Heartbreak, terror, and the occasional murder await players of the third iteration in the Danganronpa murder-mystery series, a video game franchise that many fans of the genre may, sadly, be unacquainted with.
Danganronpa (a Japanese term that is a compound of the phrase ‘dangan’ meaning ‘bullet’ and ‘ronpa’ meaning ‘refute’) is a series of murder-mystery games that all center around ultimate teenagers that are trapped in a high school and forced to kill one another in a heinous game. Though the basic premise may sound profoundly simple, in order to remain alive and eventually escape, the player must investigate each murder so that they may be able to defend himself and the innocent students in a high-paced class trial. Fortunately for those that are unfamiliar with the series, this particular entry is not intimately connected to past games, so inexperienced players are free to pick up this game and play to their hearts’ content.
Despite being the third addition to this franchise, Danganronpa V3’s strengths lie in its originality in character design, story, and in the unique ways the students are either murdered or executed. Compared to previous entries, Killing Harmony has been given a complete makeover, ditching the stale, flat interface and trading it for vibrant, modern way to interact with other characters during class trials and daily life. The art style, besides looking sharper and more visually stimulating, doesn’t change from its usual iconic 2D character models and fluorescent pink blood. For those that are familiar with the plot of the other two games, it not only adds to the aesthetic makeup of the world in which this game takes place, it also provides players with a new cast of genuinely interesting personalities that you will hate to see meet their untimely demise at each chapter’s end.
The game provides an authentically chilling experience that follows the death of hopeful, future flames that represent the best that society has to offer. Each death is packed with symbolic meaning that impacts the story at its core and makes the player search inward for answers to questions concerning the case and the reasoning behind a character’s mode of death. You can’t help but to fall in love with at least one character and be crushed when/if he or she dies.
However, the in-depth, seemingly spotless plot only causes the game’s imperfections to feel more tangible and keep the game from getting a far from perfect rating. The controls during class trials and while exploring the campus are sometimes incredibly awkward and at times overly complicated and unnecessary. The voice acting also further deflates the mood with flat, unflattering lines that are sometimes delivered during scenes with otherwise heavy speeches, making monologues come off as absurd or childish. The story, though eerie and amusing, feels as if it is following a formula that has been set and arguably stretched to its thinnest since the first game was introduced to the U.S.
Killing Harmony’s story centers around Kaede Akamatsu, a girl who has been deemed the ultimate pianist, and 14 other “Ultimate” students with their own array of quirky, dynamic personalities. The students wake up in a seemingly uninhabited high school and find that not only can they not recall how they got there but that their memories have also been erased and possibly tampered with. In the midst of their confusion, their captor reveals himself as the adorably disturbing, black-and-white robotic bear Monokuma, whom is the familiar imprisoner of the past two titles with different controllers in both games. He informs the Ultimate students that, for his entertainment and to inspire despair into the hearts of the public, they will be forced to participate in a killing game. Meaning, anyone who kills another student and gets away with it can graduate while the others will be trapped in the school forever. From there, the plot unfolds into a fight for freedom while also battling with or against those that you’ve been forced to cooperate with.
Like the past two titles, the gameplay in Killing Harmony is primarily set in three parts: daily life, deadly life, and the class trial. During daily life, you control Kaede as she learns more about her fellow captives. You can buy gifts for your favorite classmates to get them to spill everything about their lives before being trapped in the academy. In the first chapter, the length of this section is expanded to more thoroughly ensure that you’re destroyed when characters are inevitably killed. Once a murder occurs, Kaede’s daily life turns into a deadly life, which involves investigating every cranny of the academy and its campus for clues leading to the culprit’s motive and method of committing murder.
The meat of the gameplay takes place during the third phase of the game, class trials.
Once all of the evidence has been gathered, all 16 students gather in a court room set up by Monokuma in order to determine whodunit. During the trial, testimonies are literally shot down and slashed in half in a series of incredibly satisfying mini-games to uncover the truth. Once the class trial has seemingly reached its end, the students must vote on who they think the murderer is, though if their guesses are wrong, the murderer graduates and goes free while the other students must suffer an eternity in the academy.
All set against a background of funky, rhythmic music that you won’t get out of your head for weeks, Killing Harmony is a great addition to a franchise unlike anything you’ve ever played. Its mysteries will have you guessing who the killer is until the truth is finally revealed, and as usual, the ending will leave you speechless and begging for the next entry in this forever-unraveling adventure to survive the despair that has overcome the world.
Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is out now on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita game systems for $60 and $40 respectively. The past two entries are sold in a double- pack, Danganronpa 1-2 Reload for varying prices on PlayStation 4.