D3 Publisher, a company whose recent track record in making games hasn’t been very good, decided to make a Danganronpa-inspired game about idols aiming for the top. The concept is very simple: each year, idols participate in the Dream of Dream (D.o.D.) event, where they compete in various idol activities and the winner gets to be the center of a big concert. It’s a huge event that has the entire country tuning in, and good performance in the show leads to an increase in fans. This year, the D.o.D takes place in a remote western-style mansion and welcomes seven participants. The master of ceremony is an obnoxious pink elephant mascot character, and the setting for this year’s D.o.D. is awfully lacking in glamour compared to previous years’ events. The event is held in six stages, each stage having a loser, and the one who survives all stages gets crowned as this year’s top idol. The loser of each stage has to participate in a consolation show that “may” offer them the “chance” for a comeback…
Except not really, because it tells you right there in the title and all the promotional material that they will be thrown into a show of death. In fact the Death Live is just some animated PV that starts off like some bad variety show and ends in some “accident” that results in the participant’s death. The death games are inspired by Danganronpa’s over-the-top punishment scenes, but following the theme of idol variety tv shows. The deaths are far tamer than what Danganronpa put out, and the death games ended up being really lame. It doesn’t reach the sweet juxtaposition of disturbing cheeriness of DR, so Idol Death Game’s mascot and scenes just end up silly at best and usually obnoxious.
They got dark porn game artist Metawo (notable games are Extravangaza, MinDead Blood, and Gore Screaming Show — none of which you should search up at work, and possibly ever if your tolerance for graphic violent sexual content is poor) to design the flashy idol characters and made some pretty decent idol songs for each girl. They’ve got some nice 3D models for the girls too that represent their 2D designs very well, and fully animated Death Live scenes. They had some pretty decent assets that seemed to push the Vita’s graphical power, but even shortly before release, you would have no idea how the game actually played even if you watched all the PVs.
That’s probably because the devs didn’t actually design a video game beyond the concept of taking cute(ly-designed) idols and making them compete to their death. The purpose of the game is to control the idol you selected and win the D.o.D., stage-by-stage. At first you can only pick Chiharu, but after clearing her story you unlock everyone else. The gameplay is basically the same for everyone (except for a certain character), so you’re basically going through the game 6 times. Each playthrough probably takes 2-3 hours, and meeting certain conditions unlocks the D.o.D. chapter, which is the finale where you find out the truth behind everything. You also go through the same gameplay as usual.
The “challenge” in each stage can best be described as RNG bullshit, except you can use in-game currency to cheat, effectively making it a pay-to-win system. For example, the first stage has you spinning a wheel and you pass if it lands on the number ball that you have. You can purchase balls numbered from 1-9, and basically the more balls you purchase the higher your chance of passing. You can waltz in there with all the balls from 1-9 and get a 100% chance of passing, or repeated try with less balls. Each try costs money, so either way it’s pay-to-win. The second and third stages sound more involved because they test your dancing and acting skills, but they are also really just RNG because you just pick 3 “appeals” that have a certain % chance of succeeding and raise a gauge by a certain amount of points, and you pass if you reach the threshold. Not only can you retry (with each retry giving you a points multiplier), but you can also buy various buffs that increase the chance of your appeals succeeding or increase the points each successful appeal gets you.
Outside of taking the challenges, you move your character horizontally in a 2D plane (so technically 1D), and can move between rooms and examine objects to find things. Moving and examining takes up time, and the other idols will independently act and take the stage challenge themselves. They can pass or fail randomly, and if everyone else passes before you do (in the case of stages 1-3) then you lose. You can find coins, or scandals about other idols. The scandals act as hints to the Bakuroyale, which is a system that lets you challenge another idol to a scandal-exposing battle. The loser (AKA the one with a bigger scandal revealed) gives the winner coins, and this system is the most effective way to gain more coins. You basically hit them with the right combination of keywords that expose their scandal, but for the more powerful scandals, you will have to buy more specific keywords from the shop which randomly shuffles its keyword selection as time passes.
Savagely exposing another idol’s scandalous acts should be the main draw of the game, right? Well not only are a lot of the scandals absolutely banal shit like “she was late to an event this one time” or “she didn’t know this popular song,” but even for the interesting scandals you don’t get anything cool because the Bakuroyale is held in a stock 演出 with the scandal being exposed through some system text instead of a real conversation between two people. There is literally zero drama felt even though I just exposed that you did completely illegal stuff.
There’s an affection system in the game, and whoever you challenge to a Bakuroyale will probably end up hating you. The affection system gets relevant in stages 4 and 5 of the game which are basically popularity votes (that you are given limited time to explore and prepare for, independent of what anyone else does) where each idol has to vote for someone other than herself, and the loser of the poll dies. If there is a tie in losers the one with less fans dies and at this point in time you can buy fans with coins. I lost stage 4 exactly once and that was during my very first playthrough, and I basically did nothing differently on the retry for that stage but somehow the voting results ended up different with the exact same people at the same affection level. You can bribe other people to vote for or against you (not guaranteed to work), or if someone who likes whoever you are controlling is still alive, you can just do nothing and depend on them.
The only part of the game where you can truly get stuck in is the very last stage, where you are given no time to explore and earn coins. You participate in a dance-off against the other idol remaining that works similarly to stage 2 and 3’s picking appeals, except final judgement is dependent on who has the most fans total by the end so you can just pay money to pad your fanbase to the point where even if you screw up every dance move thanks to extremely bad luck, your rival can’t end up with more fans than you. On the flip side, if you have less fans than your rival at this point and are also poor, it is possible to be stuck here and be forced to reset until RNG is in your favor or in the worst case, restart the game. Did I mention that there’s no manual saving or save file management, and the game autosaves at the end of each stage you win? So you can’t actually restart from an earlier stage to earn more coins/fans if you get stuck at stage 6!
The gameplay barely makes up a game, but the final nail in the coffin is the story. The concept itself is not bad, but the characters are one-note and up until the last stage the reactions to the deaths are extremely flat with all survivors believing that there’s no way you can kill someone on TV and the Death Lives must be acting and special effects. The suffocating despair felt in Danganronpa is basically nonexistent here, and there isn’t even anything that got me attached to the characters so I didn’t actually care if they died. Some of them have interesting backstories, but the game stops there — there’s no character development other than some extremely convenient bullshit in the present and the true route attempts to develop all the characters at once in unbelievable ways. There’s a character who won the D.o.D. last year and boycotted it because she despises the entertainment industry for treating her popstar mother as a product rather than a person with an actual life, but her route is about how she’s actually enjoying being an idol and how she should just live up to her fans’ expectations of her, essentially pushing aside the very real problems that her backstory represents.
The true route attempts to solve everyone’s problems given a limited amount of time, which results in the girl who did illegal things promising not to do them anymore and getting little repercussions, the girl on revenge for bullying mellowing out with a simple off-screen apology, and the aforementioned girl trying to take on the entire industry deciding to slowly change it with everyone else. The game ultimately tries to shine a positive light on idols, reaffirming their image as girls who work hard for their dreams and bring joy to others…which doesn’t really work when it just brushes aside all the problems in the characters’ backstories in favor of empty solutions that are reached without seriously exploring anyone as an actual character. Perhaps if the game spent more time developing the characters rather than lazily stitching together their backstories and resolutions, the last route and ending might have been more convincing, but in its current state it just tells the player “Yes we know fucked up things happen in the idol industry, but who cares? See, they clearly enjoy singing and dancing on stage, everything is fine!”
The despair is not strong enough, the hope gained at the end feels empty, and the characters managed to be extremely flat and a waste of their relatively interesting backstories (I guess Hime was ok since she works as a static character). The gameplay is boring, repetitive, and contributed to the game negatively, to the point where a straightforward visual novel would have made for a better experience.
I got the game for pretty cheap (1800 yen) and wanted to see why people hated it so much, and now I know. I should’ve just spent that money on Tales of Berseria DLC costumes instead, I would probably have more fun looking at Eizen’s swimsuit attachment…