Visual novels might be one of the most divisive game genres, second only to walking simulators. Discussing whether or not something is a “game” is usually considered rude in polite company these days, given the gaming literati’s decision that everything is a game if the creator says it is, but it’s hard to deny that this sort of thing isn’t going to appeal to everyone. That’s not to say all visual novels are created equal; I think that you could sit most people in front of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc or its sequel and expect them to get something out of it.
There’s something about these murder-mystery titles and their many shocking twists that’s appealing on a primal level, and that certainly applies to the newest entry Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
Remember the first Danganronpa? Y’know, kids waking up in a school that turns out to be a prison and the site of a horrific murder-mystery game run by a psychotic bear? Well, that’s happening again, this time with a new set of kids, each with their own superlative Ultimate talents, and even more psychotic bears. There’s sixteen of you at school but that number’s going to go down rapidly as classmate murders classmate, and we follow new protagonist Kaede, the Ultimate Pianist, as she works with whoever manages to stay alive to uncover the truth. There’s always more going on behind the scenes, though, and from the very start of the game it’s clear that the killing game and the students involved might be more than meets the eye.
As with previous entries in the Danganronpa series (aside from spinoff title Ultra Despair Girls) this is essentially a visual novel with adventure game segments. The gameplay loop is similar to earlier titles – Kaede meets other Ultimate students and gets to know them, someone ends up murdered and whoever’s still alive is tasked with finding out who did it and bringing them to justice under pain of death. Much of the game involves searching areas and finding out what evidence and information you can, but when it comes down to naming a murderer, it’s time for a Class Trial – a frantic, over-the-top portrayal of courtroom discussion that incorporates minigames and symbolism to really show how everyone’s lives are on the line. There are new minigames and tactics involved in Trials this time around, but it almost feels unnecessary given the tension that’s on throughout. A tip: don’t get too attached to anyone and save often.
The aesthetic and stylistic decisions made throughout Danganronpa have always helped set this series apart from other visual novel series and that trend continues in V3. Each and every character has their own unique look and personality; this makes the blow even more intense when someone’s revealed to be a murderer or to have been killed. Again, playing favorites is almost certain to lead to disappointment, but given the quality of the writing and depth of each character it’s a little hard to avoid. The new set of antagonists, the Monokubs, are also as devilishly amusing and memorable as Monokuma himself.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is, as always, a difficult game to discuss in-depth for fear of spoiling the best moments. Suffice to say that Danganronpa is all about surprises, twists and turns and V3 provides in spades just as previous games did. Visual novel fans of any stripe should consider this one a must-play – and while it’s probably wise to play the first few entries before this one, it didn’t strike me as entirely necessary. Indeed, I’d consider this and the other main series Danganronpa titles great visual novels for first-time players given how they nail all the most important parts of the genre: a gripping narrative, fantastic art and just enough gameplay to keep the player invested.