By Benny Carrillo / July 1st, 2017
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The images in this write up are from the developmental version of the full game and not of the demo that was at E3 as none were available at the time of publishing this article.
If there was one game I wanted to get my hands on at E3 this year, it was Danganronpa V3. I only discovered the franchise this year and I’ve been hooked since. While I generally dislike stories that utilize character death as a main story-telling engine, Danganronpa does it right. No one’s death feels pointless or wasted. Every character has a purpose and even in death, they leave an impact. The story of the original 15 students of Hope’s Peak Academy that had to survive a life-or-death game with Monokuma enthralled me and I could barely put my Vita down. Then came Danganronpa 1•2 Reload.
As part of their buildup to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, NIS America released a compilation of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair for the PlayStation4 called Danganronpa 1•2 Reload. This is the version of Danganronpa 2 I played and while I think the first game is better overall, Danganronpa 2 did not disappoint. In short, it took everything the first game did and turned it on its head in a satisfying way. Things were familiar but different. While I had no connection to this new group of 16 students I still adored them and, once again, could not put my controller down. Which brings us to the present.
With the release of Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls for the PlayStation 4 this week, PS4 owners can now enjoy these wonderful games, as you should. However, if you’ve never played a Danganronpa title before, you don’t need to in order to thankfully enjoy Danganronpa V3 as this begins a new saga and new continuity. Let me explain.
The previous Danganronpa games and the anime Danganronpa 3 form the “Hopes Peak Academy” arc. Danganronpa V3 meanwhile starts a brand-new story, but with all the familiar elements. Monokuma, of course, returns to run yet another killing game, the Class Trials are back and more complex than ever, and we have a new set of 16 Ultimates. Confused by all these terms? Don’t worry I’ll take you through it as we dissect my time with Danganronpa V3.
Daily Life in a New Semester of Mutual Killing
The demo was divided into two parts. The first focused on exploration and investigation, while the second half was the Class Trial. We’ll start with the exploration and move on from there. Our demo begins with our heroine, Kaede Akamatsu, waking up at her desk, much like Makoto Naegi did in the first Danganronpa. In fact, speaking of Makoto, he is in the room with Kaede. Yeah, one thing the demo does is offer a lot of callbacks to the first two games. This is something contained specifically to the demo. In fact, the actual game starts out completely different based on things I’ve read about the Japanese version released earlier this year. My guess was this was done to provide a sense of familiarity to older fans. That said, I do kind of find this a bit headscratching since if we’re dealing with a new story and trying to get new people to pick up the franchise, blatantly referencing the older games doesn’t help. Anyways, back to the story.
Makoto brings Kaede up to speed on the situation. Namely she and several others are inside of some sort of school. One thing that Makoto does tell Kaede is that she and the others are “Ultimates”, that is people who are the absolute best at something. In Makoto’s case, he’s the Ultimate Lucky Student. Kaede can’t remember her talent, but Makoto tells her that he read her file and that she is the Ultimate Pianist. That mystery solved, you’re given freedom to begin exploring the school and meeting the other characters, each who will introduce themselves and disclose their talent. Due to time constraints, I actually skipped this portion of the demo since we still had quite a bit of story to get to. For those wondering, this demo can easily take an hour if you start it from the beginning. I will touch on the characters slightly, but first, let’s talk basic mechanics.
Danganronpa has always followed a simple, but enjoyable, pattern. Half of the game is comprised of exploration and Visual Novel style story segments, while the latter half are the class trials. This first half can also be subdivided into two halves as well: Daily Life and Deadly Life.
Daily Life segments are just that. You’ll move around from place to place and talk to people to progress the story. Movement in Danganronpa V3 is like the first game. You’ll wander around the school in first-person. Kind of like a dungeon in most DRPGs, but without being stuck on a grid. One thing that Danganronpa does well is set its atmosphere and it’s honestly at its best here in Danganronpa V3.
Danganronpa has always had its environments function as if you’re moving through a diorama. It’s a little hard to explain, but when you move into a room things pop into existence or get moved into place. If you’ve played games like Paper Mario then you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s a very neat stylistic choice and I really enjoy it. What makes it even better here though is the fact that this school looks rather decrepit. Grass and plants are growing in places they shouldn’t and you get the feeling that the place is really in disrepair for some reason. While I really liked Hope’s Peak Academy in the first game, you get the feeling there is something more sinister going on here. Thankfully the game gives you a new and better way to help you investigate so you don’t miss anything despite how dreary everything looks.
In previous games pressing Triangle would highlight several areas of interest you could check. In Danganronpa V3 this is changed into a separate vision mode altogether. If you’ve played any of the Batman: Arkham games then you’ll instantly get what the game is going for. It’s basically the same as that series “Detective Vision” which is fitting here since you’ll be doing quite a bit of sleuthing. Mainly because people are going to die as I mentioned, which brings us to the demo’s “Deadly Life” portion.
Upon getting to the dorms and finding out that Kaede is apparently sharing a room with Makoto and Hajime Hinata, the protagonist from the second game, you also discover a character from the first Danganronpa, Yasuhiro Hagakure, has been murdered in the bathroom… with a kitchen knife. This, essentially, is a recreation of the first murder from the first game. Thankfully the referencing here isn’t as odd as Makoto and Hajime’s presence. If you never played the first game you’ll just think this is a random murder and it is an effective way to explain how the game works without giving away the exact first case we’ll have in the full game. However, if you’ve played the first Danganronpa then you’ll instantly know what you need to start looking for. Once again, I admit I’m a little confused as to who this demo is aimed for. Regardless it was time to begin investigating.
Investigations in Danganronpa play out similarly to the Ace Attorney games. At the start of the investigation, you’ll be given what’s known as the “Monokuma File” which will give you some basic information about the victim and cause of death (unless that information itself would be key to solving the murder). From here you’ll need to talk to everyone and check everything for clues.
One thing I really like about the Danganronpa series is that while the clues aren’t that hard to find, you generally don’t exactly know how everything fits together. The goal of these investigation sections isn’t to solve the murder, but to get as much information as you can. In fact, these clues are called “Truth Bullets” and will be used to shoot through contradictions during the Class Trial segments. Once you’ve found everything you can, the game will tell you to head to the trial site and then you’ll move onto the second half of the demo: the Class Trial.
Using Bullets of Truth And Lies to Refute Contradictions in a Life-or-Death Debate
It’s here where I need to delve into the story again for just a moment. You see the purpose of the Class Trial isn’t just to find out who committed the murder. It’s also a fight for survival. You see, these unfortunate students are locked in this school as part of Monokuma’s game. Basically, he wants them to live a communal life of harmony. So long as they do that, they’ll all live, but they can never leave the school. If they want to leave there is a way to graduate and that is to commit the perfect murder.
According to Monokuma’s rules, whoever commits the murder is known as the “Blackened”. The goal of the investigation and the Class Trial is to find out who the Blackened is. If they are found out then the murderer is executed by Monokuma. If, however, the Blackened is not discovered, then everyone else but them is executed and they get to leave. This means there are some very serious life and death stakes here. Unlike regular trials though where you have a defendant and prosecutor, these trials take place in the form of a debate amongst everyone.
The goal here is to listen to your classmate’s discussion and literally shoot apart their contradictions with the Truth Bullets you’ve gained during your investigation. These statements will fly across the screen in a very dynamic way with the weak spots highlighted in a distinct color. You just need to aim your cursor at these different colored segments and fire the proper truth bullet at it to shatter the argument and move onto the next phase. As things progress however they’ll get more complex.
First, there can be another bit of dialogue that will pop-up and block your shots. These are known as “white noise” and need to be dealt with using the silencer, which is fired with the “X” button. Another way to get around this is to slow down time by focusing. This will just about freeze all text on the screen to allow you to get a clean shot. However, you’ll need to aim for the contradiction’s “V-Point” to destroy it. Another thing that can happen is that there’s no evidence that you have that will contradict a statement. If this happens you’ll need to use a new feature known as the “Lie Bullet”
Lie Bullets are new to Danganronpa V3. In previous games, you’d take another piece of testimony from someone else, copy it, and use that as a new Truth Bullet. Now you’ll need to lie or basically bluff your way to the truth at times. Each piece of evidence can be changed into a Lie Bullet by holding the Triangle button. However, this will constantly drain your health, known as your “Influence Gauge”. If that empties, it’s game over. Thankfully Danganronpa is kind and will let you retry from the segment of the trial you’re on rather than restarting the whole thing. Lastly, regarding the Class Trials let’s talk about minigames.
Danganronpa features little minigames to break up certain sections of the Class Trial. In the story, these revolve around your character thinking about something and trying to forge a relationship between various facts. In Danganronpa V3 we’re introduced to “Brain Drive” and “Excamagination”. Brain Drive is like the “Logic Dive” segments of Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. You’ll be driving a car and you’ll need to run into boxes strewn across the road to fill in letters of a question you’ll need to answer. Once you have your question you’ll then be tasked to pick a lane which is the answer to that question and run into a person who will jump into your car. You’ll then drive them to the finish line in hopes of answering the question correctly. It’s weird, but it’s Danganronpa. It’s supposed to be a little goofy at times. The second event is the Excamagination game.
This has you shooting tiles of assorted colors to reveal images under them. The goal is to always shoot tiles of a matching color group, which will destroy them and turn surrounding tiles into another color. For example, if you shoot a red tile, then every red tile that’s next to it will disappear. While you can shoot individual tiles, this will cost you some health, so it’s best not to do it. Once you uncover the image of the item you think is the answer to the question, you just need to shoot that item and the game will end if you’re correct. It’s simple, but it’s a nice break. With the Class Trial mechanics done, let’s talk characters and then close this out.
First is Kaede. I had a good first impression of her. Much like Makoto and Hajime before her, she’s not a genius, but she’s also not an idiot. More than that though she does believe in the others and doesn’t want to think that one of them could murder someone. It’s that faith in humanity that makes a good Danganronpa protagonist. Next, I want to mention Miu Iruma, the Ultimate Inventor, because I adored her character. She is foul-mouthed, perverted, and full of herself. Her lines had me trying not to laugh out loud most of the time and you can tell her English VA is having fun with the role. She’s probably the Ultimate I’m most interested in getting to know in the full game along with the Ultimate Maid, Kirumi Tojo. Moving on from the heroes let’s talk about the Villains for a moment.
Monokuma is still the same smug, arrogant, love-to-hate villain he’s always been. If anything, he seems more menacing this time around. While he doesn’t have a lot of presence here, he doesn’t really need it. When he’s around, he just commands your attention. What I’m more ambivalent on are the Monokuma Cubs. The Monokuma Cubs are five smaller version of Monokuma with their own personalities. My problem with them is that they really didn’t seem to serve a purpose, merely showing up to be there and antagonize Kaede. The thing is Monokuma works best as a solo villain. While Monomi and Monokuma’s comedic relationship didn’t work for me in Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair, there was a point to Monomi’s character that was established at the start. The Monokuma Cubs don’t do that. They’re just there. Hopefully, they’ll be fleshed out more in the full game.
All-in-all, Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’s demo is not a bad introduction to the mechanics of the game. I think you can get a feel for the new Ultimates and the new features of the game. What doesn’t work as well is the inclusion of Makoto and Hajime for me. I love them, but if you didn’t play those two games you’re going to be a bit confused I think. Which isn’t good when the point of V3 is to bring new people in. It makes it feel like you need to play the first two games to understand what’s going to happen. Also, the Monokuma Cubs just fell flat for me. Even with all that said I’m still eagerly awaiting the game’s release on September 26 in the US and September 29 in the EU and can’t wait to start another series of Life-or-Death Class Trials. In the meantime, if you want a taste of this wonderful series check out Danganronpa 1•2 Reload for the PlayStation 4 to get the first two games on one disc and Ultra Dispair Girls which just released for PlayStation 4 as well.
Finally, if you’ll be at Anime Expo this weekend, be sure to stop by NIS America’s booth (Booth #2411. From the hall entrance go straight and it’s right behind Bluefin) and be sure to attend the Danganronpa V3 – Localization Panel at 8 PM on Saturday, July 1st!
Anime ExpoDanganronpa V3: Killing HarmonyE3New Danganronpa V3: A New Semester for Everyone's Killing GameNIS AmericaOperation Rainfalloprainfallvisual novel