The first two Danganronpa titles on the Vita were some of my favorite portable adventure games. I went through high school and college playing all of the Ace Attorney games, and it was during a lull between Dual Destinies and Spirit of Justice that that a few friends convinced me to check out Danganronpa. The hook was simple enough: “It’s like Phoenix Wright, but you have a bunch of characters acting as the lawyer instead of just one.” My interest was piqued, and I tried the first game out.
The original Danganronpa was a pretty surreal experience. It’s a bit like a murder mystery crossed with a life-sim. Sixteen teenagers are trapped inside their high school, which is an institute that focuses on sharpening their strongest talent. Their skills range from things like Ultimate Martial Artist to Ultimate Otaku. These 16 are forced to play a killing game where one student will turn on the others. The students are cut off from the outside world, and the game’s mastermind-in-hiding uses this to give motive to kill. “You get away with murder and you’re allowed to leave. If you get caught, you’re executed for your crime and the game goes on” This is the setup for every Danganronpa main title, and 3 is no different.
The writing quality in Dangaronpa 3 is important since it’s a text-based game. The first two titles are mixed in terms of quality. You can tell within the first case who’s going to be an actual character the story fleshes out and who is going to end up being comedic filler (or probably dead). You’re not going to have a cast of fully-fleshed out and realized characters when you need a minimum of 16 people, but Danganronpa 3 has the best ratio of good to poor in the series. However, it also has some of the worst minor characters as well, and the trope and joke characters feel like they were repurposed from the first two games.
A day in the killing semester life is broken into two parts: daily life and deadly life. Daily life takes place before any murder, and is more in-line with a typical adventure game. You walk around the campus, talk with other students, and can partake in some other activities as they become available. Daily life sections also serve as the padding and build up to the next murder or major event. You can hang out with other characters to learn a little bit more about them, but these sessions have no actual impact on the story. Instead, finishing a character’s side-story unlocks an extra bonus for you to use in the class trial part of the deadly life segments.
Deadly life is what takes place after a murder. You have to investigate the crime scene in true adventure game fashion by clicking around on objects and talking to the other participants. One thing I like about Danganronpa over similar games is that it gives you the ability to easily see what’s clickable. One of the worst things in any adventure game is feeling like you’re lost and exhausted all your options. Rooms can get pretty overloaded with detail in Danganronpa, but by pressing one button you can see every clickable object highlighted for you.
The Class trial is the real meat of the game. All the remaining participants are gathered up after completing their investigation and forced to logically figure out who killed the victim. The game sort of shifts genres here. You still have to do things in an adventure game style, but there’s also puzzle aspects. The most common is the non-stop debate, which has you shooting at statements with your counterpoint like a bullet. Statements will move around as characters voice them, and outside noise will cover points you can object or agree with. You have to carefully aim and clear away noise to make your rebuttal heard.
A lot of the puzzles are revamps of things from previous games, but there are a couple of new ideas. In particular, scrum debates are pretty fun. Whenever the group is split on an opinion the stage will divide in half and you’ll have to refute one argument with the correct one from your side. You do it by matching a keyword to a phrase before the other debater finishes their statement. Scrum debate, as well as the other puzzles, rely heavily on you making decisions in a sparse amount of time. If you’re not good with reactions you can opt to make the class trials a little easier, but the game provides enough tools and bonus skills to make the normal difficulty feel just right.
The stories and twists in the trials are enjoyable, but the payoff often feels bad. This is a series that built itself on twist endings, and unfortunately the twists are pretty weak here. Revealed murderers suddenly talk about things that were never brought up before or during the case. Their motives stem from deeply hidden secrets, and it makes some trial endings feel like cop-outs. It makes the characters feel hollow, and lessens any empathy you would have with them. These twists also lead to the game hiding things from you that should have been obvious observations. These things get hidden to make the twist more shocking, but all it did was leave me frustrated that the game skirted around an important detail to try and surprise me. Overall, the trials are well paced, but the conclusion rarely lives up to the hype.
In conclusion, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony feels a lot like more of the same when compared to the rest of its franchise. It’s pretty important to have played the other games in the series before diving into 3, even if the connections for everything aren’t apparent at first. The game has a lot of the same quirks as earlier titles including it’s over the top cast, comic book art style, and twist-loving plot. However, it also comes with a lot of the same problems, and for every good thing there’s something less enjoyable to go with it.