Danganronpa V3 (Playstation 4 Review)
Following the unsatisfying conclusion of the series in the animated Danganronpa 3; Danganronpa V3 is a soft reboot of the franchise. It features the same premise: a group of high schoolers with incredible talent find themselves trapped and forced to kill each other in order to escape. To be permitted to leave, the killer must be able to commit the act without being caught. This leads to an investigation and trial surrounding the mystery of who did it.
In V3, Kaede Akamtsu is one of those teenagers. Her ultimate talent is in her ability to play the piano. As a talented pianist, Kaede is capable of influencing others with her expression, serving as the emotional core of the group. She’s the motivator. Meanwhile, ultimate detective Shuichi Saihara suffers from self-doubt as a result of one of his previous cases. As such, Shuichi is relegated to Kaede’s assistant, and the duo make an interesting pair with well written chemistry.
A group of extremely talented teenagers can’t really be considered relatable, but Danganronpa V3 certainly makes them sympathisable. Though, admittedly, the localisation can alienate characters from the players further. Some of the voices can be awkward or jarring, while the character writing suffers from bizarre quirks. Ultimately though, each character stands out and has their own individuality. In a trial, they each have a voice, naturally weaving personality into the discussions over who the murderer may be.
Danganronpa is an incredibly story-focused series. Much like the first two titles, V3 is predominately a visual novel. During the daily life phase of the game (the first of three phases in each of the game’s chapters), players will be required to do a lot of reading. Often, this phase is where a new motivation is provided for the characters to continue murdering each other. Players will also be granted the opportunity to explore the school campus and interact with Kaede’s classmates. While exploring the school can get boring fast—let’s face it, schools rarely serve as an enjoyable setting—the ability to freely socialise introduces character arcs that can often cast a light on each of their respective actions or motivations in the story. Improving the bonds with other characters can also result in improving the player’s capacity for obtaining and using skillls in later phases. It’s a deeply integral mechanic, but it also serves to invest the player in the cast’s survival. Oftentimes, deaths can sting—even when it’s a culprit being executed.
Sadly, the good times generally come to an end. Once an unfortunate classmate is murdered, the class must investigate for the criminal. Should they fail to determine the culprit in an upcoming trial, they will all be executed instead. In this phase, players gather evidence and testimonies. At this point, it’s actually very possible to determine the actual culprit. Everything that follows in a trial is generally consistent to what’s found. In the end, those are assumptions and the only way to discover the truth is to proceed as V3 is also a large fan of exploiting the player’s expectations in clever ways.
Following the investigation is the class trial—a place in which the cast must effectively debate and discuss the murder until the villain is revealed. This phase features a lot of mini-games and problem solving. In one example, the protagonist visualises a series of questions in the form of a car racing down a highway while collecting letters to form a question. Completing the question will then require the player to select a lane that matches the answer. Some of these mini-games are actually pretty fun and help nudge players along when required, serving as metaphors for the debate or thinking process, but there’s also an inconsistency in their quality and different mini-games will be better than others. Regardless, the trial is the most rewarding and thrilling element in the game, and that comes from the Nonstop Debates.
As the most common staple mechanic in Danganronpa, the Nonstop Debates are typically where the meat of the action is found. Classmates will debate on a specific subject, while players prepare to target the contradictions. Evidence is loaded as ammunition, and these can be used to literally shoot down any weak-points in someone’s statement. It’s also possible to twist the evidence and lie to steer the course of the debate, and players can silence anyone’s attempts to speak over the current speaker to gain extra time. The dialogue can be fast, and there’s a lot of flair to its presentation, so Focus Time can be a useful tool to improve accuracy by slowing down time. In fact, V3 rewards players for using Focus Time to pinpoint a visual crack in the statement for bonus points. Discovering the culprit through this method is particularly fun, making the Nonstop Debates a highlight.
Kazutaka Kodaka’s mystery writing continues to improve each time—including the meta-narratives that have become a part of the franchise’s story. Rather than being too predictable, Danganronpa V3 is all too aware of the player’s expectations throughout a trial, and it isn’t afraid to exploit this. It contains a well-crafted narrative that has players dancing to its tune. V3 also manages to successfully avoid many of the pitfalls that the previous releases suffered from. Many of the cases are intricate and clever, easily hooking players. However, Kodaka’s work wouldn’t be quite the same without Masafumi Takada’s soundtrack supporting it. The tracks are often incredible and powerful. The pacing is crafted incredibly well, with the soundtrack adding an air of tension or optimism whenever suitable.
While suffering from some localisation problems, Danganronpa V3 is incredibly engaging and addictive as a murder-mystery. Solving the cases can be very rewarding. There are many things this reviewer is excited about and wishes to share, but these are best left unsaid. Twists and turns are sprinkled deliberately, with information paced to support them without giving too much away. Honestly, V3 is best experienced as fresh as possible.