Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls steps out of the courtroom, as the first spinoff in the popular murder mystery series.
Last year, NIS released the two Danganronpa games to a western audience to positive reviews. Meanwhile in Japan, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls was released around the same time. Now a year later, the game has already made its way overseas. Will Another Episode live up to its predecessors? Or is it doomed to be a crappy spin-off?
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is set between the events of the first and second games, and follows Komaru Naegi, the younger sister of the first game’s protagonist Makoto Naegi, as she is captured by a group of demented children known as the Warriors of Hope. The Warriors of Hope let Komaru loose in the ravaged, Monokuma filled Towa city, armed with a hacking gun capable of destroying the Monokumas with assistance from Toko Fukawa, a fan favorite survivor of the first game.
The visual aspect of the game is quite good. The 3D graphics look sharp, and the environments stay true to Danganronpa‘s traditional pop-up-book-esque design. A lot of care was put into the smallest of details in the environment, such as an area I found that had a large gap in the ground with a male corpse on one side and a female corpse on the other, as though they were reaching out to each other before death. Another case was a pair of bathrooms which had male monokuma kids parading in the women’s room, and female monokuma kids playing in the men’s room. These minor details really add to the game’s environment. While the levels are linear, the game manages to leave plenty of room for exploration, with branching paths and hidden rooms that often contain collectibles, skills, or item machines.
The English voice cast sounded strange at first but the voices quickly grew on me and featured some great performances, such as the character of Jataro and Christina Vee’s take on the role of Monoka. And unlike the previous games, most of the dialogue is fully voiced, making the dialogue segments more enjoyable to watch and showing off the voices more than previous installments ever did. The soundtrack is pretty good too, consisting of a mix of both familiar songs from previous installments and plenty of new, catchy tracks as well.
A minor complaint I had was that there was not an option to add subtitles to the English dubbed versions of the pre-rendered and animated cutscenes. Granted the voice acting is clear enough to be understood without them but I wish I still had the option, as one that seems like a pretty basic staple these days.
The Danganronpa series is known for its good, complex characters and Another Episode is no different. The characters are all well written and unique in their own way. You will likely grow to like every character who isn’t the mastermind, because that person is downright hateable.
My biggest complaint is that there are large chunks of dialogue throughout the story that drags on a little longer than I would have liked. This is understandable given the series visual novel roots where most of the game is dialogue, but in a third person shooter like Another Episode, more focus should be placed on the action. Luckily these long dialogue sections are fully voiced and well written, making them bearable to sit through (no bear pun intended).
Komaru is armed with a variety of different ammunition types, each with a different feature, such as the traditional break ammo that does regular damage, the detect which shows invisible writings on surfaces, and ammunition that makes enemies dance. Yes, that is a thing. All combat-focused ammunition has two upgrade slots that the player can use to upgrade various features of the chosen ammunition.
Combat, however, is a tactical mixed bag. The enemy Monokumas are slow and most can only attack at close range, meaning that you should easily be able to avoid them long enough to take them down, as you can instantly take down a Monokuma by shooting its red glowing eye. However, your crosshair is rather small, making it a challenge at times to line up the perfect shot in close quarters. I will say however that there is a sort of catharsis in killing Monokumas. It’s good to finally blow that stupid bear up after all the hell he put me through on that damn island in Danganronpa 2. But catharsis aside, the enemies rarely felt like a threat to me. The times I was usually closest to death was the boss battles, which mainly consist of exploiting an enemy’s weak point while trying not to get killed by said boss.
You’ll frequently encounter challenge areas where you are tasked with destroying all Monokumas in a room, with an incentive to destroy them in one shot. Completing these challenges rewards you with points on your total chapter score and a brief animation of the two protagonists cheering in 8-bit form.
In a pinch you can switch to Genocider Jack (Toko Fukawa’s edgier and more murderous persona), who fights with short-range scissor attacks and special fever gauge attacks ranging from giving enemies bad haircuts to throwing a spirit bomb of scissors at them. Why, Japan? Anyways, using Genocider Jack drains a battery gauge that must be replenished by finding more batteries (the easiest difficulty gives you unlimited access to Genocider Jack, though). Playing as Genocider Jack is fun, but I found that in my playthrough I rarely used her aside from some rare moments where I was crowded by enemies, and a couple times when the game forces you to play as her (which are fun).
The game’s story is very good, just short of outdoing Danganronpa 2’s. it’s full of shocking plot twists, character development, and original ideas. I will also say that this is the most disturbing entry of the series. Without spoiling anything, the game features various forms of child abuse, some “pervy scenes” later on, and moments that will make even longtime fans of the series cringe. Granted, Danganronpa has always been rather disturbing (I mean its a series about teens murdering each other) but Another Episode crosses boundaries that nobody ever thought would be crossed. So viewer discretion is VERY MUCH advised.
Overall, however, Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls was a very good game. It has most of the elements that made the main installments so good, its full of new and enjoyable gameplay, and it even shows us what we might expect to see in Danganronpa 3 (such as animated cutscenes and fully voiced dialogue). While it’s an overly dark step for the series, it’s a step in the right direction.
Final Verdict: 4.5/5
Available on: Vita (reviewed) ; Publisher: NIS America; Developer: Spike Chunsoft ; Release Date: September 1, 2015; ESRB: M for Mature; MSRP: $39.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls provided by the game’s publisher, NIS America.