Danganronpa has had a truly unique time making a name for itself, especially overseas. The games started out as under-the-radar PSP joints in 2010. Then, a couple of years later, people began discovering the game, fan-translating it via forum Lets Play posts, and creating a gargantuan fanbase dedicated to this obscure Japanese game. The online love for the game became so apparent that NIS America eventually announced they would localise the first two games for an overseas release. From there, Danganronpa became more than a cult classic. It became one of the most unique, prolific titles in NIS America’s catalogue. Now, five years after the original release of Danganronpa 2, Spike Chunsoft and Kazutaka Kodaka bring us the next entry in this bloody, killing game story.
It’s important to note that there have been other Danganronpa titles released in-between 2 and V3. Mainly, a shooter spinoff game and an original anime that acts as a direct continuation of the stories of the first two games. Much like Danganronpa 2, this new game seems accessible to fresh players at first glance, but as the story develops, important elements arise that will make the most sense to you if you’ve taken in the entire 5-course dinner of Danganronpa media.
Still, whether you’re a newcomer or a veteran fan, Danganronpa V3 perfectly captures what has made this series such a standout experience. Much like the previous games, Danganronpa V3 is about 16 high-schoolers being mysteriously kidnapped and forced to participate in a “killing game”. Trapped in a strange boarding school, they’re tempted by a twisted talking robot bear named Monokuma to murder each other in order to escape.
While each game uses this same narrative framework – albeit with a different cast of characters each time – every game has a different focus and goal, and the directions that V3 goes in are perhaps the most divisive ones in the franchise history. This is a game that takes risks, and does some ballsy gymnastics in order to keep the player guessing about what may happen next. It was only chapter 1 and I was already jaw-dropped and going dizzy over the heart-wrenching story beats that were unfolding before my eyes.
Danganronpa games are so effective with their stories because of the two-pronged way they engage your mind and emotions. The rules of the killing game are that, if a murder happens, a class trial occurs to discover the murderer, and when the cuplrit is confirmed, they are swiftly executed. These games have multiple chapters, and each chapter is a different class trial. Just the knowledge of that makes the fact that all of the characters in this game are so unique and endearing so heart-breaking. You will find at least one favorite, and you’ll be questioning their safety, as well as their motives, for every second of gameplay, until one of two things rolls; the credits, or their head.
These difficult narrative beats are tied together by two types of gameplay, the Daily Life and the Class Trials. Both are comparable in many ways to how you play an Ace Attorney game. As usual, Daily Life allows you to explore the school, talk to other students, and progress the story to the point that a murder happens. Once that occurs, you’ll be investigating the murder to find clues and evidence to take with you into the hectic and palm-drenching class trial.
In class trials, every living student gathers to debate the murder, reveal evidence, and find out whodunit. Unlike Ace Attorney, though, these segments aren’t simply text boxes and dialogue choices. Class trials in Danganronpa are riddled with wild, unique gameplay elements that force you to engage your thumbsticks and reflexes just as much as your reading comprehension and critical thinking. You’ll be firing evidence as bullets at floating statements, solving block puzzles to reveal murder weapons, and more. A lot of minigames from previous titles return, but the new ones absolutely steal the show. My personal favorite, Debate Scrum, sees the entire class split down the middle, with everyone pairing off in climactic staredowns as you match their arguments and rebuttals together, then mash buttons to see the entire debate play out in one swift motion.
Each new mini-game does a great job of keeping you on your toes, even as a veteran player. I was forced to think about class trials in this game so differently than I would have thought about them in the previous game. I both loved and hated seeing a tutorial for a new mini-game pop up. I’m immediately overwhelmed by the onslaught of new visuals and terminology, but each one is almost perfectly designed so that, once I actually strap in and perform the task, I immediately understand what I’m doing and fall into a rhythm. This is what makes Danganronpa stand out from other games of its kind. It uses these minigames and gameplay challenges to make this more than just a visual novel or a point-and-click adventure. It achieves a quirky, artistic balance of pure gameplay and pure narrative that I’ve never seen in any other game.
It’s also worth mentioning the other standout part of Danganronpa V3; its style. Like the games before, V3 oozes with it. Beautiful character art and sharp, iconic character designs help contribute to this being my favorite cast to date. The jump to PS4 makes the visuals stand out even more, from sharp camera transitions during dialogue to bright and vivid animation effects during class trials. There are so many moments of fully 3D special effects or lighting being mixed in with the 2D popup character portraits that make class trials such a salivating, sensory overload, though there are some occasions where the lighting is a bit overboard, making it hard to perfectly see some of the character’s faces. All of this is topped off with a killer soundtrack that builds off of the iconic themes of the previous games, and an English voice cast that helped me fall in love with these characters even more.
While many players probably don’t pay much attention to the post-game bonuses in Danganronpa, I urge you to try out the insane new games modes you unlock after beating V3. One is a card-collecting board game where you unlock and raise characters from the entire franchise, and then use them to build a party to bring into a Dragon Quest style dungeon RPG. It’s a bonkers suite of game modes that’s incredibly addicting, and they’re absolutely worth checking out.
While I’ve got almost nothing but praise for this game, I’ve got to bring up one thing that rubbed me the wrong way. After beating Chapter 1, you are blocked from taking any more screenshots or videos of the game. Spike Chunsoft did this to prevent spoilers from spreading, and while I understand that concern, one of my favorite parts of playing Danganronpa games is always screenshotting the beautiful illustrations and gallery bonus-art, and not being able to do that with this entry really bummed me out.
I’ve been excited for and anticipating Danganronpa V3 for a long time, and after playing it, I can say it was absolutely worth it. Danganronpa V3 is an impressive culmination of nearly 8 years of twists, turns, heart-breaks, and murders, and is an amazing entry in a consistently well-written and addictive franchise.
Version Tested: PlayStation 4