GOTY 2017: The Top 10 Games of the Year - #9
Welcome to the Ninth Annual Silicon Sasquatch Top 10 Games of the Year list! After months of discussion and yet another marathon five-hour meeting, we've finally narrowed down the 10 games that we feel best represent the best and most important that 2017 had to offer.
#9 - Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony
Spike Chunsoft | September 26th, 2017 | PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Windows
If you’ve been with us for a while, you probably already know how we do this Game of the Year thing. But either way, I think it bears repeating: Playing and critiquing games isn’t our full-time job.
Instead, it’s a passion project through and through, both in the sense that we love doing this thing—it wouldn’t be our ninth GOTY feature if we didn’t!—and because it’s a natural outlet for our collective passion for games.
(Bear with me—I promise I’ll get to Danganronpa in just a moment.)
Because we’re carving up our spare time to play, share, and discuss games, there are a lot of instances where only one of us will get around to playing any specific game each year. In those situations, landing a game on our top ten list usually comes down to a couple of factors:
1. how self-evident the game’s merits are (which we determine in a wholly unscientific manner, naturally,) and
2. how fervently and effectively that game’s champion argues for it.
Which brings me to Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: a game that repeatedly defied my expectations and raised increasingly difficult questions for me, and a game for which I argued my ass completely off in order to get it on this list.
In my colleagues’ defense, Danganronpa is a difficult franchise to get invested in. The series of visual novels were previously only available on PlayStation Vita, a portable system that Sony built exclusively for weirdos with a penchant for Japanese RPGs and a smattering of excellent Steam games from 2012. (I love mine, so, y’know, Q.E.D.)
Every game in the trilogy follows roughly the same formula: a dozen or so of Japan’s best and brightest youths—the “ultimates” in their own fields—are brought together and trapped in an exclusive boarding school before being forced to participate in a “killing game.” This “game” is adjudicated by Monokuma, a cute stuffed bear who’s just absolutely tickled by watching teenagers off each other. (He's wonderful and I love him.)
Each Danganronpa game proceeds in a series of chapters, consisting of opportunities to socialize with the other students (and thus learn their interesting backstories), an eventual murder, and the subsequent investigation. Chapters culminate in a “class trial”: an intensive, exhaustive debate among the surviving classmates over the murder evidence to identify the killer du jour. I don’t want to spoil any of the series’ narrative arcs, but as a fan of the visual-novel genre—and just straight-up great storytelling—Danganronpa really is delivering some best-in-class narrative design and delivery. These games have stuck with me and refuse to let go.
All right. So, cool: Nick loves the Danganronpa series. But what’s so great about Danganronpa V3?
Before we dig into the positives, I need to acknowledge the game’s faults. There aren’t many, but they do tarnish the experience in some ways you probably ought to be aware of before digging in. Like previous games in the series, the game fetishizes several of the teenage girls in the game, including an optional risqué scene at a swimming pool. It’s gross, male gaze-y bullshit that contributes nothing to character development and made me question the intentions of the developers. (It also made me feel exceptionally "this is not what I signed up for" for about five minutes.) It also fails to meaningfully improve the milquetoast “free time” periods of the game where you spend time with a classmate of your choosing. The stories you uncover here are all supplemental and relatively bland, and the gap in quality between those side vignettes and the main story is significant.
As for the positives: I’ll keep them brief. This game is all about its story, and to spoil it for you now would be a major disservice.
Here’s what it boils down to: Danganronpa V3 features one of the deepest, most intricate, and most fearless stories I’ve ever seen in a visual novel—and one of the absolute most ambitious narratives I’ve ever seen in any game. From the shocking turnabout conclusion of the first chapter to the scorched-earth audacity of the game’s final chapter, Danganronpa V3 takes you through a massive (50 hours, by my measure) story populated with richer character development and much stronger systems than previous games in the series.
But the single most-important thing this game does is speak directly to players and force them to confront some deeply uncomfortable truths about themselves. In a year where games like Pyre and Nier: Automata broke the fourth wall with gusto, Danganronpa V3 struck the hardest and deepest at something fundamental, raw, and uncomfortable. I still think about that ending. And I’m still laughing in disbelief at how brave the team at Spike Chunsoft was to close the book on this trilogy with such confidence. It was worth it: Danganronpa V3 is the best visual novel I’ve ever played. So long and bear-well, Danganronpa.
I understand that Danganronpa is a difficult series to get into on your own. So please, consider this a gentle nudge from your pal Nick to give it a chance. If it doesn’t click for you, no worries—you can always jump ship and try another one. (Have you heard of Zero Escape, by the way?) — Nick Cummings