Review: Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls – Hope and Despair Locked in Mortal Combat
As her brother languishes in the despair of watching classmates die and kill each other, she lives in captivity for nearly two years, hoping for the day of her freedom.
Then the riots occur, she is freed and hope turns to despair as she sees the nightmare the world has become in her absence.
Komaru Naegi, younger sister of Makoto Naegi, must survive.
Warning: This review contains mild to moderate spoilers for Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair. Proceed at your own risk.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls revolves around the unlikely partnership between Komaru and first game survivor Toko Fukawa as they keep themselves and each other alive during the massive riots in the once safe haven of Towa City.
During and after the events of the first game, we learn of the war and devastation that has been inflicted on the world by Ultimate Despair.
This title takes place between the aforementioned game and its sequel, as a way to explain what has been happening while the protagonists have been trapped in a hellish game of life and death.
Komaru is taken from her home soon after her brother’s absence and kept in a small apartment for a year and a half. One day in her new “normal” life, the apartment is broken into by a Monokuma and she is able to escape amidst the confusion (with a little help from a familiar face) right into the massive riots overtaking Towa City.
Armed with the Hacking Gun that is capable of taking down the Monokuma robots and later partnered with Toko, Komaru must figure a way to finally escape the city while taking down the “Warriors of Hope,” the masterminds behind the riots.
Ultra Despair Girls is a complete genre change from the main series. Unlike the latter titles, the former is a third person shooter — quite the bold move from developer Spike Chunsoft as its their first foray into this genre.
The results are surprisingly fun, albeit a little flawed.
As you progress through the game, different types of Monokuma foes are introduced. There’s your garden-variety basic model, Bomber Monokuma, Shield Monokuma and other fearsome types. Each one has a different skill set and must be taken out by utilizing the Hacking Gun’s variety of ammo.
Controls are interesting but work pretty well once you get used to them. The left trigger on the PS Vita activates aiming and the right is how you shoot. Ammo switching is done with the Square bottom.
There are several types of ammo acquired throughout the early chapters of the game such as Break, Move, Detect, Dance, Knockback, Paralyze, Burn and Link. Each one serves a specific function that is both easy to discern and well implemented in each level.
Ammo restocks pretty frequently, meaning that unless you’re incredibly careless when taking aim you will always have more than enough until your next restock.
To further test player skills in their ability to creatively utilize each type of ammo, there are special minigame stages that (with the exception of the first game) require players to destroy all enemies at once using only certain types of ammo.
The shooting would have been greatly enhanced with the addition of a quick shot feature. As it stands, players must aim carefully down the sights in order to shoot a Monokuma.
This is fine for sniping but when a Monokuma is quickly barreling down the hallway and you need to constantly run back to gain enough time and distance to aim and fire, things get a bit hairy to say the least.
An option to quickly fire a shot would be incredibly useful, especially early game when being able to quickly take down a target is the razor thin difference between life and death.
On the other end of the spectrum is the lack of precision aiming. When targeting a moving foe, it’s rather difficult to take the game’s advice and hit the glowing red eye when you have to constantly fine-tune the aim with the analog stick.
I will admit that once you are accustomed to the aiming system, using it effectively becomes second-nature, however, the learning curve is rather steep, especially at the beginning of the game when you are most vulnerable and possess few skills to aid you.
Another issue is the camera. Most of the time it works as intended but occasionally it can get caught in tight spaces and require a few precious seconds of reorienting — seconds that often can’t be spared when being chased down by an enemy.
Unlike shooting with Komaru, the camera problems truly rear their ugly head when playing as Genocide Jack. Genocide Jack originated from the first game and now you can play as her in all her incredibly cheap glory once her special battery gauge is charged by at least once battery cell.
Revel in the destruction and chaos she wreaks upon the Monokuma with her deadly scissors. Delight in the misery of a camera that can’t accurately track enemy activity in the heat of battle. It’s a good thing that Jack is immune to damage but that still doesn’t address the waste of battery life as you spend precious seconds constantly re-adjusting the camera to actually hit the Monokuma.
Despite these complaints, overall the gameplay is not bad in the slightest. Yes there are certain amenities that could enhance the experience but once could argue that the lack of them contributes to the atmosphere of the game.
Having no precise aim and no quick fire means players must carefully plan out their moves in advance and must pay close attention to their surroundings to minimize opportunities for ambushes. This also means that players do need to aim properly in order to conserve ammo until the next refill comes along.
Interesting to note is that while the skill system is rather straightforward and simplistic (garner skills by leveling up or by finding special books scattered around) the system used to enhance ammo types is very unique.
Basically you can equip different kinds of characteristics called “Bling” — such as “Definitely,” “Swiftly,” or “Harshly” — in order to increase ammo performance. By combining them in certain ways you can greatly augment the effects of that ammo.
Ammo itself can be modified by three categorizes and each Bling increases the value of each one in different ways. It’s fun to experiment with combinations to find the best ones.
While gameplay can be divisive, the sheer excellence of the writing certainly isn’t. As a series with its start in the visual novel genre, the quality and care taken with the plot, characters and scenarios is palpable. It’s honestly difficult to even put into words how incredible the script is, but I will do my utmost best to describe the experience.
The protagonists constantly look for a way to escape, a way to fight back against “The Warriors of Hope” and the Monokuma army and yet to do so must face death and the suffering of the surviving adults at every turn.
When Hope falters, Despair quickly seeps in. Where Despair consumes, Hope is found once more. These themes are ever-present and interchangeable — the impeccable writing conveys this twisted relationship between the two ideals with expertise and gusto.
A beautiful blend of horror and hilarity is created through descriptions, dialogue and especially the extra notes and writings that can be found littering the areas. The notes range from scraps of normalcy such as travel guides, manga and novels to stark and unapologetic recounts of the last dark thoughts of adults killed by the children.
The main plot itself is on point as always, and finding out the horribly graphic backstories of each “Warrior of Hope” is a mangled exercise in guilty pleasure and horrifying surprise. These stories and general intertwining plot threads lead quite nicely to the final reveal.
My only complaint here is that the visual novel aspects shine a bit too much in relation to cutscenes; for each brief segment of gameplay there are long stretches of plot and talky-bits to get to. The cutscenes themselves are quite fascinating and done well to prevent boredom but the ratio between scenes and gameplay is rather unbalanced.
Of course other aspects of Ultra Despair Girls shine as well, such as the always on point soundtrack composed by Masafumi Takada, behind every other title in the series as well as the music from No More Heroes and No More Heroes: Desperate Struggle.
The artwork and character designs are still as unique and strangely charming as always, including copious use of the trademark pink blood. However, unlike previous games, this one uses three different animation styles for its cutscenes.
The first is the franchise staple, a partially 2D animated style with an almost painted-paper look. The second is traditionally animated cutscenes, which translate from the original artstyle quite well and boost a smooth high-quality to boot. Finally we have 3D animation which is a lovely fusion of the 2D animation and partial-2D animation styles.
The use of all three are interchanged throughout the game to suit the moment. For instance, when the partial-animated franchise staple is brought in, beware as death is near in that scene. This is because that style is used in Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 when a punishment is carried out after a trial.
Just as in the two main titles of the series, I enjoyed the English voice cast immensely. The voices of Komaru and Toko in particular are excellent and truly sell every line of dialogue. Honorable mentions must be made as well to the voices of the Warriors of Hope, particularly during their “troubled past” scenes.
If you prefer the Japanese voices instead, however, the corresponding voice-pack is available for free download on the PSN. So there’s that option for purists.
All-around, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a good start in a new genre for the franchise.
While the title does hit rough patches here and there (expected of a series hitting uncharted waters), players can expect to experience a decently polished third-person shooter that extrapolates well on the mythos of Danganronpa, particularly the on-goings between the first and second title, and is well worth the price of admission for fans of the series.