Danganronpa fans won’t want to miss Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls. This is no shooter-ripoff of the visual novel series; instead, it’s a fun exploration of the series’ story in a new style.
Ultra Despair Girls is a third-person shooter, mixed with some 2D story elements. It offers a ton of extras, average action, and a truly intriguing story in the classic, sometimes-sharp, sometimes-creepy, sometimes-sappy Danganronpa style.
It launches September 1 on PlayStation Vita from developer Spike Chunsoft and publisher NIS America for $40.
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What you’ll like
The Danganronpa story arc
Make no mistake: This may be a much more action-oriented approach to the series than previous games, but Ultra Despair Girls still focuses on the story. While no one will buy this title for the kick-butt action (more on that later), I was pleasantly surprised by how much the game added to the Danganronpa canon.
The story takes place between the two previous games (Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc and Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair,) but doesn’t share their desperate-high-schoolers-in-locked-room scenarios. In those games, students killed other students, and it was your job to figure out what was going on.
SPOILER ALERT: If you plan to play through the first game in the series, major, unavoidable plot spoilers for that game start here.
Kazutaka Kodaka, who authored the first two games, also wrote Ultra Despair Girls. His heroine is Komaru Naegi, the younger sister of Makoto Naegi, a survivor from the first game. The bad guys have imprisoned Komaru for 18 months to ensure Makoto’s compliance, so she is completely unaware of everything that’s happened before — a nice entry point for people unfamiliar with the games.
She makes her escape during an attack on the city where she is being held. Hordes of evil bear robots — modeled after the striking black-and-white Monokuma bear from the other two games — are sent by eerie evil children who call themselves “Warriors of Hope.” Their mission: to kill off adults (and teenagers who are about to become adults).
Soon, Komaru meets up with the scholarly Toko Fukawa, another survivor from the first game, whose serial-killer alter-ego comes in handy as you proceed through this title.
The story continues the Danganronpa obsession with hope and despair, and helps tie the first two games together in a way that bodes well for Danganronpa 3, now in early development. Other than sometimes ham-handed treatment of the past traumas of the evil children — did we really have to play through a torture scene based on a childhood assault? — it crafts a compelling arc.
What you hear
Ultra Despair Girls is a joy to listen to. The music is strong throughout, often featuring remixed tracks from the other two games, and the voice acting is worth leaving the volume up for.
For a game so dominated by story, voice acting for so many key plot moments added a ton to the overall title. The music varied widely depending on scene — some featured vocals, some pure instrumentals, all varying in style depending on what was happening on screen.
Ultra Despair Girls feels like an immersive story arc in part because the things you hear, both verbal and musical, do such a nice job of advancing the action.
Fukawa’s action sequences
While most of the action in the game is fairly pedestrian, with some mild puzzle elements, Fukawa’s alter ego Genocide Jack offers some terrifically fun cutscene style fatalities. Mash buttons to create combos, and she’ll build up lust. Max out, and you can perform special attacks that use up her accumulated scissors, and they are uniformly hilarious.
Perhaps you’ll choose to watch Fukawa skipping through a field of flowers, before she cuts a robot bear into ribbons. Or maybe you’ll opt for throwing scissors at a trapped bear like darts. In each case, it’s enough to make you smile, even after you’ve performed the move a few times.
Those puzzle elements
Ultra Despair Girls won’t torque your brain, but it does offer great rewards for thinking ahead. In some areas, you can plan your movements through the next room in advance, then execute them when you move inside. You may need to plan a route that moves past bears without killing them to a specific objective. Or you could get into a situation where your limited bullet ammo means that you must entice all the bears into a specific spot to dispatch them together.
These light puzzle elements added to the action and, in some cases, the suspense of the game.
Extras! Extras! Read all about it!
It’s definitely worth collecting the extras in Ultra Despair Girls, which you find by detecting small flashes of light or going to out-of-the-way places. You’ll get the terrible, terrible manga that lead character Komaru so desperately loves, cutscenes, “hit list” character cards with your allies on them, and even slides showing tidbits of separate storylines, such as the tragic tale of Socki the Sock.
None of it adds too much to the main story, but it’s all lovingly written, and I was sad to still miss a slide or two from Socki’s story at the end of the game.
What you won’t like
Previous Danganronpa games were visual novels for good reason: They had a lot of story to tell, and it was the most efficient way to get it all across. Ultra Despair Girls doesn’t pack in quite as much, but it interweaves the tale with uninspired action sequences.
As Komaru, you use a hacking gun to fire electronic code at the bears and other evil robots. The controls require some clunky movements — ideally, you’re using both sticks, a trigger, a button and possibly the D-pad to shift bullet types. (One ammo type attempts to render a bear useless, another might cause an electrical surge, and one might make it dance, for example.)
Fukawa’s action moves a little more smoothly, with left-trigger and button combos, and she responds well to mindless mashing if you’re so inclined.
The developers of Ultra Despair Girls didn’t make the action a total throwaway, but it sometimes gets dangerously close.
Every so often, one of the bullet special effects would refuse to stop. When that happened right before an emotional cutscene, it eliminated the immersion, as the sound effects would keep playing even as characters ran through their tear-jerking dialog.
The bugs didn’t crop up continually, but they popped up enough times to be irritating.
People who have never played a Danganronpa title probably won’t want to begin here. Go back and play Trigger Happy Havoc, then happily immerse yourself in the continuing storyline of Ultra Despair Girls. At least familiarize yourself with that story before diving in.
If you’re already a Danganronpa fan, however, this makes a great new addition to your collection. You won’t be enthralled by the action, but the story, voice acting, music, light puzzle elements, and additional material will keep you entertained in the 20-plus hours you’ll likely spend playing. (The game finished up here after 22+ hours, which included a lot of running around and looking at extras.)
Die-hard Danganronpa lovers: add seven points to this score. For everyone else:
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls goes on sale for PS Vita Sept. 1 for $40. GamesBeat received a copy of the game from the publisher to review.