Break! Knockback! Dance! | Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls Review
The Danganronpa series is lauded for its fantastic story, and since its release in the West, has become increasingly popular. Both games that have released so far, Trigger Happy Havoc and Goodbye Despair, are visual novels; games that play out through dialogue and some puzzles. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is nothing like former games. In fact, Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter. Far removed from the series’ roots, or is it?
I guess the most important thing to Danganronpa fans is how well the game tells its story, and let me say as a newcomer, it does an absolutely fantastic job at it. The story follows Komaru Naegi, a completely ordinary girl with no special characteristics. The game almost goes out of its way to say how ordinary Komaru is, and pairing her up with the split personality having Toko Fukawa, that makes it that much more apparent. Komaru and Toko are on the run from the baleful Warriors of Hope as they are hunting down Komaru and Toko who they believe are demons. The Warriors of Hope are a group of five kids who are hunting adults, or as they see them demons, to create a kids’ paradise. It sounds very Lord of the Flies-ish, and it gets particularly gruesome.
The kids have access to an army of robots called Monokuma, and have started a riot in Towa City. Laying waste to the adult-age citizens in particularly abhorrent ways. Despite the lack of “normal” looking blood (all blood is neon pink) and non-important characters being stock pink or blue feature-less figures, the game is still incredibly graphic is it’s depiction of the death and destruction brought on by the Monokumas. Piles of bodies found in corners, two people dead on the ground trying to hold hands, corpses hanging up on walls, terrible, terrible stuff. Even though the setting is in a post-apocalyptic world, there is nothing fun here. The death toll has weighed heavily on the survivors’ shoulders.
The story is fantastically told. I haven’t played the Danganronpa games, but I was able to follow what was going on pretty well. I went in completely fresh and the game did a good job of letting me know what happened previously. Sure, there are a lot of nods and winks to the series, but nothing that makes it frustrating to newbies. The story is at the forefront to this game. While Ultra Despair Girls is a departure from the visual novel style, the game emphasizes the story. There will often be a long series of cutscenes before resuming the gameplay. Personally, I had no issues with it. From early on, I was engrossed in the story. There was just enough mystery and surprising twists that kept me hooked. Not to mention the absolutely wonderful voice acting. Most of the scenes are fully voiced, the only ones that aren’t are side conversations between Komaru and Toko when they find something out in the world. The writing is phenomenal. Each character definitely has a personality and both of the main characters have an arc that feels natural and something I loved to see come from them.
Even the Warriors of Hope are menacing at how casual they are regarding their reasons and motivations at hunting demons. You feel bad at what has transpired to these kids, but at the end of the day, they are slaughtering people because of their wretched worldview. I would feel remiss if I didn’t mention this, but one of the kid’s backstories is incredibly fucked up. It left me uncomfortable and just plain uneasy and it dealt with child rape. Despite the colorful nature of the game, the issues it brings up are somber and are meant to be taken seriously. But a narrative cannot simply be morbid tales and awful experiences. There needs to be a break in the dreariness, and Ultra Despair Girls does have moments of compassion and levity to bring hope to the anguish.
The other half of Ultra Despair Girls would be the gameplay. As I said before, the game is a third-person shooter. Komaru is given a megaphone from the Future Foundation that fires Truth Bullets. There are eight different types of bullets that have their own special properties. Break is the standard “bullet” and will do damage to the Monokumas. There is also a Dance bullet that will distract the Monokumas, a Paralyze bullet that will do some damage and stun them, as well as a Knockback bullet that does what it says on the package. You’ll often need to switch between the different bullets to take out enemies quickly. The unfortunate part is that the bullet types are mapped to the directional pad. And given that there are more than four different bullets, it makes switching between them annoying in a tense situation. I’ve found myself undoing a carefully planned attack by accidently selecting a bullet type that I didn’t want. Now you can use the square button to switch between the bullets but it broke the flow of the game for me. Komaru aims with the left trigger button and fires with the right trigger. This limits her movement. I often found myself backing myself into a corner trying to take aim at a Monokuma’s weak spot.
Toko is also playable character, but she doesn’t use the microphone; instead her split personality, the serial killer Genocide Jack, comes out. Genocide Jack plays more like a 3D beat-em-up. She attacks with her scissors and can quickly dodge. She also builds up a gauge that will enable her to do a special attack to instantly take down Monokuma in her way. She can only be used for a limited time as the batteries in her stun gun quickly drain. There are upgrades for both Toko and Komaru that will supplement their abilities. Komaru and Toko have a very rudimentary level system. It doesn’t improve attack or health, but instead allows for more skills to be equipped. These skills can be found around the world or be obtained after completing chapters. On top of that, Komaru can upgrade her Truth Bullets by buying them at scarcely found shops in the world. On certain Truth Bullets she can equip adjectives that can make a bullet stronger. I thought it was a nice touch that adjectives are the Truth Bullet modifiers.
The game feels like it doesn’t know what it wants to do ever so often with the gameplay. A majority of the game is a shooter, true, but there are often segments that are thrown in randomly. One of the recurring “puzzles” is a room filled with Monokuma that need to be dispatched using a specific method. Like using Dance to distract them and then using Move to make a car take them all out at the same time. It just felt unnecessary in a game with a fairly scant primary gameplay mechanic. There are also a few “non-combat” puzzles thrown in for good measure, and the requisite boss fight at the end of the chapter. But the boss fights play out nearly identically.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is an absolutely fantastic game that fans of the series would enjoy despite the side-story’s foray into a completely different genre. Despite the very heavy story, it is engaging and interesting. However, despite the fantastic setting and gripping narrative, the gameplay feels a little flat. It is very slow and the limited mobility The bottom line is if you are looking for a game with a great story, you will enjoy this game fully. Ultra Despair Girls’ story is very interesting and the world gets fleshed out by all of the collectibles found in the world. However, if you are looking for a solid third person shooter, this game is not for you. I will say that the voice for Shirokuma was fucking amazing.