Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls Review (PS Vita)
The Danganronpa series is quite unlike anything else you’ve ever played. Or read. The first two games were very text heavy, with ports to mobile omitting the gameplay sections completely to make them into visual novels. Regardless of whether you were playing or just reading, they were incredibly dark, psychologically intense and blackly funny. It takes a while to tune in to the peculiar characters and the world they inhabit, but when the story starts to pull you in, you’ll find yourself by turns horrified, amused and thoroughly absorbed as the story twists and turns. Spike Chunksoft knows how to craft a stylish, original game, and with this Danganronpa spin off, they’ve successfully grafted the series unique atmosphere with a different gameplay genre. Gone are the courtroom-stle battles, replaced with third person combat.
If there was a criticism I would level at the other Danganronpa games, it was that the part you “played” was seldom interesting. Moving around the school environment was tedious, as there was generally only one place you were supposed to go. At times, it wasn’t clear where the next plot-progressing cut scene would play out, so you wondered aimlessly through relativity empty corridors.
This problem is solved in Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls, where it’s always pretty obvious where you are supposed to go and what you’re supposed to do. Taking place between the first and second games, you play as Komaru Naegi. Escaping from a room where she has been imprisoned for a year without ever seeing her captors (think Old Boy) she is eventually saved at the same time as an army of robotic bears (Monokuma’s) start murdering everyone in the city. You’re given a loudspeaker weapon that you can use to defeat the Monokuma’s with “Truth Bullets”, and as you attempt to escape from the island city, you encounter a large cast of familiarly insane Danganronpa-style characters. Through much of the game you’re joined by Toko/Genocide Jack, a returning character from the first game with a split personality, one of which is a serial killer. If any of this seems strange, you really need to play the game to appreciate how enthusiastically insane it all gets. The appeal of the Danganronpa games is how they combine cute anime tropes, adorable psychotic bears and genuine grim horror. The dead civilians might bleed blue and purple blood as they are shredded to pieces by bears claws, but they scream in terror as they die. Similarly, the deaths of main characters occur in cut scenes that are both funny and frightening. Years from now, Monokuma is likely to be featured on lists for the best videogame antagonists of all time.
The most critisized aspect of the game – the third person shooting – is functional rather than spectacular. You use different combinations of bullets to clear enemies effectively. At times, you might attract enemies together into clusters with the “dance” bullets, before blowing them up by shooting the eye of a bomb bear to eliminate them all at the same time. When the bears are running at you, precision shots to the eye can kill them in one shot. I’m not sure the controls allow the level of accuracy this requires from the player, and I must confess I didn’t often manage to kill them in the minimum number of shots. Still, with multiple difficulty levels (including a setting for people who just want to enjoy the story) I didn’t find Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls to be a particularly hard game.
In fact, while much of the criticism of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls has related to the third person shooting, I found it to be a welcome break from the filler activities in the previous games. The story is dense and there’s a lot of cut scenes and dialogue, and between those I would rather be shooting some Monokuma’s than wondering around an empty school or engaging in overly complex minigames. The third person shooting acts as a buffer between the story beats, never grating too much and breaking the action up nicely.
When it comes to the story and the world created for you to explore, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is the best game in the series so far. It’s somehow even bleaker than Danganronpa 1 and 2, and the story twists and turns in interesting ways. It’s a pretty good looking game on Vita too, obfuscating the basic level geometry with flashy, eclectic design and colour choice and an utterly otherwordly electro-jazz sountrack, that works to isolate and unnerve the player from start to finish.
I didn’t expect Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls to be as good as it was. The title might make it sound like a spin off, but for me, it’s the most ambitious game in the series and the most accessible and enjoyable way to visit Danganronpa’s crazy world.
4 adorbs Monokumas out of 5