New Danganronpa V3 / ニューダンガンロンパV3


Hoo boy, it's taken me quite a while to finish this game, but... here we are! I played most of the game months ago, and only did the last chapter recently. It's a bit difficult to talk about a game like Danganronpa without going into spoilers, but... I'm going to try my best!

Before discussing New Danganronpa V3, to provide some context for those of you who don't know me... I hate Danganronpa. I think it's a franchise filled with shallow one-note characters, obvious mysteries, and nonsensical stories that are filled with plotholes. This isn't to say I don't enjoy the series; I think finding and picking out all the flaws is fun. But the point is this review isn't coming from someone who's a die-hard fan of the series.

And for those of you who don't even know what Danganronpa is, it's a series about a bunch of teenagers, each of whom is exceptionally talented in a certain area, who are kidnapped and forced to play a death game. The rules of the game are simple: a student is allowed to leave only if they can kill a student and get away with it. Once a murder occurs, the students hold a class trial to determine the killer. If they're right, the killer is punished (= executed), but if they're wrong, everyone but the killer is executed.

NDRV3 follows the same general formula as the previous two games. The game revolves through phases of a visual novel/dating sim, where you can go through mandatory plot events (that usually end up related to the inevitable murder) and interact with a classmate of your choice to learn more about them, an investigation once the murder occurs, and then a class trial to solve the mystery.

On the whole, I'd say the game is a bit better than SDR2, but not a massive step up like SDR2 was from DR1. It also ends up being an entirely different "flavor," which I liked a lot, but which seems to have been quite divisive in the fandom.

Mysteries

The mysteries are just as complicated as in SDR2... which means that you can identify the killer almost immediately and figure out the entire crime from the investigation. So it's admittedly fun figuring out the crime, but it can make the trials feel like a chore, especially when the characters take so long to figure out even basic or obvious things. Here are my condensed thoughts on each chapter:
  • Chapter 1: A serviceable introduction. The basic trick is obvious if you're genre-savvy, but it's still written and executed well, even if it doesn't do anything particularly innovative within this trick.
  • Chapter 2: A fun mystery, but nothing particularly exciting beyond that. Like the other chapters, while solving it can be fun, waiting for the characters to actually figure it out gets a bit boring.
  • Chapter 3: An interesting set-up and theme. Unfortunately, it builds itself up to have the potential to have resulted in one of the interesting situations in the franchise, and then instead turns out to be a massive waste of time.
  • Chapter 4: The most original murder scenario in the game, but relatively simple. Which results in the characters being especially obtuse in noticing and realizing some of the relatively simple elements of the crime.
  • Chapter 5: Easily the most difficult chapter in the game, and results in a really neat situation for the trial. However, it's also the chapter most riddled with plot holes. This chapter tries to wow you by just constantly throwing plot twists at you, but if you stay focused on what's actually going on, it just doesn't make any sense.
  • Chapter 6: The final chapter. The mystery component was functional and did what it needed to do, although maybe it would've been nicer to have something more grandiose for the finale. The rest is more "plot" and should be discussed in that part.
Overall the crimes are fun, but the easy cluing and slow pacing can make actually doing the trials a bit of a chore.

Another issue is that the trials consistently do my pet peeve in mystery games: making you present a theory or answer to a question that you know is wrong. Pretty much every chapter involves the group making a faulty assumption or missing a possibility in the first half of the trial, leading them to conclude that the killer must be innocent, and then correcting their mistake in the second half to find the truth. While this structure might be fun and exciting once, it becomes formulaic when it happens every chapter, and boring to frustrating when you have to sit through hours of pointless debate due to faulty logic that you know is faulty but the game forced you to make.

My final major issue is with the graphics. There are a lot of CGs in this game, but the smaller details aren't consistent from CG to CG. Unfortunately, "smaller" does not mean "insignificant." Sometimes it's even worse, where the detail is consistent among the CGs, but wrong in terms of what it should be for the mystery. It's a major detractor when you can't trust the graphics to give you the information you need, or you make a mistake because of errors in the CGs. Given the number of CGs in the game, I understand that not every detail is perfect in every single CG, but I can't excuse errors in mystery-important details that easily.

Plot

The basic plot is the same as the other Danganronpa games: 16 students find themselves trapped in a school with no memory of how they got there, and are forced by Monokuma to play a killing game.

Since this is now the third game in the franchise, the game spends less time setting up the situation and gets more quickly into the thick of things, which is both a blessing and a curse. It's a blessing because we don't waste time retreading old ground covered by the previous games. But it also causes the characters to adopt to the situation a little too well, and do things that make sense from a meta standpoint but not really as actual people in the situation they are in. For instance, unlike other games, from the very beginning they focus on identifying who the mastermind is in order to end the game. While searching for the mastermind makes sense, the assumption that killing the mastermind will end the game comes out of nowhere. Especially considering Monokuma seems to be acting autonomously, meaning he would be able to continue the game even without the mastermind.

As is usual for the franchise, the main plot then takes a backseat until the later stages of the game. While I obviously can't go into too much detail, the plot seems to be quite divisive among the fanbase and generally disliked... but I actually liked it. Or at least, I didn't think it was nonsensical garbage. This game still falls into the trap of having technology that would completely reshape our society from its foundation if it actually existed just sitting around being used for minor things, but... it doesn't feel quite as prevalent and plot-important as previous games. (It's especially disappointing in this game, however, because when this type of technology first starts showing up the characters react with shock, implying they've never seen or heard of this level of technology before.)

This game takes a new plot direction for the series, but within this "type" of plot, the game isn't particularly innovative or creative. The reason one of the people I've talked to didn't like the plot was not because he didn't think it was bad, but because he only likes this type of plot when it's particularly innovative or well-done. But the plot was fine for me, since the plot did its job of explaining the setting of the killing game, and in Danganronpa that's all the plot is meant to do. In previous games, the overarching plot would be filled with nonsense, and constantly vaguely refer to other events or entities rather than actually explaining things. While the plot is still crazy in this game, it explains pretty much everything in one nice little self-consistent package. This isn't to say every question is answered, but the plot threads are obviously meant to be plot threads, rather than vague references to patch up a shoddy plot. So the overarching plot for NDRV3 is just serviceable... but "just serviceable" is miles ahead of DR1 and SDR2, so I was pleasantly surprised.

Characters

While the plot and mysteries are the most important part of the game for me, as you may have guessed, we now turn to the characters, which I think is the drawing factor for a good chunk of the fanbase. I generally find Danganronpa characters entertaining, but not that deep or interesting, but merely entertaining is good enough. And once again, Danganronpa delivers. This may just be because I just finished the game, but I think I liked this game's cast the best.

First, the students themselves. While something felt off to me about the cast at first, I grew to really like them. There are two main things about the group of students this time. First, it felt like more of the students got more character growth and development compared to the previous games. Second, since the students join together from the beginning, they feel much more cohesive as a group. In the previous games I felt like I mostly got a sense for how each student interacts with the protagonist (and maybe a couple of pairs), while in this game I thought I got a feeling for how the group acts as a whole. I also liked the characters individually for the most part; there was something I liked about pretty much every character by the end. Except Ouma and Iruma. Those two need to die in a fire.

However, as much as I liked the cast, a major flaw in the franchise returns, and that's the lack of effect that FTEs have. It just feels weird becoming best friends with a character in the FTEs, and then having them treat you like trash in the main game. I'm not going to demand or even suggest that your FTE levels have a major branching effect on the plot, but I think that minor (and I do mean minor) dialogue changes when you max a character's FTE would go a long way. For instance, there's one plot-mandatory scene where one of the characters talks about her backstory. However, you can get this information early by completing her FTE. I think it would have been much better if the character had simply added "As I told you the other day" to the start of her story rather than acting like it was the first time we were hearing the information.

Monokuma returns in all his usual glory, and this also game introduces five Monokubs, the children of Monokuma, who help run the game and each have their own unique personality. I actually found them entertaining, and thought they balanced screentime among and between them well. If you don't like them, though, you'll probably find them really annoying, since they consistently interrupt the plot for their shenanigans. Otherwise, it's just Monokuma shenanigans as usual... but with the Monokubs as well.

Finally, the big bad. They were... okay. I think part of it was that DR1's big bad was such an impactful One Scene Wonder, it's hard for the franchise to recreate that. I don't hate NDRV3's big bad like I hear a sizable portion of the franchise does, but I also don't feel like they as great as in DR1. If nothing else, they don't feel like a cop-out like in SDR2, and there will most likely be at least one part of the mastermind in this game that you like.

Gameplay

NDRV3 features some remixes of previous Danganronpa minigames along with some new ones.

Debate: The bread-and-butter minigame. The blue "agreement" statements from SDR2 return, but you can't absorb yellow statements to use as truth bullets anymore. Instead, in accordance with the main theme of the game, you can now use "lie bullets" as well as "truth bullets," in order to tell a lie to advance your side in the argument. During the debates, by pressing and holding triangle, your truth bullets will transform into lie bullets, which have the opposite meaning of the truth bullet, and will be fired upon release. You sometimes must lie to proceed, but there are also a couple of hidden "lie routes" in the game where you can get alternate dialogue by lying instead of using a normal truth bullet. While I don't any problems with the lie bullets in general, I do think they could have been implemented better in a couple of ways.

First, the physical control scheme is a bit awkward. Holding a lie bullet consumes health, and the timing for some of the debates can be tricky, so knowing when you need to start holding down the button can be tough. Second, you can't check lie bullets. While the opposite of "Kaede said she ate the sandwich" might be obvious, the "opposite" of more complex pieces of evidence is not. Third, the lie bullets felt underused. There weren't many debates where you needed to use them, and the game was very obvious about it when you needed to use them. Finally, the secret lie routes were the opposite of what I would have liked. I think it would have been better if the "normal" route involved merely lying to get what you wanted, and the hidden, more difficult route involved needing to prove what you wanted without lying.

Swordplay: This minigame returns from SDR2. I don't think it's changed at all... I think this is still a good representation of 1v1 debates, and there are no obnoxiously difficult ones like in SDR2.

Anagram: In this version, a bunch of circles with letters go through the screen, but you can't see the letters. There will periodically be a "wave" that reveals the letters, but otherwise you can only reveal a portion of the letters with your concentration power. You then merely use the cursor to select the letters to spell out the word. I personally didn't like this incarnation very much, since the anagram tends to be the most difficult game for me, since I'm not playing in my native language. I can choose the right answer from a multiple choice question easy enough, but it's much more difficult to come up with the word they want on my own. Figuring out that word is a lot easier when I can see the letters that make it up, but you can't in this version. I think that this version will be liked by people playing in their native language though.

Driving Game: This time you're driving a car instead of riding a snowboard. You have to drive along a road, avoiding other cars and the sides of the road, while collecting boxes that reveal the letters that form the question you must answer. The road will then split into one lane for each possible answer, and you need to drive into the right one. I liked the obstacle course aspect of the snowboarding version a lot more than the letter-collecting part of this one, but otherwise it's about the same.

Excavation: My least-favorite game. In this game, there is a big grid of different colored blocks. You need to eliminate adjacent blocks of the same color, but each time you eliminate a group of blocks, the blocks adjacent to that group will change color. Destroying the blocks will reveal pictures of multiple objects underneath; you need to fully uncover and select the correct object. While I don't dislike this kind of puzzle per se, I don't like having a time limit on something like this. These segments felt like nothing more than a usual multiple choice question trapped behind a time-crunch.

Panic Debate: This is like a normal debate... except there's three conversations going on at once. Also, sometimes one person will start shouting, drowning out the other two conversations, forcing you to silence them (with the silencer) to fire truth/lie bullets at the other statements. It adds a fun little twist... although it's pretty tough following three conversations in a foreign language at once ~_~

Scrum Debate: My favorite new minigame. In this game, the characters split into two sides based on an issue and debate how to resolve it. Each opponent will have a statement, and each ally will have a rebuttal. You need to match your allies' rebuttals to your opponents' statements based on the keywords of the statements. It's a fun segment conceptually, visually, and aurally, but it's also pretty easy (since in the end it's nothing more than matching) and pretty infrequent.

Rhythm Game: Ugh, this one. In this version, rather than merely pressing on the beat, it's more like a traditional rhythm game, where you need to press X/O/square/triangle at the proper time based on circles that appear. Unfortunately, the timing indicator is not consistent, and the timing recognition is very finicky. Also, if you're just a split second too late it'll recognize it as a miss not for the past beat, but the next beat, which will cause you to become one-off for an entire change until/unless you correct the issue. By the end, these segments just feel like a chore.

Climax: This one is the same as usual. You have to fill in the cells of a comic. There are no fake cells, but some cells may not be unlocked until you've added in a certain number of other cells to the comic.

In sum, the primary minigames are the same as usual, but, with the exception of Scrum Debate, I liked the secondary minigames better in SDR2.

Graphics

The franchise has moved from the PSP to the Vita, with an appropriate increase in graphics... which isn't that big, since this mostly a sprite and text-based adventure game. While the graphics aren't that much better, there are a lot more CGs and video clips than the previous games. My two major complaints are the mystery-relevant details in the CGs, which I discussed earlier, and the fact that the backgrounds might actually be too detailed and interesting. This is a problem because you can't examine that much stuff that isn't plot-relevant, resulting in lots of things that look interesting but that you can't inspect. Another major change is that the game creates a split-screen effect that allows up to three characters to be on-screen at once. Having multiple characters on-screen helps see how the group and individual characters (including the player character!) are participating in and reacting to the events.

Sound

NDRV3's soundtrack is similar to the previous entries, but has a slightly jazzier streak running through. I liked it more than the previous games' soundtracks, but for the most part the individual songs weren't very memorable for me. The voice acting was also fine for me, although I'm not very interested or critical in that sort of thing. (Plus you'll probably be playing the English version with totally different voice actors.) The initial sound quality for the voice acting was so bad that even I noticed, but they patched in a fix, so that point is moot now.

Bottom Line

It's another Danganronpa game. If you like Danganronpa games, get it. And if you don't, don't. I don't think this game will win over anybody who didn't like the first games, and... the ending might be divisive, but fans should like the main part of the game. If you haven't played Danganronpa before and don't know if you'll like it or not, then pick up the first game on Steam; don't start with this one, since it massively spoils the previous games.

Based on the Japanese Vita version.

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