Just in case that title wasn’t clear enough, this post is going to have some spoilers for the first trial of Danganronpa V3 so if you care about that then it was lovely of you to visit, I hope to see you again tomorrow. Otherwise I have kept it pretty spoiler free. So, enjoy without fear!
Around the turn of the year, I shared with you how the Danganronpa Visual Novels had devoured me. For a couple of months, they were my go to entertainment as soon as I had enough free time and brainpower to devote to them. I’m a huge fan of the franchise and have not done the games justice in any way.
This said, even a devotee such as myself, has to admit that the limited game mechanics and predictable structure can become repetitive by the third game. When I started V3 I had already poured dozens of hours opposing Monokuma and avoiding despair. I had watched 21 of my dear friends and beloved class mate murdered or executed (which is pretty much the same), had unraveled countless mysteries, hunted down every possible clue, marveled at twists and red herrings. I knew what to expect. In a murder mystery game that relies on shock value, this is a major obstacle.
And then came Kaede.
Kaede is your main character and protagonist when you start Danganronpa V3 Killing Harmony. Already, this was a breath of fresh air. The first and most obvious difference is that Kaede is a girl. It should be noted that Danganronpa has never made a huge distinction between genders. What I mean is that the casts were always evenly distributed and as all characters are more or less insane and over the top, all of them tend to be interesting in some way. There are plenty of strong, well developed female characters throughout. But you always played and experienced the games from the perspective of a boy. And in Makoto’s case, a boy who gets rather easily manipulated by the girls around him…
So I thought that this new view of things would be interesting. Already, I discovered that in the first hour of gameplay, other characters were treating me much more openly and with less suspicion than in the two previous games. I even had some of the guys hitting on me right off the bat. The tension in the communications was different in a subtle way.
However, beyond having double X chromosomes, Kaede had a few other things previous Danganronpa protagonists hadn’t had up until now. Namely, a skill and a personality… What I mean is that both Makoto (protagonist of the first game: Trigger Happy Havoc) and Hajime (protagonist of the second: Goodbye Despair) are everyman player surrogate characters. Makoto in particular is your brown eyed, brown haired nice reasonable good guy. Hajime has a bit more bite, and an interesting back story but despite being slightly more sarcastic he is still your voice of reason in a sea of insanity. Calm and stable, brown haired, brown eyed boy. And in their roles, they also have no particular gifts. Being average is part of who they are, and it plays a role in how they (you) view themselves and how others interact with them. (**to be fair both their eyes do have some green in them).
By contrast, blonde and purple eyed Kaede is a piano prodigy. A tangible and remarkable skill that has earned her spot among the elites. She’s also best girl. I actually don’t know if I’m using that expression correctly, but she is one of my favorite characters in the series. She’s optimistic and a little dorky. She makes decisions and isn’t afrais to take her place. She is a pleasantly imposing presence in the room without being an overbearing one. For the first time, I felt as if the protagonist was truly driving the plot rather than being strung along by it.
This was exciting. This simple adjustment in perspective considerably changed the emotional impact of the plot and the way I went about discovering the world around me. Even though I was once again exploring a weird unknown environment full of over the top personalities and suspicious events, I was seeing it through brand new eyes. Everything old was new again. I felt invigorated.
I spend so much time talking to everyone as Kaede. Seeing people react just a little differently that what I had become accustomed to, now that they were talking to a peer and a pretty girl. It was fascinating. I couldn’t get enough.
So, you can imagine what an utter bombshell it was to discover that she was to be executed at the end of the first trial. Kaede was in fact just the tutorial protagonist but as the tutorial is the entire first trial, you have plenty of time to get use to her.
This twist was just brilliant. Not only did it take me by surprise, it did so only because Kaede is so utterly charming. All the clues were clearly there but I had refused to see them because I didn’t want to. Neither did Suichi (the second protagonist). After having spent so much time as her, that execution was unbearable to watch. It was also one of the most brutal of all the games, on purpose I suspect.
But Kaede brief and gory starring turned served as much more than a showy plot twist. It changed the game, on a completely meta level.
Like I said, I loved all the Danganronpa games. I have a very difficult time picking a favorite so that’s saying something. I didn’t need the third one to be something new. However, Kaede is crafted in both looks and personality to be extremely appealing and endearing to the core demographic. By making her a main character rather than someone to protect and/or suspect, this forces the player to assert this character archetype in a different light than they would have in other games. I would put her as roughly equivalent to Chiaki in game 2, or a more pleasant Kyoko in game 1. So far, the similar archetype had always been presented as a borderline love interest. Seeing that dynamic reversed was already something unexpected.
Moreover, having us develop such a connection t the character then having it cruelly and unexpectedly ripped away not only gets a much deeper emotional reaction from the players but also makes us instantly commiserate with Suichi as we are feeling the same anger and anxiety over loosing Kaede. The bond formed with the game and the characters within is simply not comparable to the previous games. You are no longer exploring a dangerous mystery trying to find a way out, motivated by fear and a bit of curiosity. You are out for bloody revenge on your dear friend, filled with anger and disdain.
Kaede is a very well-crafted stereotypical, whose very typicalness was turned against the audience. A character created to completely subvert the expectations of weary and jaded players and change the experience from within their own minds. I’m not saying this was successful for everyone, but it did work on me. In a blood-soaked franchise that sits a top piles of dead bodies, Kaede’s death changed everything. For that alone. She deserves special consideration.