Everything was leading up to this. Danganronpa. Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. The anime Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Even the god-awful, mercifully not re-released for Switch Ultra Despair Girls. It has all lead to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony, the crowning achievement of the series and, quite frankly, one of the best visual novels ever produced.
There’s no avoiding this, so we’ll lead with the fact that V3 is a contentious, challenging game. Some will scoff at the idea of something so avowedly crass having any higher-minded ideas at play, but Danganronpa V3 – more so than any other video game we’ve ever played – is a work of autocriticism, an existential piece of thinking that has its cake and eats it quite gleefully.
And that’s going to infuriate some gamers. We, though, were spellbound. Even if V3 isn’t 100% successful in sticking to its guns – and it isn’t – we still marvelled at the gall of it, the sheer ambition to push and push boundaries not just of taste, but of storytelling. Of the genre. Of video games.
But we digress. At its heart, V3 is more of the same. A new school, new students, another Killing Game. The biggest and best one of the lot, with the best conundrums, the best characters, the biggest twists and the most variety. Everything in V3 has been amped up; the soundtrack is the best one yet, the visuals have been overhauled and the game length is much longer and even more packed with fantastic content to keep you coming back even when you’ve finished the main story.
While the usual exploration, investigation and Free Time are all present, the Class Trials have been hugely revamped and are even more dynamic and complex than ever. The most interesting new mechanic is, well, perjury; now, as well as your Truth Bullets, it's possible to unleash Lie Bullets, contradicting information that you know to be true for the purposes of ultimately furthering your point down the road.
Debate can also break out into carnage, with everyone talking over one another. This is an extension of the usual Truth Bullet gameplay and a smart little wrinkle, forcing you to multitask and choose carefully where to fire your statements. There's also a new feature called Debate Scrum that sees you engaged in a quickfire back-and-forth exchange between students, where you must counter opposing views or challenges with rapidly-selected keywords that trigger a proper rebuttal. It's thrilling stuff and, unlike most of the minigames, it actually works as part of a trial rather than being a somewhat confusing artifice.
Speaking of confusing artifice, the Hangman's Gambit is back yet again but this time it's marginally less crap by virtue of not keeping you waiting around quite so long. You've got to shine a spotlight on the letters this time, so it's more of a matter of checking everywhere than simply sitting and hoping, but it still feels totally extraneous. The second game's Logic Dive has been replaced with Psyche Taxi, which is basically Out Run but with questions. It's fine, if a little overlong. The final major new minigame, Mind Mine, is sort of a cross between Minesweeper and puzzle titles such as Mr. Driller, in that you've got to chip away at a screen of colourful blocks to uncover hidden images in order to further the trial.
The storyline here is extensive at roughly 40 hours, but we never got bored thanks to the sheer imagination at play and just how entertaining and frequently hilarious the characters are. The likes of Miu Iruma and Kokichi Oma are totally unforgettable, the murders are grotesquely inventive, and the story goes places you could never even begin to guess. That sounds like hyperbole, yes, but Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony really is that good, really is that smart. Other than the usual Hangman's Gambit moan, the only real fault we can find with the game is a degree of lag on the system menu, and we'd be amazed if it wasn't removed in a Day One patch.
After beating the game you'll unlock an extensive board game-style new mode that lets you take students from the entire Danganronpa franchise out and level them up to run them through a JRPG-style multi-floor dungeon complete with turn-based fights and items hidden in chests. There's also a shockingly compelling in-game casino to explore and get hideously addicted to — though outside of the slot machine, the games simply offer a different take on those available in the Class Trials.
It's difficult to get across exactly why Danganronpa V3 is so good without spoiling vast swathes of it, so we'll keep it simple. You'll come into the game baffled as to what the writers were thinking with some of these characters, and walk away loving each and every one of them. There isn't a single moment of slack throughout the whole 40-hour playtime, it has the most extensive post-game of any title in the series, and one of the best endings to any game ever made. Go in blind and we promise you'll be in for the ride of your life.