When I reviewed Danganronpa V3 I made certain to avoid spoilers at all cost, but now the game has been out for a while it’s time to flex our analyst muscles by thoroughly spoiling the game’s ending. If you haven’t played through all of Danganronpa V3, now is the time to turn back. You have been warned.
Un-fun on purpose
Chapter 6 of Danganronpa V3 is a chapter about ultimate despair. Almost all of your friends are dead, the “outside world” has been ravaged by a horrible virus, and the last few survivors of the human race are stuck inside a high-school that doubles as a murder factory. It’s basically the worst situation you could possibly imagine.
Other games would frame this as the thrilling conclusion where our protagonists somehow overcome their captors and escape back to society through sheer determination, but not Danganronpa. Danganronpa is obsessed with despair. Danganronpa wants you to feel what its protagonists are feeling. It wants you to feel like everything is pointless. It does this by doing something that most game developers would think is crazy. It purposefully makes the gameplay of chapter 6 unfun.
Danganronpa is essentially an investigation game. Every chapter asks you to wander from environment to environment, looking for clues and attempting unravel a murder mystery. It’s a game that asks you to take your time, think through the information you have, and come to a conclusion.
Not Chapter 6. Chapter 6, out of nowhere, gives you a time limit to your investigation. It ticks up when you move, when you look at anything, and when you travel from environment to environment. The convenient fast travel that you have used all game is now suddenly disabled, so you can’t warp from place to place to save time. You need to hoof it to any areas you want to check out, which would be trivial if the mini-map weren’t also suddenly disabled, and all the maps that you have traveled throughout the game had now changed, paths blocked and distorted by rubble due to a disaster that struck earlier in the chapter.
So now you are on a time limit, exploring an area you haven’t seen before, and you can’t examine everything closely like you have in the rest of the game or else you’ll die. In any other game, this would be the world’s worst design decision.
But it gets worse. After rushing through this investigation section you enter the world’s longest trial section, where you have to piece together all the evidence you found and uncover who the mastermind behind your despair is. And you do, with relative ease. You figure out who they are in the first hour or so of the trial, yet it drags on for another three hours easily. At this point you have already exhausted all of your evidence. Every section of the trial at this point is either padding for time, presents a deduction that is far too easy, or presents you with a mini-game whose difficulty is hugely ramped up. It’s not paced well at all, and it’s certainly not satisfying.
Then the gigantic plot revelation bomb is dropped. Everything you had done so far wasn’t real. The world you are in isn’t real. You aren’t real. The game breaks the fourth wall and says that everything that has transpired so far was just a game, a game specifically to entertain sickos that enjoy seeing people murder each other and fall into despair. A game made specifically for the sick tastes of you… the player.
It was meant to make you feel ultimate despair. This is the third game in the Danganronpa series, and it essentially said that every single game you played up until this point was fake. Every storyline you identified with, every character you liked, every thrilling conclusion that put you on the edge of your seat, all manufactured to entertain you. It makes the player examine what they are doing, and it feels uncomfortable.
The villain then reveals that the reason they can’t lose is because of the player. If the protagonists triumph over evil, defeat despair with hope, then the players will just want a sequel and the game of murder will begin again. If the villain ends up winning and murdering the protagonists, then the players will demand a more satisfying sequel and the murder game will begin again. No matter what you do, Danganronpa will continue and the murder and suffering won’t end.
You are then asked to save your game and, if you do, you are returned to the title screen. That’s it. Game over. You can start up the game from that scene again but each time you save, the game just ends.
But something interesting happens if you choose not to save. If you choose not to save, choose not to participate in the game as it is, the game starts to break down. The villain continues to put you in mini-games and trials and if you play them, the game doesn’t proceed forward. The only way to win is to stop playing them. The only way to win is to stop playing the game.
In the narrative this is framed by the Danganronpa player base getting sick of Danganronpa. The only way to win is to make the fanbase become disillusioned with the game. If no one wants a sequel then the murder games can finally stop. This is what Chapter 6 was conditioning you for. By the time you hit this part of the trial, it has outstayed its welcome. The unsatisfying investigation, crappy mini-games, bad pacing and absurd difficulty has denied the player any sense of fun for a good four hours, but since the game is so close to ending the player likely grits their teeth and pushes through.
When the player is told that the only solution is to not play anymore, it comes as a relief. They can put the controller down. They can turn the console off. They can finally be done with this torture, and that’s exactly what the protagonists are feeling.
Un-fun can still be entertaining
Danganronpa V3 is an example of why games don’t necessarily have to be “fun” to be good. By engaging the player with its bad design, it makes them think about video games in ways they may not have before. It makes them think about the endless cycle of sequels and spinoffs that the market is caught it. It makes them think about how video game greatness can’t last forever and eventually franchises just have to end. It tells them that the best thing they can do is les Danganronpa end, right here right now.
And the player stops playing. They stop playing, the end-credits roll, and that’s it. Danganronpa is over. There won’t be another sequel. There won’t be another spin-off. This is how the series ends, because you, the player, wanted it to. A fitting end to a twisted franchise.
Of course then there is tons of end-game content that keeps the player coming back, totally undermining the narrative, but at least they came close to really making a point, right?