I like to think that if Agatha Christie had been born a hundred years later, had taken a lot of drugs and bumped her head, she would have written a murder mystery like Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. It’s mad, it’s brain-curling, it’s pure Danganronpa. Sixteen students are kidnapped and held in a twisted and isolated school. The only way to escape is to play the Killing Game. Murder one of the other students and get away with it at the class trial and that person can escape while everyone else is put to death. Get found guilty and only the murderer is executed and the game continues. It’s a hell of a gamble, but when your life is on the line, what other choice have you got? Oh and did I mention the psychopathic teddy bears?
If you’ve played any of the previous Danganronpa games then you’ll be more than familiar with the insane black and white antagonist Monokuma. This is one teddy bear you wouldn’t want to snuggle in bed at night (unless you’re into that, and I’m not judging). This time the trapped students also have to deal with Monokuma’s crazy offspring, the Monokubs. As if Monokuma’s psychotic behaviour isn’t enough to deal with now there’s a bunch of dysfunctional, backstabbing, murderous underlings. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine the game without them. Their colourful antics are delightfully inappropriate, beautifully bizarre and utterly hilarious. I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so hard at a vomiting sound effect – no one does it quite like sweet little Monophanie.
The Danganronpa games have always had an attractive quality with their brightly coloured graphics, foot-tapping music and weirdly charismatic/terrifying mascot, but Killing Harmony feels like it’s taken everything that is so good about these games and made them a hundred times better. It’s hard to look away from Monokuma and his children, and such a joy every time they make an appearance. But it’s not just the killer teddies hogging the limelight. Say hello to the students, sixteen wonderfully written characters forced to kill in order to survive.
The characters are very distinct from each other and all have their own stories, hang-ups and weirdness. There’s the Ultimate Robot teenager who has been fighting robophobia, and then there’s the Ultimate Entomologist, the gentle giant with a low IQ and a burning desire to become the perfect gentleman. I won’t go into any more details as half the fun is meeting all these kids for the first time. Within the school you’ll gradually discover each student’s Ultimate Lab and it’s here that you’ll begin to learn even more about each person. The school grows in height (you’ll see) as the game progresses and becomes really rather large, but there is never any danger of getting lost thanks to the map, the fast travel system and the student avatars.
The game is split into several sections. There’s Daily Life where you get to know your new friends and discover new rooms and labs; and then there’s Free Time where you can socialise, wander wherever you want and play mini-games. It won’t be long before the first murder occurs and this throws you into Deadly Life, the Investigation and finally the Class Trial. The Daily and Deadly Life sections are generally well paced, entertaining and build up to each murder perfectly. You’ll never be completely sure who’s for the chop and you’ll be even less sure who the culprit is. Every murder is like a trippy version of a Jonathan Creek episode. There are no ‘in the study with the candlestick’ moments here. The murders are clever, twisted and even if you think you’ve sussed it during the investigation, chances are you’re dead wrong and the Class Trial will turn everything upside down.
During the Investigation sections the game switches from it’s more visual novel style to something a bit more pointy and clicky. You’ll need to examine the murder scene closely, talk to everyone, gather alibis and evidence. Everything you discover will take the form of truth bullets which you will need for the next stage. The Class Trial is a mass debate where the students put together the evidence, argue and accuse each other. Get ready to fire those bullets. If a character is accused, for example, of being near the murder when it occurred, you may have a piece of evidence that proves they were elsewhere. You have to wait for the right moment to fire this evidence to cut through the accusation.
The Class Trial also uses mini-games to present and analyse evidence. There’s hangman, removing matching coloured tiles and a rather bizarre driving game where you get to run over a hooker. It probably sounds a bit weird but it’s incredible fun, particularly as you’re still trying to work out who did it while you’re piecing everything together and speeding through the red light district.
Killing Harmony runs for around 35-40 hours depending on your own pacing, deduction skills and the difficulty level. It’s worth mentioning that I played the pre-released version and when I chose the normal difficulty, the trial results then claimed that I had played the mean difficulty level. Even on the highest level, however, it didn’t feel overly hard, and the easy mode was exactly that for players who don’t want the challenge.
As I said earlier, the game is generally very well paced. The exception to this is the last chapter. The Class Trial seemed to drag on and on. There are reasons why this chapter is longer than the others, not least that it’s the last one and therefore there’s more to wrap up. I won’t say too much as I don’t want to spoil anything, but I already knew from the Japanese release that there was some controversy over the ending and a few complaints. However, no complaints here! (well, apart from the length). The ending was perfect and Danganronpa V3 is worthy of high praise even despite the last minute pacing issue. We all have our favourite games in the series, and V3 is mine.
Colourful, a fantastic story, engaging characters, gruesome murders and mind-bending mysteries – Danganronpa V3 Killing Harmony is a class act. Monokuma and his kubs have outdone themselves in this latest instalment. Rise and shine, ursine, don’t miss out on forty hours of pure fun.
S J Hollis Rating 8.5/10
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