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Honestly? This game still rules imo. It's not going to be everyone's cup of tea but it's still a VN classic. Certainly the later entries of the series upstage it but it has a truly delicious atmosphere which I think comes mostly from it initially being a standalone game. It feels smaller in scope than 2 or V3 but I think that allows it to make Hope's Peak feel claustrophobic. Obviously school horror is nothing new, especially in J-horror, but Danganronpa manages to make it feel stylishly eerie and fresh with its neon lighting and anxiety-inducing soundtrack. It has a pulpy, kind of sleazy charm to it, like a B-horror film, and I still love it all these years later. I do think a lot of the commentary about the Japanese school system is going to inevitably be lost on most people unless they go out of their way to read about it, but still it captures that universal feeling of school simultaneously being a nightmare and a sanctuary to young people.
Also it has Celes, who's turbo mega slay is probably the reason why I'm into visual novels and the like in the first place. Like, her design intrigued 13 year old me so much that I immediately got into the game. Lol
Basically improves on the first game in every way. It has a more likeable and fleshed out cast, and its mysteries are consistently solid, except for maybe chapter 3, which is messy but I still think is ultimately... fine. It takes advantage of the "Ultimate student" concept more, with their talents often playing a major role in the mysteries as well. Basically, if Danganronpa THH was focused on providing a pulpy and stylish ride above all else, SDR2 expands upon, well, everything else. However, this "bigger and better" mindset does lead to losing the cramped, eerie atmosphere of DR1, which is a shame. Still a great game, though.
When I was a teenager, this was one of my favorite games ever, and I definitely see why. More than any other game in the series, imo, this one has the soul of a teen movie, if that makes sense? It's a compliment. Truly a story best appreciated by someone who is (or was) an angsty teen that doesn't feel as if they fit in-- when I was 14, I may have been reeled in by the colorful cast, vivid art direction, and unique murder mystery storyline, but I was enamored with the way it managed to capture teenaged misfit anger with its characters (especially my boy Hajime) while also extending a lot of compassion to this demographic, despite its hyperviolent presentation. It gave me a lot of comfort at a time when I needed it most, and I'll always love it for that.
I still find this game to be very earnest and kind in its messaging (which I kind of forgot about it, actually), and honestly? I love the twist and conclusion of SDR2. Idc! The revelation about the cast's identities, especially Hajime's, is still pretty heartbreaking to me (talk about cranking up the aforementioned broody teen drama to 100). It's a hyperbolic yet frank look at the ways in which the school system (and Society™) expect kids to be perfect all the time, yet has a tendency to use them, exhaust them, then spit them out. It then delivers its final message, a warm blanket to anyone who feels hopeless in the moment: you can always look towards the future. One of the most frequently played songs in the game is the nostalgic "Beautiful Ruin", and I think that describes the cast's collective character arc well-- What happened in the past does not define you, and while you will always carry those things with you, you can still move on and have a fulfilling life. Though your past traumas and pain may seem like a heavy burden to bear, there's beauty waiting for you in the world. It may sound cheesy, but that's kind of why I love this game so much. It wears its heart on its sleeve, and despite its often goofy, tongue-in-cheek mood, it wants the best for everyone.
This review contains spoilers
A school made just for us.
This game left me feeling so conflicted after I first finished it years ago. When I was younger, I spent much of my time longing for some sort of fantastical adventure, an escape. I was lonely and sickly, so I threw myself into every book or video game wholeheartedly, eagerly imagining what it would be like to be in the protagonist's shoes, to live in a world different from my own. Daydreaming about something more exciting than the mundanities of my day to day life– To me, fiction was, in many ways, more real than the world around me. So, when I first reached the revelations at the end of this game, it felt like a mirror was being held up to me, it made me uncomfortable and hurt. Like a lot of people, I felt as if I was being attacked for daring to care. Well, I definitely don't feel that way anymore. My opinion on Danganronpa V3’s finale has (obviously, with my 5-star rating) done a complete 180. Upon replay, I’ve realized how well-structured and thoughtful this game is, and it’s become a personal favorite.
V3 is a gentle, poignant, and layered game, both in terms of its actual moment-to-moment story and what it is trying to say with its metanarrative. Firstly, this is the best Danganronpa game in terms of the actual meat of the product. The character writing is a notable step up from previous games, with every character being likable and fleshed out in their own right. Even larger-than-life characters such as Miu contain a depth that others of the same ilk from previous games, such as Hifumi, never had. V3’s main cast are easily some of the best characters of the franchise– Shuichi, Kaede, Maki, Kaito, and Kokichi are great, and the emotional core of the “training trio” is felt throughout the game, making the later chapters especially powerful. The cast deals with the loss of their friends in a deeper way as well, and their lingering grief makes V3 haunting even before the final truth comes out.
The class trials are great as well, with only Chapter 3’s being somewhat messy. They're all more complex than in previous games, and despite the longer length of the trials, they don’t drag to me. Each trial also ties in to the overarching themes of truth and lies, what is real and what is not. While it may seem obvious that a mystery game’s cases will deal with, well, the truth, I think V3 explores this in interesting ways. Of course, there's the obvious addition of lie bullets, allowing Shuichi to commit perjury when he needs to move the trial along, but it goes beyond that. Chapter 1 is a good example of this, with Kaede’s unreliable narration masking the fact that she had carried out the murder, with her true goal being to expose the mastermind. Oftentimes, the motives themselves tie directly into the theme of subjective truth. Kirumi is willing to sacrifice the few for the many, and to her, the truth is that this must be done to save her country, though she had been a loyal friend just days before. Gonta weighs the soul-crushing “truth” of the outside world with the already bleak environment his friends are in, and decides they’d be better off dead than pursuing the truth. On top of this, the mechanics of the trial are improved as well, with the minigames actually being consistently fun (a miracle). The new nonstop debates, Mind Mine, Psyche Taxi, and even Hangman’s Gambit are a vast improvement on previous games. Like, I love Hajime, but snowboarding in his mindscape is torture; meanwhile, Psyche Taxi is a blast.
As usual, Masafumi Takada does a phenomenal job with the soundtrack (I think V3 is his finest work with the series for sure). I really don’t think the game has a single bad track. Each song suits the atmosphere perfectly– “Nightmare in the Locker” and “Rise of the Ultimates” creates dread at eerie moments, “Heaven of Almost Hell” builds melancholy gorgeously, “Darkness Time” is the essence of night’s mystery. “Beautiful Lie” is a beautiful lie, with its nostalgic melody harkening back to school days that never were. It’s great.
It’s hard to talk about my favorite parts of V3 without discussing the ending and its implications. I used to think it came out of nowhere, but I can’t believe I ever used to think that because there’s literally heaps of foreshadowing towards it, and everything comes together wonderfully. Truth versus lies, reality versus fiction… The whole game, these concepts loom over the player. Kaede, knowing she is probably marching towards her execution, tells Shuichi to always pursue the truth. Kokichi, the embodiment of a lie, misleads the group incessantly. He wants to convince everyone, perhaps even himself, that he loves the killing game, but he wants to end it more than anyone. Kaito, trapped and gravely ill but wanting to make amends with his closest friend, believes Shuichi is capable of reaching something beyond the truth.
But what lies beyond the truth? For a while, Shuichi is convinced it is hope, a theme incredibly interwoven with the previous entries. However, what’s beyond the “truth” is something deeply horrifying. Fabricated lives. To be the victim of decisions made by the you that you no longer are. The you that, in your mind, you never were. Nothing about you is real, your existence is the ultimate lie. The person you viewed as a trusted friend now speaks to you coldly, regarding you as her creation. Narratively, I think this reveal is so chilling. A beautiful tragedy. The way it wraps up its exploration of truth and lies is incredibly touching. After all, if everything you know is a lie, isn’t that your truth? Yes, to the onlookers, your life may be fiction, but it is the truth to you. As Shuichi said, our pain is real. The group rejecting both hope and despair, refusing to participate in Tsumugi’s game, not giving the audience what they want, ending Danganronpa with their own hands… it’s insanely powerful. Going off script, defying the author one final time, is the ultimate liberation.
While I think V3 contains a lot of commentary on fan culture, I often see people claim that this game "hates" the previous entries and the series’ fans. No, I don't buy it. I think V3 fundamentally understands why fiction speaks to us, why we love it so much, why it's so powerful. Because of this, I think it cares deeply for the prior entries, which is why it needs to bring the series to an end. It's both a love letter to the series and a final goodbye– A way to end a series you put your heart into before it becomes meaningless muck, regurgitated over and over again like so many fictional endeavors eventually become (I mean, think of every TV show that drags itself out for years on end; you can feel the passion leaving as it drudges on). V3 doesn't want to suffer that fate.
I find it so fitting, then, that Shuichi tells Tsumugi once she’s lost that she never appreciated them or the power of fiction. Despite being the “author”, she had forgotten what makes fiction so capable of drawing in passion, so impactful. By ending it the way it does, it rejects "hope or despair" just as much as the characters themselves. It's choosing its own fate, ending on its own terms. So what if the characters and prior games were fictional? Fiction is beautiful. Fiction is compelling, thoughtful, capable of moving and inspiring, capable of changing your own perception of the world. And in its own way, fiction is truth. Does it matter whether Tsumugi was lying or telling the truth? The truth is up to you. It’s so heartbreaking to see, for example, Shuichi’s audition tape, but, well… so what? That Shuichi doesn’t define the Shuichi by the end of the game. Sometimes you must say goodbye, no matter how big or small: whether it be farewell to a fictional franchise that you love, farewell to the you you once were, farewell to everything you once knew as concrete truth. There’s beauty to be found even in the most twisted of scenarios– Maki, Shuichi, and Himiko preparing to step out of the dome, uncertain, but ready to mix their truth with the truth that lies beyond, the real and the fiction, is so perfect. I love this game so much. I don’t know what else to say. I could talk about it for hours, and there’s so much to read into and analyze. V3 is an unsolvable catbox of a mystery where truth and lies blend into one, and what truly matters is the emotion it brings forth. It’s, in of itself, another beautiful lie.
The Crooked Man
The lore is intentionally vague to a frustrating degree and drip-fed to players in small amounts throughout the year by using character's birthdays. The gacha system actually sucks and all of the players are very annoying. Genuinely a very fun game to play with friends, and that's its greatest appeal to me. I play this game every day btw.
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