Review: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony (PS4)

Developed by: Spike Chunsoft
Published by: NIS America

Earlier this year, I had the absolute pleasure of experiencing Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc for the first time. The story and characters of Monokuma’s first death game made a huge impact on me. The setting, music, and especially the conclusion will forever remain ingrained in my memory. It’s safe to say that Danganronpa accomplished something special in the murder-mystery genre. Trigger Happy Havoc spawned sequels, spin-offs, and two anime series, mostly all met with similar acclaim. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is the third installment in the main series of games. Just when you think the team at Spike Chunsoft couldn’t take the series to a further level, Killing Harmony comes in and kills that idea. This latest installment in the Danganronpa franchise is full of the twists and turns you expect, but taken to the next level. In fact, Killing Harmony may be the most controversial entry in the series, due to its changes and heavy focus on one major theme: the power of lies. Buckle up, you’re in for a ride.

The plot of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony should be very familiar to veterans of the series. Sixteen of the most gifted students are trapped in a school full of mystery and forced to participate in a death game, monitored and enjoyed by the adorable, yet terrifying, Monokuma. The protagonist of Killing Harmony is high school student Kaede Akamatsu, the Ultimate Pianist, who is determined to find a way to escape the prison with her peers. By exploring, developing relationships, and solving cases, the player will discover the truth behind Monokuma’s reign of terror.

All of the screenshots featured in this review were taken from the Japanese version. The final U.S. release features English text and voice acting.

I will admit, Killing Harmony didn’t pull me in right away. The beginning hours feel awfully too similar to the first game in the series, Trigger Happy Havoc. Both take place in a high school environment and both have similar set-ups. Even some of the characters reminded me of those found in the first installment. The introduction feels slow, boring, and too similar to previous installments. This feeling remained with me until the first trial began. However, my whole opinion of Killing Harmony flipped once the first trial started to unfold. Despite the introduction being a slog, I highly recommend just sticking with it. The end result is something incredibly special and a Danganronpa moment you will never forget.

Killing Harmony‘s flow of gameplay doesn’t change too much from its predecessors. Your time is split between Free Time, investigating murders, and holding class trials. During Free Time, you get to engage with a wide variety of characters, all with their own unique traits and personalities. You can also explore the school grounds, play mini-games in the casino, and buy gifts in the school store.

This cast of characters is a mixed bag, in terms of likability, but their traits are undoubtedly fascinating. There are plenty of obvious Ultimate traits that make sense, such as the Ultimate Inventor and the Ultimate Detective, but these are complimented with a series of bizarre traits. Who would’ve guessed that an Ultimate Supreme Leader or an Ultimate Robot would be part of the next Danganronpa cast? Well, we are talking about the wacky world of Monokuma, so I guess anything shouldn’t be too much of a surprise.

Shoot down those words.

The characters themselves can range from likable to completely annoying, but that range of personalities really adds to the overall quality of the cast. On the surface, this might seem like the cliche cast of high school anime characters, but dig deeper and you will find an unique cast of minds. Instead of being defined by a trait, a number of Killing Harmony‘s characters are defined by their quirky personalities. Angie Yonaga, the Ultimate Artist, and Miu Iruma, the Ultimate Inventor, immediately come to mind. Angie is devoted to her religion, claiming that all of her artwork is directly inspired by Atua, the gods of the Hawaiian people. Angie’s constant religious chanting might come off as annoying to some, but that’s what defines her as a character. Miu is just kind of crazy, which also defines her whole character. You also encounter characters that stay completely true to their ultimate trait, such as the Ultimate Maid, Kirumi Tojo. Whether or not you find any of these characters likable, it’s undeniable that they are interesting and not just defined by a single trait. The variety of personalities keeps the dynamic fresh, especially during class investigations and trials.

While we are on the topic of characters, it would be terrible if I didn’t introduce Monokuma’s five new bundles of joy. The Monokuma Cubs, the children of Monokuma, are an absolute joy to watch. Each cub has their own personality and motives, but they have one goal in common: to make their father irrelevant. In a way, they accomplish this goal because they steal the show. The dialogue they share between each other and the other human characters is entertaining, to say the least. They have their own catchphrases and constantly make references to real-world popular culture. Everything from “fake news” to Yo-Kai Watch is referenced. Most of these little jabs and references are silly and innocent enough, but they really do add the overall theme of Killing Harmony.

From left to right: Monodam, Monosuke, Monotaro, Monophanie, and Monokid.

The real meat of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is, of course, found in the class investigations and trials. Once a dead body is found, an investigation begins. The gameplay hasn’t changed much during the investigation sections. You receive a case file from Monokuma, explore relevant locations, find evidence from the scenes, interview fellow students, and gather alibis. The class trial won’t begin until you have gathered all of the needed evidence, so don’t be afraid to take your time and thoroughly investigate each location. Mostly importantly, do not trust anyone and read between the lines. Killing Harmony makes you think through every move you make during a trial, so understanding the evidence found during the investigation is key.

The big changes that Killing Harmony brings to the table are found within the class trials. Class trials now feature a number of new gameplay improvements. Since each of class trials can last up to three or four hours, it’s important to keep the gameplay actively fresh. All of the mainstays are present, such as Non-Stop Debates and Hangman’s Gambits. Not only are they present, but they are also improved. Using truth bullets to find contradictions in your peer’s statements has never felt better. A new feature added to Non-Stop Debates is the ability to lie. Instead of shooting truth bullets, you can shoot bullets that contain lies. There are many opportunities to lie, in order to guide the trial towards the real truth. It’s a really great addition to an already great system.

Aside from improvements of well-known gameplay elements, Killing Harmony adds a number of new additions to class trials. Mass Panic Debates are basically like Non-Stop Debates, but with three people talking at the same time. You have to focus on one person and find a weak spot in their argument. Debate Scrum divides the student body into two sides and you have to pick the correct answers to make a stronger case. Mind Mine and Psyche Taxi are more interactive games, inspired by Minesweeper and early racing games, respectively. I personally found these new additions to be a breath of fresh air, adding some much needed variety to class trials.

Debate Scrum is about to start. You can almost feel the intensity just by looking at this photo.

In the area of sound design and music, Killing Harmony is no different from the rest of the series. The sound effects are all precise, the voice acting is mostly good, and the music fits the Danganronpa standard of excellence. One aspect regarding the music that I love is that the title of each individual track is present when it plays. So, if you like a particular track and want to listen to it outside of the game, it makes looking up individual tracks really fluid and easy. It’s a minor addition that goes a long way.

I’ll be honest, this was a hard review to write. It was hard to write because I didn’t want to ruin a single moment of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. The game introduces an interesting new cast of characters, mechanics, and themes, while also keeping all of the elements that make a good Danganronpa experience. Killing Harmony might have a slow introduction, followed by some sluggish moments throughout the middle half, but it’s a game worth sticking with. The high points are worth the wait. As a whole, if you like a good mystery or you’re a fan of Monokuma’s previous death games, Killing Harmony is definitely worth looking into. Rise and Shine, Ursine!

Final Verdict
: Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony is a great addition to the popular series, featuring a diverse new cast of characters, thrilling twists, and plenty of new gameplay mechanics to keep you busy for hours. 

[Note: This product was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.]

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