Adventure Gamers Awards
The eclectic mix of gameplay elements, both new and old, that pop up during class trials will feel instantly familiar to series veterans. The sword-swiping Rebuttal Showdowns and series staple Non-Stop Debates are back. Being able to lie about facts is a new mechanic this time around. While this sounds intriguing, it only works at pre-scripted times, and feels like it undermines the game’s “seek the truth” motto. It isn’t the game-changer it was meant to be, then, but it does open up some interesting possibilities for future installments. Other twists on the standard debate include Mass Panic Debates, which feature multiple characters talking over one another, and Debate Scrums, which see the entire cast split into two factions after coming to a stalemate.
Finally, some new minigames have replaced a few of the old ones. Players must spell out a phrase letter by letter in Hangman’s Gambit, participate in an arcade-style driving segment while answering questions in Psyche Taxi, and reveal hidden pictures in Mind Mine. It’s worth noting that the challenge of these minigames does seem a bit toned down this time around; even playing on the hardest difficulty setting never saw me run out of time, and penalties for poor aim during Truth Bullet sections, for example, have been reduced or eliminated entirely. Still, they are all a means to an end, some more gimmicky than others, and with the exception of the debates don’t add much to the experience. These minigames pop up with about the same consistency as ever, though the longer cases will understandably feature more of them than others.
This being the first entry developed directly for PC and home console rather than mobile platforms, one might reasonably expect quite a few graphical updates. While I can understand the aversion to changing the core look of the game – its cardboard cutout character models and psycho pop first-person environmental exploration – the additional horsepower available just isn’t impressively utilized, at least very often. There are a decent number of animated cinematics, and one case in particular adopts an all-new graphical style that fits perfectly with its setting, but there isn’t much on display here that’s clearly an advancement over previous outings. That said, this isn’t really much of a gripe, as V3 simply feels like a continuation of the series, and certainly doesn’t look bad.
One area I did find considerably improved is the musical score. There are many tracks that absolutely stuck in my ear. “Becoming Friends” is extremely hummable even when away from the game, and will forever be my go-to theme for anything even remotely anime. Then there’s the inclusion of Debussy’s “Clair de lune,” which proves to be a great motif for a specific character, and goes a long way in providing some emotional depth with its somber and sanguine tone. V3 also continues the series’ history of well-done vocal performances from its cast. Only select segments are voiced, though trials have spoken dialog from beginning to end. The level of obscene language seems a bit harsher this time, but some fans will love it all the more for that.
Which brings me to my last point, which can be either a pro or con, depending on the situation. V3 is easily the longest Danganronpa yet, eclipsing the other entries by several hours at least. The game easily clears the 30-hour threshold and, depending on how much time is spent on exploration and Free Time segments, is well on its way to the 40-hour mark. With a story this engaging, that’s generally a good thing, but it requires a good deal of stamina to roll with the pacing dictated by the game, particularly when the characters are endlessly chewing over a detail of a case I’d already guessed or figured out some time ago. There is admittedly a feeling of padding during certain sections, particularly the last case, which is brimming with repetitive conversation. It’s ultimately worth the time investment, but slowing the momentum down in the final act throws the enjoyment off a little.
Fortunately, things are far from over after the credits roll. There’s a slew of unlockable side content to explore, the majority of which becomes accessible by completing the main campaign. Apart from the music, art, and movie galleries, there’s a mode that lets you just focus on building up the relationships between students and exploring their backstories without the threat of them being killed off. There is also the board game-like Talent Plan mode, which features all characters (including the complete casts from the first two games, once they’re unlocked) leveling up stats, earning skills, and interacting with each other in short story segments. Those characters can then be taken into yet another mode, Monokuma’s Test, which is a full-fledged, if simple, dungeon crawler RPG, complete with party building, looting, constructing gear, and turn-based combat in the fifty-floor basement dungeon of Hope’s Peak Academy.
On the checklist of minor issues and missteps, Killing Harmony does get its fair share of marks. What it offers in terms of new gameplay is admittedly negligible; new minigames aren’t necessarily bad, but don’t offer any more fun than what was there before. It can also feel a bit bloated at times, especially near the end, slowing the pacing down unnecessarily. But what have always been paramount in these games are the story and characters, and on these fronts the third game receives high scores across the board. It’s a substantial, intricate, surprising, emotionally-charged, clever mystery that one-ups what came before in most regards. While the final resolution may not be for everyone, the fact remains that Danganronpa V3 is a damn fine game, and shouldn’t be missed by anyone who has followed the series this far.