Monday, March 12, 2018

Danganronpa V3: Kaede, Shuichi, and the First Major Plot Twist

I couldn't fit everything into the post I wrote last week about Danganronpa V3 since I was focusing on the main storyline, and there just wasn't room to talk about Kaede, Shuichi, and the first plot twist.

As before, there are spoilers beyond this point, including ending and post-game material.

When I first bought DRV3 I was really looking forward to playing as Kaede, who would be the series' first female protagonist. I was curious about how they were going to handle it since generally Japanese popular media tends to write their female protagonists differently from the male ones. (Look at Persona 3 and the sheer volume of content that was rewritten to accommodate the female protagonist.)

Male Dangaronpa protagonists tend to be a little bit wimpy. They're never the loudest voice in the room, which fits their role as one of the few sane people in a room full of eccentrics, but having an even more passive female protagonist was probably not going to be fun.

Though Kaede is a bit too "genki" for my tastes, always wanting to thinking positively and brute force any obstacle through optimism, she also takes zero crap from other students and she is wonderfully assertive through the first trial.

Which makes it a shame that she's not the real protagonist.

The game handles the transition well. Shuichi is constantly with her throughout the first chapter of the game, and I thought the two of them made an adorable pair. I had Kaede hang out with Shuichi at every opportunity and even the other students made comments about how they seemed to be a couple even though they had just met.

Unlike Kaede's talent as the Ultimate Pianist, Shuichi's talent as the Ultimate Detective is immediately relevant to their situation. We've had an Ultimate Detective in Danganronpa before in Kyoko, so I was curious how DRV3 would handle Shuichi differently.

Given his relatively passive personality (one character even refers to Shuichi as Kaede's "beta boy toy") I figured that in a different game he could have been the protagonist. Little did I know...

In a bid to help everyone escape the killing game, Kaede tries to kill the mastermind first, only she screws up, and the victim is someone else entirely. (That's not the entire truth, but that's all that matters for what I'm discussing here.) She enters the trial knowing the truth has to come out, though the player does not, and she warns Shuichi that he has to be ready to expose the truth no matter how terrible it may be.

Initially it looks like Shuichi just freezes up during the trial, even when it looks like people are ready to pin him as the culprit, but Kaede pushes him and once the player correctly concludes that Kaede is the killer, control is handed over to Shuichi, making him the new protagonist and he finishes the trial in revealing how Kaede committed the whole thing.

While I like Shuichi, it was really rough giving up Kaede. Not only was she a fun character, but there are already so many female characters dying to motivate male ones, and make no mistake that Kaede's death fuels Shuichi throughout most of this game. He might have only known her for a few days, but I don't think a single chapter goes by without some reminder that he misses her.

As for the twist itself, I both loved and hated it.

Aside from the fact that Kaede was a decoy protagonist, she essentially commits the crime while the player is in control of her. Some of it you can see. When she rearranges the books in the library to form a ramp for her Rube Goldberg machine, the player gets to see that. We don't know the specifics of why she is doing that, other than the explanation she gives Shuichi, but we at least see it, so that's fair enough.

But we don't see her grabbing the shot put ball and wrapping it in her vest, nor do we see her roll the ball to start the whole deathtrap. Even if it was partially covered from the player, there should have been some indication that she had done something.

Instead, when she mentioned during the trial that she already knew who the culprit was, I stupidly went around pointing out every single member of the cast (and getting it wrong) until Kaede was the only one left. That part of the trial shouldn't have played out that uncomfortably, with me constantly restarting because I hadn't a clue what I was supposed to do.

Hiding things from the player aside, I liked the twist, because the game had built up the bond between Kaede and Shuichi so well in the opening portion of the game that it was easy to see how hard he struggled with outing her has the culprit, even though she had warned him he was about to face an unpleasant truth.

Shuichi as a protagonist differs a bit from what we're used to. Though he's similarly on the passive side, and prone to being run over by more vocal personalities, when he does choose to throw down, he has the most aggressive posture out of the three mainline protagonists. Shuichi is also more cynical than Makoto or Hajime. He's the protagonist who ends the game discarding the entire hope vs. despair conflict, expecting to die and for no one to escape alive. In fact, he essentially asks his friends to die with him, because only by refusing to play can they stop the killing game.

He's definitely my favorite Danganronpa protagonist. And while his personality is part of it, there's something else that I want to bring up. It's not core to the game, but that's also why I think it's important.

Shuichi is one of the few bisexual male characters I've seen in Japanese media, and it's even more surprising since he's the protagonist. He's a bit in the closet about it, since he tells himself that he really shouldn't be thinking about another boy like that, but it's pretty clear he's attracted to Kaito in the main game (he actually blushes when Kaito compliments him) and in the post-game alternate universe material he has additional scenes that show he's potentially open to relationships with Kokichi and K1-B0 (the latter being a male-presenting robot).

Kaede might be the closest thing to his official love interest, but it's nice to see other dimensions to him that just happen to be part of his character rather than front and center with the plot.

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