16 Thoughts for 16 Ultimates: Emma Plays Danganronpa V3 (Pt. 1)

I’m gonna put right at the top here that there’s gonna be spoilers in this blog post. All the spoilers. Every spoiler. That being said, you should only continue reading after the break if:

A. You’re not planning on playing Danganronpa V3

B. You’ve already played Danganronpa V3

C. You don’t mind being spoiled (there are actually studies out there that show people enjoy spoiled media more than unspoiled media: even mystery stories! Weird, right?)

For anyone who’s thinking about picking it up, here’s a quick spoiler-free review: this is definitely not for everyone. All the Danganronpa games require that you are willing to buy into the absurdity. If you can’t buy into the absurdity, you’ll be so distracted by it that you won’t be able to see any of the good things that the absurdity allows. Danganronpa only works if you get attached to the characters. If you tend not to do that, then you won’t enjoy this game.

Also, it’s cool and uncool at the same time that Danganronpa characters tend to act like real people. So, during the trials, sometimes they won’t follow your logic as easily as you think they should. They’ll get stuck on small details. They’ll challenge you more than you feel is necessary. That’s just how any normal human would act in this situation (in my opinion), but it can be frustrating for some people.

This is also, I think, the most graphic, coarse, and disturbing Danganronpa game (with the possible exception of Ultra Despair Girls which is a whole other issue) and that’s saying a lot for this series. I think the brutality ends up being important to the game, while the coarseness does not. I’m using “coarseness” in reference to the sexual themes and language and the amount of swearing. I’ll go into that later. If you’re easily disturbed (or offended, but mostly disturbed) then this is not a game for you.

Overall though, I really am glad I played it. Kodaka really upped his ante. I have absolutely no idea how this series will continue from here or if it even will.

Anyway, here’s the break. Turn back if you don’t want spoilers!

1. Detective Emma Did Not Predict Very Well


In hindsight, I probably should have realized that he was way too suspicious to actually be suspicious. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. He was still suspicious, but not in a sinister way. The poor guy was just trying to help us get out of the killing game The poor guy had already been in a killing game. We know nothing about how his previous killing game played out, only that he was sacrificed in the end. Did he volunteer or did his fellow classmates vote for him? What was his fake talent during that killing game, I wonder? Regardless, this guy got a really awful deal.

Poor big bro avocado

That being said, I was totally right not to trust Korekiyo. Man, that trial was stupid. 

And I was right about Gonta! Kinda! I mean, he ended up killing someone, but only because Kokichi is an awful horrible slimy stupid child. POOR GONTA, YOU WERE THE BEST OF US. You know what, I’ll get to this in Part 2 of this blog post, but I don’t care what Kokichi was trying to do, that took it too far. Everybody out there saying, “Kokichi did nothing wrong,” YES HE DID. THIS WAS WRONG. SO WRONG.

Also, I said that I didn’t get much of an impression of Tsumugi. Oh Detective Emma. You foolish child. That was the point, you foolish child.

And I was basically wrong about everyone else. There ya go.

2. The Protagonist Swap

Oh, silly Kaede, no you’re not.

This was the first AND the penultimate twist of the game. One, that the protagonist, the person the player had been controlling, killed someone. Two, that she actually didn’t. Both are brilliant, in my opinion.

Most of the Chapter 6 stuff is going to be saved for Part 2 of this blog, but there’s so much attention to detail in this double twist. It’s so shocking as evidence piles up against Kaede and that feeling of horrified certainty gets you distracted away from the evidence that doesn’t fit. I remember thinking it was weird that Rantaro’s hand was so bloody, and thinking it was weird that he was holding his Monopad, but I DIDN’T connect how Monopad wasn’t bloody despite the hand holding it being bloody. I didn’t even consider that the secret room had a second entrance. SO DUMB in hindsight.

See, look at this adorable gender swap

Now, I’m not gonna say I was totally happy with the swap idea, but I stopped to ask myself if it would have bothered me if Shuichi had been a girl and Kaede had been a boy. I don’t think it would have- so that means the issue isn’t with the storytelling itself  but rather that I just would have liked a female protagonist. I think that’s still a valid critique. I almost think that would have added to the surprise. Who would think there was a secret female protagonist? Not in my Danganronpa.

At the end of the day though, Kaede’s character unfortunately wouldn’t have lent itself to a good story. Kaede had nowhere to go but down. The killing game would have broken her apart. Shuichi, however, had nowhere to go but up. One story is far more compelling than the other. Which makes double sense when you consider the ending revelation that this is a TV show in-universe (even if they’re following Keebo which is another clever choice since everybody thought he was going to be the protagonist based on early marketing). Of course they want the underdog character arc. Classic tragedy has a place in this game (see Kaito), but a tragic protagonist wouldn’t have worked for this particular story.

The swap also established the way to know when protagonists are being swapped, which let the game do that awesome sequence at the end. We’ll get to that in Part 2.

3. Panic Attack: The Song and Pure Evil: The Sprite

What I’ve always admired about anime-style games is how they’re able to get you to feel the emotions, even when, objectively, you shouldn’t be. Take the Kingdom Hearts series, for example. Even when the acting is lacking or the script struggles, the music and the character animations can get you all the way to near tears. It’s the same in Danganronpa V3, only the sprite and music work goes a long way towards making you feel huge amounts of anxiety too.

I can count on one hand the number of games that have actually made me tear up. The Walking Dead: Season One, Ending D of NieR: Automata, and now Danganronpa V3. They nearly got me with Clair de Lune after the first chapter, but it was Maki and Kaito’s sprites at the end of Chapter 5 that pushed me over that tipping point. The character design in Danganronpa is always awesome, but it’s particularly good in this one. Some of the sprites are just visceral.

This isn’t even touching on some of Shuichi’s sprites and many of Kokichi’s (and Gonta’s- oh man, how did Chapter 4 not get me to cry?). There’s just some damn fine character artwork in this game and it really helps sell the story.

And, going back to the music, Chapter 1 definitely sticks out as using it the best. There’s the Clair de Lune at the end, obviously, and if you’re not touched by that scene, there’s something wrong with you. But it’s the lead up to Rantaro’s murder that really sticks with me. I wasn’t aware a song could be composed out of pure anxiety until now. I seriously felt like I was going to have panic attack, especially when the receiver went off.

Just, bravo on that one Team Danganronpa. Both Team Danganronpas? But mostly the real one.

That’s not to say that the voice acting isn’t top-notch either. Derek Stephen Prince is amazing as Kokichi (he also voiced Fuyuhiko from DR2 and was also great there) and Gonta, Kaito, Himiko, Keebo, and Kirumi’s VAs also really stood out. But not every scene is entirely voice acted, meaning that the sprites and music are left to do the work. And they definitely do it well.

4. Why Am I Hitting People With My Car?

I think most of the changes to the trial gameplay are great. The lie mechanic is neat, especially how you can get little bonus scenes from lying in certain places, Mass Panic Debates are a fun kind of chaos, and Debate Scrums (despite the weird name- what is a “scrum?”) are super satisfying and/or satisfyingly not satisfying as in Chapter 4. I like the way they edited the one-on-one Rebuttal Showdowns and the rhythm-based final takedown- now called Argument Armament. Side note, the last Argument Armament in Chapter 6 is SO DAMN HARD. I had full health at the start and less than a heart by the end. The new format for the Closing Argument works well too; it’s much easier to navigate. All the debate-style mechanics are really, really good.

“nO, tHaT’s WrOnG!”

The mini-games are…sigh.

The mini-games have always been the weakest part of the series for me. They’re just so WEIRD. V3 has three of them: Psyche Taxi, Hangman’s Gambit V3, and Imagination Excavation.

We’ll start with Hangman’s Gambit since it’s been around the longest. I honestly don’t remember how it worked in the first game, but I have an issue with the fact that getting one letter wrong makes you lose an entire heart. That’s like, my main complaint. Especially since some of the answers you’re expected to give aren’t clear. Like, what the heck even is a ropeway? I know now, I guess, but I nearly got a game over from learning it. I don’t mind the way they changed it up, but I wish that you didn’t basically have to know the answer from the start to not die doing it.

Next, Psyche Taxi. It’s basically Logic Dive from the second game only with letter cubes and…escorts? It’s fine. The music is catchy. It’s just kinda silly. 

And then Imagination Excavation/Mind Mine. Which, stupid. This one is dumb. It’s like Minesweeper. Best advice I can give you: get the skill that eliminates the time penalty and just get through it. 

Basically, my thoughts on the mini-games: eh. Could have left them. They don’t have a huge negative impact. Whatever. I always imagine all the other characters staring intensely at Shuichi as he just stands there, muttering to himself, or making little steering wheel motions with his hands. 


Wittle Monokuma goes to school

Damn this game had more budget than the last two, jeez. The technical quality is just amped up by a billion from Goodbye Despair. And clearly, whatever engine they’re using must be able to handle more. The sprites are higher quality so that they don’t blur when you zoom in, there’s tons of 3D animation, tons of artwork, you can actually see the protagonist on the screen during conversations, the list goes on and on.

I don’t actually have much else to say about this. I’m just appreciating a Danganronpa with an actual budget. And yet, they still keep their typos galore. Would it be a Danganronpa game without typos? Nope. Can’t have a Danganronpa without typos.

6. Brutal Fatalities

With the exception of the third execution (which was the weakest part of the game anyway), the executions in this game are completely and utterly horrifying. Usually, as awful as this is to say, the executions are kind of funny. Mondo gets turned into butter in the first game! Teruteru is deep-fried in a volcano in the second! There are some that are dramatic and moving, but they’re also kind, if that’s the right word. With the possible exception of Leon’s, there’s never much gruesome lead-up to the death. These executions are not so considerate, especially the first two. 

They do serve a purpose though. Kaede’s execution heightens the feeling of unfairness. Kirumi’s the futility of escape. Gonta’s just makes you feel horrible. These feelings play in to the following chapter’s story. And the edge is taken off a bit by the weird deaths of the Monokubs that happen at the same time.

God, just…man, I have no witty comments for this

But also, by casting a light on that manic glee that Monokuma (and through him, the mastermind, and through her, the audience) gets from these bloody, mean executions, Kaito’s death is all the more important.

V3 is a slow build. Everything that happens near the beginning works on its own, but it’s also setting the stage for the end, from the first murder on. The fact that Kaito manages to make himself somehow die from his illness before his execution is finished is tragic and horrible, but it’s also triumphant. As he said, he refused to die how Monokuma wanted him to.

“He certainly went out like a stubborn jackass”

Even with the revelation at the end that his illness was implanted to be part of his character arc (again, we’ll talk about the ending in Part 2), I don’t think that’s how the in-game show wanted his death to go. People love a good Punishment Time! Sure, it probably ended up working fine for them, but, for that one moment, Kaito threw a wrench in their script. Or at least, that’s the way I want to think of it.

The crash of the spaceship after the failed execution knocks the antenna off Keebo too. And that lets the conclusion happen. Even in death, Kaito makes the impossible possible. Godspeed, Luminary of the Stars.

7. Language

Okay, here’s the biggest complaint I have against the game. At some point, Miu just gets to be too much. And Kokichi’s ‘conversations’ with Miu in particular.

I’m not really against fanservice in games. Or against foul-mouthed promiscuous female characters. Or against dirty jokes being used for comic relief. I prefer when all these things have a point and add to the story, but I’m even okay with some games not having a reason besides, “people want fanservice.” The issue is that this game just gets really nasty about it. The mean way and the gross way all in one.

Behold, the kindest thing Kokichi ever said to Miu

I sort of get what they’re trying to do. They’re trying to show that Miu is unraveling more and more, and Kokichi’s likely pushing her on purpose to build up his mastermind mask of eeeeevil. And it does play into her reason for trying to kill him in particular during Chapter 4. I still find it unnecessary. I mean, she swears every single word and when she’s not swearing, she’s talking about sex. There is literally nearly nothing else to her character. And while their traded barbs are funny for the first one and a half trials, after that it just turns into one-sided abuse from Kokichi’s end. And it’s uncomfortable. And not an uncomfortable that I think adds to the story or does anything to entertain me. Honestly, this is the main reason I would hesitate the recommend this game to someone.

I know some people like Miu’s character. And I guess I’m a little biased, because I wasn’t a big fan from the start. But, come on! She’s an Ultimate Inventor! And all she makes on-screen are automatic cameras. Like I said, I don’t mind her being very open about sex or her swearing, but at least let her do other things too. It makes it harder to believe in the end that Miu was doing all this inventing for Kokichi when all we’ve seen her do is be inappropriate all the time instead of impressive.

Yes, Miu, go ahead, ruin this scene for everyone

The other two games had fanservice and even dirty jokes, often at the expense of female characters. Some of them are uncomfortable, but they’re one-offs. Plus, they were never really insults, just weird little asides (sometimes made worse only from awkward localization). This felt like it went way too far in comparison.

I don’t know that it’s bad writing. Just unnecessary writing. Like I said, it fits with Miu and Kokichi’s characters. I just wish the writers had chosen to show those same arcs in a different way.

8. Will Someone Just Die Already…

There are some pacing issues in this game, and I admit to thinking the above phrase more than once in Chapter 3. I already was pretty sure it was going to be Angie, but the time between just kept dragging on and on. Again, as I’ve mentioned, Chapter 3 was the weakest chapter overall, with Himiko’s arc and Kaito’s fear of ghosts hiding his illness being the only saving graces. But I felt pretty bad about thinking these things after the last Argument Armament…

I’m terrible for being relieved when Angie died, yeah? ….Yeah

But that doesn’t mean the pacing issues aren’t a problem! They do try to cram a lot of story- albeit good story!- into the spaces between murders. And that means a lot of people talking about things. It does build a sense of tension, but sometimes too much tension. Like, frustrating tension. It’s like, you can either tell when the death is coming or who is going to die, and you’re just waiting for it to happen. So, maybe the issue is that they telegraph the deaths too clearly and then leave you waiting for it. 

This is a good game for binge-playing, I guess. Which I’m not sure is a good thing…

Next post, Emma will talk the ending, the meaning, the mastermind, and why Kaito is the best boy FIGHT ME.

Also, if you’re feeling sad from this game, here’s a cute edit of the Kekkai Sensen ending and LOOK THEY’RE ALL DANCING AND THE HUMOR IS KIND OF BLACK BUT MOST OF IT IS CUTE. TENKO BODYSLAMS KOKICHI WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT?

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