story. Between the past trauma, desire for self-improvement, and abundance of lighthearted scenes, it is quite easy to become attached to these characters. Of course, that makes the inevitable deaths have that much more impact. This entry has a few truly tragic, heart-wrenching scenarios in addition to its assortment of gags.
There are very few typos in the game. After spending over 50 hours with it, I only noticed one missing word and two words that needed capitalization. However, the name of a certain mini-game is inconsistent. In skills, it is “Imagination Excavation” while “Mind Mine” appears during gameplay.
As with previous titles, Danganronpa V3 places 2D objects and characters in a 3D world. When entering rooms, the game shows the flat background images folding together while the objects pop into place. This diorama-like aesthetic goes a long way toward creating the surreal aesthetic the series is known for. The neon pink blood is another aspect of this, and it also makes a return in Danganronpa V3.
As the cast is an eccentric bunch, most characters have odd appearances to match. They also have a wide array of exaggerated expressions that fit well with their strong personalities. While not very realistic, this approach allows the game to communicate a great deal of information to the player through its visuals.
The text during trials takes on various formations that reflect what the characters are saying. In addition to looking flashy, the effects and movement help make these segments feel more active. As usual, weak spots clearly stand out from the rest of the dialogue with their size and colour. Furthermore, the colour of these points differs depending on whether the statement is meant to be agreed with or argued against, which is rather helpful. The screen layout also changes shape throughout the game to help add emphasis to the tone of each line.
The music in Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony does a great job of enhancing the emotions that the various scenes portray. There are a number of songs with rather pleasant melodies that reflect the peaceful nature of everyday life. Then there are also quite a few tracks that use various tricks to create a sense of unease. These tracks have different tempos to provide different levels of tension. During trials, plenty of pulse-pounding electronica plays. What really makes the music work so well is the timing of the transitions. The sudden appearance of a new song emphasizes the change in mood that accompanies an outburst. A slow fade into silence shows how heavy the mood becomes when there is no avoiding an unpleasant truth.
Danganronpa V3 features partial voice acting with options for English and Japanese dubs. Every line during trials and other big scenes are fully voiced on each track. During normal, less important conversations, clips of generic responses play. This helps portray emotion and avoid silence while also saving space and keeping costs down.
On the Japanese side of things, it is clear that recording took place somewhere without the proper acoustics for it. Even when everyone is outdoors, they sound like they are talking in a small room. Still, it is easy to ignore this when focusing on the actual conversation. As for the performances themselves, Shuichi sounds a little too feminine, but the rest of the cast seem to fit their roles well enough.
The English cast consists entirely of folks who voiced characters in previous parts of the series. As with the Japanese dub, everyone seems suited to their roles, though the English Shuichi sounds better than the original. Furthermore, the cast gets the nuance just right to make biggest scenes in the game especially wonderful.
There are a few characters with somewhat irritating personalities that could get annoying in either language. However, the relatively large cast ensures they do not get enough lines to become a nuisance. Of course, a killing game is going on, so that number will dwindle over the course of the story. Still, these deaths tend to help the characters get their act together which makes them easier to tolerate.
A good mystery defies the audience’s expectations and Danganronpa V3 contains a 2D platformer that captures that concept perfectly. This stage is full of things that gamers will think they are familiar with, but each one has a deadly twist. I really think this might be the most diabolical thing I have ever encountered in a game. The most sinister part is that it is clearly possible to finish. With every defeat, the proper way to go about things is always obvious. However, actually getting to the end requires lots of trial and error as well as impeccable timing. Thankfully, the game will continue if you give up.
As usual, the class trials are where the more exciting bits of gameplay take place. While these are text-heavy events like the rest of the game, players will need to participate in mini-games every now and then to steer the discussion in the right direction.
The most prominent of these mini-games is the Non-Stop Debate. During these sections, words will fly about the screen while NPCs continue their conversation. To advance, players will need to arm themselves with the proper keyword and shoot it at the relevant weak point in someone’s words. The text tends to move around during these debates, which can make hitting the target as much a test of skill as it is one of logic. If players struggle with the timing, they can use focus to slow everything down, though the focus meter only lasts so long. Background chatter may also appear and obstruct shots, but the player can take aim and shoot these lines down for bonus time.
New to Danganronpa V3 is the ability to lie. Holding the fire button will change the keyword into a lie about the subject. Under ordinary circumstances, only one keyword works for a section, but certain sequences contain an alternate route that requires bluffing. These alternate routes only change the next few lines of dialogue and award bonus points before the conversation returns to its usual course. Aside from these extra routes, there are also times when lying is the only way forward. However, players need to be extra careful when lying as these bullets come with harsher penalties for mistakes. Loading a lie bullet also prevents players from firing their silencer until after letting the lie loose.
This game is also the first to feature Mass Panic Debates. These mostly work the same as the Non-Stop Debates, but with multiple conversations appearing on the screen at once. Occasionally, one of the participants will get a little too riled up and drown everyone else out. At these times, the player must fire their silencing bullets at them until they settle down.
Rebuttal Showdowns return in this installment of the series. During these segments, players will face off against their classmates in one-on-one duels. Advancing requires cutting through the text that appears by sending swords soaring across the screen. This time around, there is no limit to the number swords available which makes these sections far more bearable. These sections also feature a reticle now which makes lining up shots much easier. Once players advance far enough, weak points will appear among the opponent’s words. Hitting the proper point with the right keyword will end the event.
Non-Stop Debates, Mass Panic Debates, and Rebuttal Showdowns all feature a new method of gaining bonus points. Each weak spot now has a small target that becomes visible while using focus. Simply hitting the weak spot is still enough to advance the story, but these targets give players the opportunity to take on a harder challenge and raise their score. Having a higher score only increases the amount of medals you win at the end of the trial, but it is still nice to have more to strive for.
Hangman’s Gambit also returns, though it has received another overhaul. This time around, letters float from one side of the screen to the other and players must select them in the proper order to spell the answer to a question. The catch is that the letters are only visible for brief periods of time. If the player loses track of the letters, they can use focus to shine a light on the center of the screen to reveal the ones there. Not every term that players need to use appears in the story before the mini-game starts, so figuring these out can be a source of frustration. Still, like most of the puzzles in the game, the process of elimination can still get anyone through.
While the name is new, Argument Armaments resemble a challenge from past games. As players tap the buttons that appear on the screen with the proper rhythm, their opponent’s health will go down. Success also fills the tension meter. Once full, the game speeds up. If the player is struggling to keep track of things, they can activate focus mode which makes every button effective. As with all other uses of focus, this is only a temporary solution as the gauge will run out eventually. The event ends with a QTE in which the player must hit buttons in the proper order to form a coherent rebuttal.
The Debate Scrum is an entirely new activity that takes place during class trials. During these events, those who question the protagonist’s reasoning point out potential flaws one after the other. It is up to the player to send in allies with the proper arguments to counter those of the other side. Doing so consists of scrolling through a list of keywords and choosing the one that matches what the current opponent is going on about before the next starts speaking. This time limit can make these Scrums rather intense. Once everything is in place, a button mashing match starts. While the button prompt changes every now and then, there are no penalties for hitting the wrong one which makes for a fairly easy challenge.
Those who have played the demo should already be familiar with Psyche Taxi. In this mini-game, players first need to steer a car into pickups which automatically reveal parts of a question. Once the question appears in full, they must drive into the lane that corresponds with the answer. Even with obstacles appearing on the road, these events are pretty easy and can feel kind of boring.
Mind Mine also returns from the demo. Here, the game tasks players with revealing objects that lie beneath a grid of blocks. When multiple blocks of the same colour are adjacent to each other, tapping on one removes the whole group. Removing blocks also causes all blocks that were touching the formation to change colour. Before the player can move on, every block on top of the correct object must disappear. Since players are penalized for destroying single blocks, it is necessary to think several steps in advance.
Once all the facts have come to light, the Closing Argument begins. Here, players will need to scroll through a comic that gives an overview of the case and fill in the missing panels. Since the group knows everything by the time these sections appear, they are fairly easy to finish.
Danganronpa V3 does a great job of priming players before sending them into these trial challenges. While I never knew who ultimately committed the crime until near the reveal, I had little trouble solving the smaller puzzles as they popped up. There are always enough clues in the investigations and conversations to figure out where the discussion needs to go and the logic is always sound. Still, there are a few occasions where the answer is obvious yet there are multiple keywords that seem like they could be correct. Meanwhile, the action elements tend to make the gameplay more exciting without creating challenges that seem unfair. The game seems a bit easy at first even on the hardest difficulty, but things do get more challenging as the game goes on.
While the trials are where the exciting things happen, most of the game takes place outside the courtroom. When not taking part in conversations to advance the main plot, players can explore the school grounds. There are a few Monokuma dolls to find and collect in each chapter as well as several unimportant discussions to take part in.
When the player is in any room, they can point the reticle at objects of no importance and smack them off the screen. In addition to removing clutter, this also awards experience points and medals. However, some objects have odd hitboxes that make them difficult to target. The game’s aim assist is also a bit strong which can make this task even more difficult when objects are near people. Still, there are other ways to earn the same rewards, so bashing stuff like this is entirely optional.
Once the story reaches a certain point, free time will begin. During free time, players can talk with the rest of the cast to learn more about them and deepen their relationship. Every time someone’s affection ranks up, the player also gets a point to spend on acquiring skills. These skills provide various buffs to help make trials a bit easier. Naturally, giving gifts can help speed up the relationship building process. Usually, these are obtained from a machine in the school store. It costs one medal per item, though the result is random. Spending additional medals can increase the odds of obtaining something new, but there is no way to get the specific items people love with this method.
The casino contains a shop where players can specify which items they want to get, but the shop only accepts casino currency. While medals can be converted to this currency, some items are rather expensive. The more efficient method of earning casino coins is to play the mini-games available there. In addition to slots, the casino offers games similar to Hangman’s Gambit, Psyche Taxi, and Mind Mine. This means players can train for these events while also working toward earning special gifts. Higher difficulties have higher payout potential, though the hardest setting can be brutal. Unfortunately, those who want every trophy will need to achieve the highest rank on the hardest difficulty for each game.
While gifts can raise affection, some lead to extra events at certain points in the story. One expensive item in the casino happens to trigger multiple events, which means players who want to see everything will need lots of them. Obviously, this can lead to quite a lot of grinding.
After finishing Danganronpa V3’s main story, players unlock a special board game. The goal in this mode is to rack up as many stat bonuses as possible within the time limit. Each turn represents one month and the game lasts three years. If the player makes at least one lap before a year is up, they get to participate in turn based combat for a chance at additional rewards. This mode has the new students interact with the Hope’s Peak cast and players can even unlock characters from the first two games.
Once the time limit is up, players can bring their characters into a dungeon with fifty floors for some RPG fun. While battling bosses and randomly encountered minions, the party will earn gold and materials. While there is a crafting system to tun these into equipment, gold is also used to unlock new characters for the board game. This is crucial as characters do not level up in the dungeon. As with gifts, the characters that players get are random. There are three versions of each character and the rate of earning stronger versions goes up as the party advances further into the dungeon’s depths.
The post-game content also includes a dating simulator. This mode gives players the chance to see the bonding events they missed during the main game before taking them out on dates. Usually asking a character out consists of picking a location in a menu and then selecting one of three dialogue options. Once the ten day time limit is up, characters with maximum affection get a special scene with the protagonist.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is another wonderful entry in a great series. It features an endearing new cast as well as some of the best twists in the franchise. Furthermore, the music does a fantastic job of conveying the mood of each scene. Naturally, the game also retains the surreal aesthetic from past titles which remains as appealing as ever. The gameplay has received the biggest overhaul and pretty much every annoying aspect from the previous main title is now gone. Overall, the logic is fairly sound and the action manages to keep things exciting without getting frustrating. I would easily recommend this game to anyone looking for a good murder mystery.