By Alexander O. Cuaycong and Anthony L. Cuaycong
IT’S TO SPIKE CHUNSOFT’s credit that Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony manages to bring uniqueness and originality out in spades even though it sticks to the style and substance that made its predecessors outstanding additions to the visual-novel/adventure genre. Relying on a backstory that will remind fans of the series of its older siblings, it focuses on 16 high school students trapped in an educational institution with nary any recollection of their past. Armed with varying skills and talents, they are faced with the ultimate objective of finding a way out of the school they’re trapped in before time expires. But therein lies the catch: Because of the principal’s edict compelling them to engage in a bizarre life-and-death competition, the only way they can get closer to their goal is to murder another student and not get caught in the process. If no death occurs when the time runs out, they will all be killed. If a death occurs and they fail to identify the suspect, they will all be killed. Thus, they go about solving the crime, with the culprit – or, to be more precise, who they believe to be the culprit – subject to summary execution. And they go through the process again, all the while searching for a way to escape the school.
Remarkably, the looming sense of doom and mistrust serves as a wonderful contrast to how the plot unfolds. Each of the characters has his or her own quirks, with personalities so distinct as to make recognition easy for gamers. The pianist Kaede Akamatsu, for instance, distinguishes herself from the dorky Shuichi Saihara, the somewhat awkward Rantaro Amami, the cosplayer Tsumugi Shirogane, the inventor Miu Iruma, and so on. While the emphasis on character might not seem important at the onset, players appreciate it more with the understanding that no student is safe, in every sense of the word. ANY character participating in the game can be the next victim or killer. Which begs the question: Who, then, can be trusted?
The buildup of tension and foreboding is something Danganronpa V3 is able to sustain, and well. While some of the dialogue may seem awkward at times (Kaede, in particular, is surprisingly liberal in her words), it frames ambiguity in innocent and light-hearted conversations. Players don’t really know until the very end who has been willing to kill in the name of freedom. A certain classmate their chosen character thinks he or she is sharing a bond with may well be sharpening a knife, just waiting to strike. The fact that players are incentivized in having their character form “friendships” adds to the suspense.
Between segments, Danganronpa V3 thrusts players into an open world they can explore to their heart’s content. They are able to interact with classmates and search for clues on how to escape. Class Trials are triggered after a student is murdered, kicking the absurdity up a notch and, in the process, spicing up the gameplay via timed mini-games and logic puzzles. Whether it’s through shooting a bullet at a glowing word to poke at its inconsistencies, or engaging in mass debates where multiple students shout at the same time, players are treated to welcome changes of pace. Slow and grim storytelling is replaced by wild sequences of shouting, protests, and denials.
Eventually, this becomes the norm. Investigations are cut by Class Trials, which lead to more stories, which end the current chapter and give way to a new one. Repetitive? Not in the least, what with Danganronpa V3 continuing to amp up the shock value. It never wears out its welcome, not even when players are 30-odd hours in; not afraid to reference and, often, poke fun at, say, Japanese culture, other popular games, and even itself, it relies on its inherent smartness and capacity to shock to keep players involved and engrossed. And the clincher? The characters develop and grow with time; their complexities shine as they unveil more of themselves, with layers only too willing to learn more about them while wary of their motives.
All told, Danganronpa V3 is a veritable standout. The core experience is tense, fun, and enjoyable. Imbibed with mystery, action, and humor, it gives great bang for the buck and provides players with satisfying payoffs in investment.