To kill, or not to kill? That is the question that has been presented to us since Danganronpa first graced our consoles in years gone by. Now, the are very clear arguments for not slaughtering your fellow humans based solely on the statements of an animatronic bear, however those tend to fall by the wayside once the killing begins. Not a very fair balance of reasoning, I know, but fairness seldom rears its head in a Killing Game. But we shouldn’t have to worry about all of this, right? Danganronpa is over. The saga of Hope’s Peak wrapped itself up over a multitude of formats and brought closure to the chaos of Junko Enoshima, so she may never darken our minds with feelings of Despair…right?
Okay, so the drama of that introduction loses some of its lustre considering you all know Danganronpa is definitely not finished (if not, congrats for making it this far without reading the title). But I’m going to ignore that and just relish in the melodrama of it all regardless, partly because I think it sounds cool and partly because if you don’t dive headfirst into ridiculously over-the-top emotions, you will not be able to fully enjoy Danganronpa. Need I remind us all that the core element of the previous story arc was a high school girl who destroyed the world because she was bored? Loose reasoning aside, she was actually able to do it. And she didn’t just destroy the world, she convinced it to tear itself apart at the seams. Which is, like, seriously dark. But hey, that’s just Danganronpa’s style. Speaking of, this particular iteration of everybody’s favourite killing game continues the trend of its predecessors to the letter. Sixteen students, limited freedom, free time to mingle and an ever present rule that not everybody can make it out alive.
After a slightly strange opening, wherein the game begins proper the second time around after mistakes made by the Monokubs (Monokuma’s apparent children) regarding character’s outfits, V3 presents us with a cast of students who…I’m not entirely fond of. Though certain characters come into their own as the story progresses, the initial balance of likability in the cast is a fair deal lower than previous instalments. Some characters seemingly exist for the sole purpose of causing trouble and strife which, although not entirely new to the franchise, seems far less warranted this time around. Characters immediately begin to turn on each other and push their own motivations, far before the plot has progressed to a point that it seems plot necessary. For example, Kokichi Oma exists solely as a foil to those who wish to end the killing game. A ridiculous existence, but one not unexpected in a Danganronpa story, that causes much of the turmoil between the students. Drama for the sake of drama. I can accept that. On the other hand, Tenko’s incessant insistence that males are degenerate, Angie’s constant attempts to proliferate her religion (implied to be one of three cults somehow related to various students), Himiko’s refusal to proclaim that magic tricks are not real magic (even when someone’s life depends on it), Gonta’s constant mood swings when it comes to other’s opinions of bugs, Ryoma’s life-is-pointless mentality and a plethora of other character traits just hit me the wrong way. No doubt due to their lack of meaning.
Anime is weird. I know this, we know this. Characters have quirks, strange traits that we learn to love in a way we may not in reality, given the depths to which we see in those who hold them. Sure that side character never cuts their hair, but learning about that hairdresser who stole his family’s fortune make us appreciate their idiosyncrasy (totally made that up by the by, but am 40% certain it probably is a plot in some anime somewhere). V3 fails in this regard by never truly expanding half of the cast beyond their singularly loud quirks. Tenko hates men…also she is a master martial artist. Angie loves Atua (her god)…also I think she paints. Himiko is a mage, not a magician…except she is. I use these three as an example, because their character never really evolves beyond this, or if it tries it is not inherently believable or satisfying. Even Ultimate Talents become secondary to the personality quirk they are introduced by, only ever coming into play when a murder arises. Again, I really don’t like leaning into the negative opinions I have of things, but I could not escape this mindset for the first few hours of playing. Even as the cast was whittled down (spoiler, not spoiler), I found it hard to care because I just didn’t. Yes, the additional conversations you can choose to have are meant to provide insight into each character, but the base experience is also supposed to help. Being told that a character wasn’t so bad just because they’re now dead is just lip service and really doesn’t rectify the unwarranted hatred they spewed forth in life.
Personal character issues aside, the gameplay of V3 is what you’d expect from a Danganronpa title. Class Trials provide the bulk of actual gameplay, with everything outside revolving around the classic visual novel style. You talk to people, they say a multitude of suspicious things, they die, you click on objects in the world until a Class Trial is called. Rinse and repeat. Investigation Time is certainly the more interesting visual novel element, allowing you time to develop your own ideas for whodunnit before the Class Trial reveals the truth. Granted, it can be a little annoying when the most obvious aspect of the case isn’t discussed until later in a trial, forcing characters into circles you already know the solution to, but that is not really an inherent issue with the game itself. Still, your enjoyment of these various elements is entirely riding on how much you appreciate the murder in question because, as cruel as it sounds, you are honestly just waiting for the next person to die so the story can press onwards.
Though the Class Trials themselves are fun, the are slight control issues that tend to drag them towards the depths of the frustrating. In its simplest moments, Trials require you to shoot a sentence that appears on screen. Choose the right bullet (evidence) and fire your way to the truth. However, sometimes your logic does not mesh with the game’s script, causing you to waste time and chances on shooting every available statement until you can press on. It doesn’t help that some Non-Stop Debates (the moments wherein this gameplay exists) are comprised of many similar sounding ideas. So, choosing to use “Murder Weapon” on “Victim’s Body” will not work, because the game actually wants you to select “Murder Weapon” on “Victim’s Corpse” to proceed. The logic stays the same, but you can quite easily be fooled into thinking you were wrong. This is only exacerbated by the Lie function, where holding the fire button transforms the meaning of you bullet to the opposite. An interesting concept, but the sparsity of its inclusion means that it is pretty far from the first choice you will make in any given situation. Granted, this function may apply more to the Back Route of Trials, apparent divergent paths to reach the truth, but I almost exclusively found myself walking the main path. I did manage to find the Back Route once, but I’m almost certain that was plot necessary. Either that, or I’m smarter than I think…and I don’t think that.
Every other part of the Class Trial revolves around a simplistic mini-game to progress. Hangman’s Gambit Ver 3.0 requires picking the right letters to make a word, Mind Mind is smashing blocks until you uncover a picture of evidence and Argument Armament is listening to statements and selecting the matching word from a list. Psyche Taxi is a slightly more involved one, placing you in the titular car and setting you off down a long an dusty road, into the path of letter boxes you need to build a question. Though a fun break from the less involved gameplay of clicking words, it does tend to drag on and speeds straight into the realm of artificially extended gameplay. The fact that each of these games appears in every trial certainly doesn’t help this fact, becoming more routine than than the unpredictably crazy nature Danaganronpa loves to deal in.
As far as the plot itself, V3 really doesn’t stand out until the finale. Though certainly not boring throughout, the knowledge that this is separate to the long running plotline of every Danganronpa before it really removes a lot of the drama. Yes previous games were retreads of the Killing Game format, but the story at large discussed how that was intentional, how one way or another, Junko Enoshima was an unstoppable force who would never allow Hope to win. History was forever doomed to repeat itself in a bloody cycle that claimed countless victims and was forever attributed to a mere game. Without that legacy, V3 becomes a rehash, a reboot wherein we must ignore that previous world as fiction, as separate from this one. It just…doesn’t feel the same. An afterthought to the nightmare, an extra story that adds nothing to story we have become invested in for years. A glib interpretation to be sure, but a feeling I could not escape. It is for this reason I appreciate V3’s conclusion wholeheartedly.
Though one could argue it is ridiculous for the sake of it, or beyond the reach of the story that precluded it, the ending is all that makes this game its own…the irony of which will only become apparent once you have experienced it for yourself. Which is why I’m being so vague about it. I don’t want to spoil this for people who love Danganronpa. Let’s face it, if you’ve hung on this long in my pointless ramblings, you either love the series or are looking to acquire knowledge about it without the hefty time sink. To the latter, I apologise. But to the former, I say this: V3 is Danganronpa. Through every annoying character, through every repetitious Class Trial, through every pointless Monokuma tirade, there is just something charming about the experience. Could I use less lag when changing screens? Heck to the yes, it’s damn frustrating. Did I want to karate chop a number of characters for shifting from zero to murder in less than two conversations? Absolutely, it took any agency away from the characters themselves and gave it all to the Killing Game. Psyche Taxi? Shorten it. Himiko? Shut up. Kokichi? Go away. And yet…it’s still Danganronpa in its own way. Is it the best example of the franchise? I don’t think so, but if you are a fan of the gameplay and are all about those crazy high school kids killing each other in increasingly impossible ways, you will have fun with V3. Even if that fun is only truly clear with hindsight.
As long as Danganronpa keeps on rolling, the Killing Games will keep on coming