The Ultimate Academy for Gifted Juveniles isn’t your average high school. For one thing, its students are all extremely talented, the very best at a particular skill or calling. Oh, and they’re also all being held there against their will and forced by a deranged teddy bear to participate in ritual murders.

So definitely not your average high school.

The Danganronpa series falls into the visual novel genre, but to dismiss it on those grounds alone would be a mistake. The first two games, originally released by Spike Chunsoft in Japan, have developed a cult following in the US. Worldwide publisher NIS America is bringing the final game in the trilogy to the PS4, Vita, and PC in September, and if the E3 demo is anything to go by, the murderous mayhem is even more over-the-top in this class.

Usually trade show demos are a vertical slice of the full game, but that wasn’t the case with Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony. The demo was created specifically not to spoil anything from the main game while giving newcomers a sense of the wackiness to come. New protagonist Kaede Akamatsu has arrived at the Ultimate Academy with no memory of how she got there, and she soon finds out the only way to graduate is to murder a classmate and get away with it. While she tries to cope with her new reality in the “School Life” portion of the game, it isn’t long before she discovers a dead body in her dorm room.

It’s during this segment that we got a chance to meet some of the new students and find out just what makes them “ultimate.” Kaede herself is the “Ultimate Pianist,” while other teens have titles like “Ultimate Tennis Pro,” “Ultimate Maid,” “Ultimate Cosplayer,” and “Ultimate Inventor” (the last one is the super-vulgar Miu Iruma, whose dialogue would make a sailor blush). Interestingly, the protagonists of the previous Danganronpa titles make appearances as well, with both claiming to be “upperclassmen.” An NIS rep couldn’t say how they tied into the story or whether they were only there for this particular demo, but it was nice to see some familiar faces.

Of course, Monokuma the bear also makes a return, and this time he’s got his Monokubs with him. These mini versions of our main antagonist each have their own distinctive personalities, and are somehow adorable despite their murderous intentions. The Mono-fam serves as judge and jury in each trial, which occurs after a murder and subsequent observation; it’s here where the real fun begins.

During each trial, evidence takes the form of “truth bullets” used to shoot down false statements and break through lies. This is how you find holes in your classmates’ testimonies and identify (or clear) potential suspects. V3 ups the ante by sometimes having multiple students talk over each other at once, making it harder than ever to focus on the evidence and contradictory statements. These “panic debates” are tricky to nail down, even for veterans of the series.

Interrogation sessions are interrupted by mini-games meant to move the discussion forward, and Danganronpa V3 has several new activities. These really highlight just how bizarre these games are. For example, in one, we had to drive a car to pick up escorts while answering questions about the case. After a few rounds of questioning and games, it’s time to identify the killer and render a verdict. However, this being a cheeky demo, Monokuma cut it off before we could find out whodunnit.

A message popped up at the end of the demo stating that saving progress would grant a special surprise in the main game, which implies that this demo will be made available to the general public at some point. If so, we highly recommend giving it a shot, even if it’s outside your usual gaming comfort zone. There’s really nothing else in games like the Danganronpa series. We’re excited to continue the third chapter in the story when it comes to our shores on September 26, 2017.

Image: NIS America

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