Danganronpa is one of my favorite series in video games. But I don’t want another game set within its world because I like when things end, and Danganronpa has ended pretty definitively twice by this point. But we’re getting a new game when the series finally comes to Switch later this year in the form of the Danganronpa Decadence collection. The compilation will include Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp, a revamped version of Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony’s board game and social sim side content. It’s not a new entry into the series’ iconic murder mystery setup, but it is something. And while the thought of seeing all these characters interact in a more peaceful context is nice, coming off the metatextual ending of Danganronpa V3, its existence feels…off.
The following will contain spoilers for the Danganronpa series. Reader discretion is advised.
First off, I get why Danganronpa S exists. Beyond putting these games on a system they should’ve been on years ago, if you want veteran fans to buy into your new Danganronpa Decadence ports, it’s good to have something they haven’t experienced yet. While many folks probably played the original board game and social sim elements of Danganronpa V3, the new and improved game features additional content, including adding characters who weren’t present in it, to begin with. Plus, it all takes place in an alternate reality as these characters go on a beach trip. This way, it creates new content that doesn’t step on the toes of anything that’s come before.
Danganronpa is a series that centers around death games between high school students. These kids are kept in a confined space and told by Monokuma, an animatronic teddy bear, the only means they have of escape is killing a classmate and getting away with murder. So each game is roughly 20-30 hours of their numbers dwindling until the truth of their confinement acts as a final mystery to solve. So by the end of each game, only a fraction of these teenagers are left standing. But Danganronpa S and the side game it was based on are non-canon social sim vignettes where characters from separate games interact in a way we haven’t seen before. It’s a fun “what if” scenario. One distanced from the death and despair of a series with an intricate, ongoing story that ended exactly as it needed to.
That original story was built upon themes of hope, despair, and what it looks like when those ideals clash, ending in 2016 with the anime Danganronpa 3: The End of Hope’s Peak High School. Then Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony came out a year later, and through an elaborate, fourth-wall-breaking setup, begged for the series to be put out of its misery before it could become a capitalistic parody of itself. It was positioned as the 53rd iteration of Danganronpa. In the game’s timeline, the franchise’s popularity had grown over the years, eventually transcending video games and anime and becoming a reality show where fans offered their own lives up as players in its killing game.
It all ended with the participants of the 53rd Danganronpa choosing to stop playing the game, the audience tuning out en masse, and the series being canceled. Even four years after it launched, I’m still kind of in awe of how bold Danganronpa V3’s ending is. However, it wasn’t without collateral damage, as the meta narrative pointed fingers at the audience for keeping the whole thing going with their monetary support. Some fans have since left a fandom that apparently didn’t want them anyway, and that’s a justifiable reaction. But I personally was fine with it, as I didn’t want the series to continue beyond what its story needed. And that story concluded a year prior in Danganronpa 3.
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Since V3’s launch, series director Kazutaka Kodaka has since left Spike Chunsoft to found Too Kyo Games. He has been publicly supportive of both Danganronpa Decadence and the inclusion of Danganronpa S. Still, when the franchise left on the note it did, it does make me wonder if V3’s heavy-handed satire was onto something. Of course, Danganronpa S is benign in the grand scheme of things, as it doesn’t interfere with the series’ original canon or create a new killing game scenario to capitalize on the same magic. But is it a slippery slope leading to more Danganronpa? More teenagers killing each other for the despair-driven amusement of its teddy bear antagonist?
I sympathize with Spike Chunsoft’s position here, as Danganronpa has arguably become more popular since its conclusion in 2017 than it was in its heyday. After the series’ introduction in the west in 2014 as PlayStation Vita games, the visual novels, and even the puzzle-shooter spin-off Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, have been ported to PC, PlayStation 4, and are now one game away from the mainline entries being on mobile devices. On top of that, its characters have become forces of nature themselves through memes and social media trends. There are flattering ones like Junko Enoshima’s TikTok fame and some less flattering ones like Nagito Komaeda’s unspeakable association with Sans from Undertale.
Given the fate of the series’ mastermind and their influence that lingered far beyond their death in the first game, Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc, there’s something almost poetic about how the murder mystery series has reached new peak popularity in the years that followed it dying on its own terms. But it’s also one of Spike Chunsoft’s most recognizable properties now. And while Danganronpa S: Ultimate Summer Camp isn’t actively taking away from Danganronpa V3’s message, it does exist in the spaces of something that wanted to die.
I don’t want more Danganronpa. But I get why Spike Chunsoft does and has used Danganronpa Decadence to ensure the series has a longer shelf life. I just hope the story that said all it had to say isn’t dragged from its grave for more than a board game and a beach trip. Especially when it buried itself, to begin with.