I love stories and plots that revolve around impossible decisions. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a fascinating bit of game theory that really ups the stakes of human psychology and sociology. Balancing trust and self-preservation is something that we all deal with on a daily basis, whether in our professional or personal lives. Films like Battle Royale are horrifyingly intriguing to me, taking caricatures and stereotypes and placing them within primal life and death scenarios. This is the premise of the Danganronpa series. Sixteen students are locked away and given motive to murder one another in an event so glibly called “the killing game” by series antagonist and mascot, Monokuma. Ignore the fact that he’s a bizarre black and white robot bear, or perhaps embrace it. This is Danganronpa, the dark and murderous psychological side contrasted sharply with the bright colors of the game and light humor of a talking teddy bear as the master of ceremonies.
The fact is, Spike Chunsoft has done this twice before. It’s always the same. Sixteen students come together with little-to-no memory of how they got there or what is going on. After a lengthy meeting period and some ruminating on their situation, the black and white Monokuma shows up to force the unwilling participants into the killing game by any means he can. Suspicion begins to descend on the group, and as the dominoes fall, people die and trust is eradicated through brilliantly interlacing mysteries that put every character under intense scrutiny. Knowing that characters will start dying increases the anticipation of who will go first, and who caused their demise.
I was skeptical I could still be surprised by Danganronpa V3. A number of brilliant murder schemes have been hatched by devious characters in each of the previous games, titles I loved and have now played through at least twice each. What fresh and twisting mysteries could permeate the halls of this new killing game that wouldn’t feel like the last two Danganronpa titles rehashed? It’s impossible to say much about these games without spoiling some of that shock and surprise that comes through experiencing the plot for yourself, but I will safely say that the stakes have risen immensely from the first two. Shocking moments quite often left me with my jaw on the floor or verbally exclaiming at a new development discovered about one of the characters.
Being a visual novel means there is a lot of reading to do, but what were you expecting getting into this? Amazing art and a sense of style keeps things interesting, particularly on the PS4 where the game can really show its flair more than the past two have. I can’t speak for the Vita version, but the PS4 version never felt like a port of a handheld title. It always exhaled a quality that said it was made for my TV. That very vibrancy is something the previous games have embraced to contrast the mature content, with the style continuing to shine in this third part of the trilogy.
The prologue gets a little long in the tooth, painfully pointed out by Monokuma in a fourth-wall breaking comment. The self-referential humor is funny, but I would rather the prologue be half the length at the expense of that one joke. It’s an issue all of these games seem to have as they chug slowly out of the gate, struggling to introduce 16 characters and get you invested in all of them from the drop. Once you first glimpse that signature Danganronpa pink blood though, be ready for the mysteries to grab you and never let go, full of moments that you’ll never see coming throughout.
In terms of characters, this is probably my least favorite. The tropes seem tired, and the characters are mostly archetypes demonstrated in the previous 32 students we’ve seen participate in the killing game. I acknowledge that it must be tough to create what is now 48 unique characters who are all iconic and memorable, and there are definite narrative reasons for falling into these tropes, but it was harder to connect to characters that weren’t distinctly unique from the prior games’ personalities. The individual murder mysteries and the overall narrative definitely more than made up for it, with this one quite probably being my favorite in the series in terms of complex murder plots to unravel. The current political and pop culture references throughout are also entertaining, seeming to be much more overt than the previous games’ use of them.
Let’s Take it to Trial
Danganronpa V3’s trials are some of the longest in the series, going on more than two hours each, especially if you don’t speed read and skip the spoken dialog. Some moments could have been shortened if the game didn’t feel the need to reiterate plot points three or four times each. The lack of any nuance can feel insulting to the player’s intelligence at times, like a friend who always elaborates on the punchline of every joke or leans in and over-explains what’s going on in that movie or TV show you’re watching. Forget subtlety. Danganronpa V3 is going to clearly let you know three or more times why the character did the thing.
On the note of nuance, sometimes there are portions in the trial where my conclusions have already moved beyond those of the students investigating the crime. My responses to some questions then ended up being “wrong,” when later on they turn out to be right based on additional evidence that I had already surmised the purpose of. It’s a rare occurrence, but one that seems an oversight to not benefit the smart players that are able to make their own deductions, rather than wait for the class trial to tread that path.
Trials have reached a place of being much more fun to interact with. The minigames aren’t nearly as frustrating as those in Danganronpa 2, and the focus seems to be on coming to conclusions with the case rather than jumping through obnoxious interactive hoops that are just there for the sake of gameplay. There’s a deeper sense of player involvement in figuring out whether you need to use truth bullets to combat bad arguments, or lie for the sake of coming to the truth. Despite being hours long, these trials were engrossing. Not even the save point at the intermission could convince me to stop playing. I had to know whodunit, not to mention see how the sadistic Monokuma decided to execute the murderer for their crime.
If you delight in the sense of drama and anticipation that arises from impossible situations, if you are engaged by a twisting mystery that is never quite what you expect, then the Danganronpa series is for you. I can’t in good faith recommend that you play Danganronpa V3 before the other two, just like I would never tell you to enjoy Return of the King before partaking of Fellowship of the Ring and Two Towers. As the third part of an incredible trilogy of games, Danganronpa V3 deserves your attention in its rightful place after the other two. Make no mistake though, it’s a title that’s well worth arriving at when you get there, a vibrantly dark mystery that sinks its teddy bear claws in and won’t let go.
Danganronpa V3 review code provided by publisher. Version 1.00 reviewed on a standard PS4. For more information on review scores, please read our Review Policy.