Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls Vita Review
Ever since I finished the first Ace Attorney on the Nintendo DS, I have been enjoying games that often focus on supplying text-heavy stories. I’ve played through all of Capcom’s English courtroom dramas (the last translated title was the charming Dual Destinies). I was engrossed in the twisted plot of Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward, which led me looking for similar adult and refreshing stories through video games. This brought me to Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and its sequel, two games that are full of fascinating characters and strong, gripping plots that I gave them glowing reviews, and this is why the announcement of Danganronpa Another Episode had me genuinely worried.
The third game, which has been dubbed Danganronpa 1.5 due to its placement in the timeline of the series, was revealed as a third-person shooter, and with that in mind, I fell into the utmost despair as I began dreading the thought that this series was abandoning all what was great about it. Thankfully, after finishing the game, my despair had vanished and I was filled with hope, as the developers didn’t forget what made the games so special.
Another Episode continues the canon of the series by placing its story in between the first two games, set half a year after Trigger Happy Havoc. The player is put into the shoes of one Komaru Naegi (the surname might ring a bell for anyone who has played the other games), who has been trapped inside an apartment for a whole year by her unknown captives – think Oldboy, but minus 14 years. Following her monotonous daily actions, a surprise erupts when her door breaks down and in comes a killer robotic Monokuma. Saved by a member of Future Foundation, Komaru is informed that the city has gone to shit, as a huge wave of these black and white bears have begun killing all adult citizens.
These bears are commanded by a group known as The Warriors of Hope, five children who despise adults so much that they want to eradicate them from Towa city. Komaru is given a special weapon developed by Future Foundation that can defeat the Monokumas – a hacking megaphone gun – but it’s not long before The Warriors of Hope capture her and then release her into the city to be hunted by the killer Monokumas for a deadly game of cat and mouse. Meeting Toko Fukawa on her release, the two must find a way to save themselves and other surviving civilians without submitting to despair.
As with previous Danganronpa titles, the story is key to the enjoyment, and while it cannot spend all its time with a deep narrative as the dedicated visual novel games, the fact that this title manages to bring across the emotional dark tone and surprise that the series is known for into a third-person game was rather surprising. It certainly spends more time in dialogue scenes than a typical game in the genre, so if you aren’t a fan of having small sections of gameplay broken up with dialogue, then this game will push you away. For me, though, the script is the best part of the game, as Spike Chunsoft once again keep things exciting by upholding the traditional polished Danganronpa writing. This will surely put a smile on the face of anyone who is a fan.
Moving to third-person is a drastic change for the series, but thankfully, while the gameplay in Another Episode does not standout as being brilliant, it does enough within its foundations to make the gameplay more than a generic run-and-gun to get to the next meaty story content. This is all thanks to the Swiss Army knife functionality of the megaphone gun – it features eight ammunition types (Break, Move, Dance, Detect, Knockback, Paralyze, Burn and Link) used to switch up the gameplay, as players shoot their way through waves of killer Monokuma robots, who themselves come in a assortment of forms. The standard robots will run at you with claws out ready to dish some Wolverine Berserker Barrage (well a poor take on it). They are easy to take down with a few shots of Break, the standard ammo type for the megaphone gun. As the game continues on, more are introduced, such as the beast Monokuma (think a wolf bear), ball Monokuma (giant ball that rolls around) and alarm Monokuma, who will sound the siren if they spot you, alerting everyone in the area to his presence – highly amusing if there is a bomb Monokuma around, as you can shoot them to set off an explosion and take down anyone around the hazardous bear. Shooting actually ends up being more than just blasting away at bears until death, a tactical shot to a Monokuma’s left red eye acts as a head shot, killing them instantly and making the next Break shot more powerful. Plus, it saves ammo, which most types have a limited amount and require the random drop of ammo from enemies or Monokuma machines to stock back up.
The megaphone gun might seem like a bizarre weapon, but its ability to switch ammo adds puzzle elements by asking the player to calculate smart ways to remove enemies or get past some of the game’s puzzle rooms. On enemies, ammo like the Dance bullet causes Monokumas to dance on the spot, leaving them open to free shots. Mix that with the alarm Monokuma and you have a dancing alarm that brings all the Monokumas to him for a party. Now you have a group of dancing bears who are free for the taking. Knockdown pushes back enemies, which feels entirely designed to push over bomb Monokumas to set them off or push various Monokumas off edges or into rivers for instant death.
Move is where the ammo becomes more useful for manipulation. It can be used to kick vehicles into motion, such as the random abandon cars in the city that will drive forward, straight into a bunch of Monokumas if you have set them up correctly (no need to thank me for that tip, the game tells you about it). Detect is a purple light that is included exclusively to reveal hints for puzzles or reveal hidden secret collectibles in each chapter. Your understanding of bullet types are often put to the test with puzzle rooms that start off simple, but do eventually turn into clever puzzles that make use of the megaphone’s abilities. A monitor offers an aerial view to these rooms, highlighting enemy positions to give an insight to what could be done to wipe them out in a single action. Of course, you are free to go in and blast them if you so desire, but that is a waste of resources when the solution can be performed with a couple of well placed skill shots.
Komaru is not alone during her travels, accompanying her is Toko Fukawa, who wonderfully bounces off Komaru’s attitude to bring a great dynamic between these two opposite characteristics. Toko supports Komaru by changing into her alternative personality, Genocide Jack, a serial killer who loves to slice, chop and stab people with her scissors. Genocide Jack is the game’s take on a special transformation power up, as summoning her requires juice in the battery metre. Genocide Jack is invincible, allowing the player to go balls crazy and hack at everyone until the resource is drained. Komaru can cancel the switch at any time to save on batteries. These Batteries can be recovered in the same way ammo is, so I rarely found myself out of juice when in the need to use the killer instinct. Both Komaru and Genocide Jack can be upgraded by spending coins (dropped from the dead) at the upgrade shop. Komaru can use bullet modifiers to buff the ammo types, while Genocide Jack can increase damage, attack speed and extend duration time, which is super handy when using the invincibility to take down large waves of Monokumas or to stick it to a boss without worrying about taking damage. Bosses are fun distractions, as these arena fights follow the mentality to wait for an opening weak spot, attack until closed, then repeat.
During my time with Another Episode, I couldn’t help but feel that there is an old school attitude behind the creation of the game. The level design is rather flat. It’s certainly colourful, and the environments feature locations from sewers to giant skyscrapers, but it’s not the lack of variety that hurts it, but the content inside these environments – it is bare bones, with life only coming from the enemies or the colour palette. Levels are linear, to the point that there are a couple of diversion paths in each zone to offer the chance to discover a secret or a letter from the deceased civilians, but mostly this journey is straightforward to get from one point to another.
Visually, the game has great image quality on the small screen, with smooth edges and fantastic character models, but frame rate can take a dive when the action gets hectic or if Komaru is near an explosion. Another issue worth noting is that the camera can be funky, as it tracks Komaru from behind, going into an over the top shoulder view for aiming the megaphone gun, but can be a little too close at times, obscuring the view. Voice acting remains great, with newcomers bringing a solid performance and returnees keeping the quality high with their deliveries. If you were a fan of the Japanese audio track in past games, then sadly, the news that this isn’t included in Another Episode will make you a little sad, but don’t despair, as you can download the Japanese voices as a free download on the PSN Store – hurrah!
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls might not be as polished as the previous mainline games, but within this handheld adventure is still the fabulous, quality story and tone fans expect from something slapped with Danganronpa on the case. The shooting manages to do enough to keep it from being monotonous, but it’s clear that while it includes entertaining mechanics, it was never the heart of this game, as time spent in this despair filled city is all about the strength of the characters and visual style to entertain your evenings with the nightmare that is a world at the mercy of children (*shudder*).