"Don't believe in yourself! Believe in me! Believe in me who believes in you!!"
I just realized this third entry in the Danganronpa series took ages to release. For people playing the English releases, the wait has not been that long, but for people who play the original Japanese releases, it's been a wait of almost 5 years since the last game...
New Danganronpa V3 is the third installment in the Danganronpa series developed by Spike-Chunsoft. The psychodelic presentation and the script filled with pop culture references of the original Danganronpa (2010) gave the quirky courtroom mystery game about a group of sixteen Ultimate high school students of Hope's Peak Academy forced to kill each other a unique vibe and it became a surprisingly big hit. Danganronpa was followed by Super Danganronpa 2 in 2012, where a new group of sixteen students were forced to participate in the mutal killing game, while the fictional universe was explored in spin-off games and novel series like Danganronpa/Zero and Danganronpa Kirigiri. The 2016 TV series Danganronpa 3 formed the end of the storyline that started with the first game.
The 2017 videogame New Danganronpa V3 on the other hand is, as the title suggests, a new start for the series, moving away from the previous storylines and introducing us to a brand new cast and setting. It's actually something only a game series can pull off, now I think about it. Even with a new cast and setting, the player will without a doubt recognize V3 as part of Danganronpa series, because the framework is still the same: it's still a mystery game, the game mechanics are mostly the same as previous games, the art and writing style is the same and there's even plenty of reused music. Only the contents (story) is different. It is nonetheless a different game, even it is also clearly Danganronpa. It's something you can't do effectively with a book for example, as there is no true iconic 'framework' in which to present a novel (save for book design/cover, but that can only convey the 'series' feeling in a limited manner, in my opinion).
Anyway, New Danganronpa V3 is supposed to be a sort of soft 'reset' of the Danganronpa franchise, but at the core nothing has changed. Once again the player is presented with a closed circle situation with sixteen students, with them having to solve the murders they commit among themselves in a courtroom setting, whilst also trying to figure out why they are being held captured at the school by Monokuma. Between the murders, you'll wander around the school (in a 3D map) to solve some simple puzzles, but also spend quite some time nurturing friendships with your fellow students. And yes, it really sucks when a student you befriended is killed in the next chapter, or turns out to be the murderer, though that is what makes Danganronpa what it is: you never know who might turn out to be the murderer, and the person who is always cheering you up might actually also be busy planning an elaborate murder plan to escape from the school. This closed circle atmosphere, where you never know who might get killed and who might kill, is something you can't really find in other (passive) mediums like novels and one of the things that make Danganronpa such an unique experience.
As always, the plot can be roughly split in two: the overall story, about why the sixteen students are being held at the Gifted Prisoners Academy, and the seperate murders that happen among the students (in essence a connected short story collection). The individual cases in New Danganronpa V3 were quite enjoyable. As always, they're all impossible crimes (usually a locked room mystery). While in terms of difficulty, I'd say they're just slightly more complex than the (too simple) ones from the first game, the murder plots in V3 were more innovative and original, and therefore fun, even if it was often easy to deduce what had happened even before the class trials started. Apparently mystery writer Kitayama Takekuni (who also writes the Danganronpa Kirigiri spinoff novels) cooperated on the mystery plots for this game. Kitayama is known as a master of impossible situations with a physical trick behind them and you and you can definitely sense his hand in some of the cases. Some of the cases also make fantastic use of the rules and tropes of Danganronpa's unique fictional universe and even the videogame medium itself. These murder cases are really only possible in this game and nowhere else, and thus offer some truly unique ideas. The fourth episode for example features an original setting for a murder plot, somewhat reminiscent of Komori Kentarou's Lowell-jou no Misshitsu. The seperate cases here show that a mystery plot does not need to be utterly complex to be amusing and rewarding. The overall storyline though has, as always, its share of problems. The overall idea behind the SURPRISE (it's never really a surprise) finale is okay (in a Kyomu he no Kumotsu manner), but the execution is longwinded, boring and simultaneously too ambitious and lazy. It's quite a disappointment in comparison with the smaller cases. The parts of V3 are better than the whole.
New Danganronpa V3 is a surprisingly difficult game to explain. At times, it feels like nothing but a somewhat uninspired remake of the first game, and with some game mechanics changed for the worse and (once again) a somewhat chaotic ending, it's easy to look at V3 as a very large step backwards compared to Super Danganronpa 2 or even the original game. Yet if you look at the seperate cases and the things they do there, I have to say I really enjoyed those cases. V3 really has some of the most interesting cases of the whole franchise (from a mystery-plot point of view). So yeah, I'm quite torn by this game. Perfect, it is certainly not and on the whole, it isn't a step forward for the series either. But there are some brilliant moments in here that do make this game worth the time if you're a fan of the series. The game will be released for English markets later in 2017 with the title Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony.
Original Japanese title(s): 『ニューダンガンロンパV3』