The Danganronpa series are three of my favourite video games ever. We take a look back on every trial across its trilogy to discuss and decide on our very top 5 trials, ranked. The reasons on these will vary, from difficulty, to uniqueness in setting, and how high the stakes were. Most will come down to how much I enjoyed the trial and the lasting impact it had on me.
For those who have yet to experience this wild ride, do take note of the brief, non-spoiler comment I have left under each selection, and avoid the paragraphs due to them being a wall of spoilers. These will also be highlighted in bold.
5. Danganronpa V3: Chapter 4
Non-spoiler reason why it ranks fifth: Emotional turbulence ensues while the murder takes place in virtual reality. It’s a game within a game!
Miu has been portrayed as the comical character up to this point, with extremely provocative and sexual innuendos spewing from her mouth at every given moment. Despite this, it becomes increasingly obvious that Miu is merely projecting; she is in fact embarrassed and insecure about everything and anything, from sexual matters to her own confidence. She’s stupidly bizarre and eccentric, often ignored or disliked by those around her, but this whole facade of hers could be due to this lack of communication with others.
She is yet another interesting and complex character within the Danganronpa universe, but by the time you start to feel more attached to a character, Danganronpa does what it does best and takes them right from our grasp. From her planning to off the most suspicious and potentially deadly character (Kokichi), to her consistent helping and input in previous trials, and her motive being for the greater good for humanity by using her technical abilities in the outside world, she is the first victim in Danganronpa V3 I felt sympathetic towards. This is especially so when you see the state her body is in after her death – her facial expression is etched into my memory.
Chapter 4’s trial packs a heavy blow, not only killing off Miu who I was warming up to, but also executes one of Danganronpa’s most lovable, protect-at-all costs characters as the unexpected culprit. When it comes to the trope of the gentle giant, no one stands out as much as Gonta Gokuhara does in this category. The epitome of “they couldn’t hurt a fly”, Gonta is presented as a lovable big oaf – heavily borrowing from the character of Tarzan – and throughout the game has never failed to appear as nothing but caring, considerate, and sweet. From his broken English to his endearing idiocy and love for all things nature and animal related, this makes the case of him being the killer truly gut wrenching, despite the formula of Danganronpa previously hinting to this (case 4 victim/killer always involves the giant characters). This doesn’t make this any less easier accepting the truth and his execution and it is truly heartbreaking to see that Gonta cannot accept his role of the culprit any more than the player can as he doesn’t remember doing anything bad. God damn you, Kokichi.
This little monster appeared as a troublesome and grey character as soon as he was introduced, and with the growing connection and supposed “friendship” between Gonta and Kokichi, you can’t help but think this can only lead to an unhappy ending. And even if you too thought this, it does not make it any easier witnessing this betrayal. From this point on, Kokichi was my most hated Danganronpa character, only for this to be flipped upside down as before his comeuppance, a slight trace of care can be seen in Chapter 5, of course still laced and downplayed by his deceitful words and lies. What a deliciously complex character.
This case is also notable for being the only one set inside a video game, with visuals exclusive to this case, most evident by the character’s chibi forms. This new setting was exciting to explore and for a very brief time, I felt relaxed. It became one of the most memorable case locations when I look back on Danganronpa.
4. Danganronpa 2: Chapter 4
Non-spoiler reason why it ranks fourth: My emotional baggage has tripled now; a double whammy of killing off two fan favourites in one of the most complex and unpredictable cases.
Yet again with the unique premise and the very best one for most creative setting is the Funhouse. Frustrated that the characters are all unified in their solidarity to have no more death happen amongst their group, Monokuma decides to force the issue. In what could be the most vicious and malicious Monokuma has ever been, the choice for the characters to escape this constricted location was either to die a slow and painful death by starvation, or carry out a murder. Now we have an intriguing set up – if a murder does happen, who would be the killer?
Clearly everyone in the group is too close to each other to do so – and some characters would rather die than kill. This puts a ton of pressure and scrutiny on the cast that have survived thus far – and one amongst them, Gundham (The Ultimate Breeder), decides to break the group’s trust in order to carry out his plan to commit murder. However, hold on to your hats because Gundham’s motivation may actually be more nuanced than the game previously presented it to you as. As the case unfolds, you realise Gundham’s motivation as a character is not so black and white (heh).
What hits most is the underlining implications of Gundham’s character, much like the brief glimpses Miu would show on her true nature. It’s not specifically stated at all, but in the cases of both Miu and Gundham specifically, I find that underneath their seemingly surface level motives, there can be a lot of depth added to their character if you theorise enough. To me, Gundham plays up his “evil” character shtick as a coping mechanism for his loneliness, living in this fantasy world where he fails to connect to others or make friends. His opponent of Nekomaru putting up a worthy fight to the death in Chapter 4 is expressed by the two that they merely want the other one dead, but both Gundham and Nekomaru will go down in Danganronpa history for this battle to the death to instead be sacrifices.
Furthermore, to add to Gundham’s character is to see the value he holds in Nekomaru putting up a fight as what he wanted to see in his other comrades; to choose to fight instead of accepting their predicament and technically choosing suicide by starvation. From Gundham’s perspective as ‘The Ultimate Breeder’, life is the most precious thing in existence and sees that the group’s stubborn camaraderie is both at odds with his own personal beliefs but also sees that by not murdering anyone – the students would simply die for no reason and their win would be moral, and not physical. In this trial, the writers gave us a character that evolved with the plot, and further still, evolved with his execution.
Gundham’s motivations to kill are ultimately shifted from the view that his selfish wish to impose his own views upon a tight knit group of students who were resolute in defying Monokuma ended with his committing of murder and betrayal of those close to him to finding out (through Gundham himself before his execution) that, though refusing to admit this to his fellow students, he did this to continue the fight against Monokuma and to leave a legacy of inherited will for them to follow through to the end and defeat Monokuma’s cruel game. This leaves us seeing Gundham in a completely different light by the end of the chapter. Gundham’s motivations are quite deliberately presented as a duality, brilliantly linking this theme to the overall game in it’s themes of hope and despair in equal measure, not to mention Monokuma’s design serving to give us the physical representation of said duality.
This case was also the only case where your point of view switches with someone else, Nagito to be specific. This is such a small detail that made this trial personally very memorable and further unique, hinting at the grand, final revelation to be revealed in the last chapter. This case is the one that indicated a turning point and the suspicious change in Nagito, from praising his comrades to being disgusted by them. On top of such an important development in the plot, this case was also extremely complex in its unreliable setting and unpredictability. It’s a notoriously tough murder for many players to solve.
Chapter 2 was almost chosen instead of this one for the emotional punch of a lovable victim and killer both being taken out at the same time (Mahiru went far too soon), as well as the romantic undertones between its killers (Peko and Fuyuhiko). Chapter 4 does this with a double hit, as we get to see development between both Gundham and Sonia, and Nekomaru and Akane. The two fan favourites we lost in the same case that provided the majority of humorous scenes and sweet character interaction are sorely missed to this day.
3. Danganronpa 2: Chapter 6
Non-spoiler reason why it’s third: Has the very best finale of the three entries with a massive, unexpected plot twist and revelation after revelation being revealed.
The massive plot twist overarching the whole narrative of Danganronpa 2 threw me for a loop and is one of my favourite plot twists in any media. From earlier hints that something is not right such as Nagito’s shift from overbearingly praising the hope within his comrades to sudden disinterest and even disgust and hatred, to Mikan’s change during the despair disease, nothing could still prepare you for the final revelation. The fact that the 15 characters you’ve grown so fond of throughout this journey are not as angelic as you think was absolutely shocking.
This was such a twist to me personally as the cast of Danganronpa 2 are the very best overall across the trilogy in my humble opinion. The true horror of this is expressed by Junko herself who describes the bodily mutilation the 15 did to her after her death to feel closer to their leader. From Nagito taking her arm in place of his own, to the removal of her eyes, productive organs and womb is deliciously macabre, the darkest Danganronpa ever got within the trilogy (see Ultra Despair Girls for some details even worse than this).
Additionally, the reveal that Chiaki is the only one to not even be alive but is merely an AI to save her fellow classmates does not cheapen her efforts. To know that she was always the hope and that she was developed specifically to lead the cast of Danganronpa 2 to fight against Junko makes it even more of a bitter ending for our beloved gamer girl. On top of this, we learn of Hajime’s identity as Izumu Kamukura, the end product of an experiment to create the ultimate hope to encompass all talents. It’s all one jaw dropping moment to the next. This is topped off by seeing the survivors of the first game close out Danganronpa 2 as an amazing call back, and a nod for more to come. As a bleak yet hopeful send off, Danganronpa 2 had the most impressive ending, balancing its two themes of both hope and despair effortlessly.
2. Danganronpa V3: Chapter 1
Non-spoiler reason why it’s second place: Started the third game off with one of the best twists in the Danganronpa universe.
Where Danganronpa 2 had the best finale, Danganronpa V3 arguably started off with the best impression. You know I love a well done marketing strategy, and Spike Chunsoft do it again with the unexpected deceit in their switching out of the all important protagonist of the third game of Danganronpa. I am certain that at least 90% of us fell for what the game presented to us: Kaede is our leading lady, she is our main character and Danganronpa V3’s protagonist. Hell, even on the Steam Page for Danganronpa V3, all the pictures set Kaede up as the game’s only protagonist and nothing is even mentioned of Shuichi. Therefor, as long as newcomers to the title have not been spoiled on this early twist, it comes as such a well prepared twist. Bravo Spike Chunsoft, you brilliant so and so’s.
As the first instance in which the protagonist attempted to kill the mastermind single handily to save the day, Chapter 1 was already shaping up to be a memorable case. To get the ball rolling (quite literally), the killing of Rantaro took me by surprise, despite it being the most obvious possibility for his very helpful character. And despite my love for the twist that Kaede was the killer, I find it a shame that we did not manage to play as a character as interesting as Rantaro or Kaede, especially as she would be the only female main character in the Danganronpa trilogy.
Kaede is also, despite appearing for such a brief time, one of the most selfless and heroic characters in the Danganronpa universe, spurred on to do such a potentially dangerous act of massive consequences by attempting to kill off the mastermind to protect everyone else. This is due to the motive this time involving a timer Monokuma has in place that will indicate everyone to be killed if no murder is committed before it runs out. Despite such small complaints, both Kaede and Rantaro can rest in peace with the knowledge of how much of an impact they made on us by taking my number two spot.
Kaede’s execution itself has become iconic all on its own, being referenced and meme’d ever since its release. While becoming remembered more humorously because of this, the true tragedy is still felt in the game’s universe by the angst felt that her death causes. Shuichi’s struggle to expose the truth having grown closer to Kaede tugs at the heartstrings during the trial, as she encourages her fellow supporter to do what he must as the Ultimate Detective and find the truth and acknowledge it. I find this brutal after the initial hints suggesting the coupling of Kaede and Shuichi mere moments before her demise. It’s shocking through and through. Thankfully, we are able to gain some form of closure by eventually uncovering the entire mystery of Rantaro’s murder as the case gets revisited towards the end of the game, but this still feels bittersweet.
1. Danganronpa 2: Chapter 5
Non-spoiler reason why it’s the best Danganronpa trial: Shocking, confusing, depressing; Chapter 5 has every emotion and more on top of a ruthlessly insane death.
What else could it be? As the trial that most Danganronpa fans revere as the very best, it’s emotional, mind-boggling, and overwhelming tense and depressing. Nagito, who is my favourite character in the Danganronpa universe, stakes everything he has on his one plan to take down everyone after only he discovers the truth of their despair origins, with the best utilisation of a character’s ultimate as their masterplan. The case itself is layered and complex without breaking into a realm of impossibility (at least in this bizarre world of Danganronpa).
The game suggests one thing after the next, with the end result being so well done and executed that your jaw will be on the ground. From what we would start to assume is a suicide, it’s later proved and established that Nagito did not die from his self inflicted wounds but instead used his status as the Ultimate Lucky student to be killed by the traitor without them knowing. As if this blind faith in his Ultimate couldn’t be any more shocking, this works, and to make the moment even more emotional, the person that happens to be the culprit of throwing the poison that ultimately kills Nagito is none other than our beloved Chiaki.
With two fan favourites biting the bullet at the same time but leaving very different feelings for the player to wallow in, it’s an unforgettable case and truly showcases what Danganronpa can do at its best and what Danganronpa represents.
Reflecting on the Danganronpa trilogy and picking out my favourites has made me realise my preference in its second game, but do note I am as much of a fan of the first game as the others (Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc’s Chapter 4 just missing out on the 5th spot). It proved difficult to narrow it down to only 5, and I have plenty more in the back of my mind, but now it’s your turn. What is your top 5?
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