Danganronpa fans outside of Japan have patiently waited for the newest installment to make its way to the West for several months. Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony released all the way back in January in Japanese markets, and it wasn't until a few weeks ago on September 26th that we had our hands on an official English translation of the title.
The new title promised a few key features in its trailers: a separate story from the first trilogy, a female protagonist, and a story that centered on truth and lies rather than the usual hope and despair themes. This theming is very important in Danganronpa V3, and Spike Chunsoft expertly set this up in the very first chapter of the game.
I will warn you this article includes many spoilers for Chapter 1 of the game. I will not spoil anything past the end of this chapter, but I implore you to please play up to this point in Killing Harmony before you read this. If you've already played it, you should be fine. However, be wary of comments that may spoil other parts of the game as well.
Danganronpa V3 starts like any other title in the series. The main character, Kaede Akamatsu, finds herself in a school that seems abandoned and inescapable with no recollection of how she got there. She then meets up with fifteen other people that also can't remember the circumstances of their situation. Each character is called an "ultimate," extremely talented individuals who are handpicked by a program to better the future of the world.
Later on, the sixteen students meet Monokuma, a robotic teddy bear that tells them the only way to escape to the outside world is by killing somebody and getting away with it. After each murder, a class trial is held where everyone works together to find the culprit. If the culprit is found, they will be executed. If the killer gets away with the crime, than they get to escape while the rest of the class gets murdered.
For anybody that's played Danganronpa, none of this is new. Usually each murder is accompanied with a motive of some sort. Sometimes it could be showing the students their family is in danger. Other times, the motive can be as simple as a ton of cash. Whatever the reason, each motive tends to strike a particular character hard enough to murder somebody.
In Killing Harmony, Monokuma has gotten a lot better at incentivizing people. He promises that the first killer will get to walk away off the hook without facing the class trial, calling it the "First Blood Perk." This shakes the very foundation of the usual motives, making it easy for anyone to commit the first crime.
However, nobody takes the bait. After a day of no deaths, Monokuma sets an official deadline, promising to massacre all the students if nobody is killed in the next two days. This is unlike any ultimatum given in the series as it sends everybody into a panic. More importantly, this is untrue to Monokuma's character.
Monokuma and the person behind the Killing Games usually set these situations up to make them entertaining. If everybody dies, all the entertainment value is immediately lost. You could write this off as a change in character, but maybe it's just the beginning of Killing Harmony's lies. This simple lie from Monokuma will motivate the characters to kill. In fact, it motivates two characters in particular.
Shuichi Saihara, the Ultimate Detective, approaches Kaede to tell her about a secret door he found in the library that suggests the mastermind behind the whole operation is one of the students. With this new information, Kaede agrees to secretly work with Shuichi to uncover the mastermind before the time limit so they can end the Killing Game before it even begins.
The two of them enlist the help of Miu Iruma, the Ultimate Inventor. Without giving too many details, Shuichi and Kaede ask her to create cameras that automatically take pictures when a corresponding sensor is activated. The camera and sensors are placed around the secret door in an attempt to catch the mastermind in the act. Two more cameras are placed at both entrances to the library so that nobody can enter or exit undetected. The flash on all three cameras is turned off so the mastermind remains unaware they're being watched.
On top of this, Kaede and Shuichi notice a vent above the bookshelves. Kaede reorganizes the books on top of the shelf so the vent becomes inaccessible. With all this preparation out of the way, they're ready to catch the mastermind behind this Killing Game.
If you've played Danganronpa V3, you know what's coming next. You know that the plan doesn't work. You know the characters don't stop the Killing Game. You know that Rantaro Amami, the only student who forgot his ultimate ability, is the first to end up dead in the library. You also know that somebody involved in the camera setup is executed for his murder.
What about the First Blood Perk? The killer never takes it. Instead, the killer refuses to reveal themselves and the Class Trial happens anyway. The culprit wasn't actually after the First Blood Perk. Their main goal was to kill the mastermind.
When looking at the evidence, the photographs from the camera show only the victim, Rantaro. The evidence shows one shot of him finding the secret door and another where he is reaching out for the camera to turn it off. In both pictures, the flash on the camera is turned on. The students also make note that he was killed by a blow to the head with a heavy shot put ball.
Since the flash on the camera was turned on, this immediately puts two characters in the spotlight: Miu and Shuichi. Miu wasn't aware of the plan, so I mainly suspected Shuichi. I knew the game was focusing on a theme of truth and lies, and I figured Shuichi had lied to Kaede about attempting to find the mastermind and would try to pin it on her during the trial.
However, Shuichi remained silent for most of the trial. That's when I started to realize something was off. Contrasting his silence, Kaede is convinced the mastermind killed Rantaro. She can't believe that anybody else could have done it. She believes this because the mastermind is alive, because Rantaro is dead, and because her plan all along was to kill the mastermind. Kaede is shaken up because her plan failed.
That's right, Kaede killed Rantaro. She is not the protagonist of this story. She is executed in the first chapter of the game. You do not play as her throughout the main story ever again. All the marketing for the game, the interviews, and everything leading up to this point was a lie the whole time. The reason Shuichi keep quiet for most of the trial is because he saw through it the whole time.
It is important to mention that Kaede never specifically says she's innocent when playing as her. She never alludes to her plan to kill the mastermind either. However, there are a ton of hints sprinkled throughout the chapter. If you don't believe in "plot armor" or if you're not expecting to suspect every detail the game throws at you from the beginning, you may miss these hints. But once you understand what's going on, these details are hard to miss.
Making Kaede the first culprit is the perfect setup for the tone of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. While there were plenty of fan theories surrounding the game when Kaede was revealed as the protagonist last year, nobody expected it to play out like this. The game and its marketing team crafted a lie so well that you wouldn't even find the truth unless you played the game.
Now, as the player of this game, you're paranoid. You'll start wondering if anybody is telling the truth at all. Unfortunately, you won't be for certain until you finish the game. Even then, you still may be skeptical. But don't worry. It's now your job to see through the lies created by Spike Chunsoft in Danganronpa V3. Don't overlook any detail.
"But how will we continue without Kaede?" It's alright. Shuichi Saihara, the Ultimate Detective, is the real protagonist of this story. You'll see the world through his eyes as he tries to uncover the truth behind this Killing Game. He's a sharp guy, but never forget that he's not perfect. Danganronpa V3 will continue to lie to you.
That's what makes this opening so fantastic though. This game doesn't pull a single punch and you will question each and every detail from this point onward. Spike Chunsoft knows the trust they broke in the first chapter, and that's how they wanted it. Stay suspicious and seek out the truth until the very end. That's what Ultimate Detectives do, no matter how much the truth hurts.
Shuichi will continue to grow as a detective as he discovers the hidden horrors of the Killing Game. If you guys would like to see a deeper analysis of the Ultimate Detective, let us know in the comments below! I would have to go into super spoiler territory to properly write about that, but I would love to do it! Also, let us know how you felt about the big twist of Chapter 1.
Also, if you want to discuss anything past the first trial in the comments, please be mindful of others that haven't played as much and make it very clear that you are about to talk about spoilers.