Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony Preview
Killing Harmony is the newest entry from the minds of Spike Chunsoft in their brutal and sadistic Danganronpa video game franchise, a series of visual novels that center around high-school aged kids being trapped inside a school by its self-proclaimed headmaster, a mechanical bear named Monokuma. To escape, only two objectives need to be completed. 1) Kill a fellow student. 2) Don’t get caught.
For those that aren’t familiar with the series, Danganronpa can be best described as a cross between Phoenix Wright-style gameplay with the tone and atmosphere of the Zero Escape trilogy. The last mainline game (Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair) released back in 2014, since then several spin-off games have released that have deviated from the core titles gameplay. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony isn’t only a return to its gameplay roots, but is also the first to launch not just on the PlayStation Vita but also the PlayStation 4, with its North American release date set for late September. And in preparation for the game’s launch, a demo has been made available to the public, which I decided to give a run through.
If you are wary of spoilers, rest assured the demo is its own original chapter and does not contain any actual moments from the full-game.
The demo kicks off with a girl, Kaede Akamatsu, waking up in a rundown classroom. She has no recollection of why she is in a high-school that is seemingly in the process of being overtaken by nature; grass grows through the floor and vines cover the walls. Almost immediately upon waking, Kaede is greeted by the original Danganronpa protagonist, Makoto Naegi, whom informers her of her role as the new protagonist, which confuses her greatly. The demo is chalk full of similar forth wall breaking statements and references to the fact that these events aren’t canonical.
After finding a mysterious letter that tells her to come the school gym, and despite not knowing exactly what being the protagonist details, Kaede takes Makoto’s advice to explore the school first. Like with most virtual novels, when in a room you control a mostly stationary camera in a 2D environment, and can look around and examine, or sometimes even interact with, whatever objects or characters may be in the room. However, when in the school’s halls things change to 3D, allowing you to freely navigate the areas between rooms instead of simply selecting them from a menu.
Kaede soon learns another former protagonist, Hajime Hinata from Danganronpa 2, is also present in the school, along with a new crop of students, whom, like Kaede, have no idea why they are trapped inside this school. As in past games, they all have a unique, special talent and gratifying title to match, along with exaggerated personalities. For example, Kaede herself is the Ultimate Pianist. Notable standouts include Kirumi Tojo the Ultimate Maid, who is a calm and reassuring person that is quick to clean up after her fellow students – the prototypical perfect maid. Kokichi Oma , on the other hand, claims to be Ultimate Supreme Leader and the mastermind of a secret organization, but is also shown to be a sociopathic liar. While Korekiyo Shinguji is the Ultimate Anthropologist, appears to have a somewhat strange fascination with Monokuma’s “game” and might actually be enjoying himself all things considered.
All the new students are colorful and diverse as their previous game counterparts, and several potential story arcs are hinted at in the demo. But some of the characters have a noticeable amount of more depth right out of the box than others. This is worrying, because in past games, except for a few notable examples, it becomes quite clear what characters are going to be sticking around for the long run and who are merely cannon fodder, which takes a thrill out of the entire experience when you know who is destined to die. Korekiyo himself falls under this category, because, despite my immediate interest in him, the only apparent story arc he has going for him is that people think he’s weird while his personality itself sets himself up as an obvious early game victim/perpetrator. Here’s hoping things won’t be as clean cut as all that.
After checking out several of the school’s facilities and speaking with everyone there is to talk to, I guide Kaede to gym where she comes face-to-face with the Headmaster himself, Monokuma. But this time he’s not alone. He is joined by his “children”, five miniaturized versions of himself with distinctive personalities and appearances, whose primary function is to annoy and distract the students while also possibly dropping some clues.
Monokuma is as witty and abrasive as always, and gives Kaede a quick rundown on the rules of his little game; explaining that any time a student is murdered, there will be an investigation period before the start of a trial, where if the guilty party isn’t found and forced to endure the brutally comedic execution Monokuma has planned, they will be free to go. The catch? All the remaining students will then be executed in their place.
Kaede, of course, doesn’t believe anyone will sink low enough to murder their fellow classmates, and heads to the dormitory to check out the bedroom she might be spending a long time in. Once inside her room (which she unexplicitly shares with the two former male protagonists) Kaede learns that the first murder has already occurred. Anyone who has planned the original game will recognize the victim and the obvious similarities to the circumstances of this character’s death.
Since none of the students are forensic scientists, Monokuma supplies them with the cause and time of death of the victim. And because the body was found in their bedroom, Kaede, Makoto, and Hajime are targeted as obvious suspects. The investigation process that follows is handled in linear fashion, as the demo holds your hand in your efforts of speaking to possible witnesses and gathering other evidence.
Once the trial begins, though, the real fun starts. As usual, most of the characters are panicky and rash, willing to pass blame on anyone to get it off themselves. So it is your job to listen, and watch (the character’s dialogue flies across the screen in bold font), as the others debate the murder and surrounding events. When you notice a discrepancy in a character’s statement, you can fire a Truth Bullet, which enables Keade to counter with evidence that disproves said incorrect statement. You will also occasionally have to play a minigame in order to get your point across. Of course, all this is par the course for a Danganronpa game, but the minigames featured in Killing Harmony are brand new; they remain simple yet still entertaining. One new wrinkle to the standard formula is the addition of Lie Bullets, which can be used can used to plant false information and dissuade your classmates when you believe their suspicions are taking the discussion in the wrong direction.
Trials in Danganronpa usually conclude with a vote to determine the guilty party, but the demo ends abruptly before such a vote can occur. Though, nevertheless, the demo had already done a spectacular job of reinvigorating my interest in the series. Before, I was only passingly interested in playing yet another installment, but now I’m all for reenrolling in Danganronpa when V3: Killing Harmony releases on September 26th.