By David Fernandes / August 24th, 2015
|Title||Ultra Despair Girls – Danganronpa Another Episode|
|Release Date||September 1, 2015 (NA) September 4, 2015 (EU)|
|Age Rating||ESRB – Mature|
After the release of Danganronpa 2 in Japan, Chunsoft said in a Q&A that they were interested in exploring the franchise outside of mainline games with spin-off titles. It seems many ideas were bounced off the wall, including wanting to make a 3DS title because of the system’s 3D effects. Out of all of them, though, one did get realized, and we got Ultra Despair Girls – Danganronpa Another Episode or its Japanese title, Zettai Zetsubou Shoujo Danganronpa Another Episode for the PS Vita. As a spin-off game, does it live up to the quality of its predecessors and manage to be something unique while holding onto what made the series what it was?
Taking place after the first game and acting as branch between it and Goodbye Paradise, you play the role of Makato’s sister, Komaru Naegi. A captive of the Remnants of Despair, locked in an apartment room for a year and a half, she became complacent with living a not-so-normal life until a riot broke out in Towa City, with Monokuma-styled robots rounding out and killing adults left and right. Komaru herself was also a target, but was saved by Togami who was sent by Future Foundation to retrieve her. After being separated and getting her hands on a weapon, Komaru heads out to escape the city only to eventually run into the ones behind the mass slaughter, the group calling themselves the Warriors of Hope; children hoping to kill all the adults in the city to create a paradise for kids. After being equipped with an explosive bracelet and deemed a demon to target in their makeshift game, Komaru is dropped down to the city below their flying fortress and, once again, needing to be saved. This time, however, rescue comes in the form of Toko Fukawa in her split personality persona, Genocide Jill. Due to circumstances, they decide to help each other out, and head out further into the city hoping to find a way to escape.
While a spin-off with more emphasis on action-oriented gameplay, Spike Chunsoft didn’t skimp when it came to the story, with much of it being presented in the same visual novel-style of its predecessors. On the contrary, it’s so deep with lengthy exposition and cutscenes it becomes overbearing at times. Not that the plot was weak or the dialogue was uninteresting — far from it as it kept me interested all the way through with all the twists and turns you’d expect from Danganronpa with a dose of a darker, more serious tone. The game does retain its humor with all the gags and self-aware jokes you’d expect, mostly through the banter between Komaru and Toko, who’d you never guess could be friends from their initial meeting, but, after many hardships and fights between them, I felt the camaraderie by the end.
Komaru starts off as a whiny coward, but eventually starts to stop asking questions and, instead, takes more action while still having that naive niceness that I came to love. While I was apprehensive at first about Toko being the partner to Komaru, I eventually appreciated it, as she got a huge amount of much-needed character development, as she felt, like Yasuhiro, like more of a gag character, and really didn’t grow by the end of the first game. Besides a few returning faces between the first and second games, there are also the very colorful new characters, like the child antagonists who are the sole reason for the more drastic change in tone within the plot. That does not even take into consideration the army of kids encompassing the game’s enemy forces along with their Monokuma robots lining the streets with piles of bodies and pink blood plastered everywhere in their wake. Their backstories are presented in a more tragic manner than other characters in the series, as you can see the physiological trauma inflicted on them firsthand, with the notable one being Kotoko. I know quite a few fans are going have their skin crawl when they get to her chapter.
Not to say the adults are all pure — setting another example on why too much hope can lead to your downfall — my only gripe is that the Resistance seen all over the game’s marketing is barely involved until the end of the game. As I said above, the game doesn’t skimp out on story — for the good and bad that comes with it. The engaging plot experiences pacing issues thanks to constant interruptions of gameplay sections with more cutscenes, only for more cutscenes to pile on those, as well. Though, I do think that the game does a serviceable job at answering unanswered questions of the series and expanding on the how the world is shaped after the Most Despair-Inducing Event takes place. As a bridge between the first and second games, however, I felt it was lacking in setup. A returning character’s twist in the second game is ruined if you went into this game first before Goodbye Despair.
Of course, a spin-off wouldn’t be complete if it didn’t have some departure from the norm. That is where the third-person action and exploration factors come in. On the other hand, it isn’t as simple as that. While the game is a shooter with a third-person perspective, it’s also punctuated by clever use of problem solving and puzzles thrown into the mix due to the variety of different types of bullets you acquire. You will use these through many types of scenarios and challenges during the many checkpoints in each chapter, with a few brain teasers on the side. The bullets range from Break shots that award you with more a powerful shot if you hit weak points on the Monokumas, to Flame bullets with rapid-fire succession, to shots that control enemies to attack others, to bullets that push enemies with force. These are especially great around bottomless pits. Paralyze bullets allow you to hit multiple targets in close proximity and those in water. Not only that, you are able to enhance the bullets themselves by adding effects that upgrade stats like impact, effect and the amount of ammo you can carry of each type. You can buy these from the various shops scattered throughout each chapter with the coins dropped by fallen enemies.
The problem solving comes in a the form of both normal encounters with enemies that could gang up on you with multiple types of Monokumas at once and different scenarios like defending someone, waves of enemies that require more strategy and the kids impeding your progression and giving you riddles to solve. Then, there are the challenges found in rooms with Monokuma Arcade machines that allow you to see the next area, allowing you to plot your next moves carefully with restrictions on bullet use and prerequisites liking destroying all enemies in one go with the enemies being in the right position to get a passing grade. Then, we have Toko, who now has the ability to control her split personality, basically being the game’s transformation mode that takes no damage and can curb stomp most of the enemies quite quickly, but needs batteries to power her shock gun, so it’s not infinite. This, too, can be upgraded in the shop. The exploration portion lets you find skills in books, various items in the environment or optional challenges to locate hidden secrets that factor into tallying up your end-chapter ranking.
The game looks stunning as a handheld game, using the paper cut-out 2D style and traditional full animation during cutscenes. Likewise, the in-game graphics have crisp model rendering which, while not too expressive, have at least the visual novel portraits to make up for it during most dialogue sequences. The menus themselves add personality to all the options. Pausing has the cutesy video game-themed veneer and 2D chibi sprites you have seen from the franchise and more all blending so well together. With the game chock-full of fanservice as is, of course the soundtrack wouldn’t slouch on that, either. Ultra Despair Girls features more remixes of the previous game’s soundtrack, similar to how Danganronpa 2 had remixes to the first game’s tracks, while also throwing in some new tracks that, while not as good as I hoped, at least fit the atmosphere and are catchy. The game runs well most of the time, though I did notice a few frame rate hiccups when exploring and, at times in combat, when things got more intense with multiple enemies, explosions, and using a variety of bullets in quick succession.
In the end, Ultra Despair Girls brings forth an interesting new premise to the Danganronpa series, and I can feel how much experimentation went into this to make it work right, yet also have it stand on its own. All I wish is that the gameplay sections were more focused, as I love the approach they took for this title. I hope they don’t stop here and, instead, expand and improve upon what they have as a base. While I enjoyed the dialogue and plot for the most part, especially that twist ending, the game arrives at a surprisingly uneventful conclusion that felt unsatisfactory, and it honestly seemed more like a setup for a direct sequel or, at least, future elements to spring up for the next mainline game, thus cheapening it. For the 16 hours I got out if it, not including going back to get all the collectibles or reading the included novel as an extra, which focuses on Yasuhiro after the beating the game, I had fun. For fans to the series, I would say it’s worth checking out, while for those who are new to the franchise, I’d definitely recommend going through the other two titles before playing this.
Review copy provided by the publisher
Ultra Despair Girls – Danganronpa Another Episode is available on Amazon:
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