[incest tw, nsfw text]
This is going to be a very difficult game to review without spoiling anything but I’m going to try.
As I mentioned in my review of the first Danganronpa, I never thought this series was going to come to the West. Well, here we are with three core games, one spinoff, two animes, and a manga (I think?), which, when you think about it, is huge for a series as niche as this one.
If you aren’t familiar with this series, the basic premise of the core games is that a bunch of teenage prodigies (called Ultimates) are trapped in a remote location by a malevolent robot bear named Monokuma and forced to play a “killing game” where they murder their fellow classmates in order for a chance to “graduate”. However, they first need to survive a class trial, where everyone tries to figure out “whodunit”. If they manage to find the “blackened” murderer, the person who did the deed is executed in spectacular fashion. However, if they accuse the wrong person, everyone else is executed while the murderer goes free.
The appeal of this series for me is bonding with the characters and then watching in horror as they are murdered or are revealed to be murderers. I like to guess which ones are murderers and which ones are victims based on their designs. In the last game, most of my favourites ended up surviving (and the character I hated the most died). There’s also a lot of stuff going on in the lore of the game. The executions are also interesting in that they are tailored to that person’s talent and personality. In fact, I’d say the executions were a low point for me in Danganronpa 2. They just didn’t have the impact of most of the executions in the first game.
I will say that I immediately liked the cast, which is an improvement from the second game, where I hated some of the characters from the start. I mean, if character death is a thing your series does, you obviously want the audience to connect with the characters in some way. The characters in this game are all very memorable, from the elegant Ultimate Maid Kirumi, to the man-hating Ultimate Aikido Master Tenko, to the to the leader of a “secret evil organization” Ultimate Supreme Leader Kokichi. I think a couple of them are now my favourites in the entire series. The only characters I didn’t like were the Monokubs, Monokuma’s color-coded children with their annoying catchphrases.
Gameplay follows the standard formula for the core games in the series: Daily Life, where you converse with your classmates and build your bonds, Deadly Life, where you investigate murders, and the class trials, where you attempt to uncover the identity of the killer. Class Trials consist of a bunch of minigames: Non-Stop Debates, where you need to shoot contradictions with truth bullets, Mass Panic Debates, which are just like Non-Stop Debates only with multiple people speaking at once, Hangman’s Gambit (one of the most annoying minigames in the series IMHO) where you need to illuminate letters before shooting them into place, Mind Mine, where you play Minesweeper, Psyche Taxi, which is like the dive game from Danganronpa 2, only in a taxi, Rebuttal Showdowns, which are Non-Stop Debates with swords, Debate Scrums, where you’re split into two groups and need to match the subject of your opponent’s argument with the right word to counter them, Argument Armament, a rhythm game, and the Closing Argument, which has you putting manga panels in the correct sequence to finally expose the killer. Most of the minigames are essentially taken from Danganronpa 2 and most of them are annoying, although I personally enjoyed Psyche Taxi and Debate Scrums. One added feature to the Non-Stop Debates is the ability to lie. You usually need to lie at least once a chapter. Choosing to commit perjury nets you some extra dialogue and a “back door” that makes it easier to ferret out the culprit, but it doesn’t do anything drastic like affect the culprit’s identity or the ending.
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that it is a hard game to talk about without spoiling anything since the game pulls absolutely no punches. Yes, including in the very first trial. This game will shock you, punch you in the feels repeatedly, and surprise you. A standout for me was the third case, with its occult themes, otherwise the middle of the game is a bit slow. The final cases, however, are well worth persevering through the game’s slower points. Even the executions are more brutal this time around. Get ready to see a lot of pink blood. I will admit to feeling a bit cheated by an early game twist, but managed to roll my eyes and sigh and keep playing.
Overall, I really liked this game, but I think I ultimately prefer the second game (although the first game’s characters are the most memorable). The ending was simultaneously brilliant and, if I’m being honest, disappointing (and it doesn’t help that the creator has a habit of trolling fans). Suffice it to say that you should absolutely play at least Danganronpa 1 and 2 before playing this game. There are so many references that it’s not optional.
The series continues its track record of very negative depictions of mentally ill people. One such character is not only a murderer but is also a serial killer who is implied to have had an incestuous relationship with their now deceased sister (who is the basis for a split personality that emerges in times of stress), they’re also into BDSM. It’s as if the writers were checking off a list of “obviously evil” points and dumped all of them on one character. Of the two characters with darker skin, one was literally raised by animals (and talks in Hulk speech) while the other is a religious fanatic who walks around in a bikini. Speaking of incest, two of the Monokubs appear to become infatuated with each other (although its weird to call a relationship between two robot bears incestuous) to the point where Monophanie (the sole feminine presenting bear) is shown giving birth during an execution, well, it makes sense in context. Most of the more fanservicey moments are courtesy of Miu, the Ultimate Inventor who is constantly, constantly saying some really crude, TMI-type things (which masks a shrinking violet personality). As much as I like the cast, I admit I did cringe a little when Kokichi calls Miu very gendered insults, like “cum dumpster”.
I would say I like this game overall but I’m not sure how I’d rank it among the games I’ve played. I loved Danganronpa 2’s cast and setting, although the first had the more iconic characters and less annoying minigames. I will say one edge Danganronpa V3 has is its post game modes: Salmon Team, which is a dating sim (much like Island Mode and School Mode) without the gathering/sim elements, Talent Training, a fun board game where you select a character and play through three years at Hope’s Peak Academy with the students from all three games, and Monokuma’s Test, an RPG where you take the characters you raised via the board game and pit them against a dungeon where you gain coins to unlock more characters for the board game. I would honestly play an entire game based on this board game.
In a nutshell, this game has definitely been very divisive among the fanbase and it’s very clearly meant for people who have played the previous games. I enjoyed it, and I feel like the cast and post game content in this title are particularly strong.