Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony arrives after two main series games, a third person shooter spinoff, and and two anime series. The lore of Danganronpa has been pretty well established at this point, but there are still some things to learn about the world. However, instead of building on that lore, V3 decides to undermine all of it with one of the worst endings to a story I’ve experienced in recent memory.
Spiritual Content: One of the characters worships a fictional god named Atua. Some characters declare that there must not be a god because of what they are experiencing. One sequence shows two people as ghosts.
Violence: The entire game revolves around a series of murders and the brutal execution of each murderer. The execution scenes have had the violence turned up since the last game. Revealing what kind of executions take place would spoil the appeal for some, but suffice to say, even with the use of pink blood instead of red, they’re pretty disturbing.
Language/Crude Humor: One of the characters is extremely vulgar. It is basically her defining personality trait. It would be shorter to list what kind of crude things she DOESN’T say. Honestly, every single curse word you can think of comes out of her mouth and many of the characters respond in kind when talking to her. It doesn’t stop at curse words either. Some of the most sexual language I have ever heard in any media form, ever, comes from her. She makes multiple references to masturbation in explicit detail and comments on other character’s bodies in sexually explicit terms. One of the villains also makes similarly crude remarks.
Sexual Themes: As mentioned earlier, the vulgar character makes extremely explicit sexual comments and many in turn use them when responding to her. One character essentially just wears a coat over a two piece swimsuit, and one character takes off her clothes to distract one character. References to incest are also present. Two characters are depicted nude at one point, but no details are drawn on the sprites in this instance.
Drug/Alcohol Use: One character mentions how she wants to go on a drug trip.
Positive Themes: The overall premise of Danganronpa as a series is the fight between hope and despair. This theme is present in V3, but it is muddled somewhat by the time the ending rolls around. Characters discuss the idea of innate morality at one point, declaring that everyone knows that killing is inherently wrong.
Given that Danganronpa is a visual novel, it is important that it have a good story. Unfortunately, Killing Harmony has the worst story of the series to date. For those unfamiliar with the premise however, let me explain. Danganronpa as a series (with the exception of the Ultra Despair Girls spin off) revolves around teenagers trying to kill each other in order to escape an isolated location. If they manage to kill one of their peers and get away with it, they get to leave. But a trial is held after every murder as the surviving members try to identify the killer. If they succeed, the killer is brutally executed and the Killing Game continues. If they fail to find the murderer, the murderer goes free, and the remaining survivors are executed. Killing Harmony specifically focuses on 16 high school students who wake up in a school known as the Ultimate Academy and are then told about the rules regarding the Killing Game in which they must now participate.
Part of the intrigue with the story is figuring out how another Killing Game is occurring given the events of the past two games and the anime. Those with the knowledge of the past games should find this to be one of the main draws of the story. The other crucial aspect of the story is the characters. Part of the appeal of the series is picking out a few characters in the beginning whom you like and hoping they make it through the entire game. In this regard, Killing Harmony fails with tremendous vigor. I know that designating which characters are best is ultimately a subjective enterprise, but it seems pretty undeniable that the game keeps the most annoying characters around as long as possible. There were points where I started reading the dialogue instead of letting the voice acting play because I was so tired of listening to certain characters speak. There are a few long lasting characters who are genuinely interesting though. They just seem completely overshadowed by how annoying, or frankly just flat out dull, their compatriots are.
The actual murders themselves really are not as interesting as they could be either. For what’s its worth though, the first case has an intriguing twist that I thought should have been probably saved for later. For one, it was just such a good twist that it would have been better served later in the game. If it had been used later in the game, it also would have been less guilty of using a certain overused trope. Revealing which trope may spoil the case, but regardless, I found its use unfortunate.The rest of the cases, as mentioned, are just not very interesting. The motives really are quite dull, some verging on nonsensical. I suppose this can be attributed to most of the characters being annoying. Half the time I just really didn’t care who was the killer or who was killed because at a certain point I pretty much hated everyone so I would’ve been happy with pretty much whoever got killed off, with the exception of like two characters,
Honestly, the game is just trying way too hard to be shocking. The first game was fairly brutal, but the second game leaned more towards murders and executions that were so ridiculous that it actually made the game ironically lighthearted. V3 seems determined to go back to its roots and then crank it up a notch. One of the cases especially, I found extremely disturbing. This is of course a matter of personal taste, but there’s story trying to evoke dark and mature themes, and then there’s just trying to shock. V3 is clearly in the latter category. The overuse of really crass language is further proof of this.
This is only worsened by the ending, which at best, undermines the entire series up to this point, and at worst, is completely paradoxical. It is original Mass Effect 3 ending-levels of terrible. I have no idea why the developers chose to go in this direction. There is a certain cleverness to it to be sure, but it ultimately feels forced and nonsensical, like another thing that exists to shock the player rather than have any substance. That’s not to say it doesn’t try to pull a meaningful point out of it; I was just too busy rolling my eyes and hoping that I could just reach the end and stop playing, to care.One of the small redeeming factors of the story is just how well integrated some of the humor is. The mascot of the series, Monokuma, and his new cubs, provide a lot of funny lines. Additionally, there are some well-executed pop culture references from Zelda to Trump, to Splatoon, to Kingdom Hearts. Danganronpa has always been pretty good about its pop culture references and it’s good to see that they remain in this game.
If I was just judging this game on the story, then I’d tank it. The gameplay however is completely functional…which may be the best thing I can say about it. As an Ace Attorney veteran, Danganronpa has always felt a little too simple in comparison. The appeal has always come from the aspects that Ace Attorney lacks. So unfortunately with those aspects not holding up too well this time around, it’s up to the gameplay to carry a lot of the weight. It works well for the most part, but just can’t do enough to save the disappointing story.
Essentially the gameplay is broken up into three sections. In one section you may spend time with any of the remaining survivors to learn more about their backstory and earn points that can be used to unlock skills used in the trial portion of the game. The second section of the game is the investigation portion. This may be a negative to some, but I consider it a positive that the game is always very clear about what needs investigating, so you don’t spend a whole lot of time wandering around. There is a portion at the beginning of every chapter that is a bit annoying though as it requires you to wander around the school looking for places to insert random keys.
The trials are the largest chunk of the game, however. Once an investigation is over, Monokuma will call everyone to the trial grounds where the survivors will debate and try to decide who the killer is. The most prominent style of gameplay during these sections is the Non-Stop Debate in which multiple characters will speak one after another and you must use the correct piece of evidence to contradict their statement. In this way, it is very similar to Ace Attorney, with the exception that you must actually shoot the evidence, or the titular “truth bullets” at the statement in question. This provides a unique aspect to the game, but can also get in the way because the game starts putting obstacles in your path in later stages, causing you to miss and making you fast forward through all the statements again to get to the right one to try your shot again. There are a number of other types of modes during the trials, including sections where you simply answer a question with answers from a list or have to spell out the correct answer in a hangman style game which has been terrible since it was introduced in the first game. It’s really not clear what specific word the game wants you to spell most of the time even if you know the answer in a general sense. You often just have to start guessing. I suppose that’s what makes it hangman. It doesn’t make it less annoying though. V3 also continues the tradition set by the last game and adds another pointless mini game to the trials; this time it’s the form of a driving mini game that is not challenging by any stretch of the imagination and just feels like a waste of time.
The worst thing introduced in this game however, is the ability to lie. By holding down the fire button, you can change a piece of evidence to mean exactly the opposite of what it actually means. This is rarely necessary, and I almost promise you that you’ll forget about its existence until you’ve tried every other thing you can think of. Thankfully this rarity also means you don’t have to deal with it much though.
Other new elements such as the Mass Panic Debates where multiple people are talking at once and the Split Opinion sections, where half the group debates the other half, fare much better. Ultimately, like I said previously, the game is completely functional and the unnecessary aspects don’t really hinder the experience too much—the lying mechanic being the one exception.
This game was disappointing to me. While I was fairly ambivalent about the first game, the lore that was established afterward, especially in the second game, really made the series come alive. It’s such a shame then that the ending to Killing Harmony serves to undermine what came before. I really wish I had more positive things to say about the game because Danganronpa 2 was such a joy to play with really loveable characters, a unique setting, and no obsession with shocking its players. My honest recommendation is to just go play that game. I feel like I can’t even recommend this game to Danganronpa fans because of how much of a disservice it is to the rest of the series.
The Bottom Line
Forget this game exists and go play Danganronpa 2.