Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls Review
Release Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: NIS America
Developer: Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd
In a world on the brink of destruction, despair seems inevitable. After being imprisoned for over a year, Komaru Naegi's unwilling but mundane imprisonment is broken by a vicious attacking robotic bear. As she escapes, she is rescued by the Future Foundation. Another attack finds her left alone and eventually meeting up with a strange woman with a strange past and a multiple personality disorder, swapping her between a timid, unconfident, and sarcastic girl and a mass murderer. Together, they must decide between escaping the horrors of the city or facing them head on.
As the title suggests, Danganronpa Another Episode is not the first game in this series. I reviewed the two-pack of Danganronpa 1-2 Reload that was released recently on the PS4. This game is receiving the remaster treatment as well, to prepare for the Fall release of Danganronpa V3. The biggest complaint I'd have about the series is the necessity of following the release order. While this game is enjoyable on it's own, there are a severe number of spoilers involved for earlier releases. If you are just now getting into the series, your best route is to go over to my original review. There are going to be a few spoilers from here on in, but the game takes place between Danganronpa 1 and 2. Simply seeing any part of this will create gameplay spoilers for the first game. You could likely enjoy the game without playing the second, as it's a prequel to that one, but you would miss out on a few little eggs here and there that the game is made to fill you in on.
So, now that the plot is saved for people who haven't played the first game, you have seen Komaru before. She's the first game's protagonist's sister. We catch a glimpse of their family with implications that something terrible has happened to them. While we still don't know what happened to Mom and Dad at the beginning of the tale, Komaru has been imprisoned. Byakuya Togami has created the Future Foundation to fight against Monokuma and the despair taking over the world. Komaru meets up with Toko Fukawa, making up the Ultra Despair Girls team. Toko's learned to control her alter ego, Genocide Jack. While still full of bloodlust, she now sees Jack as a strength, and is able to use him to take down reams of enemies. Primarily, you control Komaru, who wields a special "Hacking Gun" that grows in use over the course of the game. Starting with a basic shot, you'll end up moving electrical equipment, forcing enemies to dance, reading hidden messages, and taking control of enemies with your gun. Toko controls Jack via a taser that you collect batteries for. At any time you can press a button, and take control of Jack, who slices through the enemies with ease, but is limited in the amount of time you can use her.
Ultra Despair Girls is a departure from the original series, which is a set of visual novels with Class Trials that offer a set of mini-games to work your way to the truth. Within this game, there are plenty of story beats, but gameplay is through a third-person shooter style. All general enemies are a variation on Monokumas, whether they have bombs to throw, knives to slice with, or are some sort of monstrosity of pieced together parts. There are times you might get overwhelmed by a surprise attack, but by and large this will not thrill, say, a Gears of War fan. The shooting is very simplistic, and on the base difficulty I always had plenty of ammunition, with some even miraculously appearing at times I ran out. The storyline is told through cinematics that feel very much like a visual novel, with lengthy text and talk between action scenes. While fun, the action scenes simply feel like a transition between storyline bits, going through a ruined city, subway system, sewers, and the like.
Much like the first Danganronpa, what starts out as a simple story quickly unfolds to more than it originally seemed. To be bluntly honest, I was disappointed when Toko survived the first Killing Game. Not that I would want anyone to die, but her constant condescending bickering, drooling over Byakuya, and having her tongue flap a foot out of her mouth every time she went insane drove me nuts. As this game's tale goes on, though, you learn she has developed a little control over her alter ego Genocide Jack, and slowly comes to terms that not everyone is there to demean her. Her character arc is great, and it redeems the character in my mind. Unfortunately, the game does not really give a lot of reason to utilize her. On lower difficulty levels, you have more opportunity but there's less reason to use her, while at a harder difficulty you get less opportunity but have more reason. As I punched through the early levels, I took the storyline discussion that you took a risk regularly taking advantage of her powers literally, and learned to defend properly with Komaru. Luckily, the game does throw instances of default use of Toko, and you can figure out different ways to go through the battles as you work towards getting high grades on each area. You also have a few hidden treats to find, like icons representing the five main child enemies, that give you replay value. In general, this game does have more replay value than the other games in the series, given it's action-oriented style.
Danganronpa: Ultra Despair Girls is prettier than it's original Vita release, and is obviously being released to stoke up interest in the upcoming Danganronpa V3. Of note is the varied media release of the story, though. 1,2, and UDG are part of a whole, whilst the upcoming V3 is a whole new storyline. Meanwhile, an anime representing the first game was released, while the second anime series, dubbed Danganronpa 3, released recently, and is the end of the story found in the first two games, and not an animated retelling of game 2 or the upcoming game 3. My understanding is that these three games do wrap up nicely, but in order to see the end of the whole arc you'll have to see the anime, and I'm going to be researching to see how separate V3 is and whether or not I'd be better off hunting down the anime before September hits. With the strong spoilers playing these games out of order, I'd hate to miss out on something important.
Ultra Despair Girls will fill a great niche for fans of the series, giving more lore to the storyline and offering fans more to enjoy. Newcomers should start with the first in the series and work their way here in preparation for the September release of V3. It's a great variation on gameplay, allowing gamers who may not be used to shooters get a little action, but it won't satisfy a true hardcore shooter fan, with tactics boiling down to "back up and shoot." The game does a great job of utilizing puzzles though, offering rewarding victories for dropping the right combination of special shots for maximum carnage. Danganronpa style cutscenes show deaths of major characters much like the executions in previous games, and the music and graphical style pull you right back into the series. A fan of the series can't go without this story bit, and newcomers should really start at the beginning unless they only plan on playing this one game. Those ready to play Ultra Despair Girls will find a fun and tense storyline with some exciting shooter gameplay mixed in. Some strong character growth wraps up a wonderful and fun package that's bound to entertain.
Special thanks to Spike Chunsoft Co., Ltd and NIS America for letting me continue reviewing this series.
-A great storyline link between the first two games in the series
-Characters feel consistent even in the leap to fully animated 3D models
-Feels like part of the series even with a completely different playstyle
-Completely different play style may throw off fans of the series
-Toko. She grows, but still grates on me with her negativity
-If you really want to enjoy the series, you've got a while before you get here