30 August 2018 | feargm
An endearing and melancholic journey
The Danganronpa series has left an enormous impact in my life due to a lot of reasons. The third installment being my favorite. Whereas the first game had a rather one dimensional theme of "good vs. evil" under the guise of "hope vs. despair", the second had a much better theme that was related to time, "past, present, and future". Here, we're given "truth vs. lies", which is incredibly flexible with what it presents to its audience. I'll get back to this later.
One of the first things I believe most people who've played the previous games will notice when they look at this game, is that it looks far prettier than all the other installments. Makes sense, considering this isn't a mediocre PSP port like the other ones. The graphics and textures look great, with even the students' lockers being perfectly readable, the windows containing pleasant volumetric lighting shining through, the environments looking more vibrant than ever with many more objects, and the nonstop debates displaying fancy effects when some characters talk. The school looking simultaneously beautiful and unsettling at night as the haunting "Darkness Time" plays.
Speaking of which, the soundtrack of this entry reigns supreme over the others. Masafumi Takada really outdid himself. While "Beautiful Death" is in my mind the theme of the Hope's Peak Academy saga, "Beautiful Lie" couldn't fit Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles saga better. A truly outstanding track that won me over instantaneously as I played the demo. "Heartless Journey" is one of the most poignant pieces of music I've ever heard in a videogame. There's something very eerie and dark about the buzzing frequencies, mixed with the lugubrious acoustic notes at just the perfect time, creating a small wall of sound that's unlike anything I've ever heard. It's not profoundly layered, there aren't a lot of instruments, but it manages to pull all my heartstrings through its simple sounds. To address the sound in general, the sound effects are memorable as expected, and the voice acting is amazing in both languages.
The user interface has improved immensely, with the presents screen actually being completely convenient this time around. Showcasing many at a time, with their numbers at the bottom left, and even indicating the player whether they should hold onto them for secret events with the sentence "something good might happen if you keep it" at the end of their descriptions. Report cards look clean and straightforward, with the characters' iconic artworks on the right. You can customize your e-handbook/monopad with 38 different themes now, too. The map immediately shows which locations the player can fast travel to at the top, and where each character is currently at, and the MonoMono Machine is also faster than ever.
In regards to the characters, this cast is my favorite. It's the one Danganronpa game I truly wish there was some kind of alternate timeline to play where we get to see the other half of the cast survive or live longer and develop. That's not to say I wasn't happy with what I got, I am. It's simply that all the characters are so interesting and possess strong personalities that I can't help but wonder how they'd act under certain situations they were unfortunately unable to survive long enough to experience. All the free time events were very entertaining to me and totally worth completing, making me like and understand every character more, and while the game doesn't offer that many in the main story (making it difficult to complete characters before a murder happens), this time it's very easy to exploit the system and continue doing free time events by saving once the first set of the chapter is over, loading the save, and selecting to start that particular chapter from free time events. This allowed myself and friends of mine to attach ourselves to certain characters more before the killings started, making their deaths even more impactful than they normally would be.
Furthermore, when it comes to its features, this game objectively slays the previous ones. There's so much that's been crammed into this that it's astounding to me. The ultimate fanservice crossover mode called "Ultimate Talent Development Plan", a board game where you get to play as any character of your choice from all the games (except Ultra Despair Girls) and interact with other characters is fantastic. "Love Across the Universe" is massive improvement over the monotonously grindy "School/Island Mode" from DR1 and DR2, making getting character endings and trip tickets intuitive and fun. There's also the mode that's directly connected to "UTDP" called "Monokuma's Test", a surprisingly fun dungeon crawler where you play as the characters you've leveled up in the board game. Of course, I can't forget to mention the super amusing and intriguing "Love Suite" scenes, where the protagonist gets to act out a random character's fantasy. One of my favorite things they've ever added to the series that I very much wish was present in the other games, with some hilarious, fully voiced lines.
Gameplay wise, within the class trials, the controls are responsive, and this entry fixes a good amount of the problems the first two games had while introducing awesome new minigames. Absorbing bullets is thankfully gone, and albeit I still loathe "Hangman's Gambit", it's at its best here (it was too easy in the first game and downright annoying in the second one). "Debate Scrum" is my favorite of the new minigames that were introduced, even though I wish it happened more frequently. "Mind Mine" is nice, as is "Psyche Taxi", although "Logic Dive" from DR2 was much more dynamic and fun. "Argument Armament" is stylish and excellent. The V-spots are a fine addition to those who enjoy an extra challenge during nonstop debates. I'd argue that the most important mechanic they've added however is "Lying", occasionally giving the player more than one way to solve a debate and changing some of the dialogue for a little bit.
Now, coming back to the subject of the games' themes, I must talk about how each one closes its gates, without spoiling much, the ending of Trigger Happy Havoc left me slightly dissatisfied with its cliffhanger, Goodbye Despair's ending on the other hand was superb and triumphant. Killing Harmony's ending however, was a rollercoaster of emotions that left me in deep thought. The topic in question being the power of fiction and its impact on the world, I don't believe I've ever seen a game address it like this, it was a powerful and moving experience.
For me, fiction can absolutely change the world and be the "truth". Fiction allows us to experience events outside our own lives and to become immersed in other people's point of view. It teaches empathy and broadens our minds. I will always firmly believe it's not weird at all to fall in love with fictional characters. I think it makes us human. It's frequently based on real emotions and real experiences, and I think that's good characterization. I often watch, play, and read stuff to understand other people's lives, the difference is that fiction has a cushion of safety around it. One that makes it easier to process. Pills that are easier to swallow. I'd write more, but Steam won't let me, lol. Thank you Spike Chunsoft and Kazutaka Kodaka for this wonderful journey.