Review: Back to murder school in Danganronpa V3

A new Danganronpa is here! While we’ve seen a steady stream of releases in the franchise in recent years (especially in the West), Danganronpa V3 marks the first release that isn’t a port or spinoff since the 2012 PSP release of the second game. It’s been long enough that the development team has had time to breathe and regroup, delivering a new adventure that’s similar enough to past titles without relying on their lore for plot and tension.

As is usual in these games, you play a student trapped with others and forced to play a “killing game,” in which the way to escape is to commit murder and get away with it through a “class trial.” There’s not a lot that’s different in the structure, though more peculiar attempts are made to fight the system. (To no avail, of course.) Though these characters weren’t present in the first two games, it feels like Danganronpa V3 acknowledges that you were and tries to deliver different flavors to the otherwise-standard story beats.

Though these characters weren’t present in the first two games, it feels like Danganronpa V3 acknowledges that you were and tries to deliver different flavors to the otherwise-standard story beats.

And… yeah, you should play those first two games before you jump into this one, if only because the first is the purest form of the story and the later releases find themselves relying a lot on playing with the expectations you bring from previous happenings. Also: this story goes places. Don’t spoil yourself if you’re going to play, but know that playing this game first would make the first feel very different, and that’s not the series’ intention.

The characters are once again “ultimates,” special teens that are the best at various random skills. We really don’t want to spoil the story here, because that really is the appeal of the franchise, but it definitely seems like there were some more esoteric choices for “ultimate” abilities this time around. In the story, it really just serves to facilitate killers having the talent to do things very well, as well as just give each student something to talk about. And talk they do! Sometimes with Western references that don’t make a lot of sense for Japanese characters to say, and sometimes repeating things they’ve said before to unnecessarily pad out the game’s length. Still, generally speaking, it’s tolerable, and in the service of a tale that’s as off-the-wall as series fans expect.

Danganronpa fans are already intimately familiar with the slick, well-executed aesthetic of the series, and that certainly returns here. What’s more, since none of V3 is built on old assets, it really does shine visually. The tunes are repetitive as usual, but giving its limited environments a real look carries it quite a way. It takes more time than it really should to get from place to place as a result of this school structure, so it’s best experienced in no sort of rush. Take your time here; if you’re always focused on objectives, you’ll find yourself more annoyed at the game than entertained by it.

Danganronpa V3‘s Class Trials are weirder and more frantic than ever, for better or worse. Most of the antics from earlier games return, joined by other minigames that, once again, get in the way of actually conveying the narrative but form the heart of Danganronpa‘s formula. Also added is the ability to lie to advance the case, adding a bit of variety to how these events progress. The result is that these trials are… long. Very long, and in a game that didn’t exactly cut down on the length in other areas. The game’s whirlwind finish is worth the dozens of hours it takes to get there, though it would have been that much better with about ten flat hours of the journey excised.

Take your time here; if you’re always focused on objectives, you’ll find yourself more annoyed at the game than entertained by it.

Even after the main adventure’s over, Danganronpa V3 doesn’t want to let you go. There are a host of extra modes available, all less overbearingly depressing than the main quest and offering opportunities to talk to characters from all the games and even go on dates. It’s a weird wealth of stuff, frankly. But it’s all crafted for exactly the sort of fan who’d find themselves 50 hours in and still wanting more.

It’s unfortunate that Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony doesn’t land all of the narrative acrobatics it attempts, because it would really shine if it did. Still, if you’re the sort who can keep forgiving some of the weaknesses seen in earlier titles to enjoy a series that feels like nothing else — and get through some repetitive minigames that can get in the way more often than they enhance the proceedings — you’ll be right at home here.

Score: 7/10
Publisher: NIS America
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Platform(s): PS4, Vita, PC
Questions? Check out our review guide.
A review copy was provided by the publisher or developer for this review.

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