Sixteen students. One school for talented individuals. And one murderous game of death. Danganronpa is back and oh boy is it crazier than ever.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seems to be the header of V3’s design document. Following the same basic premise as the previous two entries (let’s forget spin off Ultra Despair Girls ever happened), it’s another killing game as sixteen amnesiac students find themselves in a school run by robot bear Monokuma and his Monokubs.
A visual novel kind of game mixed in with a bit of Phoenix Wright, it’s an odd one to explain. As the game plays out, students will be killed and it’s up to the surviving classmates to investigate, go to trial and find out who the true culprit is. The twist is if the person who committed the murder gets away with it (the blackened), then everyone dies, but if you figure out the true culprit then he’s the one who dies thanks to Monokuma’s most vicious of executions. It’s a dark tale that has plenty of twists and turns.
Like previous games, V3 relies on how likable its new cast of characters and thankfully I didn’t find any to be truly hateful. Again, each student is an “Ultimate” student, as in, the best of their field. Much like the way Mega Man quickly ran out of boss ideas (Tomahawk Man?), the same is happening here as you are joined by the Ultimate Astronaut, Ultimate Maid and Ultimate Supreme Leader. Okay then.
What may split audiences with this one is some of the dialogue, in particular for the character of Miu, a buxom, loudmouthed anime girl. She’s the kind of character that will, if she hasn’t already, influence an abundance of fanfiction. She’s the Ultimate Inventor so there’s lots of subtle hints at making machines of the sexual nature, she refers to other female students by the C word and lots of other words that I’m not sure I can write here without the Ready Up editor getting mad at me. (glares – Editor) On the upside, the character you control plays it straight, with a number of others calling her out on her nonsense. And I like to think the game is self-aware in what it’s doing, but that could just be me projecting because I like the game quite a lot.
Gameplay wise, apart from reading a lot of text, it’s split between walking around the school in first person, triggering story moments or just hanging with friends (think the social links in the Persona series), and the class trials. The former is how you investigate crime scenes. Once a murder has occurred is goes into investigation mode as you click on items hoping to add it to your evidence. The game does a good job of telling you where to go, never letting you leave an area unless you’ve gathered up everything you need. So it’s very difficult to actually get stuck during these sections. The class trials is where the real challenge begins.
Unlike Phoenix Wright, there’s no stopping these non-stop debates (the hint is in the name). Instead, each comment from specific classmates comes thick and fast, so you have to be quick on your toes to present the piece of evidence at the specific statement. Especially because there’s a time limit. The evidence being in the form of truth bullets which have to be fired at each comment to trigger the next section of the trial. Get it wrong and you lose health.
That’s just the first mechanic you learn – the game continues to throw different gameplay elements into the mix. There’s Hangman’s Gambit where you need to select words to form a sentence; Psyche Taxi which is a driving mini game; a Minesweeper-type clone where you need to unearth pieces of evidence and much more. It’s a little overwhelming with the majority of the first case taken up by tutorials, but it soon becomes second nature.
V3 is a wild ride from start to finish. It certainly goes places in the final couple of acts and because of my affection for certain characters it became a worry that not all of them would make it through to the end. I’m not sure if a ‘more of the same’ approach will work if they decide to continue with the series, because just piling on different elements into the trial won’t cut it in a fourth entry. That aside, I will still wait to see what the Danganronpa team create next.