Game Info:

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Published By: NIS America
Release Date: September 26, 2017
Available on: Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: Adventure, Visual Novel
Players: 1
ESRB Rating: M for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Partial Nudity, Sexual Themes, Strong Language
Price: $60.00 (PS4/PC) $40 (PSV)
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Thanks to NIS America for providing a review code for the PS4 version! The reviewer bought their own copy for the PS Vita as well to test cross-save as well as technical differences.

It’s Punishment Time again! Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the third main game (not counting the spin-off Ultra Despair Girls) in the Danganronpa series. Danganronpa (a compound word from the Japanese “Dangan” meaning “bullet” and “Ronpa” meaning “refute,” which you can combine into “Bullet refutation”) is a series that fuses elements of mystery fiction presented as a visual novel with courtroom legal puzzles akin to the Ace Attorney series. In these games, a group of special high school students (localized as the “Ultimates” who each have an “Ultimate” talent) are trapped in a prison-like setting and forced to participate in a “Killing Game” overseen by the exceptionally creepy Monokuma. The students are imprisoned until they “graduate.” How does one graduate? By killing a fellow student! But merely killing a fellow student isn’t enough; the killer also needs to survive the Class Trial. In the Class Trial, the students will debate over who they think did it, and if they are correct, the murderer (referred to as the “Blackened”) will be punished (a word which here means brutally executed) and the remaining students will continue to be imprisoned. However, if they are incorrect, all students except the blackened will be punished, and the blackened walks free.

We don’t have reviews for Danganronpa 1 or 2 on this site (yet), and some familiarity with the game should be assumed to adequately describe the differences in V3. Further, despite being the third main game, the game should be referred to as V3, because there is an anime series already called Danganronpa 3, which has very little connection with this game (save for a few references here and there). V3 represents a series of refinements to the Danganronpa formula that work reasonably well. As such, despite any statements to the contrary, I firmly believe you should play Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair before playing V3. The final chapters of V3 spoil major elements of both prior games, and familiarity with the characters is highly recommended.

New this time around are the Monokubs, the “kids” of Monokuma. They each have distinct personalities and designs, all of which have a unique color that replaces the black in the black-and-white design of Monokuma. First is Monotaro, the leader the the Monokubs, whose color is red, and has a scarf with a sheriff's badge on it. Next is Monodam, who is the most robotic of the group, and is colored green. Monokid, who is blue, has distinctive features of talking like a rock star, having noticeable chest hair, and carrying an electric guitar. The pink-colored Monophanie is the only female of the group, who wears a flower in her ear and a coconut bra. Finally we have the yellow-colored Monosuke, who wears glasses and flashes luxury items around. Interestingly, Monosuke is apparently meant to be an Osaka stereotype, and he even speaks in the Kansai dialect of Japanese in the Japanese dub.

The setup is thus: 16 students are trapped in a prison-like complex with only very vague memories of how they got there. The cast of characters is especially diverse this time around, including such folks as Gonta Gokuhara, the large, well-dressed Ultimate Entomologist who speaks a bit like Tarzan; Korekiyo Shinguji, the masked and somewhat-withdrawn Ultimate Anthropologist; and Kirumi Tojo, the prim and proper Ultimate Maid.

Gameplay consists of three major parts: Free Time, Investigation, and Class Trial. In Free Time, you wander the school, and can talk to characters. If you choose to hang out with them, you can get closer to them. You can also give them a gift (but each character has different likes and dislikes!), which will help strengthen your relationship with them in the form of Friendship Fragments, which are used to buy abilities for the Class Trial. Developing the relationship in this way also gives you insight into their backstory. If you continue to strengthen your relationship with them, you can unlock new abilities for the Class Trial (without having to buy them with Friendship Fragments), as well get a better backstory for the character in question. Hanging out with someone passes the time (a mechanic similar to spending time with Confidants in Persona 5). You only get a limited number of Free Time slots per chapter, so choose carefully! Further, unlike the Confidant/Social Link system in the Persona games, it is impossible to max out everyone on a single run of the game. Some characters will almost certainly die before you can max them out, and because of the limited slots, it is mathematically impossible to complete everyone even if you are playing the game for the second time. However, if you want to complete them all before starting the game again, the bonus mode Love Across The Universe allows you to max everyone’s bonds out and allows you to use their abilities in the Class Trials. Free Time comes to an end when someone is murdered.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

Strong Points: Best-looking and sounding Danganronpa game ever, great cast of characters, highly intriguing plot, lots of bonus modes, improved minigame mechanics.
Weak Points: Sometimes it is not obvious where to click to find the item needed to complete the investigation, ending is definitely polarizing, some bonus modes feel a bit simple.
Moral Warnings: Intense and graphic violence, partial nudity and skimpy outfits on occasion, many sexual references and jokes, very strong language, some occult references

Once someone is murdered, the investigation is on! You interact with elements of the crime scene and interview characters to earn clues (referred to here as “Truth Bullets”), and once you have found all of the Truth Bullets, the game will progress to the Class Trial. The Investigation is impossible to fail, but it can be difficult to tell where to go to find clues. Usually a character will tell you where you need to go, or a marker will be placed on your map. Further, your character won’t allow you to leave a room until you’ve collected all the evidence in the room at that time, so don’t worry about missing something crucial, but there will be times you haven’t investigated a non-obvious part of the room and might tear your hair out trying to figure out what you missed. New to V3 (this can be done in any room) is the ability to slap things around. By slapping things around, you unlock monocoins, which you can use to buy presents to give to people during Free Time.

Then comes the real meat of the game: the Class Trial. In the Class Trial, you must piece together the truth of the murder, including who did it and how. This is accomplished through various minigames and logic puzzles. The first minigame you come across is the most common: The Non-stop Debate. In a Debate, statements appear on the screen as characters talk. Certain statements will be Yellow/Orange, indicating that they are weak points. You will also get a loadout of selected Truth Bullets with which to attack these weak points. To attack the weak point, aim the cursor at the weak point with the selected Truth Bullet, and fire! However, only the correct Truth Bullet and the correct weak point will work, otherwise you will take damage. If you take too much damage, the Trial will end, and you will lose. Additionally, other mechanics come into play here, including White Noise and V-Counters. White Noise is a staple of Danganronpa, where colored text (in V3, it is red) can appear in an Argument, and hitting it with your Truth Bullets will cause you to miss. You can use an alternate fire called the Silencer to dispel white noise. V-Counters are a new thing to V3, where you can hit a specific part of the weak point (indicated by holding the Focus button) and gain extra points. It is wholly optional, but a nice test of skill.

There are other minigames too, which tackle various parts of the Trial proceedings as well. These include a tile-flipping game, a rudimentary driving simulator, and a couple variations on the Argument that spice things up a bit. Part of the fun of Danganronpa is figuring these games out on your own, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but for returning veterans, here’s what you need to know: There is no Bullet Time Battle/Panic Talk Action; instead you get Argument Armament which is a mostly-less-frustrating rhythm section. Cross-Sword confrontations are back, and don’t seem as limiting as they were in Danganronpa 2. The Logic Dive from Danganronpa 2 has been functionally replaced by Psyche Taxi, which involves picking up objects to construct the question, and then answering the questions. Finally, there is a new mechanic added to the debates: lying. By holding the fire button, your truth bullet will invert its meaning, and there are some weak points where you can lie to progress the story. This doesn’t always seem optional, but it is mostly something you don’t need to do aside from a few places. The lying mechanic allows you to progress the trial differently, enabling what is called a “back route” in the trial.

The story is the main draw to Danganronpa games, and the story in V3 is really something else. Without spoiling too much, the story goes in very unexpected directions (especially near the end) that not all fans may like. I was left speechless by the end of the game, and had to think on it for a few days before I could determine how I felt about it. In the end, I decided that I liked it, but felt like it could have been executed better.

Once you complete the main game, some bonus modes unlock for you to play with as well. The first of these is called The Ultimate Card Death Machine. This operates a lot like a Gacha game, where you have absurd drop rates for certain rarity cards, and while progressing another mode makes the rates better, it also makes each “pull” more expensive. Next you have Ultimate Talent Development Plan, which is a board game that features all characters from prior Danganronpa games and allows you to level up those cards you got in the dispenser. With them leveled up, you can then proceed to the next bonus mode: Despair Dungeon: Monokuma’s test. This bonus mode is a dungeon crawler that is a pretty standard turn-based RPG. It’s very similar to NES-era RPGs, and you shouldn’t have any trouble with this.

The final bonus mode is a continuation of prior Danganronpa bonus modes, which allows you to complete the Free Time events for characters you did not have time to complete during the main game. It also adds dating sim aspects. This mode is fun if you like the characters, and allows you to experience Free Time events that would otherwise be inaccessible in the main game. The dating sim portion seems equal parts played for laughs and for fan service.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 92%
Gameplay - 17/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 10/10
Stability - 4/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 26%
Violence - 0/10
Language - 0/10
Sexual Content - 3/10
Occult/Supernatural - 3/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

The bonus modes are completely optional, and do not have any impact on the story other than giving you extra things to do once the main game is over. The bonus modes definitely add to the overall package value of the game, but do not worry if you don’t find them interesting; the core of the game is still well worth the price of admission.

Alright, now that we’ve talked about the gameplay, let’s talk about some of the more technical and aesthetic aspects of the game. The Danganronpa games have always had a very eccentric visual style to them, and V3 continues this trend with vastly improved UI, higher resolution textures, and higher quality sprites. The character designs are excellent, the backgrounds are top-notch, and the overall style is very good. This is the best-looking Danganronpa game yet, especially on PS4.

Another standout for Danganronpa games has been the music, which always hits the right notes for the situation. Composer Masafumi Takada has done it once again, and created an excellent score that reuses the best parts of prior soundtracks while blending new songs in too. His music serves as great backing to the tense Class Trials, or the relaxed Free Time, and even the brutal Punishments. The music hits all the right notes when it needs to, and it is excellent. On the other hand, voice acting is a more complicated issue. On the Vita version, the audio is severely compressed and clips noticeably while also sounding very distorted. Spike Chunsoft has released a patch that I highly recommend downloading from the PlayStation store, as it gives the game the uncompressed audio it deserves. It’s called Danganronpa V3 - HQ Audio Pack. Meanwhile, the game comes with both English and Japanese audio. I played the game with Japanese audio, and I found it to be a very good experience. English audio in Danganronpa games is a bit more complicated. I think I am in the minority of Danganronpa fans who prefers Japanese audio to English (based on a StrawPoll on the Danganronpa subreddit). The English dub here is fine. Nothing bad, nothing particularly outstanding either in my opinion. In the end, this choice is up to you, and you can’t really go wrong either way.

One thing I feel compelled to talk about is how the game was localized. The localization of the game makes some adjustments to the text, and if you know a little Japanese or are great at picking up details, you can hear inconsistencies in the dialog in the Japanese audio track and the text being rendered on screen. One character has lines changed that really alters the way their character is perceived, and I’m not happy that they did. Spoilers abound, but the description is here: {spoiler} {/spoiler} 

A new feature this time around takes advantage of the simultaneous releases on Vita and PS4. The game supports cross-save between the PS4 and Vita versions, and as I already had the Vita version on pre-order when I was given the review code, I decided to try it out. The good news is: it works! The bad news is: it feels excessively complicated. To transfer a save, on the first console you need to back out to the main menu, select Cross-Save, then select Upload. Then pick the save you want to upload. First, it will load the save. Then you will be prompted again to actually upload the loaded save. Finally, it will upload to the PSN. On the second console, go to the main menu and select Cross-Save. Then select Download, and download the save onto your device. Then you go back to the main menu, and load the save. While there are far worse ways this could have been handled, it still feels unnecessary to go through so many menus to accomplish it.

Loading times could be a severe issue at certain points in the game. In chapter 4, a new area is introduced that was rife with loading pauses that made that section of the game really drag. Near the end, I also encountered some longer load times when entering and leaving buildings. I did not encounter any serious bugs, nor were there any crashes on the Vita or PS4. The Vita version has reduced texture quality compared to the PS4 version, and pop-in was sometimes noticeable as well, however it was not obtrusive as to ruin the experience.

The moral content section for this review was the one I was most dreading to write, in part because there are so many things to cover. Please be warned that there will be minor spoilers throughout this section except where more direct spoilers are needed. These will be tagged accordingly, but consider yourself warned.

Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony

 The sexual content in Danganronpa games has always been pretty minimal in my experience, but V3 seriously ups the ante here. Danganronpa games have always had at least one perverted character (someone who has an innuendo-laden response to almost any situation), and V3 is no exception. The main difference this time is that it’s a girl, Miu Iruma, who happens to be the perverted one. She frequently makes references to her and other female characters' breasts, makes jokes about how all the guys are just dying to sleep with her, talks about sex toys and condoms, makes references to her very...unique fetishes, and so on, usually seeming to arouse herself in the process. She flirts with K1-B0, and even gives him some upgrades (which DO have actual uses), but the entire topic is approached in a very innuendo-laden way. I have to admit, it got really tiring. A scene near the beginning involves a female character changing clothes and we see a naked silhouette that isn't too scandalous, but is a little bit revealing. Additional scenes involve seeing characters in their underwear, or naked but from angles such that nothing is shown. Maxing out a bond with a character during Free Time will give you that character’s underwear, and while normally this is not addressed in the segment, in the case of Miu, she uses a device that teleports it off of her and hands it to you during the last Free Time event.   {spoiler}One of the characters mentions being “very in love” with his sister, and while the rest of the cast reacts with appropriate levels of disgust to revelations of incest, the entire sequence where he mentions how much he loves his sister is exceedingly uncomfortable. In fact (tying in with the occult section below), he has been (or at least claims to be) partially inhabited by his sister’s spirit since he performed a seance, and their dynamic is very odd indeed. {/spoiler} 

On a more minor note, one of the characters refers to all of the male characters as “Degenerate males” and doesn’t really let up her slack outside a few Free Time events where you learn more about her. One character is always wearing a swimsuit, but usually also wears an open robe that makes it a little less scandalous than it would otherwise be. In a scene in the A/V room, a character finds what is almost certainly a pornography video. They never show anything onscreen, and the character is clearly very embarrassed that they found such a thing. Further, as part of the Love Across the Universe section, going on a date with someone allows you to select from a range of options, including the ability to read a dirty book together in the library. The content is never explicitly discussed, but it is still something you can do.

There is also what is sometimes referred to as the “Love Hotel” where you can spend casino coins (more on that in a moment) to buy a key. Using the key at night will give you a random scene with one of the characters. In this scene, you are a participant in that person’s fantasy. The fantasies can take several forms which range from touching conversations to those that heavily imply the two characters slept together.

Drug content consists mostly of just references, and non-specific ones at that. Miu makes reference to wanting to take some drugs and forget about the situation they are in. Monosuke is sometimes seen holding what looks like a cigar.

Given all this talk about executions and murders, it's no surprise that there would be a lot to talk about here with respect to violence. Danganronpa games are very violent, and V3 is no exception. Characters are killed in very gruesome ways (*SPOILER TAG*)(one character is killed by having a sickle forced through their neck, another is killed by drowning only to have their body consumed by piranhas, and so on), and blood is often everywhere. One particularly gruesome case involves a body being crushed by a hydraulic press.(*END SPOILER TAG*) Thankfully we don’t witness the actual killing, only the aftermath (*SPOILER TAG*)(with the exception of the piranhas scene, and an off-angle view of the hydraulic press case in video form) (*END SPOILER TAG*). The blood is purple, but it’s still very clearly blood. Executions are just as bad, including such items as: (*SPOILER TAG*)a character being hung by the neck and swung around before being crushed by spikes, a character being forced to climb a spiked rope while being slashed at with saw blades only to fall to their death, and a character being boiled alive in a melting pot. (*END SPOILER TAG*)

Danganronpa has never really held back in the language department either, and again, this game is no exception. Characters use all manner of curse words from the C-word in reference to female anatomy, F-word, S-word, both B-words, and other swears. The game definitely earns an M rating in this department.

The occult/supernatural content of this game is a little tricky to pin down. One of the characters claims to be a mage, but her title is magician. All of the stuff she does are normal magic tricks, but she claims it is real and not the illusory stuff. A resurrection ritual is mentioned, but never performed. A seance is held, but does not work. In one of the executions, the character’s spirit appears to leave their body, only to be pelted by salt (injuring them in the process). As mentioned above, (*SPOILER TAG*)one character claims that his dead sister’s spirit has inhabited his body. Further, he has killed girls so that they can be friends with his sister in the afterlife. (*END SPOILER TAG*) One of the characters worships a god (or claims to) called Atua, that she claims possesses her when she makes art. Further, she often claims to speak for Atua, and even manages to convert a few characters to her side for a brief period of time. This character seems to be heavily inspired by Polynesian culture, where Atua is a word often used to refer to plural gods or a monotheistic god.

Lastly, there are some points to make about ethical content in the game. The big thing to note here is the new lying mechanic. Lying is mostly optional and is not usually needed to progress the story (I only used it a few times when I saw no other way to progress), but lying will give you a different route to the end of the trial. Whether or not this is seen as encouraging it is left as an exercise to the reader, but it is something I believe I should note. Further, at the end of the game, you are left with the impression that lies are not inherently bad, and can lead to hope, while some truths can lead to despair.

Danganronpa V3 almost feels like a swansong from the developers of Danganronpa. The story and characters are more ambitious than prior games, and the ending is definitely the kind of polarizing that will keep people talking for a while yet. The improvements to the gameplay and aesthetics are proof that a lot of love went into the development of this game. If the content outlined is something you are willing to put up with, you will find a very competent set of murder mysteries with a plot that really wants you to think about the game more. But on the other hand, the ending is polarizing enough that I can also see being massively let down by it. In the end, I can’t really recommend or not recommend this game, as how you will like it is entirely dependent on how you feel about the story developments, and of course, if you are willing to put up with the very large amount of objectionable content in the game.


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