Danganronpa V3 – Killing Harmony review (PS4/Vita)

Danganronpa V3 – Killing Harmony has finally come to the west! After re-releases of some of the earlier games in the series on various platforms, I’ve finally been able to play the next proper sequel. It’s been worth the wait…

I more or less jumped into the Danganronpa series in the middle of the franchise, starting with Ultra Despair Girls on the Vita. I loved it, and was surprised to learn that others generally preferred the first two games in the series – so I went back and played those next. Danganronpa did two things for me that I never thought would happen: it got me interested in Japanese-style games, and it got me hooked on what is mostly a visual novel that took over twenty hours to complete. In a day and age where I generally pick up the Vita (or any game system) for short gaming sessions only, that was quite the feat.

Don’t make my “mistake” and play V3 before playing the earlier games though (especially Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair), since Killing Harmony often references earlier events and thus might spoil the experience for you. For a game that’s so heavy on story, that would be a shame. Speaking of which – it’s hard to describe a Danganronpa game without going too much into detail about the story. If you’re familiar with the other games in the series though, you’ll recognize plenty here. Once again, there is a group of extremely talented students trapped in a school by Monokuma, a power-crazy robot bear who tells the students that the only way to survive is by killing others.

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Murder ensues, and you uncover clues and find out about suspicions by talking to your fellow students. Each stage of the game (or murder scenario) ends with a class trial, in which you have to convince others who the guilty party was and needs to be executed – after which Monokuma’s game starts anew. It’s a bleak look at society, but presented in such an over the top fashion that Danganronpa gets away with it. Part of the social dynamic is also reflected in how you build relationships with others, which can be done through conversation but also by spending the coins you find on gifts for them.

The investigations and class trials are lengthier than ever before in Killing Harmony, which has a playthrough time that’s longer than any of the games that came before it. I didn’t keep track of how long I spent playing the different Danganronpa games, but I’m probably not too far off when I say it took me about the same amount of time that it took me to complete the first two games… combined. This is great news for Danganronpa fans like myself, and it makes the Vita version even more impressive as all that content was squeezed into a Vita release.

Speaking of which – Danganronpa V3 is also the best looking game in the series on the Vita. Visuals appear crisper and more detailed, and I had the sense that more 2D visuals were used in conversations as well – conveying more range in emotions than I was used to. I could imagine that PS4 owners might be somewhat underwhelmed by the visuals – but this isn’t a game that you play for killer 3D graphics. The art style is great and detailed – and for the Vita this is a real looker too.

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The audio and localization portion of the game is comparable to previous games – meaning they’re both of a very high quality. NIS did a great job with the writing, and the voice acting is top notch. I only played the English language dubs and enjoyed the delivery and range of the entire cast this way. Not every bit of dialogue is spoken though – many of the textual information instead being represented with a voice sample that conveys the emotion that goes with it. This, no doubt, has to do with the immense work that comes with recording audio for the massive script that a game like this must have. All I know is that it’s not a size issue (the Vita version stretches Sony’s download size allowances to its limits), seeing as how the PS4 version is no different.

As is the case with other Danganronpa titles, Killing Harmony also features a wide range of minigames. These help break the flow of the visual novel portions of the game, but in a good way for a gamer like me. What traditionally keeps me from playing visual novels is that after a while, clicking through text starts to feel endless, and I lose my interest. Danganronpa strikes a perfect balance between novel and gameplay – even if the gameplay itself is usually rather thin.

One special mention has to go out to the game’s music. This has been a consistent high point for all Danganronpa games (I can still hum the melodies to the very first game I played), and Danganronpa V3 is another high point for the series. With more tracks than ever before, and with both new compositions and variations on old favorites, Killing Harmony is a masterpiece of visual novel scoring.

With all the re-releases, it can be a bit disorienting to look at the Danganronpa franchise. Killing Harmony is the first proper sequel in quite a while, and it should please those who felt like Ultra Despair Girls was too far removed from the first two games. Danganronpa V3 feels much closer to those two titles, both in terms of its setting and in the way it plays out. The writing is once again strong, the music is absolutely superb, and even though it’s great on the PS4 it’s a game of the year candidate on the Vita.

Score: 8.8/10

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