16 Thoughts for 16 Ultimates: Emma Plays Danganronpa V3 (Pt 2)

Okay, so when I said there’s spoilers in the last post, that was true. It is also true that there are Spoilers in this post. SPOILERS WITH A CAPITAL S AND A CAPITAL EVERYTHING ELSE TOO. This will discuss EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING. ALL OF IT. Okay? So if you at least want to save parts of the endgame for yourself, run away. RUN KIRUMI.

Oof, too soon for myself.

Here’s some cute, happy fan art to lead us into drama sad times.

9. Kaito & Maki


Listen. I know I already talked about Kaito’s execution in the previous post, but that whole section was just a moment. Some people might say it was cheesy, but it was the right kind of cheesy. The cheesy that feels earned. I’m pretty much a sucker for cheesy. If you hadn’t figured out that Maki liked Kaito by this scene, you’re terrible with subtext. And just text too. It was a relationship that grew with every step the story took. 

Besides, who wouldn’t like Kaito? We should all aspire to be a little more like Kaibro Bromata. He’s a bit arrogant, and he’s hypocritical about relying on friends (come on, part of that is Shuichi being a terrible friend in the first place), but he’s just so inspirational.

Fanart is great

And so, I had to pause the game for a bit during that part where Tsumugi tells Maki her feelings are fake in the last class trial. Pausing the game was a bit of a theme for me. “Everything has a writing credit.” It’s an obvious statement; it’s a fictional game with fictional people, and there’s that default warning as the game boots up. But something about getting that shoved in your face is painful. It was similar to the feeling I got when I read The Things They Carried for the first time. We’ll talk a little more about this later, because this ending really knows how to make you feel betrayed.

But that’s the point. Because the realization by the end is that her feelings do matter and are, in some sense, real. Certainly for her, in the context of the game. But even for us, the player, outside of it. Art, to paraphrase Picasso, is all about convincing your audience about the truthfulness of your lies. And damn, was I convinced. This connects to the overall message, however, so we’ll leave it there for now.

But listen, if you don’t think Kaito is best boy, you’re wrong. Partial credit if you pick Gonta instead, though. That is an acceptable answer.

10. Kokichi

Love ’em or hate ’em, nobody can do a complicated anti-hero (actually not sure that’s the right thing to call them) like Danganronpa.

And the embodiment of a giant tool

Did you think Byakuya was kind of messed up in the first game for screwing with a crime scene for his own curiosity? You don’t even know messed up. Although,  I do think Kokichi is actually more normal than Nagito from the second game. They took a step back. How do you make someone crazier than Nagito? Not possible.

You’ve got to give Kokichi props- he thought really far ahead. Even before he discovered “the secret of the outside world,” he was already starting his plot to “end the killing game,” in his own crazy way. The fact that he gave Kaito a whole script to recite during the trial where he was pretending to be Kokichi is just like…insane. Just imagine Kaito frantically paging through the thing while in the Exisal, trying to find the right words- which he was definitely doing, because he couldn’t find anything about hope or despair or Junko, since Kokichi didn’t know that stuff. Kokichi was definitely a meticulous SOB.

Although, if he knew the whole game was a show, which I think he did, why didn’t he just tell everybody? Oh yeah, because he’s crazy. I guess they wouldn’t have believed him anyway because he’s crazy.

I’m still unclear on whether that keycard motive was to the door in the library where all of Tsumugi’s stuff was hidden including the secret behind Rantaro’s murder. If it was, why would they make that a motive? Isn’t that kind of risky? Why would they want anyone to find out that so early? I guess they anticipated Kokichi snatching it for himself and taking the initiative to turn himself into the antagonist. I do doubt that they thought he would try to break the game using his own murder though. I dunno. I guess that’s kind of the point. 

Okay I’m just looking for any excuse to insert cute happy fanart because this post is bumming me out, YOU GOT ME SORRY

It’s up to your interpretation whether Kokichi was doing this for what he saw as the benefit of others, or if he was just doing it for himself and his own pride. Personally, I think the latter. I don’t have much sympathy for him outside of the fact that yes, getting crushed by a hydraulic press would suck (although I’m not sure he beat Nagito on the whole suckiness level in terms of comparing their suicides via murder. At least the press seemed to go fast). He wanted to end the killing game only so he could beat it. He wanted to come out the ultimate winner. If it saved everybody, that’s just a side-effect. 

But hey, committing a murder that even Monokuma didn’t know the answer to was definitely the most ambitious move of any character in these games, and he was a lot of fun until Chapter 4. I think his fake death in Chapter 3 was one of the best moments of the whole game. Plus, he definitely was blessed with some of the very best sprites ever created for Danganronpa. So, there’s something for him. Be appeased Oma fans.

11. But That’s Kayayday’s Lie, Isn’t It?

I think a lot of people expected this to be the main trio

I mentioned this twist in the last post, but let’s dive deeper into it here. Kaede, the first protagonist, was not the culprit of the first murder, despite being convicted for it.

I was flabbergasted by this. I was one of very few people who I think caught on to Kaede being the killer before it was time to decide. I became certain once I saw the flash on in the photos of poor Rantaro. I was so blown away by that that I didn’t pay attention to any of the competing clues. To be fair, neither did Kaede.

It’s an incredibly cruel and incredibly cool plot twist, which also provides a wonderful lead-up to the second revelation of the last class trial- Kaede was not the culprit she seemed to be. But Kaede was also not what she seemed to be- a good person.

Tsumugi shows the remaining characters what Shuichi, Kaede, and Kaito were really like by showcasing their audition tapes for Danganronpa. Shuichi really wants to be a blackened, Kaede has no faith in humanity, Kaito’s pursuing fame and fortune with bloodthirsty abandon. All the people who they (and me, the player) had come to know and care about over the journey weren’t who they thought they were. Apparently. I’m not sure it’s totally true.

I don’t really believe that the participants of the 53rd season of Danganronpa volunteered to be there. In the prologue before their memories are wiped, Kaede remembers being kidnapped and shoved into a car. If she’d been such a huge fan of Danganronpa, and if she’d auditioned for it, I would think she would know what was happening from the minute the car pulled up next to her. Instead, everyone seems panicked and confused (with the exception of Rantaro, of course, who mostly seems weirded out by the Monokubs’ weirdness). Even if it is a wildly popular reality show, (and that’s a big if based on the open-endedness of…the ending), the original versions of the

Kaito probably still had a gambling problem

participants were actually normal high school kids., not the bloodthirsty psychos their audition tapes made them out to be. That’s how I read it. So maybe it was the tapes that were faked.

Even with false memories, perhaps the participants didn’t change that much from the start (although Kokichi seemed nicer). How much can you overwrite a person with another, anyway? Is it even possible to do that or does the core of a person remain the same? That’s a theoretical philosophical question that I don’t think I can answer.

What’s important is that this final case plays with trust a lot. I think the final interpretation is left up the player. What matters is what you want to believe. Honestly,  Kaito was just the theme machine of this game. All his quotes are ending up in this blog post.

12. When Mean Difficulty Gets Mean

I played this game on Mean, the hardest setting, in both the logic and action categories. One essentially asks you more questions while the other makes the mini-games harder. I had some trouble with logic sometimes (when they gave me two Truth Bullets that I thought meant the same thing or when I was doing Hangman’s Gambit or when I was just brain-farting), but the action was pretty easy. Until the final trial. My god.

First off, there’s a Mass Panic Debate where several people are talking at the same time, and you have to shoot all the Despair with Hope (it’s symbolic). While it’s virtually impossible to fail since you get tons of time back from shooting the White Noise and Loud Voice Dialogue (which get in the way of Truth Bullet shots), you do have to shoot every single one on one run through before you can progress. I had to run through it, I swear, twenty times before I got it. I had unfortunately taken off some of the skills that would have been useful, and I had to rely on my abilities alone, which were apparently not great. But that was nothing compared to the last Argument Armament rhythm game. I wish I had video of my epic fail to share with you, but unfortunately I didn’t record since it was pretty late at night and my recorder doesn’t pick up sound when I’m wearing my headphones.

To give you a sense, here’s a much better gamer than me doing it. Just imagine my health slowly dwindling to essentially one more hit to go before I finally beat it. And I definitely never hit that many in a row. And I messed up the third “final” blow once. So yeah, I was a big mess. I was literally shaking by the end of it. 

It was terrifying and sent my adrenaline through the roof, exactly what the characters are feeling in that moment. The difficulty spike definitely enhanced the experience  for me; I always love it when mechanics help carry the story. Of course that battle should be overwhelming; it’s one against several billion. After you’ve won, Shuichi’s final scream at the end feels earned.

13. Should I Have Seen This Coming?

Shhh, the plot is a secret

In hindsight, Spike Chunsoft ran a very dishonest marketing campaign for this game. Those sneaky little buggers. In fact, only a few pieces of promotional art seem to be at all honest about the actual ‘main’ characters of the game. Coincidentally, this one featuring Keebo, Kaito, and Maki was also, I believe, the first promotional art to be released. The first (or at least one of the first) trailer also featured the three of them. A lot of people thought Keebo was going to be the protagonist (the piece of hair sticking up- ahoge- is often shorthand for ‘protagonist’ in anime and particularly Danganronpa) until Kaede was suddenly introduced. Nobody thought it would actually be Shuichi (well, I’m sure somebody out there did, but not me).

Believe it or not, Keebo did end up being the protagonist in a sense, since he was the viewpoint of the in-game TV audience. So…sneaky little buggers. Also, imagine seeing some of those things through Keebo’s eyes. Kokichi chasing him…getting thrown into the water tank…Insect Meet and Greet…the Miu stuff…the in-game audience must have had an extremely weird experience.

Of course, that’s not the only wool they pulled over our eyes. Danganronpa has always been very meta, and this one sticks to tradition. I particularly love the second Monokuma Theatre, a little segment that always shows while your protagonist is asleep. Monokuma states that they’ve run out of material since the show has gone on so long. And then asks what season they’re on. Which is hilarious once you realize that the title itself has been lying to you.

Danganronpa V3 is a really weird name. Apparently the V was said to stand for “Victory,” although I don’t know if/when an official statement to that fact was made. But, I mean, Japanese games use weird numbering sometimes, and they want to indicate it’s the third game, but not the third installment, and they’re doing a soft reboot according to Kodaka, moving away from the original cast and…NOPE IT’S FREAKING 53. THEY’RE ON SEASON 53. WE’RE SO STUPID.

Hey, the theme this time was “truth and lies” rather than “hope and despair.” They were definitely on theme.

14. Use Our Lives

In the first trial, a visual shorthand for switching protagonists is established. Because of that, I knew instantly what was going on in the final trial. We switched protagonists between all four remaining characters, allowing them to make their own decision about their lives. For people whose every move have been dictated by writers and false memories, it’s important for them to make the decision to die on their own (ignoring the fact that it’s actually me the player).

This ending wouldn’t have been nearly so impactful if everyone jumped on board because Shuichi said so. That’s just letting someone dictate their lives again. After that decision is made by all four characters, the game forces you to sit there and do nothing for awhile, which is a seriously ballsy move on their part. People playing a game want to play a game.. But the point is, they’ve all decided to give up their lives. After that decision has been made, there’s really nothing else to do about it. Until, of course, Keebo gets hijacked, but even that eventually circles back around and you watch the clock tick down to the death of all the remaining characters.

I’m always really impressed when a game lets the mechanics enhance the story. This final trial is a masterclass on hoe to do that, in small but very effective ways.

15. The Message

This ending is highly divisive. And I think it’s reasonably divisive. I understand both sides of the argument, because I think it depends on how you end up reading the ending whether you can call it good or bad.

If you read it as a sort of Spec Ops: The Line copycat, then yeah, this ending is stupid. The shooter genre was (and still is) so widespread and popular that a critique and deconstruction like Spec Ops: The Line was highly relevant and necessary at the time of its release. The Danganronpa formula pretty much only exists in Danganronpa. I guess you could say it’s aiming more broadly towards our enjoyment of young people hurting each other in a fictional context as a whole (like the shows on the CW or other genres of games), but I think it fails to put that across.

It’s a false equivalence. I don’t think it’s so far out of the question that an extremely peaceful world as Tsumugi calls the in-game outside world would need a game show like Danganronpa to satisfy the natural violent urges of humanity. But the different between that world and our real world is that the actors don’t really kill each other in character. We are not a place that would enjoy watching teenagers were actually killing each other, ‘fake’ personalities or not. We have enough real violence without a killing reality show. I could ramble about fantasy-reality distinctions, but it comes down to this: most of us are okay with watching fictional characters kill each other because they are decidedly fictional and we can understand the difference between that and real people killing each other. The in-game world has somehow lost the ability to make that distinction, which isn’t helped by the show of Danganronpa blurring those together. But in our world, of course that wouldn’t be allowed to happen. I hope, at least.

So it fails as an ending if you’re reading it through that interpretation. However, I think it fails in this interpretation because this was NOT the intended interpretation. If it had been, I think Kodaka would not have left so many opportunities for Tsumugi’s explanation to be at least partly a lie.

Okay, now for some intense wall climbing

Kodaka’s a very smart guy. You can find a lot of ridiculous nonsense in Danganronpa, but it’s internally consistent. Yeah, Nagito’s luck in the second game is not a reasonable thing that could exist in our reality, but it works the same way throughout the game. In a trial by trial basis, the story always manages to account for everything, even things you might find just plain nitpicky, and confused questions that I ask myself at certain points are usually answered just a few lines later.

So if he wanted the message to be “you’re an awful person for enjoying Danganronpa,” he wouldn’t have had Tsumugi mention her plan being a copy, he wouldn’t have had the odd contradiction of the cospox (in that, she’s either lying about having it, or she considers Kaede to be a real person), and he would have left everybody dead at the end. Sure, I think he takes the opportunity to make fun of fan culture and the Internet as a whole, and I can see how some people could be offended by that. But he’s not saying that you’re some kind of monster for playing this game.

By the way, cospox is a real thing??? That’s so crazy.

Rather, I think he’s trying to say, “you should never approach a work of fiction if you’re not willing to be invested in it and be changed by it.” As someone who bought this game for stress-relief purposes only, it’s this message that really hit me hard. I really believe in the power of stories- lies, in a sense- and their ability to reveal truths about ourselves and the world. And I think that’s what the ending is trying to say; Shuichi even literally says it out loud. “Fiction has the power to change reality.”

Just to illustrate the power of fiction, I had to pause the game for a second when Tsumugi, cosplaying as Chiaki from the second game, calls the line “if you just do it, it’ll all work out” a form of autosuggestion. Just sorta like dropped that there and left it.

If you’ve played the second game, that line is so intensely powerful. It’s a beautiful plea to keep moving forward and try to craft a future that will be best for everyone. And so when it’s pointed out so bluntly that it’s nothing but a line designed and written and edited to make you feel that way, you feel betrayed, however irrationally. It was similar, as I believe I said last time, to the feeling I got reading The Things They Carried. When we get wrapped up in fiction, we don’t really think about the fact that it’s fiction. We’re living vicariously in this world and so everything happening in the world feels authentic and true. And we ought to feel that way. We ought to let it influence us. We ought to be moved. And sometimes fiction does that far better than reality can.

“I made a promise to Kaede”

Whether you agree or disagree with that message is totally up to you. Clearly, I buy into it. But either way this interpretation makes the ending far more interesting than the “you suck, f you,” interpretation. Even the worst stories, the silliest stories, the most poorly written stories have the ability to change us in some way. You should never approach a story, at least the first time, in a detached, clinical manner. You have to let it connect with you and you have to let it move you. The same goes for when you’re creating a story. You have to be aware of what your story is saying and doing. Tsumugi’s mistake is viewing her story as just mindless entertainment. So she makes fun of the characters for being changed by the ‘fake’ people around them and, in that manner, makes fun of the player for being moved by the character arcs and events that led to this point. But, what Shuichi’s rebuttal says is: “it’s okay that you were moved, it’s okay that you cared, it’s okay that you were frustrated, it’s okay that you were inspired.” The only thing that’s wrong is getting absolutely nothing but some time wasted from it.

So, it doesn’t de-legitimize everything that happened in the story, as I think some people read it. Instead, it firmly legitimizes it. And that’s why, I think, in the end, I can say that I really loved the ending, as controversial as it may be.

16. And Then…

I think Kodaka has said that he wants to explore other projects recently. Honestly, I think that’s a good idea. I don’t know how Danganronpa could possibly continue from this point. Although there was a teaser for Ultra Despair Girls 2 in the game so…although that’s a whole other beast. And I’d actually be really curious to see what other crazy ideas this man can come up with. No matter your feelings on the series, you can’t say it isn’t creative.

This game does not break into my top 10 list. There are too many flaws to make it- most of Chapter 3 (yes, she killed herself by stabbing herself in the back of the neck with a sickle CAUSE THAT MAKES SENSE, come on people), the issues I had with Miu, some painfully average voice work from Shuichi’s VA, the Mind Mine minigame, my personal issues with changing from a female to male protagonist, and some other smaller things. But it has stuck with me, even a few weeks after finishing it. I can’t stop thinking about the ending and everything that led up to it. So that definitely says something about it.

If it does continue (and I’d love to see Final Danganronpa or Shin Danganronpa, those season names were so ridiculous), I think that this ending will have driven away some fans. The last Argument Armament is literally just poking fun at the way fans think and talk, and some people might be understandably offended. I didn’t think it was meant maliciously, but it’s reasonable to take it that way.

I’ll be a little sad to see it go. It’ll be awhile before we would hear anything if they’re planning another anyway though. But it’s definitely a different kind of beast from a lot of games out there. And for that reason alone, I’m glad I picked this series up, and I think I’m okay saying you should give it a try too.

“Just keep moving your body and your pain will become memories before you know it.”

That’s it for my thoughts on Danganronpa V3. Honestly I didn’t even touch on everything there is to talk about. Leave a comment with your thoughts and feelings if you feel like I missed something. I know I didn’t even talk much about Himiko’s story arc or Gonta’s or the horror that was Ryoma’s motive video or even about that ridiculous timed investigation that I totally failed to do the first time through. God this game had a lot.

Wanna relive the experience and/or just live it for the first time? Why? WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT? No, but actually, here’s a fan video that’s too awesome not to share.

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