Step aside, Tom Cruise. This is the real deal.
Danganronpa is a series at war with itself. After both a solid premier and one of the best sequels I’ve ever played, the franchise hit a rut with a lackluster spin-off and an embarrassment of an anime. Now, with the third (and seemingly final) entry in the franchise, Danganronpa V3, the Danganronpa team seems to want you to have your cake and feel bad about it too. At first, the fun is still there: twists, laughs, and everything else you expect from an installment in this series. But as the game winds down, it drops an embarrassing twist that, with no hyperbole, ruins the entire series. The concepts presented in Danganronpa V3 are initially interesting, but eventually undermine everything about the franchise.
Taken as a full package, Danganronpa V3 is pretty much what you expect: a group of students trapped in a school are given motives to murder each other, and after each murder, they hold a trial to find and punish the culprit. This basic outline continues to support engaging stories, with plenty of fun whodunit moments and unique, heartbreaking character interactions. The trials in V3 are some of the best in the series, save for the second, whose culprit felt chosen purely for cheap drama. Personally, I guessed who did it randomly, because the game didn’t properly set up any clues pointing to the perpetrator. Otherwise, cracking cases was generally enjoyable, with V3’s new mechanics adding loads of entertainment. On the flip side of the coin, the fifth trial was especially exceptional, upending the investigation practices of every trial beforehand, and calling into question who the victim even was.
The largest addition to V3’s gameplay is lying. That’s a weird phrase, yes, but in a game about finding the truth, the introduction of lying is near-revolutionary, and is sometimes the only way to bring out the truth. You can swap the meaning of any piece of evidence you have, swinging things in your favor and slightly changing the outcome of the trial. You are even rewarded for finding unique lines of thought using lies, as the trials will take different paths. Other fun mechanics include the Psyche Taxi, an Out Run pastiche with neon visuals, and a new version of the standard non-stop debate with multiple characters arguing over each other. These mini-games, coupled with clever writing and intrigue, keep investigations and trials as good as ever; if not moreso.
However, the game dips in quality once you interact with characters outside of trials. Most characters in DRV3 are one note and trite, with absolutely aggravating character quirks. The artist character, Angie, doesn’t talk about art at all. Instead, she brings up her god Atua every time she opens her mouth. Miu, the inventor, is constantly filthy. It’s a legitimate 50/50 shot over if she’s going to talk about masturbation or her breasts. Even a character I liked, Kaito, quickly lost his sheen when I realized he was just a cheap knockoff of Kamina, one of the main characters of the anime Gurren Lagann. The worst offender is Tenko, an Akido master whose main gimmick is acting like a strawman feminist character, screaming about hating “degenerate males” for no reason. In previous games, characters had quirks, and some were better than others. However, a large chunk of V3’s cast is either forgettable or downright awful. Monokuma’s children, the Monokubs, are also terrible, taking up massive amounts of the game spewing unfunny jokes and nearly overshadowing the original bear in charge.
Thankfully, the aesthetics of DRV3 are master-class. The music rocks, going so far as to improve the classic banger “Mr. Monokuma’s Lesson.” Even the dislikable Monokubs have an amazing theme. Classic tracks mingle with the new additions flawlessly, with both accentuating scenes with humor, suspense, or a mix of both. The menus and HUD are colorful and slick, and the character’s designs are pleasing to look at, even if what’s coming out of their mouths makes my eyes roll. Tenko may be a horribly written character, but seeing her smug sneer whenever she thinks she got one over somebody is always a treat.
In order to properly convey my feelings on DRV3, I must make general reference to the ending. Without spoilers: the ending of V3, and the franchise altogether, it seems, has undermined years of work in favor of being meta and smarmy. At the end of the game, I felt a sense that the writers of Danganronpa thought their fans were the real villains, punishing them for supporting the franchise in the first place. I’m not sure where they got this idea, but as someone who was moved to tears by the ending of Danganronpa 2, feeling like the writers understood my struggles with depression and anxiety, then being told in the sequel that getting something out of those stories was wrong is completely flabbergasting. It reminded me of Undertale’s message: to let a story speak for itself, and not let it get beaten to death by overthinking it. Instead of leaving it at that, Danganronpa V3 keeps hammering its flimsy message in, essentially saying you’re a bad person for getting invested in the stories and characters the writers themselves came up with.
It’s hard to parse Danganronpa V3. On one hand, the trials are excellent, the mysteries were engrossing, and the music is still on rotation for me as we speak. On the other, multiple characters made me groan in frustration every time the camera shifts to them, and the ending is legitimately one of the worst I’ve ever encountered in fiction. Danganronpa is over, and after that ending, I’m more relieved than anything.