While DualShockers never reviews a game twice, Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls is making its way from PlayStation Vita to PlayStation 4. And while our 2015 review of the Vita version is still as valid as ever (the game got an 8.o out of 10), we wanted to give everyone a second opinion on how Ultra Despair Girls holds up on a big screen TV, two years later. Check out that opinion, below:
I’m overjoyed with the status that the Danganronpa series holds in the mind-share of Western gamers. While there seem to be an ever-growing amount of visual novels that are swept under the rug by larger outlets (but prominently on display here at DualShockers), Danganronpa holds an almost holy place for PlayStation fans. Developer Spike Chunsoft and publisher NISA has managed to craft a style, narrative, and theme that has grown far beyond its PlayStation Vita roots, to home consoles and PCs with unwavering success.
And while we wait in the interim for Danganronpa V3 due out next year, Spike Chunsoft developed and released Dangaronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls – a spin-off from the mainline series. However unlike most spin-offs (barring the Kingdom Heart series), this title is no less crucial to the game’s story arc and plot lines, representing a necessary playthrough for those enveloped in the dark, mysterious world and calamities within. And while Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls launched on PlayStation Vita with relative success, the title has been ported over to the PlayStation 4 in an effort to capture new audiences before the new game’s release.
Unlike the main series, Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls is not a visual novel but instead a third-person shooting puzzle game. With Danganronpa’s signature arts-and-crafts, over the top, sadistic flavor, I think any gamer would be initially skeptical about how a fleshed-out and living (or, I suppose, dying) world would translate from visual novels to 3D explorable environments.
The answer is ‘surprisingly well’ – while the graphics and textures haven’t seen any noticeable update since the PlayStation Vita version of the game, the art direction and atmosphere of Towa City holds up to the dark themes in Danganronpa. And though certain areas tend to get repetitive, the urban setting continuously offers incentives to check nooks and crannies for collectibles.
Players take control of Komaru Naegi, the middle-school aged sister of Makoto Naegi (the protagonist of Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc). During and following the events of the first game, Komaru has been kidnapped and held prisoner in an unknown location by unknown persons. In comes the Future Foundation (a collective of teens fighting to counteract the despair spreading across the land), led by prominent characters from the first game to rescue her from zombie-like Monokumas.
After being broken out of her prison, Komaru is swiftly recaptured by the Warriors of Hope – deranged and damaged elementary schoolers, hell-bent on murdering any adult (read “Demon”) — in an ongoing war to create a child-only paradise. After being released Most Dangerous Game-style, she rendezvous with series-favorite split-personality killer Toko Fukawa to take on the brats, rescue Future Foundations’ leader, and escape Towa City.
The framework of the story is epic and engaging, even when compared to Danganronpa’s typical strong narratives. And while the story seems to stumble in the early chapters, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat when major plot points were revealed. However, while the underlying storyline is above par in general, the script for Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls (perhaps due to localization issues) and delivery seem fumbled, at best.
Voice actors range from very good to some of the worst I’ve heard this generation – thankfully, the talent wasn’t wasted on the smaller roles with the best voice actors being saved for Toko, Komaru, and the more prominent villains. While I assume it must be hard casting people to voice-act elementary schoolers, there would be drawn out sections that were nearly unbearable – in writing and delivery.
Also, I had the distinct feeling like Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls doesn’t respect the players’ intelligence. Way too often obvious plotlines or easily spotted directions are left hanging for egregiously long periods of time. Without delving into spoilers, chapter-long predictable story arcs tend to lose their impact when you can see them coming from a mile away. This is especially disappointing, given some of the tight turns, mysteries, and revelations in Danganronpa’s previous games’ delivery of plot points.
Outside of the story, the combat in Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls takes time to warm up to. Komaru possess a gun that shoots Truth Bullets, with nine different varieties and abilities – players will be tasked with mowing down hordes of Monokumas with occasionally finicky camera angles and aiming problems. Outside of that, the variety of enemies seems bland; while there are roughly ten different types of Monokumas, you will regularly only run into three versions. Also, the weakness is always the same spot for each enemy type and a good number of bosses – the Monokuma’s red eye.
Even the occasional boss fights seem quick, easy and uninspired. You face off against collections of Gundam-like robots controlled by the Warriors of Hope, who will likely be taken down by your recently-acquired gun upgrade. The puzzles are often too easy and, fittingly, not satisfying.
And though the shooting mechanics feel uneven (even when you start getting used to it), Toko’s up-close melee attacks (swapped out for a limited time while batteries last) are always a ton of fun. While borderline overpowered, Toko always makes quick work of enemies and is a terrific thing to keep in your back pocket for when you start getting flustered by wonky control schemes.
The main gameplay objective of Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls will be roaming from story plot to story plot, exploring the city along the way. Players will run into swarms of enemies (often lurking around corners for a quick jump scare) and a range of hidden collectibles. Also along the route are small puzzle sections that will task you with doing an objective (kill all of the enemies in one shot, electrocute all enemies, etc.).
The gameplay problems also go further into Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls‘s architecture. I’ve had to restart the game once or twice due to Monokuma’s not showing up in puzzles. Sometimes the Monokuma AI will be so atrocious they will simply get stuck in doors, not noticing you if they are right in front of you.
However, with all my trepidation with gameplay, the story is without a doubt compelling enough for you to grab Danganronpa: Another Epsiode – Ultra Despair Girls if you are a fan of the series. With, perhaps, the exception of one point, which is a slightly delicate situation – especially with the readers who visit DualShockers.
Fan service. There is a good chunk in this game, and that is typically a positive for any title – as the name would imply, it is often a boon to long-time fans of the series and bonus treats to those invested in looking for it. You will fairly often notice underskirt shots, Toko’s lingerie will be apparent whenever you use a charged attack, tentacle machines will attempt to pleasure Komaru, and Toko will talk about subjects like Komaru and her brother getting it on.
Now, if we were to stop there – no complaints from me. Japanese culture is Japanese culture, and I (as well as most staff at DualShockers) prefer a hands-off approach to localization. However, there are some instance of fan service that seem to directly work against the game’s dark tones or integral plot points – which severely detracted from the immersion of those scenes.
This can be found in the latter half of Chapter 3 – the Ultimate Actress (an elementary schooler) has very clearly been a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her parents and managers, leading her to pursue the death of all adults. The tones are dark, and chilling – she’s an enemy players can truly sympathize with and is tragic in her own right. She tortures Komaru with sexual-based instruments because that is the pain and suffering she knows.
Then a shift happens. You are fighting her head-on with Toko, and Toko’s abilities slowly start stripping the elementary school actress down into her underwear. To get around whatever rating boards (ESRB/PEGI), she screams out “I mean, I’m actually 18 but, this is really too much!” And with that line I was left dumb-struck – what the hell?
The whole premise of Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls is about a war between elementary school kids and adults. The whole premise that this elementary schooler is 18+ counteracts the story they have built up over time. While I understand trying to subvert American ratings boards, Spike Chunsoft and NISA’s localization team shouldn’t be shoehorning lines and burning down story arks in their effort to accomplish it.
And this immersion-breaking misuse of fan-service isn’t limited to that scene. In one of the game’s climax battles, amid powerful character revelations and the strongest emotional scenes of the story, Komaru is haphazardly stripped into her bra and underwear for seemingly no reason. Why ruin the tension of major story plots for fan-service you can throw in at any other point of the game?
So while fan-service itself isn’t an issue in the game, the execution of it is. Even if you are a person who is particularly fond of fan-service in titles, expect to find yourself disappointed with how some of it is handled.
And while spotty localization may be a small complaint among gameplay woes and the visuals in the port, I may be most confused with the intended audience that Spike Chunsoft is aiming for. The story is far too niche and backstory-dependent to be an introduction to the Danganronpa franchise. On the other end, the gameplay is so different (and on top of that, average) that I can’t see too many series fans getting to the end of the game – without a doubt a necessity for those invested in the story.
So I’m left with a luke-warm recommendation. By no means is Danganronpa: Another Episode — Ultra Despair Girls awful on PlayStation 4 and (despite shoddy UI, lack of variety, and poor localization) the story will reach gripping highs – especially to those already invested in the series and anticipating the sequel. I enjoyed my time with Danganronpa: Another Episode – Ultra Despair Girls, even if it felt by the end it had overstayed its welcome. However, for those invested in the series’ plot and gameplay of the original games, you may be better off checking out the cutscenes on YouTube.