Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls review


Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: NIS America
Reviewed on PlayStation Vita

When a series like Danganronpa reaches critical mass with sequels, merchandising, and anime adaptations, spin-off games aren’t too far behind. Fortunately Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a solid spin-off that retains the spirit of the original games. Unlike Danganronpa 1 & 2, Ultra Despair Girls isn’t a murder mystery adventure game. Instead it’s a plot heavy, third person shooter with a bit of puzzle solving.

20150520163828The main protagonist is Komaru Naegi, the younger sister of the protagonist from the first game. She was held captive in an apartment for 1.5 years until a Monokuma robot, the franchise’s iconic black and white bear, bursts through her door with murderous intent. She narrowly escapes and is saved by members of the Future Foundation, an organization created to restore hope in the world. She learns that during her captivity most of society had fallen into anarchy. She also learns that her present location, Towa City, is in the hands of children known as the Warriors of Hope who intend on killing all the adults to create a paradise for children. She eventually meets and teams up with Toko Fukawa, a survivor from the first Danganronpa.

Knockback_v2You play primarily as Komaru, who is armed with an anti-Monokuma hacking gun created by the Future Foundation. The microphone looking weapon can fire Truth Bullets, a callback to the game play device from the original games. Komaru shoots from an over the shoulder perspective reminiscent of Resident Evil 4. Truth Bullets comes in a variety of types including ones that do damage, open doors, manipulate machinery, reveal unseen objects, seize control of enemies, or even make a Monokuma dance. These specialty bullets are necessary to solve some of the game’s mandatory puzzle rooms. This entails creative puzzle sequences where you have to find ways to defeat a group of Monokumas with a limited number of Truth Bullets.

BallPressing Triangle switches control over to Toko, a melee only fighter that uses scissors to dice up enemies. She can quickly dispatch enemies with her her slashing attacks as well as her humorous Dragon Ball Z inspired special attacks. However, she can only be used as long as her stun gun’s battery gauge has a charge. You have to find batteries to replenish this gauge, thus greatly limiting her overall usage. The Monokumas come in a variety of forms, but are generally  aren’t very bright and lumber slowly towards you. This makes it a simple task to shoot their sweet spots, their red eyes, to obtain additional bonuses.  Combat is often limited to small encounters in confined spaces. The colorful boss battles conversely take place in wide open areas. There are also RPG like elements where Komaru can learn new skills and abilities after reaching certain levels by killing Monokumas.

20150520174619Danganronpa 1 & 2 writer Kazutaka Kodaka returned to pen the script for Ultra Despair Girls. While it isn’t completely necessary to have played the first two Danganronpa games, it’s highly recommended as various characters from those games play key roles in Ultra Despair Girls. Even though it serves as a sort of bridge between the two, Ultra Despair Girls will spoil some of the twists in Danganronpa 2. The plot somehow manages to be even darker and more twisted then the original games; the idea of homicidal children being in control is rather unnerving. The series’ twisted standards for story telling remains intact and each character has fleshed out backstories and development. The story is dark, disturbing, and indeed filled with despair. The story telling is further enhanced by the addition of the new polygonal visuals.

Dance_v2In a first for the series, Ultra Despair Girls features polygonal character models. Fans of the franchise’s signature 2D pop art style will be pleased that they are still part of the game in various forms. The combination of both provides for some rather eye catching effects, such as 2D flames that pop out in the background. The transition from 2D sprites to polygonal models is a solid one, as the characters retain the same visual aesthetic. The more action packed events are told via pre-rendered CG movies while the series’ signature flash animation style return is used for the execution scenes.

Masafumi Takada, the composer from the first two games, returns to provide more of the same varieties of catchy, unnerving tunes that include suspenseful electronica, creepy choral songs, off kilter jazz, and rock guitar. The game has an excellent English dub that retains the same voice actors for the returning characters. For purists, there’s an option to download the Japanese dub free of charge.

20150520172424Unfortunately, the game play isn’t quite as polished as the aesthetics. Komaru handles slightly sluggish, making it a frustrating challenge when you’re dealing with multiple Monokumas at once. Certain segments become a slog, especially when you’re unable to use Toko’s much more effective attacks. There’s also an imbalance between game play and cut scenes that favors the latter. The cutscenes that interrupt the gameplay can often last for minutes, often disrupting the overall pacing of the game in favor of plot progression.

The stylish aesthetics, excellent character development, and fantastic story telling make up for the the game play imbalance and shortcomings. It’s not required material for casual fans, but it’s a must have for Danganronpa diehards who can’t get enough of the deepening despair.

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